URJ and NFTY sued over sand fly bites on Israel youth trip


Parents of four Jewish high school students in Los Angeles County filed a lawsuit on May 4 alleging that the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) and its youth movement, the North American Federation of Temple Youth (NFTY), did not adequately warn and protect their children from infected sand flies during a 2014 group trip to Israel.

The complaint filed in Los Angeles Superior Court states that the four high school students each were bitten multiple times by the sand flies and as a result contracted leishmaniasis, a parasitic disease that, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), often causes painful skin ulcers, swollen glands, and, in serious cases. swelling of the spleen and liver, as well as low red and white blood-cell counts. Some sores can take months or years to heal and can leave behind “ugly scars”, according to the CDC’s website. The CDC estimates that between 900,000 and 1.6 million people contract leishmaniasis every year. It’s known to exist in parts of the Far East, the Middle East, Africa, Mexico and Central and South America.

The suit lists only the students’ initials and the parents’ first name and last initial, does not name any of the NFTY staff members on the trip to Israel, and does not detail the injuries suffered by the students. The plaintiffs argue that the defendants were negligent in not warning the students or their families about the possible presence of infected sand flies in some places they visited in Israel, and also in failing to provide the students with insect repellant or bed nets. The four families also allege that the teenagers were sleeping on “bug infested bedding”.

The attorney representing the plaintiffs, John C. Taylor of Taylor & Ring, LLP, did not respond to multiple requests for comment, and a spokeswoman for the URJ did not provide comment before this story went to press. Taylor, though, previously told the Los Angeles Times the students have had “ongoing medical treatment with little success” to treat the leishmaniasis and that the URJ and NFTY “had previous problems” with sand flies but still didn’t warn the students or their parents.

Although there are no vaccines that can prevent the contraction of leishmaniasis, the CDC recommends avoiding overnight outdoor activities where sand flies are present, applying insecticide, and, if not sleeping in a well-screened indoor area, sleeping in a bed protected by a bed net.

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