Over the summer of 2016, I was fortunate enough to visit Israel for two weeks through Birthright Israel This was a once-in-a-lifetime experience where I gained a much deeper connection with my Judaic roots. I traveled with students from the University of Arizona, Arizona State University, and even a few students from the University of California system, thirty-nine altogether. Thanks to our wonderful trip coordinator, Elyse, we were able to visit many of the country's beautiful landmarks cities. We visited Tel-Aviv, Jerusalem, Haifa, Ashkelon, Gaza, and as many historical sites and places of significance as we could fit into our ten-day trip. I had a fantastic time and made many friends; however, something interesting happened while on the trip that I never expected.
On the second day of the trip, we stopped for lunch in Tel-Aviv’s famous Shuk HaCarmel Market. We ended eating at this restaurant and like most places we visited, the food was delicious, the conversations lively, and the meal filling. However, later that day a mystery began to develop. I’m a nationally and state licensed EMT and a junior in the College of Public Health. Some of my travel companions developed some gastrointestinal distress. At first I presumed it to be traveler’s diarrhea, as many of us had been eating freely of fresh local vegetables and fruits. Over the course of the next several days more trip members fell ill: nausea, vomiting, fever, chills, and gastrointestinal distress. Dehydrated, one of the girl’s went to an Israeli urgent care. Interest piqued, I put my studies in epidemiology to use and began an investigation.
With the help of another student who had a Master’s degree in Public Health, I designed a thirty-five patient interview guide and conducted nine patient interviews with each of the affected
students. After collecting all of the data, a pattern emerged. Several students had just irritated their celiac disease or gluten intolerance. But for the others, it became evident that the prodromal stage was about 24-48 hours depending on the health of the student and their individual susceptibility to the disease. I suspected, due to the nature of the illness, the pathogen was bacterial in origin, and I was excited to learn that a local NP at the urgent care who had seen one of the students had determined that the Israeli Public Health authorities had confirmed a local bacterial infection had been spread along the Mediterranean coast, and more specifically in Tel Aviv.
So, what happened? Working backwards I was able to deduce the restaurant had prepared food for a party of 40, and one of the staff members there had likely contaminated the food and had not followed the appropriate procedures for keeping the food contaminant free. I shared my findings with everyone on the final day of the trip, the food poisoning was self limiting, and although my finding didn’t make anyone feel better, the resulting information led to a formal investigation of the restaurant in question by Israeli Public Health officials.
At the conclusion of the trip we said goodbye, and I stayed in Israel, catching a bus to Eilat to scuba dive in the red sea. Then I caught another bus up to Jerusalem and spent the night with my cousin who I last saw while I was still in diapers. I ended my trip with a lazy couple of days in Tel Aviv.
Traveling to Israel under the auspices of the University of Arizona was one of the most memorable experiences of my life, and I am grateful to the people I met and the friends I made, as well as to the people of Israel for making the trip so wonderful. As I continue on with my career in Public Health, I am interested in studying the biochemical and psychosocial aspects of infectious diseases. I have the University of Arizona’s College of Science and College of Public Health to thank for the skills I developed that allowed me to have such a wonderful time in Israel. Our slogan for the Birthright trip is: I don’t have family, I got מִשׁפָּחָה (family).