Middle East Governments Respond Aggressively to Prevent Spread of Swine Flu

So far, Israel has been the only Middle Eastern country to have confirmed cases of swine flu, after two travelers were inflected following a trip Mexico. Yet some Middle Eastern countries have taken aggressive measures to prevent the spread of the H1N1 influenza A virus.

In Israel — where several people, including a little girl who lived in the house of one of the confirmed patients, are under observation in hospitals — travelers coming from Mexico into the country are forced to undergo a medical examination at the airport or other points of entry.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has been chairing a daily meeting with health officials on the outbreak, ordered health officials to increase stocks of antiviral medicine beyond World Health Organization levels, even though Israel has enough antiviral medicine stored to treat a fifth of the population.

In neighboring Egypt, the government has begun widespread culling of the country's 350,000 to 400,000 pigs, despite objections from global health experts who said that the widespread slaughter is unnecessary and a waste of resources.

“The crisis today is in transmission from human to human. It has nothing to do with pigs,” said Joseph Domenech, U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization chief veterinary officer.

To handle the mass culling, army slaughterhouses were drafted into service to help overwhelmed pork slaughterhouses.

Pig farmers, many of them from the Christian minority that makes up about 10 percent of Egypt’s population, are often desperately poor. On Thursday, they blocked streets and stoned vehicles of government health workers who came to carry out the government’s order. In one farming community north of Cairo, angry farmers battered the vehicles of government workers with such ferocity that the government retreated, and the pigs were spared.

In some cases, farmers have been promised the equivalent of $177 per head as compensation. In other cases, compensation has been refused as the pig farmers are told the meat will be frozen and they’ll have an opportunity to sell it later. One Islamic militant Web site carried comments saying the swine flu was "God’s revenge against the infidels."

In Jordan, pig farms were shut down and 20 to 30 pig farms in Lebanon were ordered to take precautionary measures in line with World Health Organization guidelines.

A pig farm around Bethlehem has been examined and only the workers and owners are being allowed near the farm.

In other parts of the Middle East, Saudi Arabia began installing thermal cameras at entry points and airports to spot if someone is arriving with a raised body temperature. Quarantine officers at airports and seaports have been advised to be on alert for passengers coming from countries with confirmed flu cases.

On Wednesday, Kuwait began screening passengers coming from six countries with confirmed cases, including Mexico, the United States and Great Britain. The deputy head of public health in Kuwait urged his population to avoid traveling to countries with confirmed cases.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.