Swine flu reaches Israel: The Health Ministry reported Tuesday that 26-year-old Tomer Vajim who had been hospitalized at the Laniado Hospital in Netanya with flu-like symptoms after returning from Mexico is, indeed, suffering from swine flu according to lab tests.
Doctors said, however, that the patient was in good condition and was being kept in isolation and receiving medication. Doctors are still awaiting test results for a second Israeli who returned from Mexico with flu-like symptoms on Sunday and was hospitalized at the Meir Hospital in Kfar Saba.
The Health Ministry reported Saturday evening that all hospital and HMO managers, as well as district doctors, had been briefed on the signs of the new swine flu virus and on procedures aimed at preventing the virus from spreading. However, Ynet reported Sunday that Vajim, who has now been diagnosed with the disease, had not been hospitalized in his own room and was even left in the corridor on Saturday night without a mask on his face.
"Even though we informed the staff that he had arrived from Mexico, he slept in the department's corridor in the night," Vajim's brother told Ynet. "During our stay at the hospital he didn’t want to put others at risk and asked me to get him a mask. The hospital staff said they didn’t know what it was yet, so he decided to act responsibly and asked for the mask."
The Health Ministry said in response that "the ministry's management circular was only issued on Sunday morning." It is unclear whether other patients who were at the corridor at the same time had received preventive treatment.
Tomer's brother Liran told Ynet, "All the symptoms he had, like the fever and shivering he got after returning from Mexico and during the hospitalization, went away following the treatment he received."
Health establishment officials said they were not surprised by the fact that a swine flu case had been discovered in Israel. "We estimated that it was only a matter of time," one of them said.
Readiness level raised
Earlier Tuesday, Health Ministry Director-General Prof. Avi Israeli called for raising the preparedness level for dealing with swine flu from Phase 3 to Phase 4, given recent outbreaks of the virus around the world.
According to the World Health Organization's program for dealing with possible influenza pandemics in such cases, Phase 3 deals with preparedness for only sporadic infection of humans by animals, whereas Phase 4 deals with readiness for viral spread caused by sustained human to human transmission.
Phase 4, writes the WHO, should be activated in the event that human to human transmission is observed in at least one country, and is significant because it constitutes an increase in contagion among humans.
Meanwhile, the Health Ministry released a statement saying that the change in preparedness levels did not involve any serious operative changes, since the ministry had contingencies for such a situation.
Authorities posted signs at the Ben-Gurion International Airport warning travelers arriving from Mexico to be on the alert for flu-like symptoms within a week of their return and to get medical help in that case.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak instructed his ministry's director-general, Birgadier-General (Res.) Pinhas Buchris, and other defense establishment officials to prepare to assume responsibility for the matter through a national crisis management team, in accordance with a government decision adopted in 2005.
The team will be tasked with advising the government in order to contain the disease before it spreads, as well as issuing operative instruction to all ministries, governmental authorities and key elements influencing the economy. The Health Ministry will remain in charge of the professional-medical aspect of the situation.
Tuesday also saw the Jewish Agency form special headquarters in view of the spreading pandemic in Mexico. The JA said it was preparing for the possibility that its envoys in Mexico and around the world would need immediate assistance; but added it would not be recalling any of its envoys at this point.
Mexico, where the outbreak began, recently announced that schools would be closed for ten days in an effort to stem the spread of the disease, which appears to have claimed 152 victims in the country so far.
Mexican Health Minister Jose Cordova said autopsies have revealed 20 of the deaths to have resulted definitely from swine flu and the government is awaiting the rest of the autopsy results. He said also that almost 2,000 people had been hospitalized with symptoms of the disease.
Raanan Ben-Zur and Hanan Greenberg contributed to this report