Northern Tourism Officials: Don’t Be Afraid to Visit

The Jordan River estuary of the Sea of Galilee near the community settlement of Karkom, northern Israel. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

Tourism officials in northern Israel on Tuesday had a message for Israelis concerned over the outbreak of leptospirosis (achbaret  in Hebrew) in the region – please don’t be afraid to come and visit.

In a statement, the Emek Hama’aynot Regional Council, which covers a portion of the Upper Galilee, said that “we have received hundreds of phone calls from hikers who are afraid of getting sick. The reserves and parks under our jurisdiction, including Park Hama’ayanot, are perfectly safe. There is no reason for hikers not to come and enjoy the natural springs and streams here.”

The message was prompted by reports that dozens of people were treated for Leptospirosis, a disease generally spread by rodents and animals. At least a dozen were being treated in hospitals. Common to all the victims was their bathing in fresh water springs that were apparently infested with the Leptospirosis bacteria. The Health Ministry in response closed four nature reserves in northern Israel, where water sources are suspected to have been infected.

Left untreated, Leptospirosis can lead to symptoms including headaches, muscle pains and fevers. More severe cases could include bleeding from the lungs or meningitis, or even severe pulmonary hemorrhage syndrome. If the infection causes the person to turn yellow, have kidney failure and bleeding, it is then known as Weil’s disease.

It is generally treatable by penicillin or other antibiotics. The sooner treatment is administered the less likely that symptoms will develop, say doctors.