Israel’s National Security Council has taken control of a massive bird flu outbreak in Galilee that scientists have warned could turn into a “mass disaster” for humans.
More than half a billion migratory birds pass through the region each year, leading to warmer African winters or summers in Europe, meaning it is a catastrophic location for a major bird flu outbreak at the nexus of global avian travel. Is.
If it infects people then this virus is extremely fatal. The World Health Organization says that of the 863 confirmed human cases since 2003, more than half have proved fatal. Most strains or types of avian flu, H5N1, are relatively difficult to transmit to people.
Yossi Leshem, one of Israel’s best-known ornithologists, told The Daily Beast, however, that it is these viruses’ ability to mutate into new strains that pose a threat, as we have seen with the coronavirus.
“There could be a mutation that also infects people and turns into a massive disaster,” said Leshem, a Tel Aviv University zoologist and director of the International Center for the Study of Bird Migration in Latrun.
So far, at least 5,400 wild storks have died from the new H5N1 avian flu, which Israeli officials fear could turn into a global emergency.
Of the 30,000 Eurasian storks that passed through this winter in the Hula Reserve, 17 percent are dead, and scientists fear the worst for their surviving brethren, at least 10,000 of whom appear to be ill. Stork infection is the same type of avian flu that infected chicken coops throughout northern Israel, and killed nearly a million birds in recent times.
Until a supply chain of imported birds is established, Israelis will be without their beloved chicken schnitzel and without eggs.
The death of thousands of wild birds at the Hula Nature Reserve, one of the world’s leading bird sanctuaries, is “an extraordinary event with global implications,” Tel Aviv University zoology professor Noga Kronfeld Shore warned in an interview with Reshet Bet Radio. Gave.
Shor, who is also the chief scientist at Israel’s environment ministry, said carcasses of other waterfowl, such as pelicans and egrets, had already been found.
Israelis have been cautioned not to approach any wild bird that appears sick and not to touch any bird droppings.
Motro Yov Motro, director of vertebrates and locusts at Israel’s Ministry of Agriculture, said that for now, H5N1 is presenting “like the opposite of Covid”. Compared to COVID, likely to be [humans] It’s very, very minor to catch it – but unlike COVID, if you catch it your risk of dying from it is very high.”
“It’s a sad ecological event,” he said. “And we just don’t know how it will end, or where it will lead.”
Israeli scientists do not yet know the full scale of the death toll in Israel because of the dangers inherent in fishing around marshes and wetlands while keeping them safe from any possible infection. The urgent matter of obtaining birds and carcasses that are kept away from human contact is proving to be even more challenging due to the paucity of waterproof protective gear currently available in the generally arid country.
According to Yotam Bashan of the Jerusalem Bird Observatory, while the disaster is evident in the Hula Valley in Israel’s fertile north, crane mortality has also been observed in other sites, although not yet in Jerusalem.
“There’s no way of knowing what’s going to happen,” Motto said in an interview with The Daily Beast. “When you identify avian flu in the chicken coop you kill all the chickens and disinfect the coop. In the wild, at this stage of infection, I have no idea where this will lead. I’m worried.”
Shalom Bar Tal, a veteran wildlife photographer, told The Daily Beast that he was one of the only people allowed to see dead and dying birds during the night. It can turn into an ecological disaster no less important than the corona pandemic. said.
For now, no Israelis have been reported to have been infected with H5N1, but Israelis who were exposed to wild birds are taking the antiviral Tamiflu.
Both Motro and Bar Tal witnessed heart-wrenching scenes of weak, infected cranes perched on their dead. Storks mate for a lifetime and live in strong family units, Motto said. “It means that when one dies, the rest of the family—I don’t know how to define it—but it mourns.”
Cranes’ proximity to each other and tightly woven family structure almost ensured, he said, that when a crane dies, “a close family member is going to die.”
“There is no cure,” he said, “there is no way to help.”
We can only hope that it doesn’t mutate and jump species.