Visit Golan, and Never Mind the Infected Streams, Says Israel's Agricultural Minister

After a recent outbreak of leptospirosis which left 12 hospitalized, Israel's Agriculture Minister urges visitors to return to the Golan Heights

Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel in northern Israel.
Yaniv Cohen / Israel Police Authority

Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel on Tuesday urged people to keep visiting the Golan Heights despite the recent outbreak of leptospirosis, saying that aside from the infected streams, “everything’s fine.”

A week ago a scare went through the country when 12 people who had waded in the southern Golan streams were hospitalized with the disease, whose symptoms include headache, muscle soreness and fever, and whose complications can cause serious health problems.

Ariel was touring the infected streams on Tuesday together with senior officials from the Health Ministry and the Israel Nature and Parks Authority.

The nature authority’s director, Shaul Goldstein, and the Health Ministry’s deputy director general, Prof. Itamar Grotto, joined Ariel in urging people to continue visiting the Golan, as long as they avoid the infected streams in the southern section. All three emphasized their point by swimming in one of the uninfected springs, Ein Almin.

“For now, the Health Ministry has banned six or seven streams,” Ariel said. “But come here, everything’s fine. There’s the Golan, there’s water, there are streams; there are instructions on the internet.” He added that he hoped the Finance Ministry would “accede to our request for a small budget increase to solve the problem for years to come.”

According to the Health Ministry, there have been 381 reported cases of suspected leptospirosis, but so far, fewer than 10 percent actually had the disease. However, not all the suspected cases have been tested yet.

The relevant ministries have decided to take a series of steps to deal with the outbreak, including vaccinating flocks that carry the bacteria, preventing cattle from accessing water sources, having the Water Authority flush the infected streams with fresh water and improving sanitation in nearby municipalities. In addition, the Health Ministry will continue issuing updates to the public on which water sources are off-limits to visitors due to the infection.

The leptospirosis bacterium spreads when infected animals urinate into a water source. Other animals, including people, can then become infected through contact with the water, whether through an open sore, through the eyes or by swallowing it.

The Health Ministry is worried that the bacteria might spread to other water sources. Though only two streams – Zavitan and Meshushim – have so far been found to contain the bacteria, the ministry has also banned swimming in five others, including the Jordan River near Park Hayarden.