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Wednesday, 20 September, 2000, 22:05 GMT 23:05 UK
Israel's virus 'epidemic'
Mosquito
The disease is usually spread by mosquitoes
By Paul Adams in Jerusalem

Israel has declared an outbreak of West Nile fever an epidemic following the death of 13 people in recent weeks.

The health ministry has been spraying mosquito-infested areas in an effort to combat the virus.

The same illness killed seven people in the United States last year.

As well as the 13 people who have died, 160 Israelis have been infected in the last two months.

Several victims are still in hospital and at least 15 new cases are being reported every day. The latest victim, a 79-year-old man, died in a Tel Aviv hospital on Tuesday.

Bird theory

Health ministry officials say they do not know if the epidemic has already reached its peak.

The virus, which mosquitoes spread from infected birds to human beings, attacks the brain.

It causes paralysis and death in more susceptible victims.

The health ministry is now following the example of New York officials earlier this year - spraying residential areas and telling people to cover themselves in insect repellent.

It is not known what exact circumstances have triggered the epidemic. Most theories cite a combination of factors, including the weather and migrating birds.

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