Scientists Fear Israel’s Bird Flu Outbreak Could Infect Humans, Cause Another Pandemic
Israel is facing a massive outbreak of bird flu, raising fears that the virus may cross the species barrier and infect humans — potentially leading to another pandemic on top of the existing struggle against COVID-19.
In an interview with Israeli public broadcaster Kan on Monday, Noga Kornfeld Shor, chief scientist at the Environmental Protection Ministry, called the outbreak “an extraordinary event on a global scale.”
“The greatest fear,” she said, “is that the virus, which tends to have many variants, will transform like corona, and will become contagious between humans.”
“Nearly a million chickens have been killed,” Shor noted. “In the upcoming months it will be necessary to import eggs in order to prevent a shortage. More than 5,000 cranes have died. In recent days, there have also been corpses of pelicans and egrets.”
She added that the situation is now being handled by the National Security Council.
Environment Minister Tamar Zandberg has called the bird flu outbreak “the worst blow to wildlife in the country’s history,” and said the killing of chickens has been done as a precautionary measure to contain the spread of the virus.
The popular Hula Nature Reserve was forced to close its doors due to large numbers of infected and dead cranes, prompting rangers in hazmat suits to collect the carcasses for analysis and disposal.
The Agriculture Ministry announced Monday that three more large chicken coops, amounting to around 90,000 birds, have been infected.
“We need to bring chicken coops in the State of Israel to a state of high biological safety so as not to be in a rolling and continuing event next year as well,” Minister of Agriculture Oded Forer said.
The Daily Beast quoted Yossi Leshem, a zoologist at Tel Aviv University and director of the International Center for the Study of Bird Migration at Latrun, as warning, “There could be a mutation that also infects people and turns into a mass disaster.”
The most serious problem, Yotam Bashan of the Jerusalem Bird Observatory told the online news outlet, is that the infections are not confined to livestock, but are also taking place in the wild.
“There is no way to know what is going to happen,” he said. “When you identify avian flu in chicken coops you kill all the chickens and disinfect the coops. In the wild, at this level of infection, I don’t know where it will lead. I’m worried.”