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Date: Thu, 1 Dec 2016 05:41:02 +0100

Tokyo, Dec 1, 2016 (AFP) - Japan has mobilised its military to help with a second mass cull of 230,000 chickens amid a spreading outbreak of a highly contagious strain of avian flu, officials said.   The highly virulent H5 strain was found in chickens at a farm in Joetsu city in Niigata prefecture, the local government said in a statement late Wednesday.   It said that 2,100 people, including 1,020 members of the military, were being mobilised in the effort to kill the chickens and contain the virus.   The chicken slaughter began late Wednesday and was expected to continue until Sunday, the statement said.

Authorities have also banned the transport of poultry and poultry products in areas close to the affected farm, while sterilising main roads leading to them.   The case comes after a cull of nearly 320,000 chickens began at another farm in Niigata and some 16,500 ducks were also to be culled at a farm in the northern prefecture of Aomori.   Farm minister Yuji Yamamoto urged Niigata prefecture to "enhance measures" to prevent the virus from spreading, according to Jiji Press.    Before the current outbreak, Japan's last confirmed case of avian flu at a
farm was in January 2015.
Date: Thu, 1 Dec 2016 01:53:57 +0100

Sydney, Dec 1, 2016 (AFP) - A French tourist has died after being stabbed in the neck during an unprovoked attack when he and his wife pulled over on a highway in remote Australia, police said Thursday.   The pair were about an hour north of Alice Springs on the Stuart Highway on Wednesday afternoon when the man, whose age was not given, was killed.

"It is believed that two French tourists, being husband and wife, were at a rest stop 30 kilometres (18 miles) south of the Aileron Roadhouse when they were approached by an unknown man," said Detective Superintendent Travis Wurst.   "The man has allegedly then stabbed the male tourist to the neck, in an unprovoked attack. The male passed away at the scene."

The attacker fled in a vehicle which was stopped soon after by police with the man running off into bushland. He was arrested on Thursday morning.   Police said the wife was being treated for shock at Alice Springs Hospital.   The Stuart Highway, a popular tourist drive, is the principal north-south route through Australia's remote central interior, spanning nearly 3,000 kilometres from Darwin via Alice Springs to Port Augusta.
Date: Thu, 1 Dec 2016 00:17:27 +0100

Washington, Nov 30, 2016 (AFP) - Seven people have died in the US southeast as wildfires blazed across a mountainous tourist region, forcing thousands to evacuate and destroying or damaging hundreds of structures, US media reported Wednesday.   High winds and parched vegetation caused by the worst drought in nearly a decade provided fuel for the fires that burned in the eastern part of Tennessee, threatening two tourist resort towns.

The seven dead have not been identified, however, the authorities said three were found in a home, a fourth in a burned-out hotel and three more in the same neighborhood, the Knoxville News Sentinel reported. Forty-five people had been treated at an area hospital, officials said.   The fires burned to the doorstep of a well-known theme park, Dollywood, founded by country music legend Dolly Parton, located in the touristic hamlet of Pigeon Forge.

The town's authorities have lifted a mandatory evacuation, while the restriction remains in place for nearby Gatlinburg, a city seven miles (11 kilometres) southeast, which serves as a gateway to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.   The towns are both located in Sevier County, whose mayor, Larry Waters, said on Wednesday afternoon that 700 homes and businesses have been burned this week, the News Sentinel said.   Of those, 300 buildings were inside Gatlinburg's city limits.

More than 14,000 of the city's residents and visitors were believed to have been evacuated from the Gatlinburg alone, officials reported Tuesday.   "I have been watching the terrible fires in the Great Smoky Mountains and I am heartbroken," Parton, 70, said Tuesday. "I am praying for all the families affected by the fire and the firefighters who are working so hard to keep everyone safe."   Dollywood will remain closed until 2:00 pm (1900 GMT) Friday, while the Great Smoky Mountains -- the most visited national park in the United States -- said it had closed all park facilities and many trails.

Twenty-six active fires have burned nearly 12,000 acres (4,855 hectares) across the state, Tennessee's Department of Agriculture reported Wednesday.   A temporary flight restriction remains in effect in the area and numerous roads are closed or blocked by fallen trees and power lines, the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency said.   Meanwhile, at least eight counties experienced severe weather overnight, including tornado touchdowns. The storm systems killed at least two, the agency said.
Date: Wed, 30 Nov 2016 11:36:59 +0100

Seoul, Nov 30, 2016 (AFP) - South Korea Wednesday revealed new cases of a deadly strain of bird flu as authorities said they had slaughtered two million chickens and ducks in a bid to control the outbreak.

The H5N6 virus was first confirmed on November 18 at a farm in central South Korea and it has since spread to farms around the country, with the total number of cases now standing at 46.   Authorities have stepped up quarantine measures, culling birds and restricting animal movements which are feared to spread the virus.   "We've culled some two million birds and we will slaughter another one million", an agricultural ministry spokesman told AFP.

Health authorities stressed there had been no cases of human infections from H5N6 in South Korea.   However, between 2014 and April 2016, H5N6 killed six people in China, according to the South's Center for Disease Control and Prevention.   The World Health Organization warned earlier this year that the strain "has caused severe infection in humans" but added "until now human infections with the virus seem to be sporadic with no ongoing human to human transmission".
Date: Wed, 30 Nov 2016 08:53:01 +0100

Berlin, Nov 30, 2016 (AFP) - German heavyweight airline Lufthansa cancelled a further 890 flights on Wednesday as pilots remained on strike in a long-running wage dispute.   Lufthansa said some 98,000 passengers were grounded by the walkout, which flight crew extended to long-haul flights after Tuesday's action affected only short-haul services.

The airline has sought to limit the impact of the strike by introducing an emergency timetable.   Some 4,461 flights have been cancelled in the six days of strikes since last Wednesday,  according to Lufthansa.   Pilots launched their 15th round of industrial action since spring 2014 on Tuesday, after a two-day pause on Sunday and Monday that saw talks break down with management.

Directors and pilots have failed to agree on a wage increase, and Lufthansa's offer of a mediation process has been flatly rejected by pilots' union Vereinigung Cockpit.   The flight crew organisation plans a demonstration at Lufthansa hub airport Frankfurt late on Wednesday morning.   Other airlines in the group, including Eurowings, Swiss, Austrian Airlines and Brussels Airlines, are not affected by the strike and are running a normal service.   Cockpit has not so far called for the strike to continue into Thursday.
Date: Tue, 29 Nov 2016 18:22:29 +0100
By Marina LAPENKOVA

Moscow, Nov 29, 2016 (AFP) - Russia's HIV infection rate is growing 10 percent a year and over one million Russian have been diagnosed with the disease in nearly three decades, the country's top AIDS expert said Tuesday.   The number of registered cases reached 1,087,339 on September 30, Vadim Pokrovsky, head of the national state AIDS centre, said at a news conference.

That number is a cumulative total of all those registered since 1987 and includes those who have since died.    According to the health ministry, around 820,000 Russians out of a population of 146 million are currently living with HIV.   In 2015, 110,000 new cases were officially registered in Russia, up from 85,252 new cases in 2014.   The real number of those infected is significantly higher -- 1.3 to 1.4 million or almost 1 percent of the population, Pokrovsky estimated.

A global AIDS study published in The Lancet HIV journal in July found that new infections have plateaued globally at around 2.5 million per year, with more than 75 percent of infections in sub-Saharan Africa.   In Europe, the highest rate of new infections was in Russia and Ukraine, the study found.   "The situation is just getting worse and today it is threatening national security," said Pokrovsky, warning of the risk of a huge epidemic breaking out by 2021.

Just over half of new cases in Russia -- 51 per cent -- result from injecting drugs, while 47 percent are infected by unprotected straight sex and only 1.5 percent say they got infected from gay sex.   "Russia is the only country in the world where drug users represent more than 50% of people with HIV," said Pokrovsky.   He slammed the lack of an HIV prevention campaign, such as handing out clean needles.   "The public funds aren't even enough to treat all those who are HIV positive. I'm not even talking about the prevention of new cases," he said.

Only one in three HIV positive people in Russia gets free medical treatment due to a lack of funding, while the medicines are often of low quality.   Russia's President Vladimir Putin has backed conservative values that align with those of the powerful Russian Orthodox Church, meaning health services have focused on AIDS treatment rather than prevention.   Russia has also banned supplying drug users with methadone as a substitute for heroin and has shifted its focus from information campaigns to those promoting abstinence.    The justice ministry blacklisted two major NGOs involved in HIV prevention in July under a controversial new law that labels them as "foreign agents."
Date: Tue, 29 Nov 2016 07:29:49 +0100
By Martin PARRY

Sydney, Nov 29, 2016 (AFP) - Scurvy, a disease historically associated with old-world sailors on long voyages, is making a surprise comeback in Australia, with health officials Tuesday revealing a rare spate of cases.   Caused by vitamin C deficiency, the condition used to be a common -- and often fatal -- curse among seafarers who went months without fresh fruit and vegetables.   Once barely heard of in developed countries, reports suggest the problem is also on the rise in Britain, while a medical journal this year detailed the case of a baby developing scurvy in Spain.

Jenny Gunton, who heads the Centre for Diabetes, Obesity and Endocrinology research at the Westmead Institute in Sydney, said scurvy had reappeared in Australia because of poor dietary habits.   She discovered the disease after wounds on several of her patients failed to heal.   "When I asked about their diet, one person was eating little or no fresh fruit and vegetables, but the rest ate fair amounts of vegetables; they were simply over-cooking them, which destroys the vitamin C," she said.   "It highlights a danger that you can consume plenty of calories, yet not receive enough nutrients."

The scurvy diagnosis for 12 patients was made based on blood tests and symptoms, with all cured by a simple course of vitamin C.   A lack of vitamin C can lead to defective formation of collagen and connective tissues, and cause bruising, bleeding gums, blood spots in the skin, joint pain and impaired wound healing.   Common foods that keep scurvy at bay include oranges, strawberries, broccoli, kiwi fruit, bell peppers and grapefruit, but overcooking can destroy key nutrients.

- 'Couldn't believe it' -
Penelope Jackson was one of those diagnosed with the disease and said she was stunned.   "I couldn't believe it. I thought, 'hang on a minute, scurvy hasn't be around for centuries'," she told the Sydney Morning Herald.   "It's something you associate with the First Fleet and the days of Arthur Phillip and Captain (James) Cook. You don't expect it to be around in the 21st century."   Phillip was the first governor of New South Wales state who sailed with the First Fleet from England in 1788 while navigator and explorer Cook is often credited as one of the first to understand the relationship between fresh fruit and scurvy.

Gunton, who published a research paper on the diseases' resurgence in the international journal Diabetic Medicine, said patients could be overweight or obese and still have the condition.   Her paper reported there was no predominant social pattern to the incidence of the disease and that patients with poor diets appeared to be from a range of socio-economic backgrounds.   "This result suggests that despite the large amount of dietary advice readily available to the community, there are still plenty of people -- from all walks of life -- who are not getting the messages," Gunton said.

"Human bodies cannot synthesise vitamin C, so we must eat foods containing it."   Health authorities tend not to test for scurvy these days and Gunton's study advised clinicians to be alert to the potential problem especially in diabetes patients.   "Particularly if their patients present with unhealed ulcers, easy bruising or gum bleeding without obvious cause," she said.
Date: Mon, 28 Nov 2016 22:28:10 +0100

Miami, Nov 28, 2016 (AFP) - Texas has announced its first case of local Zika virus, making it the second US state after Florida to say it likely has mosquitoes spreading the disease that can cause birth defects.   The case involves a woman who is not pregnant and has not recently travelled anywhere that Zika is spreading, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.

The case is considered "likely" a result of local transmission, until officials find evidence of mosquitoes carrying the disease.   The woman was "was confirmed last week by lab test to have been infected," said the statement.   "She reported no recent travel to Mexico or anywhere else with ongoing Zika virus transmission and no other risk factors."

Texas health officials said there are no other cases of suspected local transmission at this time, but vowed to continue surveillance.   "We knew it was only a matter of time before we saw a Zika case spread by a mosquito in Texas," said John Hellerstedt, Department of State Health Services commissioner.    "We still don't believe the virus will become widespread in Texas, but there could be more cases, so people need to protect themselves from mosquito bites, especially in parts of the state that stay relatively warm in the fall and winter."

Florida was the first state to report the local spread of Zika, and has reported 238 such cases as of last week, as part of more than 1,200 infections state-wide so far this year.   The virus has swept mainly across Latin America and the Caribbean, and can cause birth defects if pregnant women are infected.   A series of brain and skull malformations are associated with Zika, including a condition called microcephaly, in which babies are born with unusually small heads.
Date: Mon, 28 Nov 2016 19:39:35 +0100

San José, Nov 28, 2016 (AFP) - Flags dropped to half-mast in Costa Rica on Monday at the start of three days of mourning for 10 people killed in a hurricane that struck late last week.   The grieving decreed by the government came as the north of the country slowly got back to normal after the passage last Thursday of Hurricane Otto, which affected 449 towns and villages, some of which were flooded.

The death toll rose to 10 after the identification on Sunday of another body. An unspecified number of people remain missing.   Some 5,500 people remain in shelters, where diarrhoea has emerged as a problem, according to the National Commission for Emergencies.   Otto blew in from the Caribbean on Thursday, hitting land in a sparsely inhabited part of Nicaragua, where no deaths were reported. It then crossed into a rural northern part of Costa Rica, losing strength and becoming a tropical storm as it exited into the Pacific.
Date: Mon, 28 Nov 2016 19:37:37 +0100

Havana, Nov 28, 2016 (AFP) - US airlines resumed direct flights to Havana on Monday, a sign of the changing times just as the Cuban capital held a tearful memorial for late revolutionary leader Fidel Castro.   After setting off from Miami with a water cannon salute, an American Airlines flight touched down at Jose Marti international airport at 8:45 am (1345 GMT).

It was the first time in more than 50 years a US airline provided regular commercial service to Havana.   "It's something historic. We were expecting this for a long time here," said American passenger Edgar Salveani on arrival.   The first JetBlue Airways flight from New York to Havana arrived shortly after.   Commercial flights between Cuba and the US had already resumed in August under the historic rapprochement the old Cold War foes announced in December 2014.   But these are the first to Havana.   In an added dose of symbolism, they come just three days after Castro's death at age 90 turned a page on the revolutionary leader's divisive legacy.

As the planes touched down, hundreds of thousands of Cubans were streaming onto Havana's iconic Revolution Square to pay their last respects to Castro, who ruled the island with an iron fist from 1959 to 2006.   "It's a once in a lifetime experience, it will be interesting to see how people are responding to his passing," passenger Priva Rhat told reporters on the American Airlines flight.

Air travel between the United States and Cuba had been restricted to charter flights from 1979 until earlier this year.   Direct commercial flights began on August 31, linking several US airports with nine Cuban cities, many of them in or near tourism hotspots.    There are now 110 scheduled daily flights from the United States to Cuba, 20 of them to Havana.

The direct flights were one of several watershed changes initiated after US President Barack Obama and Castro's successor, his younger brother Raul, announced a thaw after more than 50 years of hostility.   Diplomatic relations were restored in July 2015.   Washington still bans Americans from visiting Cuba as tourists, but travel is permitted for 12 other categories, including cultural and educational exchange.