The Petah Tikva hospital in which the women died is awaiting lab results to confirm the cause of death ■ 19 Israelis have been diagnosed with the virus since May, a relatively high number ■ The Health Ministry says infections started earlier this year, probably because of climate change

Ido Efrati. Jun 22, 2024

Two Israeli women in their 80s died on Saturday at Beilinson Hospital in Petah Tikva, with the cause of death suspected to be the West Nile virus. The hospital is waiting for lab results to confirm the cause of death, and has reported the incident to the Health Ministry.

Five people have been hospitalized at Beilinson over the last two days with similar symptoms, including the two women who died. Two others were released to their homes after their condition improved, with the fifth person still hospitalized. The Health Ministry announced that 19 people across the country have been diagnosed with West Nile virus fever since early May, with 17 of them having been hospitalized, including three who were put on ventilators.

Five people were reportedly hospitalized at Ichilov Hospital last week after being infected with the same virus. All of them are in their 60s and live in northern Tel Aviv. Two of them are in serious condition. An additional man was hospitalized there on Wednesday. Three people remain in Ichilov, two of them in serious or moderate to serious condition.

This is a relatively high number for this time of year, with infections usually peaking in August. The numbers vary from year to year, with most years seeing a few dozen cases, with some years having exceptionally high numbers. In 2000, for example, 417 people were infected, 324 of whom needed hospitalization, and 35 of those infected died.

Last Wednesday, the Health Ministry said that it was continuing to monitor the data and would continue to provide updates as it has in the past. “The West Nile virus has been known for many years to infect people in Israel, usually between July and November,” it said. “This year, infections started earlier than usual, probably related to local and global climate change. The humid conditions in central Israel have enabled the proliferation of mosquitoes in that area.”

West Nile fever is caused by a virus, with humans and other mammals serving as its carriers. It is one of 70 virus species belonging to the Flaviviridae family, with most species transmitted between animals through insect bites. The transmission of this virus to humans is random, and is accelerated in Israel by the females of the Culex mosquito species. The fever is not transmitted through contact with an infected person. The incubation period of this virus ranges from 5 to 21 days.