Israel's Health Ministry issued a warning on Tuesday that a parasite that can cause eye infections and even permanently impair vision may have been found in the Sea of Galilee.
The warning came after 29 Israelis were hospitalized with cornea lesions that characterize microsporidiosis.
"In recent days, the Health Ministry has received a report from an ophthalmologist about several Israelis who were hospitalized with severe cornea infections, cornea scarring, and in more serious cases, eye damage," the ministry said.
Following the report, the Health Ministry launched an epidemiological investigation from which it has so far indicated that at least some of the patients had bathed on different shores of the Sea of Galilee.
"In light of the information, which is preliminary and still under review, the ministry recommends using swimming goggles to avoid direct eye contact with water."
The first cases were reported about a month ago, and at the beginning of the week, the Israeli Ophthalmological Society notified the Health Ministry about the mounting cases.
"The accumulation of cases led us to immediately report to the Health Ministry," said Dr. Michael Mimouni from the Rambam Health Care Campus. "It should be emphasized that there is no definitive proof yet of the parasite's presence, and at this point, it is an assessment, based on clinical tests."
Prof. Irit Bareket, an ophthalmologist at Sheba Medical Center where so far four cases were diagnosed, said that "the important thing is that the diagnosis is mostly clinical and not in the laboratory."
"We know the diagnosis at this point doesn't have a lab clarification for a parasite. There is a more superficial form of the parasite that heals quickly and another can leave a scar and lead to a bit longer treatment. The more complex condition requires specially formulated medicines and therefore it is important to detect it early."