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Eye parasite poses danger to bathers in Sea of Galilee

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An area that attracts tourists and Christian pilgrims from around the world, has been found to contain microsporidium, which can cause corneal infections.

The Sea of Galilee

(Image Credit: AdobeStock/Alexandr Makarenko)

The Israeli Health Ministry is asking swimmers to protect their eyes with goggles when bathing in the Sea of Galilee after 3 new cases of microsporidium were reported.

Microsporidium is a waterborne parasite that can cause illnesses, including eye infections.

According to Christian beliefs, the lake is where Jesus walked on water, made the miraculous catch of fish, and calmed the storm. In the New Testament of the Bible, much of Jesus’ ministry occurs on the shores of the Sea of Galilee.

According to a news release from the Ministry of Health, ophthalmologists have filed numerous reports with the Ministry about multiple patients who required hospitalization and suffer from severe cornea infections or scarring, and in more severe cases, blurred vision.

“The investigation shows that so far 29 patients have been hospitalized with lesions in the cornea consistent with microsporidium infections,” the news release noted. “The Ministry of Health has launched an epidemiological investigation, which so far has uncovered the fact that at least some cases visited various beaches of the Sea of Galilee.“

Ophthalmologists reported cases of corneal inflammation and scarring in patients who had recently bathed in the contaminated waters, with two confirmed diagnoses of microsporidium and another suspected case.

This was not the first time such occurrences were reported; last year, 38 cases of similar corneal lesions were documented, sparking concerns about the presence of the parasite.

According to the Ministry of Health, it is asking swimmers to wear goggles when swimming in the Sea of Galilee to prevent direct contact of the eyes with the water.

“Any person who swims in the Sea of Galilee and notices an eye infection, redness, pain, or a sense of a ‘foreign object’ in the eyes must immediately contact an eye doctor,” the news release noted.

The Ministry of Health did note in the news release it is safe to drink the water of the Sea of Galilee.

According to the news release, the Ministry of Health and the Israeli Water Authority will continue to monitor the water in laboratories in an effort to locate the cause of this problem and they will release updates as information becomes available.

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