Israel says H5N1 virus killed turkeys, fowl
TEL AVIV, Mar 17 (Reuters) Israel's agriculture ministry said today that thousands of turkeys and chickens found dead at two collective farms near the Gaza Strip had been infected with the H5N1 bird flu virus.
Officials said the results were still being checked for final confirmation.
''Last night we informed the World Health Organisation that the H5N1 virus has spread to Israel,'' Dr Moshe Haimovitch, a senior agriculture ministry official, told reporters.
The Palestinian Authority had also been informed and asked to inspect chicken coops in Gaza and the West Bank, he said.
Israel is testing dead fowl found in the West Bank and Gaza on behalf of the Palestinian Authority in rare cooperation as agriculture officials attempt to control the spread of the virus.
More than 10,000 fowl had died of the virus over the past few days on two southern Israeli communal farms, Kibbutz Ein Hashlosha and Kibbutz Holit, both located near the Gaza Strip, officials said.
Health officials quarantined the area and were preparing to cull hundreds of thousands of fowl in the vicinity, media reports said.
There were also suspicions the virus had infected fowl at a kibbutz about 25 km southwest of Jerusalem, the Haaretz newspaper reported on its Web site (www.haaretz.com).
The H5N1 strain of bird flu has spread with alarming speed in recent weeks across Europe, Africa and parts of Asia.
The more it spreads, the greater the fears of the virus mutating into a form that could easily pass from one person to another, triggering a pandemic in which millions could die.
Bird flu is hard to catch but people can contract it after coming into contact with infected birds. Around 100 people have died from bird flu around the world.
Hospitals in Israel have been put on alert for patients arriving with symptoms of the H5N1 virus.
Israel Radio has reported a 38-year-old man who slaughtered poultry for a living was being tested for possible bird flu in the northern coastal city of Haifa. He had been placed in an isolation ward, it said.
Health Minister Yaakov Edri told Army radio there had been no signs of humans contracting the H5N1 virus in Israel.
REUTERS DKS PM1555