Amid the leptospirosis scare, Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel, Nature and Parks Authority director, and deputy director-general of the Ministry of Health visit the north to encouraged Israelis to return.

Ahiya Raved|Published: 08.21.18

In an attempt to alleviate the damage to tourism in northern Israel in the wake of the leptospirosis scare in recent weeks, Nature and Parks Authority head Shaul Goldstein, Agriculture and Rural Development Minister Uri Ariel and Deputy Director-General of the Ministry of Health Professor Itamar Grotto took a tour of nature reserve and national parks in the Golan Heights on Tuesday to show they were safe.

Prof. Grotto assured that “all water sites in the Upper Galilee, where there is a strong flow, are entirely safe for bathing and kayaking.”

After dipping their feet in one of the streams, Goldstein joked that he hopes “the minister would still be healthy in two weeks,” and Ariel replied—“you’ll have to wait and see, and also pray.”

The three went north to examine the artificial pumping of water into the streams to reduce the rate of contaminants.

The artificial pumping of water into the Daliyot stream and the Majrasa estuary began on Thursday, and was expanded on Monday to the Zavitan and Meshushim (Hexagon) streams.

They further discussed other options to fight the leptospirosis infection in the southern Golan Heights streams, and called on the public to visit the Golan Heights and bathe in the streams and springs that have been declared safe by the Health Ministry.

Parks where swimming has been prohibited so far are: Yehudiya, Zavitan, Meshushim, Zaki (Meshushim estuary), Meshushim stream, the Majrasa estuary, the Jordan Park and the Jilabun stream.

Prof. Grotto said he joined the tour Tuesday to understand the problem better, “support the residents of the north” and “get the public to travel to the north again.”

Grotto added that he has given a “green light” to start a Tourism Ministry campaign to boost tourism in the north. So far, he added, 381 suspected cases of leptospirosis have been report, with less than 10 percent of them found to be positive.

“The Health Ministry is examining the streams, closely supervising the matter,” Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman said in comments to the media ahead of the discussion. “The streams that are bad, the ministry closes. And the ones that are good, it leaves open. We think the situation is under control.”

Health Ministry officials came up with several measures to combat the spread of leptospirosis, including regulating water and grazing areas for cattle, fencing of springs to keep cattle away, pumping water into streams by authorities, and regulating the boar populations that infect water sources.

Furthermore, it was established that infected cattle herds need to be vaccinated, and sanitation infrastructure needs to be improved by the regional authorities.

Moshe Bar Siman Tov, the director-general of the Health Ministry, assured that “things are under control, and we’re monitoring both the water sources and the sickness patterns on a daily basis. Heed our instructions, because there have been a lot of unfounded, false and biased things (being said).”

Leptospirosis is caused by the Leptospira bacteria, who originates in animals and is transmitted to humans. Some animals secrete the infection in their urine. The main culprits are rodents, mostly mice, but cattle, dogs and other animals can also transmit it.

Symptoms include flu like symptoms, among which are fever, headaches, muscle aches and even kidney and liver failure in severe cases.

More than a million cases are reported each year, mostly in third world countries. In Israel the infection is rare, and no more than 10 cases are reported every year.

In the last few days, it appears that visitors have begun returning north. Nature and Parks Authority reported that 50,000 people visited parks in the north on Tuesday, with some of the major parks showing an almost complete recuperation from last week.

Among these sites were the Snir stream (with 2,700 visitors Tuesday, up from only 700 on Saturday), the Tel Dan Nature Reserve (with 2,000 visitors, after it saw only 550 on Saturday), Hurshat Tal (1,500 visitors) and the famous Gan Hashlosha (1,700 visitors).

Other parks also experienced a boost, especially Caesarea, Masada and Ein Gedi.

Recooperation in tourism surprised officials in the Nature and Parks Authority, who said the numbers are high for the middle of the week. They added that some northern parks have enjoyed “impressive numbers of tourists.”,7340,L-5332951,00.html