Ministry: Over 20,000 Israelis Have Been Hit by Swine Flu

Most widespread cases reported in Nahariya, Netanya, Modi'in, Beit Shemesh and southern West Bank settlements.

More than 20,000 Israelis have been infected with swine flu, the vast majority of whom had mild cases, the Health Ministry estimates. Two Israelis died of the disease.

The ministry has stopped systematically testing patients with suspected swine flu, or H1N1, as the virus is known. Laboratory tests are now being limited to hospital patients and geographic areas of more widespread outbreaks. The ministry's Center for Disease Control has reported that about 920 Israelis a week are coming down with the disease. Swine flu vaccines are still being developed; Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided last week that vaccines will be made available to all Israeli citizens when they come to market.

The most widespread cases of swine flu have been reported in Nahariya, Netanya, Modi'in, Beit Shemesh and in Jewish settlements in the southern West Bank. Smaller outbreaks have been reported in Haifa and its suburbs, as well as in Hadera, Rishon Letzion, Rehovot, Be'er Sheva and Jerusalem. Numbers on Tel Aviv have not yet been submitted.

Amnon Kiro, who has been tracking flu cases for the Israeli Pediatric Association, notes that "at the moment, swine flu is more widespread among children, but the cases are also milder. In general with the flu, infection among children usually portends the spread of the disease in the [wider] community."

At Moshav Nehora in the south, four children attending kindergartens have been infected with swine flu. The regional council has decided to close the preschools to reduce the risk of further spread. An assessment will be made on Sunday on reopening the kindergartens.

Although public concerns have risen regarding the spread of swine flu, Dan Engelhard, head of the Ministry's epidemic response team, says "the situation with the disease has not changed." He noted that young adults are at greater risk than children and that there was no need for widespread action in kindergartens or limitations on opening schools next month.