Lethal Avian Flu Strain Found in Binyamina

The avian flu that killed 18 chickens in the yard of a Binyamina kindergarten was of the lethal H5N1 strain potentially harmful to humans, the Agriculture Ministry's veterinary service announced yesterday.

Eight people, including the kindergarten staff and veterinarians who inspected the site, received preventive therapy. Tests indicated that the children and their parents had not come into contact with the birds.

In response, ministry officials culled suspect fowl at a kindergarten complex in the town, to minimize the risk to humans. In addition, the authorities banned moving animals within a 10-kilometer radius of Binyamina. Fowl within a 3-kilometer radius were culled and buried.

The veterinary service has begun checking all poultry coops, petting zoos and yard fowl in Binyamina and the farming communities in the area under quarantine.

The Haifa district physician, Prof. Shmuel Rishpon, praised the owner of the kindergarten, Batya Ben Asher, for calling a veterinarian instead of dumping the carcasses when 18 of the 25 chickens in a kindergarten fowl corner died.

The veterinarian, Dr. Gilad Goldstein, suspected an outbreak of Newcastle fowl disease or avian flu, so he sent samples of the dead chickens to the Agriculture Ministry for examination.

Meanwhile, the Poultry Breeders Association demanded an immediate increase of 25 percent in the monetary compensation for farmers, should the state order mass culling.

The association's secretary, Yaakov Cohen, said the authorities were forced yesterday to destroy a flock of egg-laying hens at Moshav Beit Hanania, near Binyamina, but that the region does not have large numbers of fowl, reducing the health hazard to humans. He added that the outbreak's economic damage to farmers has not been great, and that the risk of harm to Israel's poultry export business is low.

Israel reported the outbreak of avian flu to the European Union and World Health Organization, which praised it for acting promptly, Cohen said.

The previous outbreak of H5N1 avian flu, in March 2006, decimated nine commercial poultry farms in Israel, but harmed no people.

The Health Ministry yesterday called on people in the Binyamina area to wash their hands before handling food, and to boil poultry at 70 degrees Celsius before eating it.