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Andorra

General
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This small country is situated between France and Spain. Because of its elevation and proximity to the Pyrenees the climate is generally pleasant throughout the year.
Climate
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During the summer months the temperatures can rise to 30c but there is usually a cooling breeze. Lightening storms can occur during the summer months associated with torrential rain.
Sun Exposure and Dehydration
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Those from Northern Europe can develop significant sun exposure and so remember to use a wide brimmed hat when necessary. The altitude can also lead to significant tiredness and dehydration so take sufficient initial rest and drink plenty of fluids.
Safety & Security
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The level of crime throughout the country directed at tourists is very low. Nevertheless take care of your personal belongings at all times and use hotel safety boxes where possible.
Local Customs
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There are strict laws regarding the use of illegal drugs. Make sure you have sufficient supplies of any medication you required for your trip and that it is clearly marked. The European E111 form is not accepted in Andorra and so it is essential that you have sufficient travel insurance for your trip.
Winter Sports
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Andorra is one of the regions where many travel to partake of their winter sport facilities. Generally this is well controlled and one of the safer regions. Nevertheless, make certain your travel insurance is adequate for the activities you are planning to undertake.
Vaccination
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The only standard vaccine to consider for Andorra would be tetanus in line with many other developed countries of the world.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Thu, 12 Jul 2018 15:24:06 +0200

Andorra la Vella, Andorra, July 12, 2018 (AFP) - The tax haven of Andorra has long been a favourite destination for smokers looking to stock up on cheap cigarettes, but the enclave said Thursday that it would soon stop advertising the fact.   The government said it had signed up to the World Health Organization's (WHO) anti-tobacco convention, which aims to encourage people to quit smoking and combat contraband sales.   "The goal is to contribute to public health and pursue the fight against trafficking," government spokesman Jordi Cinca said at a press conference.

The tiny principality of Andorra, perched in the Pyrenees on the border between France and Spain, attracts millions of shoppers each year to duty-free stores, where prices of alcohol, cigarettes, electronics and clothes can be up to 20 percent cheaper than elsewhere in the EU.   High taxes on tobacco imposed by many countries to help people kick smoking make Andorra's cigarettes a particularly good deal.   The average pack costs just three euros ($3.50) compared with eight euros in France, which has said it will gradually raise the price to 10 euros a pack by November 2020.

Tobacco sales bring in some 110 million euros a year for Andorra, whose economy is otherwise based almost entirely on tourism.   It is also an enticing destination for smugglers, with French and Spanish border agents regularly seizing cartons from people trying to sneak them out, either by car or by hiking down the mountain trails which criss-cross the Pyrenees.   No date has been set for the advertising ban, which will come into effect three months after the ratification of the WHO accord is voted by parliament.
Date: Fri, 16 Mar 2018 02:41:51 +0100

Andorra la Vella, Andorra, March 16, 2018 (AFP) - The tiny principality of Andorra is witnessing a once in a generation phenomenon -- a widespread strike.   Around a third of civil servants across the mountainous micro-state have walked out to protest proposed reforms to their sector in what has been described as Andorra's first large-scale strike since 1933.

With no negotiation breakthrough in sight, picket lines are expected to be manned again on Friday with customs officers, police, teachers and prison staff among those taking part.   The first major strike in 85 years was sparked by plans from the government of Antoni Marti to reform civil servant contracts.   He has assured officials "will not do an hour more" work under the reforms and that 49 million euros would be allocated for the next 25 years to supplement civil servant salaries.   But government workers are unconvinced with unions warning the reforms could risk their 35 hour working week and pay.

Customs officers involved in the strike interrupted traffic on the Andorran-Spanish border this week, according to unions, while some 80 percent of teachers have walked out of classes.   Strikers have occupied the government's main administrative building and held noisy protests outside parliament calling for Marti's resignation.    "We have started collecting signatures to demand the resignation of the head of government and now nobody will stop us," Gabriel Ubach, spokesman for the public service union, told reporters.
Date: Mon 27 Sep 2017
Source: Contagion Live [edited]

A recent Dispatch article published in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)'s Emerging Infectious Diseases journal, offers insight into a large norovirus outbreak that sprung up in Spain in 2016 that had been linked with bottled spring water. The Public Health Agency of Catalonia (ASPCAT) reported a staggering 4136 cases of gastroenteritis from 11-25 Apr 2016. Of the 4136 cases, 6 individuals required hospitalization. The CDC defines a "case-patient" as an "exposed person who had vomiting or diarrhoea (3 or more loose stools within 24 hours)," as well as 2 or more of the following symptoms: nausea, stomach pain, or fever.

ASPCAT investigators traced back the outbreak to contaminated bottled spring water in office water coolers. The water came from a source in Andorra, a small independent principality located between Spain and France. Norovirus is a "very contagious virus," according to the CDC, and it is common for individuals to become infected by eating contaminated food. Although it is possible to be infected by consuming contaminated drinking water, this mode of transmission is "rare in developed countries," according to the article.

The investigators collected water samples from a total of 4 19-L water coolers in 2 different offices located in Barcelona, "from which affected persons had drunk; samples 1 and 2 came from 2 water coolers in one office, while samples 3 and 4 came from 2 water coolers in another office. Using "positively charged glass wool and polyethylene glycol precipitation for virus concentration," the investigators tested the samples.

"We detected high RNA levels for norovirus genotype I and II, around 103 and 104 genome copies/L, in 2 of the 4 water cooler samples concentrated by glass wool filtration and polyethylene glycol precipitation," according to the article. The investigators noted that a drawback of using molecular methods is that they are not able to differentiate between particles that are infectious and those that are not. Therefore, they "predicted the infectivity of norovirus in the concentrated samples by treating the samples with the nucleic acid intercalating dye PMA propidium monoazide and Triton X surfactant before RT-qPCR," which allowed them to "distinguish between virions with intact and altered capsids."

In those 2 water samples, they found high genome copy values -- 49 and 327 genome copies/L for norovirus genotype I and 33 and 660 genomes copies/L for norovirus genotype II. This was not an unexpected finding, due to the large number of infected individuals associated with the outbreak. Through "PMA/Triton treatment before RT-qPCR assays," the investigators found that the proportion of infected virions accounted for 0.3% to 5.6% of the total number of physical particles in the water samples, "which was enough to cause gastrointestinal illness."

The investigators also analyzed faecal samples collected from infected individuals who worked at the office in which the 1st 2 water samples were collected. They detected the following genotypes in those faecal samples: GI.2 and GII.17. In the faecal samples collected from the other office, they isolated the following genotypes: GII.4/Sydney/2012, GI.2, GII.17, and GII.2.

"We hypothesize that the spring water was contaminated by all 4 strains (GI.2, GII.2, GII.4, and GII.17) but levels of viral contamination for each genotype were not homogeneous in all bottled coolers," the investigators wrote. "We may have detected only the GII.4 genotype in water samples 1 and 2 because of a higher concentration of this specific genotype or because of bias caused by the sampling, concentration, and molecular detection procedures."

The investigators admit one limitation to their study: the small number of water samples collected and analyzed. They attribute this to the fact that on 15 Apr 2016, 4 days after the onset of the outbreak, the company that produced the drinking water recalled over 6150 containers of water "of suspected quality" as a precautionary measure. The recall prevented the investigators from collecting more samples to assess, according to the article.

Although the exact cause of the contamination has not yet been identified, the investigators posit that "the high number of affected persons from 381 offices that received water coolers, and the many different genotypes found in some patients' faecal specimens" suggest that the spring aquifer had been contaminated by "sewage pollution," and the Andorra Ministry of Health and Welfare banned further use of the spring.

The investigators suggest that assessing commercially-produced mineral waters for different harmful pathogens, such as norovirus would be beneficial. They note, however, that creating, enhancing, and managing such "virus surveillance systems" would be costly. Thus, the investigators suggest taking a "balanced approach to keep both the cost and the time required for the analyses within feasibility limits."  [Byline: Kristi Rosa]
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[The interesting article published in the September 2017 issue of Emerging Infectious Diseases is:
Blanco A, Guix S, Fuster N, et al: Norovirus in bottled water associated with gastroenteritis outbreak, Spain, 2016. Emerg Infect Dis. 2017; 23(9): 1531-34; https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/eid/article/23/9/16-1489_article. - ProMED Mod.LL]

[Catalonia and Andorra can be located on the HealthMap/ProMED-mail map at http://healthmap.org/promed/p/1341. - ProMED Sr.Tech.Ed.MJ]
Date: Thu, 26 Dec 2013 22:25:05 +0100 (MET)

ANDORRA LA VELLA, Andorra, Dec 26, 2013 (AFP) - A Spanish skier and a French snowboarder have died in avalanches in different mountain ranges in Europe, officials said Thursday.

The 27-year-old skier, a woman from Barcelona, died Wednesday while going off-piste alone in the Soldeu resort in Andorra, in the Pyrenees mountains between France and Spain, a resort manager told AFP.   Although she was rescued within 10 minutes, after her glove was spotted on the surface, she was unable to be revived despite a helicopter dash to hospital.

In the Italian Alps, close to the border with France, a 24-year-old Frenchman who was snowboarding with three friends on a closed run died Thursday when an avalanche swept over him in the resort town of Les Arnauds.   Local officials said he succumbed to multiple injuries, asphyxia and hypothermia.

Avalanches are common in Europe's ski resorts at this time of year, when early snows are heavy with moisture, and several deaths occur each winter.   Last Sunday, a 35-year-old Frenchman died in an avalanche in the Alps near the Italian border while on a three-day trek with a friend.
Date: Fri 7 Feb 2003 From: Jaime R. Torres Source: EFE Salud, Thu 6 Feb 2003 (translated by Maria Jacobs) [edited] -------------------------------------------------- Close to 300 students in one school and 173 tourists staying in 7 hotels in the Principality of Andorra have been affected by outbreaks of gastroenteritis that, according to local authorities, are not related to each other. Monica Codina, Minister of Health, stated that the outbreak that has affected almost 300 children and 8 adults in the San Ermengol school was detected last Monday [3 Feb 2003] but that it may have started Wednesday or Thursday of the previous week. The epidemiological surveys of a group of pre-school and grammar school students that may also be affected have not been performed yet. Also pending are the results of the microbiological tests of the food and water served in the school dining room, but the minister has indicated that the probable cause of the outbreak is the fact that water pitchers were filled with hoses directly from the faucet. The Minister stated that this outbreak of gastroenteritis is not related to the one that affected 173 tourists, most of them young people on holiday, who where staying in 7 hotels of the Principality. The government is also investigating the cause of this outbreak and has indicated that an anomaly in the system that supplies water to the hotels was detected, requiring a process of chlorination, which has not been carried out due to the heavy snowfall of the past few days. * * * * * * * * * * [The suspicion that defective water supplies may be responsible for all of these independent outbreaks suggests that the etiologic agent may be an enterovirus, hepatitis A virus, or non-viral, rather than one of the noroviruses associated with sudden-onset viral gastroenteritis. Information on the outcome of diagnostic tests in progress would be welcomed. - ProMed Mod.CP]
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Puerto Rico

No Profile is available at present

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Thu, 16 Jan 2020 02:45:27 +0100 (MET)
By Ivelisse RIVERA, con Leila MACOR en Miami

Yauco, Puerto Rico, Jan 16, 2020 (AFP) - Living out in the open, their nerves on edge after a series of earthquakes that have shaken Puerto Rico, some 5,000 people are hoping that their president, Donald Trump, will heed the island's plea to be designated a disaster zone and free up much-needed aid.   Since December 28, more than 1,000 tremors have rattled the US island territory in the Caribbean, which just two years ago was devastated by two powerful hurricanes in quick succession.

In Yauco, one of the areas worst hit by the earthquakes, dozens of people were sitting on cot beds Wednesday in the parking lot of a municipal stadium, sheltered from the sun by white tents and blue tarps handed out by the federal disaster management agency, known as FEMA.  "The most difficult thing is the psychological aspect," said Wilfredo Rodriguez, 31. His house had been fractured by the seismic movement and he has spent a week living with his kids, aged six and 10, under an awning.    "We are living in constant fear of another powerful tremor," he said.

He only returns to his house to wash, then hurries back to the shelter. "We worry that there'll be a more powerful tremor while we are inside the house," he said.   Throughout the day, volunteers arrive to hand out food and toys for the children who fill the shelters: schools have been suspended because the buildings are not sturdy enough to withstand another quake.    The island's earthquake detection system has registered 1,104 tremors in the past two weeks alone, of which 186 could be felt by the population. By comparison, during the whole of 2019 there were 6,442 tremors, of which just 62 could be felt by people on the island.

Further south, in Guanico, Juan Santiago decided to move into a shelter on Saturday after a tremor of 5.9 on the Richter scale hit the island. "The mountain shook and rocks and earth started to come down," said the 30-year-old.  "My house has a crack in it and is about to fall down," he added. His home had weathered the Category Five winds of Hurricane Maria in September 2017 and of Hurricane Irma which followed it just two weeks later.   "It's different to a hurricane. What is happening now is much nastier," he said.

As he was talking the earth shook again, a tremor of 5.2 magnitude. Vehicles rocked like hammocks in the wind, but the quake-hardened victims barely reacted.   The houses in this part of the island are mostly rudimentary constructions built by the people who live in them with scant resources available in the mountains, where no regulations stipulate that buildings should be earthquake resistant.    The government of Puerto Rico said that as of Monday, there were 4,924 people living in 28 shelters in 14 municipalities. There were no figures on how many buildings had been damaged or destroyed.

- Seeking disaster designation -
Puerto Rico's governor Wanda Vazquez Garced called on Trump to declare the earthquake a disaster and clear the way for desperately needed aid. Trump had declared an emergency days before, but the governor wanted more.   The declaration of an emergency frees up to $5 million dollars in aid for the island, although Congress can bump that figure up. But if the situation is designated a disaster, there is no ceiling on funding, a FEMA spokesman said.   On Wednesday, the government said it would release $8.2 billion in delayed hurricane relief that had been stalled after the president threatened to divert Puerto Rico's emergency funds to help pay for his wall on the US-Mexico border.

In the past few days there have been growing calls among Democratic lawmakers for Trump to declare the situation in Puerto Rico a disaster.   It is a delicate subject, as Trump has accused the government of Puerto Rico of incompetence and of siphoning off hurricane relief money, triggering a public spat between the president and the mayor of San Juan, Carmen Yulin Cruz, as well as the former governor Ricardo Rossello, who was forced to step down last summer amid massive protests.   The Puerto Rican leaders accused Trump of treating the population of the island like second class citizens.
Date: Sat, 11 Jan 2020 15:43:12 +0100 (MET)

Washington, Jan 11, 2020 (AFP) - A 5.9 magnitude earthquake rocked Puerto Rico Saturday, the latest in a series of powerful tremors that have shaken the US territory in recent days, the US Geological Survey reported.

The latest quake occurred at 8:54 am local time (1254 GMT) around 13 kilometres (eight miles) southeast of Guanica, a town on the island's southern Caribbean coastline that was hard hit by earlier quakes.   The USGS revised its initial report of a 6.0 magnitude quake to 5.9.   It follows a 6.4 magnitude quake Tuesday that killed one person, knocked
out electric power and caused widespread damage.

Puerto Rico Governor Wanda Vazquez declared a state of emergency after Tuesday's quake, which forced an automatic shutdown of the power grid.    Puerto Rico's electric power authority reported outages in the towns of Ponce, Lares, Adjuntas and San German after the latest quake.   The Pacific Tsunami Information Center in Hawaii issued a statement saying there was "no significant tsunami threat" but a small possibility of tsunami waves along coasts nearest the epicentre.

The island is still recovering from Hurricane Maria, which came ashore more than two years ago as a devastating Category 4 storm.   Starting December 28, a wave of tremors have swept the island, putting residents on edge.   The 6.4 quake on January 7 came a day after a 5.8 magnitude quake; it was followed by major aftershocks.   Saturday's quakes were also preceded by a string of smaller tremors.
Date: Tue, 7 Jan 2020 23:44:45 +0100 (MET)
By Ricardo Arduengo

Guayanilla, Puerto Rico, Jan 7, 2020 (AFP) - Puerto Rico's governor declared a state of emergency on Tuesday after a powerful 6.4 magnitude earthquake killed at least one person in the south of the island and caused widespread damage.   Governor Wanda Vazquez said the declaration would allow for the activation of National Guard troops in the US territory still recovering from a devastating 2017 hurricane.   The US Geological Survey said the quake struck at 4:24 am (0824 GMT) with the epicenter off the coast of the southern city of Ponce, and was followed by more than a dozen aftershocks.

Tuesday's quake was the most powerful in a series of tremors that have shaken the island since December 28.   Scientists initially sent out an alert about a potential tsunami but it was later canceled.   The island's electricity authority said the quake had forced an automatic shutdown of the power grid, already severely damaged by Hurricane Maria more than two years ago.   The worst damage appeared to be in towns on the southwest coast, including Ponce, Guayanilla and Guanica.   El Nuevo Dia newspaper said a 73-year-old man died after a wall fell in his home in Ponce. Eight others there were reported injured.

Two power plants in Guayanilla sustained major damage, the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority said. The city could be without power for two weeks, its mayor Nelson Torres Yordan said.   Celebrity chef Jose Andres announced that a charity he runs, World Central Kitchen, had started serving meals and distributing solar-powered lamps in quake-hit areas.   Vazquez announced that $130 million in emergency aid funding will be disbursed.   On social media, people wrote of being shaken awake by the force of the quake.   One woman on Twitter said she had been "wrenched from sleep."   "Everybody is awake & scared all over," she posted.   In Guayanilla, the Inmaculada Concepcion church, built in 1841, was heavily damaged.   Volunteers salvaged statues and other valuable items from the ruins as a priest consoled distraught parishioners.

- 'Be safe' -
A 5.8 magnitude quake on Monday toppled some structures, caused power outages and small landslides, but did not result in any casualties.   It also destroyed a popular tourist landmark, Punta Ventana, a natural stone arch that crumbled on the island's southern coast.   Vazquez, the governor, said government employees were being given the day off on Tuesday to take care of their families.   "We want everyone to be safe," she said.   She said ports were undamaged and there are several weeks' supply of gasoline, diesel and natural gas stored so people need not worry about shortages.

The White House said President Donald Trump had been briefed and Pete Gaynor, head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), had been in touch with the governor.   Trump's administration came under severe criticism for its response to Hurricane Maria.   The Category 4 storm destroyed the island's already shaky power grid, overwhelmed public services, left many residents homeless and claimed several thousand lives, according to government estimates.
Date: Tue, 7 Jan 2020 12:52:34 +0100 (MET)

Washington, Jan 7, 2020 (AFP) - A strong earthquake struck south of Puerto Rico early Tuesday, the US Geological Survey said, the latest in a series of tremors that have shaken the island since December 28.   The shallow 6.5 magnitude quake struck 13.6 kilometres (8.5 miles) south of the city of Ponce, the USGS said, revising down its initial reading of 6.6.   The quake struck just off the US territory's southern Caribbean coastline at 4:24 am local time (0824 GMT).   "The whole island is without power," the director of Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, Jose Ortiz, told local media.

Puerto Rico's governor Wanda Vazquez Garced posted on Twitter that the government's security protocols had been activated.   She said government employees were not expected at work, adding: "We want everyone to be safe."   On social media, people wrote of being shaken awake by the force of the quake.   One woman on Twitter said she had been "wrenched from sleep", adding "Everybody is awake & scared all over."

Dramatic images also shared on social media appeared to show widespread damage in the town of Guayanilla, home to around 20,000 people, as well as nearby Guanica.   The mayor of Guayanilla told local news channel NotiUno that the town's church had collapsed in the incident.

An alert issued by the Tsunami Warning Center immediately following the earthquake was later cancelled.   Tuesday's quake was the strongest of a series of tremors that have shaken the island since December 28, topping Monday's 5.8 quake.   That earthquake toppled houses and caused power outages, but there were no reports of casualties.
Date: Mon, 6 Jan 2020 18:04:21 +0100 (MET)

Miami, Jan 6, 2020 (AFP) - A 5.8-magnitude earthquake shook Puerto Rico Monday, toppling houses and causing power outages and small landslides but there were no reports of casualties, the US Geological Survey said.   The quake, just off the US territory's southern Caribbean coastline, was felt throughout much of the island, including the capital San Juan.

Some 250,000 customers were hit by electric power outages after the quake, which struck at 6:32 am local time (1032GMT).   Images posted on social media showed houses tumbled from their supporting pillars, cracks in walls, cars crushed under collapsed houses and small scale landslides.   The quake was the strongest of a series that have rippled through the island since December 28, and it was followed by at least eight aftershocks, officials said.   No tsunami alerts were issued.
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Benin

Benin - US Consular Information Sheet
April 28, 2008

COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
Benin is a developing country in West Africa. Its political capital is Porto Novo. However, its administrative capital, Cotonou, is Benin's largest city and the
site of most government, commercial, and tourist activity. Read the Department of State Background Notes on Benin for additional information.

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS: A passport and visa are required. Visas are not routinely available at the airport. Visitors to Benin should also carry the WHO Yellow Card (“Carte Jaune”) indicating that they have been vaccinated for yellow fever. Contact the Embassy of Benin for the most current visa information. The Embassy is located at: 2124 Kalorama Road NW, Washington, DC 20008; tel: 202-232-6656.

Information about dual nationality or the prevention of international child abduction can be found on our web site. For further information about customs regulations, please read our Customs Information sheet.

SAFETY AND SECURITY:
U.S. citizens should avoid crowds, political rallies, and street demonstrations and maintain security awareness at all times.
U.S. citizens should not walk on the beach alone at any time of day. It is also highly recommended not to carry a passport or valuables when walking in any part of the city. Travelers should carry a notarized photocopy of the photo page of their passport (see Crime section). They should not walk around the city after dark, and should take particular care to avoid the beach and isolated areas near the beach after dark.
The ocean currents along the coast are extremely strong and treacherous with rough surf and a strong undertow, and several people drown each year.

For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs’ web site at http://travel.state.gov, where the current Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts, as well as the Worldwide Caution, can be found.

Up-to-date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S. and Canada, or for callers outside the U.S. and Canada, a regular toll-line at 1-202-501-4444. These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).

The Department of State urges American citizens to take responsibility for their own personal security while traveling overseas. For general information about appropriate measures travelers can take to protect themselves in an overseas environment, see the Department of State’s pamphlet A Safe Trip Abroad.

CRIME: Street robbery is a significant problem in Cotonou. Robbery and mugging occur along the Boulevard de France (the beach road by the Marina and Novotel Hotels) and on the beaches near hotels frequented by international visitors. Most of the reported incidents involve the use of force, often by armed persons, with occasional minor injury to the victim. Travelers should avoid isolated and poorly lit areas and should not walk around the city or the beaches between dusk and dawn. Even in daylight hours, foreigners on the beach near Cotonou are frequent victims of robberies. When visiting the beach, travelers should not bring valuables and should carry only a photocopy of their passport. If you are a victim of crime, you should contact the U.S. Embassy immediately. There has been a continued increase in the number of robberies and carjacking incidents after dark, both within metropolitan Cotonou and on highways and rural roads outside of major metropolitan areas. Motorists are urged to be wary of the risk of carjacking. Keep the windows of your vehicle rolled up and the doors locked. Stay alert for signs of suspicious behavior by other motorists or pedestrians that may lead to carjacking, such as attempts to stop a moving vehicle for no obvious reason. Travelers should avoid driving outside the city of Cotonou after dark and should exercise extreme caution when driving in Cotonou after dark (see Traffic Safety and Road Conditions below). Overland travel to Nigeria is dangerous near the Benin/Nigeria border due to unofficial checkpoints and highway banditry.
Travelers should avoid the use of credit cards and automated teller machines (ATMs) in Benin due to a high rate of fraud. Perpetrators of business and other kinds of fraud often target foreigners, including Americans. While such fraud schemes in the past have been largely associated with Nigeria, they are now prevalent throughout West Africa, including Benin, and are more frequently perpetrated by Beninese criminals. Business scams are not always easy to recognize, and any unsolicited business proposal should be carefully scrutinized. There are, nevertheless, some indicators that are warnings of a probable scam. Look out for:

Any offer of a substantial percentage of a very large sum of money to be transferred into your account, in return for your "discretion" or "confidentiality";

Any deal that seems too good to be true;
Requests for signed and stamped, blank letterhead or invoices, or for bank account or credit card information;
Requests for urgent air shipment, accompanied by an instrument of payment whose genuineness cannot immediately be established;
Solicitations claiming the soliciting party has personal ties to high government officials;
Requests for payment, in advance, of transfer taxes or incorporation fees;
Statements that your name was provided to the soliciting party either by someone you do not know or by "a reliable contact";
Promises of advance payment for services to the Beninese government; and
Any offer of a charitable donation.
These scams, which may appear to be legitimate business deals requiring advance payments on contracts, pose a danger of both financial loss and physical harm. Recently more American citizens have been targeted. The perpetrators of such scams sometimes pose as attorneys. One common ploy is to request fees for “registration” with fictitious government offices or regulatory authorities. The best way to avoid becoming a victim of advance-fee fraud is common sense – if it looks too good to be true, it probably is. Travelers should carefully check out any unsolicited business proposal originating in Benin before committing any funds, providing any goods or services, or undertaking any travel. For additional information, please see the Department of State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs brochure, International Financial Scams.

Scams may also involve persons posing as singles on Internet dating sites or as online acquaintances who then get into trouble and require money to be "rescued." If you are asked to send money by someone you meet online please contact the U.S. Embassy before doing so.

INFORMATION FOR VICTIMS OF CRIME: The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate for assistance. The Embassy/Consulate staff can, for example, assist you to find appropriate medical care, contact family members or friends and explain how funds could be transferred. Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed.

See our information on Victims of Crime.

MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION: Medical facilities in Benin are limited and not all medicines are available. Travelers should bring their own supplies of prescription drugs and preventive medicines. Not all medicines and prescription drugs available in Benin are USFDA-approved. Malaria is a serious risk to travelers to Benin. For information on malaria, its prevention, protection from insect bites, and anti-malarial drugs, please visit the CDC Travelers' Health web site at http://www.cdc.gov/malaria/.

Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC’s website at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/default.aspx. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization’s (WHO) web site at http://www.who.int/en. Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith/en.

MEDICAL INSURANCE: The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation. Please see our information on medical insurance overseas.

TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS: While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Benin is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.

With the exception of the road linking Cotonou in the south to Malanville on the border with Niger in the north, and from Parakou in central Benin to Natitingou in the northwestern part of the country, roads in Benin are generally in poor condition and are often impassable during the rainy season. Benin's unpaved roads vary widely in quality; deep sand and potholes are common. During the rainy season from mid-June to mid-September, dirt roads often become impassable. Four-wheel drive vehicles with full spare tires and emergency equipment are recommended.
Most of the main streets in Cotonou are paved, but side streets are often dirt with deep potholes. Traffic moves on the right, as in the United States. Cotonou has no public transportation system; many Beninese people rely on bicycles, mopeds, motorbikes, and zemidjans (moped taxis). All official Americans are required to wear safety helmets when on a motorcycle and are strongly discouraged from using zemidjans. Travelers using zemidjans, particularly at night, are much more vulnerable to being mugged, assaulted or robbed. Buses and bush taxis offer service in the interior.
Gasoline smuggled from Nigeria is widely available in glass bottles and jugs at informal roadside stands throughout Cotonou and much of the country. This gasoline is of unreliable quality, often containing water or other contaminants that can damage or disable your vehicle. Drivers should purchase fuel only from official service stations. There are periodic gas shortages, which can be particularly acute in the north of the country where there are few service stations.
U.S. citizens traveling by road should exercise extreme caution. Poorly maintained and overloaded transport and cargo vehicles frequently break down and cause accidents. Drivers often place branches or leaves in the road to indicate a broken down vehicle is in the roadway. Undisciplined drivers move unpredictably through traffic. Construction work is often poorly indicated. Speed bumps, commonly used on paved roads in and near villages, are seldom indicated. Drivers must be on guard against people and livestock wandering into or across the roads. Nighttime driving is particularly hazardous as vehicles frequently lack headlights and/or taillights, and brake lights are often burned out.
With few exceptions, Cotonou and other cities lack any street lighting, and lighting on roads between population centers is non-existent. The U.S. Embassy in Cotonou prohibits non-essential travel outside of metropolitan areas after dusk by official Americans and strongly urges all U.S. citizens to avoid night driving as well. There have been numerous carjackings and robberies on roads in Benin after dark, several of which resulted in murder when the driver refused to comply with the assailants' demands. The National Police periodically conduct vehicle checks at provisional roadblocks in an effort to improve road safety and reduce the increasing number of carjackings. When stopped at such a roadblock, you must have all of the vehicle's documentation available to present to the authorities.
Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information. Visit the website of the country’s national tourist office at http://www.benintourisme.com.

AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: As there is no direct commercial air service to the United States by carriers registered in Benin, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed Benin’s Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards. For more information, travelers may visit the FAA’s web site at http://www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa.

SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:
U.S. citizens are advised to keep a notarized photocopy of the photo page of their passport with them at all times when traveling in Benin.
The Embassy has had a few reports of officials requesting a "gift" to facilitate official administrative matters (e.g., customs entry). Such requests should be politely but firmly declined.
It is prohibited to photograph government buildings and other official sites, such as military installations, without the formal consent of the Government of Benin. In general, it is always best to be courteous and ask permission before taking pictures of people. Beninese citizens may react angrily if photographed without their prior approval.
Obtaining customs clearance at the port of Cotonou for donated items shipped to Benin from the United States may be a lengthy process. In addition, to obtain a waiver of customs duties on donated items, the donating organization must secure prior written approval from the Government of Benin. Please contact the U.S. Embassy in Cotonou for more detailed information.Please see our Customs Information.

CRIMINAL PENALTIES: While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating Benin laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Benin are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines. Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime, prosecutable in the United States. Please see our information on Criminal Penalties.

CHILDREN'S ISSUES: For information see our Office of Children’s Issues web pages on intercountry adoption and international parental child abduction.

REGISTRATION / EMBASSY LOCATION:
Americans living or traveling in Benin are encouraged to register with the U.S. Embassy through the State Department’s travel registration web site so that they can obtain updated information on travel and security within Benin. Americans withoutInternet access may register directly with the U.S. Embassy. By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in case of emergency. The U.S. Embassy is located at Rue Caporal Anani Bernard in Cotonou. The Embassy's mailing address is B.P. 2012, Cotonou, Benin. The 24-hour telephone numbers are (229) 21-30-06-50, 21-30-05-13, and 21-30-17-92. The Embassy’s general fax number is (229) 21-30-06-70; the Consular Section’s fax number is (229) 21-30-66-82; http://cotonou.usembassy.gov/.
* * *
This replaces the Country Specific Information for Benin dated August 17th, 2007 to update sections on Safety and Security and Traffic Safety and Road Conditions.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Fri, 10 May 2019 19:38:30 +0200
By Hazel WARD and Daphne BENOIT

Paris, May 10, 2019 (AFP) - French special forces have freed two French hostages, an American and a South Korean in northern Burkina Faso in an overnight raid in which two soldiers died, authorities announced Friday.   The operation was launched to free two French tourists who had disappeared while on holiday in the remote Pendjari National Park in neighbouring Benin on May 1.

But during the raid, the French troops were surprised to discover two women also in captivity, with top officials saying they had been held for 28 days.    The French tourists were identified as Patrick Picque, 51, and Laurent Lassimouillas, 46, but the women's identities were not immediately clear.     "No one was aware of (the women's) presence," French Defence Minister Florence Parly told reporters, while French armed forces chief Francois Lecointre said.   "We know little about these other two hostages," Parly told reporters, saying that even Seoul and Washington did not appear to be aware the pair were in increasingly unstable Burkina Faso.    The raid was approved by French President Emmanuel Macron in what was seen as the last opportunity to stop the hostages being transferred to lawless territory in Mali to the north.

Parly said it was "too early to say" who had snatched the two French nationals from Benin, which has long been an island of stability in a region where Islamist militants are increasingly active.   "The message to terrorists and criminal gangs is clear: those who attack France and its nationals know that we will not spare any effort to track them down, find them and neutralise them," she said.   Four of the six kidnappers were killed in the raid.    French forces, helped by intelligence provided by the United States, had been tracking the kidnappers for several days as they travelled across the semi-desert terrain of eastern Burkina Faso from Benin to Mali.   They seized the opportunity to prevent "the transfer of the hostages to another terrorist organisation in Mali," Lecointre said, referring to the Macina Liberation Front (FLM).   The FLM is a jihadist group formed in 2015 and headed by a radical Malian preacher, Amadou Koufa. It is aligned with Al-Qaeda in the region.

- US intelligence support -
In a statement, Macron congratulated the special forces on the operation, in which he also expressed sorrow over the death of the two soldiers "who gave their lives to save those of our citizens".   And Parly thanked authorities in Benin and Burkina Faso for their help with the "complex operation", as well as the United States which provided intelligence and support.

The operation was also made possible by the presence of France's Operation Barkhane, which counts some 4,500 troops deployed in Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad to help local forces battle jihadist groups.   American special forces and drones are also known to operate in the violence-wracked Sahel region, which France fears could become further destabilised as jihadist groups are pushed out of north Africa, Iraq and Syria.   Burkina Faso has suffered from increasingly frequent and deadly attacks attributed to a number of jihadist groups, including the Ansarul Islam group, the Group to Support Islam and Muslims (GSIM) and Islamic State in the Greater Sahara.

- Relief and sadness -
The French tourists -- Patrick Picque who works in a Paris jewellery shop, and Laurent Lassimouillas a piano teacher, -- went missing with their guide on the last leg of their holiday in usually peaceful Benin.   The Pendjari wildlife reserve, which is famed for its elephants and lions, lies close to the porous border with Burkina Faso.   The badly disfigured body of their guide was found shortly after they disappeared, as well as their abandoned four-wheel Toyota truck.   The two freed men will be flown back to France on Saturday, alongside the South Korean woman, where they will be met on arrival by Macron and other top French officials.   Washington thanked the French forces for freeing the American hostage, with France saying she would likely be "repatriated independently" from the other three. 

The two dead French soldiers were named as Cedric de Pierrepont and Alain Bertoncello, decorated naval special forces members born in 1986 and 1991 respectively.   They were part of the prestigious Hubert commando unit of the French naval special forces which was deployed to the Sahel at the end of March.   A total of 24 French soldiers have died in the region since 2013 when France intervened to drive back jihadist groups who had taken control of northern Mali. The last death was on April 2.
Date: Tue 15 Jan 2019
Source: Punch [edited]

The Kwara state government has confirmed 2 cases of Lassa fever infecting a husband and wife in the state.

Speaking with newsmen on Tuesday [15 Jan 2019] at a news briefing, the Kwara commissioner for health, Alhaji Usman Rifun-Kolo, said the outbreak of Lassa fever was identified in a farm settlement in Taberu, Baruten local government area.

He explained that the 2 cases of the disease affected a husband and wife, natives of Benin republic, which shares a border with the state. He added that the husband and wife are farming in Baruten. "These cases of Lassa fever originated from Benin republic, whose citizen have interrelations with people in the Baruten area," he said.

According to him, the husband and wife were diagnosed in a health facility, and the state government had already deployed a disease-surveillance team to identify those who have been in contact with the patients.

Rifun-Kolo further explained that the surveillance team identified 4 people with a history of fever in the area. He said that the 4 cases raised suspicion of Lassa fever, which prompted them to take samples from the individuals for further investigation. He noted that the 4 individuals have commenced treatment in Taberu, Baruten LGA.
=====================
[The above report states that the couple was infected in Benin, although the timeline when that may have occurred is not given. The report also mentions 4 individuals in the Kwara state who had a history of Lassa fever, implying that the virus is present in that state in Nigeria as well. In December [2018], there were Lassa fever cases in Benin that were imported from Nigeria as well as infections that were locally acquired in Benin, so the Lassa fever cases cross the border in both directions. The source of the infecting virus for any of these cases is not mentioned. - ProMED Mod.TY

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail maps:
Kwara state, Nigeria: <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/19690>]
Date: Wed 26 Dec 2018
Source: Quotidein Le Matinal [in French, trans. ProMED Corr.SB, edited]

Minister of health Benjamin Hounkpatin confirmed on Wednesday [26 Dec 2018] 4 new cases of Lassa haemorrhagic fever in Benin, including one in Cotonou. This occurred in the period from 15-26 Dec 2018.

In the case of Cotonou, a 28-year-old (has been infected). His case was detected on 24 Dec [2018], but his illness commenced the previous week. He had a fever, a cough, a cold, and fatigue. Due to the persistence of the cough and cold, and with the appearance of traces of blood in nasal discharge on 24 Dec 2018, the alert was given.

The patient was placed in isolation on [Tue 25 Dec 2018], and on the morning of Wed 26 Dec 2018, his result from the laboratory came back positive [for Lassa fever]. Subsequently, the patient was isolated and put on treatment.

According to the details provided by Hounkpatin, there is no indication of travel [by the patient] to an epidemic locality of Lassa fever. According to the patient's statements, there is no known contact with rodents.

Taking advantage of this opportunity, the minister reassured the public that public health measures are underway. He also reminded people of the behaviours that will help avoid becoming infected. This involves washing hands regularly with soap and water; avoiding contact with stool, sperm, urine, saliva, vomit, and contaminated objects from a person suspected to be ill or dead from Lassa; and protecting food and keeping it in a safe place, out of reach of rodents.

It should be recalled that 7 cases have been recorded since the beginning of the epidemic to date, including 5 positive cases.
=======================
[One case is located in Cotonou on the Benin coast and apparently was locally acquired, perhaps from contact with the rodent host or its excrement. The location of the other 3 cases is not mentioned, but a 13 Dec 2018 report indicated that there were 3 cases in the municipality of Parakou in Borgou Department, in the northern part of Benin. Perhaps these 3 cases, which came from the village Taberou (in Nigeria), located 5 km [3.1 mi] from Tandou in the commune of Tchaourou, are the ones mentioned in this report.

The previous Lassa fever cases in Benin this year [2018] occurred in January and also involved case importation from Nigeria. A previous WHO report stated that Lassa fever is endemic in bordering Nigeria, and, given the frequent population movements between Nigeria and Benin, the occurrence of additional cases is not unexpected. Strengthening of cross-border collaboration and information exchange between the 2 countries is, therefore, needed. - ProMED Mod.TY]

[Images of the rodent reservoirs of Lassa fever virus can be seen as follows:
For _Mastomys natalensis_, see
For _M. erythroleucus_ and _Hylomycus pamfi_, see

HealthMap/ProMED-mail maps:
Date: Fri, 29 Jun 2018 13:37:32 +0200

Cotonou, June 29, 2018 (AFP) - Benin's Constitutional Court has banned the right to strike by workers in the country's defence, security, justice and health sectors, sparking concern among union officials and legal observers.   The ruling, issued late on Thursday, came after months of wrangling between the government and the court, which had previously said the measure was unconstitutional.

"Civil servants, public security forces and equivalents should fulfil their duties in all circumstances and not exercise their right to strike," the court said in its new ruling.   "There should be no disruption to the duties of public sector defence, security, justice and health workers."   The decision was taken "in the public interest" and for "the protection of citizens", it said.

Speaking on Friday, one senior union leader, who asked to remain anonymous, described the ruling as shocking and a "hammer blow".   And Benin legal affairs expert Albert Medagbe told AFP the decision was a "worrying sudden legal U-turn".   Earlier this month, a close ally of President Patrice Talon, Joseph Djogbenou, was elected to lead the Constitutional Court during a vote held behind closed doors.   Djogbenou is Talon's former personal lawyer and was previously  Benin's attorney general.

Until his arrival, the court had strained relations with Talon, and had criticised the government for misunderstanding and failing to respect the constitution.   The small West African nation was last year hit by a wave of public sector strikes, which brought the education, health and justice system to a near halt.   The industrial action was sparked by Talon's attempts to introduce free-market reforms.
Date: Wed, 21 Feb 2018 17:31:52 +0100

Cotonou, Feb 21, 2018 (AFP) - Nine people appeared in a Benin court Wednesday on charges of selling fake drugs at the start of a landmark trial in a regional campaign against illicit medicines.   The suspects, who include executives from major pharmaceutical companies operating in the West African nation, were remanded in custody until March 6 on technical grounds.   They are accused of "the sale of falsified medicines, (and) display, possession with a view to selling, commercialisation or sale of falsified medical substances."   A tenth defendant, the head of the Directorate for Pharmacies, Medications and Diagnostic Evaluation (DPMED) under the control of the ministry of health, was not in court on the trial's opening day.   He is accused of failing to prevent the offences.

Benin launched the crackdown last year after mounting alarm about the scale of the trafficking of expired and counterfeit drugs in West Africa.   Fake medicines are drugs that are bogus or below regulatory standards but often are outwardly indistinguishable from the genuine product.   Taking them may do nothing to tackle an illness or -- in the case of antibiotics -- worsen the problem of microbial resistance.   According to an investigation by the Paris-based International Institute of Research Against Counterfeit Medicines (IRACM), West African markets are awash with fake drugs made in China and India.

In 2015, the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene estimated that 122,000 children under five died due to taking poor-quality antimalarial drugs in sub-Saharan Africa.   A 15-nation regional body, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), last April announced an investigation into the fake drugs business.   A lawyer for the civilian plaintiffs told AFP that the trial in Benin was adjourned until March 6 at their request "in order to incorporate another case, of illegal pharmaceutical practice".
More ...

Netherlands Antilles

Netherland Antilles US Consular Information Sheet
May 12, 2008
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
The five islands of Bonaire, Curaçao, Saba, St. Eustatius (or “Statia”) and St. Maarten (Dutch side) comprise the Netherlands Antilles, an autonomous
art of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Tourist facilities are widely available. Read the Department of State Background Notes on the Netherlands Antilles for additional information.
ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS: All Americans traveling by air outside the United States are required to present a passport or other valid travel document to enter or re-enter the United States. This requirement will be extended to sea travel (except closed loop cruises), including ferry service, by the summer of 2009. Until then, U.S. citizens traveling by sea must have government-issued photo identification and a document showing their U.S. citizenship (for example, a birth certificate or certificate of nationalization), or other document compliant with the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, such as a passport card for entry or re-entry to the U.S. Sea travelers should also check with their cruise line and countries of destination for any foreign entry requirements.

Applications for the new U.S. Passport Card are now being accepted. Based on current projections, we expect to begin production of the passport card in June 2008 and be in full production in July 2008. The card may not be used to travel by air and is available only to U.S. citizens. Further information on the Passport Card is available at http://travel.state.gov/passport/ppt_card/ppt_card_3926.html and upcoming changes to U.S. passport policy can be found on the Bureau of Consular Affairs web site at http://travel.state.gov/travel/cbpmc/cbpmc_2223.html. We strongly encourage all American citizen travelers to apply for a U.S. passport well in advance of anticipated travel. American citizens can visit travel.state.gov or call 1-877-4USA-PPT (1-877-487-2778) for information on how to apply for their passports.
The U.S. Consulate recommends traveling in the Netherlands Antilles with a valid U.S. passport to avoid delays or misunderstandings. A lost or stolen passport is also easier to replace when outside the United States than other evidence of citizenship. Visitors to the Netherlands Antilles may be asked to show onward/return tickets or proof of sufficient funds for their stay. Length of stay is granted for two weeks and may be extended for 90 days by the head office of immigration. For further information, travelers may contact the Royal Netherlands Embassy, 4200 Linnean Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20008, telephone (202) 244-5300, or the Dutch Consulate in Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, Houston or Miami. Visit the web site for the Embassy of the Netherlands at http://www.netherlands-embassy.org/homepage.asp for the most current visa information.

We have more information pertaining to dual nationality and international child abduction. Please refer to our customs information to learn more about customs regulations.

SAFETY AND SECURITY:
Drug-related organized crime exists within the Netherlands Antilles but has not directly affected tourists in the past.
For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs’ web site at http://travel.state.gov, where the current Travel Warnings, including the Worldwide Caution, can be found.
Up-to-date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S., or for callers outside the U.S. and Canada, a regular toll-line at 1-202-501-4444. These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).
The Department of State urges American citizens to take responsibility for their own personal security while traveling overseas. For general information about appropriate measures travelers can take to protect themselves in an overseas environment, see the Department of State’s pamphlet A Safe Trip Abroad.
CRIME: In recent years, street crime has increased, especially in St. Maarten. Valuables, including passports, left unattended on beaches, in cars and hotel lobbies are easy targets for theft, and visitors should leave valuables and personal papers secured in their hotel. Burglary and break-ins are increasingly common at resorts, beach houses and hotels. Armed robbery occasionally occurs. The American boating community has reported a handful of incidents in the past, and visitors are urged to exercise reasonable caution in securing boats and belongings. Car theft, especially of rental vehicles for joy riding and stripping, can occur. Incidents of break-ins to rental cars to steal personal items have been reported by American tourists. Vehicle leases or rentals may not be fully covered by local insurance when a vehicle is stolen. Be sure you are sufficiently insured when renting vehicles and jet skis.
INFORMATION FOR VICTIMS OF CRIME: The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate for assistance. The Embassy/Consulate staff can, for example, assist you to find appropriate medical care, to contact family members or friends and explain how funds could be transferred. Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed.
Please see our information for American Victims of Crime Overseas.
MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION: Medical care is generally good in Curaçao and St. Maarten, but may be limited on the other three islands. Hospitals have three classes of services i.e.: First Class: one patient to a room, air conditioning etc.; Second Class: two to six patients to a room, no air conditioning; Third Class: 15 to 30 people in one hall. Patients are accommodated according to their level of insurance.
Bonaire: The San Francisco hospital is a medical center (35 beds) with decompression facilities. The hospital has an air ambulance service to Curaçao and Aruba.
Curaçao: St. Elizabeth hospital is a public hospital that may be compared to midrange facilities in the United States. St. Elizabeth's hospital has a decompression chamber and qualified staff to assist scuba divers suffering from decompression sickness. Several private clinics provide good to excellent medical service.
St. Maarten: St. Maarten Medical Center (79 beds) is a relatively small hospital where general surgery is performed. Complex cases are sent to Curaçao.
Statia: Queen Beatrix Medical Center (20 beds) is a medical facility well equipped for first aid. Surgery cases are sent to St. Maarten.
Saba: Saba Clinic (14 beds) is a well-equipped first aid facility. Surgery cases are sent to St. Maarten. The Saba Marine Park has a decompression chamber and qualified staff to assist scuba divers suffering from decompression sickness.
Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC’s web site at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/default.aspx. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization’s (WHO) web site at http://www.who.int/en. Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith.
MEDICAL INSURANCE: The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation. Please see our information on medical insurance overseas.
TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS: While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning the Netherlands Antilles is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
Driving in the Netherlands Antilles is on the right hand side. Right turns on red are prohibited, and traffic conditions require somewhat defensive driving. Local laws require drivers and passengers to wear seat belts and motorcyclists to wear helmets. Children under 4 years of age should be in child safety seats; children under 12 should ride in the back seat.
Nonexistent or hidden and poorly maintained street signs are the major road hazard in the Netherlands Antilles. Therefore, drivers should proceed through intersections with caution. Roads in the Netherlands Antilles are extremely slippery during rainfall. Night driving is reasonably safe in the Netherlands Antilles as long as drivers are familiar with the route and road conditions. Most streets are poorly lit or not lit at all. In Curacao, drivers should be aware of herds of goats that may cross the street unexpectedly. In Bonaire, wild donkeys may also cross the road.
Taxis are the easiest, yet most expensive form of transportation on the islands. As there are no meters, passengers should verify the price before entering the taxi. Fares quoted in U.S. dollars may be significantly higher than those quoted in the local currency. Vans are inexpensive and run non-stop during daytime with no fixed schedule. Each van has a specific route displayed in the front of the windshield. Buses, which run on the hour, have limited routes. The road conditions on the main thoroughfares are good to fair.
See road safety information at the following sites; http://www.curacao.com, http://www.statiatourism.com, http://www.sabatourism.com, http://www.infobonaire.com, http://www.st-maarten.com/.
Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of the Netherlands Antilles’ Civil Aviation Authority as being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for oversight of the Netherlands Antilles’ air carrier operations. For more information, travelers may visit the FAA’s web site at http://www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa.
SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:
Dutch law in principle does not permit dual nationality. However, there are several exceptions. For example, American citizens who are married to Dutch citizens are exempt from the requirement to abandon their American nationality when they apply to become a Dutch citizen by naturalization. For detailed and specific information on this subject, contact the Embassy of the Netherlands in Washington or one of the Dutch consulates in the U.S. In addition to being subject to all Dutch laws affecting U.S. citizens, dual nationals may also be subject to other laws that impose special obligations on Dutch citizens.
Time-share buyers are cautioned about contracts that do not have a "non-disturbance or perpetuity protective clause" incorporated into the purchase agreement. Such a clause gives the time-share owner perpetuity of ownership should the facility be sold. Americans sometimes complain that the timeshare units are not adequately maintained, despite generally high annual maintenance fees. Because of the large number of complaints about misuse of maintenance fees, particularly in St. Maarten, prospective timeshare owners are advised to review the profit and loss statement for maintenance fees. Investors should note that a reputable accounting firm should audit profit and loss statements.
Potential investors should be aware that failed land development schemes involving time-share investments could result in financial losses. Interested investors may wish to seek professional advice regarding investments involving land development projects. Real estate investment problems that reach local courts are rarely settled in favor of foreign investors.
An unusually competitive fee to rent vehicles or equipment could indicate that the dealer is unlicensed or uninsured. The renter is often fully responsible for replacement costs and fees associated with any damages that occur during the rental period. Visitors may be required to pay these fees in full before leaving the Netherlands Antilles and may be subject to civil or criminal penalties if they cannot or will not make payment.
Netherlands Antilles customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation into or export from the Netherlands Antilles. For example, it is strictly prohibited to export pieces of coral and/or seashells. Please see our information on customs regulations.
CRIMINAL PENALTIES: While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offences. Persons violating the laws of the Netherlands Antilles, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in the Netherlands Antilles are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines. The Netherlands Antilles has strict gun control laws; even a stray bullet in a suitcase can trigger a fine or time in jail. Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime, prosecutable in the United States. Please see our information on Criminal Penalties.
CHILDREN'S ISSUES: For information on international adoption of children and international parental child abduction, see the Office of Children’s Issues web site.
REGISTRATION / EMBASSY LOCATION:
American citizens residing or traveling in the Netherlands Antilles are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department’s travel registration web site, and to obtain updated information on travel and security within the Netherlands Antilles. Americans without Internet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in case of emergency. The U.S. Consulate General is located at J.B. Gorsiraweg #1, Willemstad, Curaçao, telephone (599-9) 461-3066; fax (599-9) 461-6489; e-mail address: acscuracao@state.gov.
* * *
This replaces the Country Specific Information dated May 7, 2007, to update the Entry/Exit, Crime, Traffic Safety and Road Conditions, and Registry / Embassy Location sections.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Thu, 16 May 2019 23:41:35 +0200

Washington, May 16, 2019 (AFP) - The Church of Scientology said Thursday all the passengers from a cruise ship that was quarantined over a measles case had been cleared to leave.    "All passengers and crew (100%) of the Freewinds have been fully cleared of any possible risk of being infected by the measles or infecting others," the organization said in a statement.   "All passengers and crew are free to come and go as they wish," a spokesman added to AFP.

The infected individual was a member of the crew who, according to the Church, had fully recovered and was given a clean bill of health a week ago. She had been earlier confined on the ship.   The ship, which is based in Willemstad on the island of Curacao in the Dutch West Indies, was quarantined after its arrival in Saint Lucia on April 30.   It remained there for two days before returning to Willemstad on May 4 where local authorities ordered a fresh quarantine to give them time to confirm the passengers were either immunized or had no risk of contracting the virus.
Date: Sat, 4 May 2019 20:37:18 +0200
By Sara MAGNIETTE

The Hague, May 4, 2019 (AFP) - The Dutch territory of Curacao said Saturday it would do what is needed to prevent measles spreading from a Scientology cruise ship, after a crew member came down with the disease.   The Freewinds, which left the Caribbean island of St. Lucia on Friday, arrived back in its home port of Curacao at around 9:00 am (1300 GMT) Saturday, according to myshiptracking.com.

The Curacao government said in a statement that it would "take all necessary precautions to handle the case of measles on board of the Freewinds," including vaccinations.   "An investigation will also be done to determine who will be allowed to leave the ship without (posing) a threat to the population of Curacao," it said.   "It is imperative to make all efforts to prevent a spread of this disease internationally."   Dutch broadcaster NOS reported that three health officials had boarded the boat to examine those on board. Only people able to prove that they have been vaccinated against measles or had already had the disease would be able to leave the boat, its correspondent there reported.

- Anti-vaccine movement -
The Church of Scientology says the 440-foot (134-meter) vessel is used for religious retreats and is normally based in Curacao.   The vessel had arrived in St Lucia from Curacao on Tuesday, when it was placed under quarantine by health authorities there because of a measles patient, said to be a female crew member.   According to NOS, the crew member concerned is a Danish national, who arrived in Curacao from Amsterdam on April 17. It was only when the boat was at sea, on route to St Lucia, that a doctor discovered she had measles, their correspondent said.

The resurgence of the once-eradicated, highly contagious disease is linked to the growing anti-vaccine movement in richer nations, which the World Health Organization (WHO) has identified as a major global health threat.   The authorities in Curacao nevertheless urged local people not to panic, as the risk of the disease spreading in this case was fairly low.   Several people did however visit the cruise ship between April 22 and April 28 before it set sail for St Lucia and the authorities asked them to make themselves known to health officials.

Officials said the Freewinds had travelled between Curacao, St Lucia and another Dutch-held island, Aruba, several times towards the end of April.   There were about 300 people aboard the ship, according to Saint Lucia authorities, which placed the vessel in quarantine. They said they provided 100 doses of measles vaccine at no cost.   The Scientology church, founded by science fiction writer L Ron Hubbard in 1953, did not respond to requests for comment.   Its teachings do not directly oppose vaccination, but followers consider illness a sign of personal failing and generally avoid medical interventions.
Date: 4 Jul 2017
From: Harry Vennema <harry.vennema@rivm.nl> [edited]

On several of the Caribbean islands, epidemics of viral conjunctivitis are ongoing. Recently, general practitioners in the overseas territories of the Netherlands reported an increased incidence of this syndrome.

As of 26 May 2017, an outbreak of conjunctivitis occurred in a nursing home on Bonaire. In total, 14 patients and 13 healthcare workers presented with conjunctivitis. Patients were between 71 to 94 years of age. The number of new cases peaked in week 20 through 22. After week 22, a significant reduction was seen (1-3 new cases per week). Initially, conjunctival swabs from 5 patients were tested for the presence of adenovirus by PCR; all 5 were negative.

Subsequently, swabs from 4 patients were analyzed for the presence of enterovirus by RT-PCR, and all 4 were positive. The enterovirus from 3 samples was further characterized by partial VP1 sequence analysis. In all 3 samples, the enterovirus was characterized as Coxsackievirus A24, which belongs to Enterovirus C. Coxsackievirus A24 has been identified frequently as the causative agent of epidemic viral conjunctivitis. The strain from Bonaire is at least 5 percent different from any of the previously isolated and sequenced CV-A24 strains available in Genbank in a 330nt VP1 fragment. The strain involved in the most recent outbreak of CV-A24 conjunctivitis on La Reunion in 2015 is 6 percent different from the Bonaire 2017 strain.

[Andert Rosingh, Yingbin Celestijn-Wu, Fundashon Mariadal Hospital, Clinical Microbiology, Kralendijk, Bonaire, Caribbean Netherlands Annelies Riezebos, University Medical Centre Utrecht, Medical Microbiology, Utrecht, Netherlands Harry Vennema, Kim Benschop, Johan Reimerink, Hans van den Kerkhof, National Institute for Public Health and the Environment, Centre for Infectious Disease Control, Bilthoven, Netherlands]
--------------------------------------------
Harry Vennema
National Institute for Public Health and the Environment
Centre for Infectious Disease Control
Bilthoven, Netherlands
=========================
[ProMED thanks Harry Vennema and colleagues for this report.  Acute hemorrhagic conjunctivitis (AHC) is characterized by sudden onset of painful, swollen, red eyes with subconjunctival haemorrhages and excessive tearing. Most cases are self-limited but highly contagious, with the potential for causing considerable illness. Adenoviruses and picornaviruses can cause AHC outbreaks (1). Among picornaviruses, enterovirus 70 and coxsackievirus A24 variant (CA24v) have caused large outbreaks of AHC[2].

Coxsackieviruses are transmitted primarily via the fecal-oral route and respiratory aerosols, although transmission via fomites is possible. The viruses initially replicate in the upper respiratory tract and the distal small bowel. They have been found in the respiratory tract up to 3 weeks after initial infection and in feces up to 8 weeks after initial infection[3]. The potential for exponential spread is, therefore, quite considerable.

It is important to understand that sequential outbreaks of AHC due to CA24v might occur in the same location after a considerable period, and public health precautions are necessary to control these outbreaks.

References:
1. Hierholzer JC, Hatch MH. Acute hemorrhagic conjunctivitis. In: Darrell RW, editor. Viral diseases of the eye. Philadelphia: Lea & Febiger; 1985. p. 165-96.
2. Kono R. Apollo 11 disease or acute hemorrhagic conjunctivitis: a pandemic of a new enterovirus infection of the eyes. Am J Epidemiol. 1975;101:383-90.

[A HealthMap/ProMED-mail map can be accessed at:
Date: Published ahead of print 7 Dec 2015
Source: American Journal of Tropical Medicine & Hygiene Published on line doi:10.4269/ajtmh.15-0308 [edited]

Noellie Gay, Dominique Rousset, Patricia Huc, Severine Matheus, Martine Ledrans, Jacques Rosine, Sylvie Cassadou, and Harold Noel. Seroprevalence of Asian Lineage Chikungunya Virus Infection on Saint Martin Island, 7 Months After the 2013 Emergence.

Abstract
--------
At the end of 2013, chikungunya virus (CHIKV) emerged in Saint Martin Island, Caribbean. The Asian lineage was identified. 7 months after this introduction, the seroprevalence was 16.9 percent in the population of Saint Martin and 39.0 percent of infections remained asymptomatic. This moderate attack rate and the apparent limited size of the outbreak in Saint Martin could be explained by control measures involved to lower the exposure of the inhabitants. Other drivers such as climatic factors and population genetic factors should be explored. The substantial rate of asymptomatic infections recorded points to a potential source of infection that can both spread in new geographic areas and maintain an inconspicuous endemic circulation in the Americas.
--------------------------------
Communicated by:
Roland Hubner
Superior Health Council
Brussels
Belgium
===================
[Asymptomatic or very mild infections may be an important source of infectious blood meals for vector mosquitoes. These infections should not be overlooked in epidemiological assessments of chikungunya virus outbreaks and implementation of control measures in the field. - ProMed Mod.TY]
Date: Wed, 26 Aug 2015 16:43:59 +0200 (METDST)

Miami, Aug 26, 2015 (AFP) - Tropical storm Erika took aim at the Lesser Antilles Wednesday as storm warnings went up there and in Puerto Rico in anticipation of heavy rains, US forecasters said.   With winds of 75 kilometres (45 miles) per hour, Erika was 540 kilometres (335 miles) east of Antigua at 1200 GMT, the Miami-based National Hurricane Center reported.

Advancing at a speed of 28 kilometres (17 miles) per hour, it was expected to sweep over the Lesser Antilles Wednesday night and then head toward Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.   Tropical storm warnings were up in Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Antigua and Barbuda, Guadeloupe, Montserrat, St Kitts and Nevis, Anguilla, Saba, St Eustacia and St Maarten.

A US Air Force hurricane hunter aircraft that flew into the storm found it was slightly increasing in strength.   "Some slow strengthening is forecast during the next 48 hours," the hurricane centre said.   According to the NHC's projections, Erika could become a hurricane by the end of the week, or early next, as it nears Florida.   But "the intensity forecast remains very uncertain," it said.

Erika is arriving on the heels of Danny, the season's first hurricane which petered out before reaching the Caribbean.   Experts said earlier this month that there was a 90 percent chance the 2015 hurricane season in the Atlantic would be less active than usual.
More ...

Nicaragua

Nicaragua - US Consular Information Sheet
December 22, 2008
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
Nicaragua’s fragile democracy remains under stress.
Following municipal elections in November 2008, in which opposition leaders have charged massive fr
ud took place, political tensions have increased significantly.
The economy remains among the poorest in the hemisphere.
Crime has increased significantly in recent months.

The national language is Spanish, although many residents of the Caribbean coastal areas also speak English and indigenous languages.
The climate is hot and humid, with the “summer” dry season running mid-November through mid-May and the “winter” rainy season running from mid-May through mid-November.
Terrain ranges from the hilly and volcanic to coastal beaches and tropical jungles.
Geological faults run throughout the country, along which active volcanoes are situated.
Earthquakes are common, but the last major earthquake, which destroyed the city of Managua, occurred in 1972.

Nicaragua lacks tourist infrastructure.
Except in the cities and major thoroughfares, most roads are unpaved.
Public transportation is unsafe and there are no sidewalks.
Most essential services are sporadic.
Most hospitals are substandard.
Hotels in Managua are adequate, but primarily are oriented to serve a business or government clientele.
Potential tourists may want to obtain information from the National Tourism Institute (INTUR), the governmental agency responsible for developing, regulating, and promoting tourism in Nicaragua at http://www.intur.gob.ni/.
Read the Department of State Background Notes on Nicaragua for additional information.

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:
A valid U.S. passport is required to enter Nicaragua.
Although there is a bilateral agreement that waives the six-month validity passport requirement, U.S. citizens are urged to ensure that their passports are valid for the length of their projected stay in the country before traveling.
U.S. citizens must have an onward or return ticket and evidence of sufficient funds to support themselves during their stay.
A visa is not required for U.S. citizens; however, a tourist card must be purchased for $5 upon arrival.
Tourist cards are typically issued for 30 to 90 days.

A valid entry stamp is required to exit Nicaragua.
Pay attention to the authorized stay that will be written into your entry stamp by the immigration inspector.
Visitors remaining more than the authorized time must obtain an extension from Nicaraguan Immigration at http://www.migracion.gob.ni/.
Failure to do so will prevent departure until a fine is paid.

There is also a $32 departure tax.
Many airlines include this tax in the price of the ticket.
If the tax is not included in the ticket, payment can be made at the airline counter upon departure.

Per Nicaraguan law, individuals should exit Nicaragua with the same passport with which they entered the country.
Dual national minors who entered Nicaragua on their Nicaraguan passports will be subject to departure requirements specific to Nicaraguan children under the age of 18, even though they may also be citizens of other countries.
More information on these requirements can be found on the U.S. Embassy web site at http://nicaragua.usembassy.gov/dual_nationality.html.

According to Nicaragua’s Laws for Foreigners, foreigners must be in possession of a valid identity document at all times while in Nicaragua and may be required to show it to Nicaraguan authorities upon request.
Acceptable identity documents are: (1) a permanent residency card, (2) temporary residency card, or (3) valid passport or travel document accompanied by an entry stamp.

In June 2006, Nicaragua entered a “Central America-4 (CA-4) Border Control Agreement” with Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador.
Under the terms of the agreement, citizens of the four countries may travel freely across land borders from one of the countries to any of the others without completing entry and exit formalities at Immigration checkpoints.
U.S. citizens and other eligible foreign nationals, who legally enter any of the four countries, may similarly travel among the four without obtaining additional visas or tourist entry permits for the other three countries.
Immigration officials at the first port of entry determine the length of stay, up to a maximum period of 90 days.
Foreign tourists who wish to remain in the four-country region beyond the period initially granted for their visit are required to request a one-time extension of stay from local Immigration authorities in the country where the traveler is physically present, or travel outside the CA-4 countries and reapply for admission to the region.
Foreigners “expelled” from any of the four countries are excluded from the entire “CA-4” region.
In isolated cases, the lack of clarity in the implementing details of the CA-4 Border Control Agreement has caused temporary inconvenience to some travelers and has resulted in others being fined more than one hundred dollars or detained in custody for 72 hours or longer.

For the most current information about visas to visit Nicaragua, visit the Embassy of Nicaragua web site at http://www.cancilleria.gob.ni.

Information about dual nationality or the prevention of international child abduction can be found on our website.
For further information about customs regulations, please read our Customs Information sheet.

SAFETY AND SECURITY:
Municipal elections took place across Nicaragua on November 9, 2008.
Violent demonstrations followed as opposition groups questioned the authenticity of the results.
Activities observed during protests included but were not limited to tear gas, rubber bullets, setting off fireworks, rock-throwing, tire burning, road blocks, bus and vehicle burning, and physical violence between law enforcement and protestors and between political rivals.
Political demonstrations and strikes continue to occur sporadically, are usually limited to urban areas, and occasionally become violent.
U.S. citizens are advised to monitor local media reports, to avoid crowds and blockades during such occurrences and to exercise caution when in the vicinity of any large gathering.

U.S. citizens are cautioned that strong currents and undertows off sections of Nicaragua's Pacific coast have resulted in a number of incidents of drowning.
Powerful waves have also resulted in broken bones, and injuries caused by sting rays are not uncommon in popular resort bathing areas.
Warning signs are not posted, and lifeguards and rescue equipment are not readily available.
U.S. citizens contemplating beach activities in Nicaragua's Pacific waters should exercise appropriate caution.

Hiking in volcanic or other remote areas can be dangerous and travelers should take appropriate precautions.
Hikers should have appropriate dress, footwear, and sufficient consumables for any trek undertaken.
Individuals who travel to remote tourist or other areas for hiking activities are encouraged to hire a local guide familiar with the terrain and area.
In particular, there have been instances of hikers perishing or losing their way on the volcanoes at Ometepe Island.
While they may look like easy climbs, the terrain is treacherous and heavily overgrown.

Although extensive de-mining operations have been conducted to clear rural areas of northern Nicaragua of landmines left from the civil war in the 1980s, visitors venturing off the main roads in these areas are cautioned that the possibility of encountering landmines still exists.
Domestic travel within Nicaragua by land and air, particularly to the Atlantic side can be dangerous.
Domestic airlines use small airstrips with minimal safety equipment and little boarding security.
For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs’ web site at http://travel.state.gov, where the current Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts, as well as the Worldwide Caution, can be found.
Up-to-date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll-free in the U.S. and Canada, or for callers outside the U.S. and Canada, a regular toll line at 1-202-501-4444.
These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).

The Department of State urges American citizens to take responsibility for their own personal security while traveling overseas.
For general information about appropriate measures travelers can take to protect themselves in an overseas environment, see the Department of State’s pamphlet A Safe Trip Abroad.

CRIME:
Violent crime in Managua is increasing and petty street crimes are very common.
Gang activity also is increasing, though not at levels found in neighboring Central American countries.
Pick-pocketing and occasional armed robberies occur on crowded buses, at bus stops and in open markets like the Oriental and Huembes Markets.
Gang violence, drive-by shootings, robbery, assault and stabbings are most frequently encountered in poorer neighborhoods, including the Ticabus area, a major arrival and departure point for tourist buses.
However, in recent months it spread to more upscale neighborhoods and near major hotels, including the Zona Hippos.
In 2008, a U.S. citizen was critically injured in a gang-motivated drive-by shooting that occurred in the San Judas area.
Another U.S. citizen was kidnapped and left for dead in the Villa Fontana area of Managua.

U.S. citizens are increasingly targeted shortly after arriving in the country by criminals posing as Nicaraguan police officers who pull their vehicles – including those operated by reputable hotels -- over for inspection.
In each case, the incidents happened after dark and involved gun-wielding assailants who robbed passengers of all valuables and drove them to remote locations where they were left to fend for themselves.
Some assailants employed threats of physical violence.
While the traditional scene of these attacks has been the Tipitapa-Masaya Highway, this activity has recently spread to the Managua-Leon Highway.
The U.S. Embassy warns U.S. citizens to exercise extreme caution when driving at night from Managua’s International Airport and to avoid traveling the Tipitapa-Masaya Highway at night.
U.S. citizens should exercise caution when approached by strangers offering assistance.
Several U.S. citizens traveling by bus from San Juan del Sur to Managua have reported being victimized by fellow women travelers who offered to assist them in locating and/or sharing a taxi upon arrival in Managua.
In all cases, upon entering the taxi, the U.S. citizens have been held at knife-point, robbed of their valuables, and driven around to ATM machines to withdraw funds from their accounts.

Violent criminal activities and petty crime are also increasing in the tourist destination of San Juan del Sur.
In 2008, a U.S. citizen family was violently assaulted and kidnapped by several armed men.
Other American citizens have been the victims of armed robberies by assailants wielding machetes, knives, and/or guns along the beaches in and around San Juan del Sur.
U.S. citizens should exercise particular caution when visiting the following beaches: Maderas, Marsella, Yankee, Coco, and Remanso.

Police coverage is extremely sparse outside major urban areas, particularly in Nicaragua’s Atlantic coast autonomous regions.
Lack of adequate police coverage has resulted in these areas being used by drug traffickers and other criminal elements.
Street crime and petty theft are a common problem in Puerto Cabezas, Bluefields, and the Corn Islands along the Atlantic coast.
For security reasons, the Embassy has limited travel by its staff to the North and South Atlantic Autonomous Regions (RAAN and RAAS), including the Corn Islands.
Given the area’s geographical isolation, the Embassy’s ability to provide emergency services to U.S. citizens who choose to travel in the Caribbean costal area is constrained.
Police presence on Little Corn Island is made up of volunteers with little to no formal training, and is minimal on Corn Island and other remote areas.
In late 2007, a U.S. citizen was assaulted and violently raped while on vacation in Little Corn Island.
U.S. citizens have previously been the victims of sexual assault on this island and other beaches in the country.
The Embassy recommends traveling in groups when in isolated areas.
Single travelers should exercise special caution while traveling in the Corn Islands and other remote areas of the country.
Throughout the country, U.S. travelers should utilize hotels and guest houses that have strong security elements in place, including but not limited to rooms equipped with safes for securing valuables and travel documents and adequate access control precautions.

Visitors should avoid walking and instead use officially registered taxicabs.
Radio-dispatched taxis are recommended and can be found at the International Airport and at the larger hotels.
Robbery, kidnapping, and assault on passengers in taxis in Managua are increasing in frequency and violence, with passengers subjected to beating, sexual assault, stabbings, and even murder.
Several U.S. citizens reported brutal attacks in taxis during 2008, particularly around the International Airport area.

Before taking a taxi, make sure that it has a red license plate and that the number is legible.
Select taxis carefully and note the driver's name and license number.
Instruct the driver not to pick up other passengers, agree on the fare before departing, and have small bills available for payment, as taxi drivers often do not make change.
Also, check that the taxi is properly labeled with the cooperativa (company) name and logo.
Purse and jewelry snatchings sometimes occur at stoplights.
While riding in a vehicle, windows should be closed, car doors locked, and valuables placed out of sight.

Do not resist a robbery attempt.
Many criminals have weapons, and most injuries and deaths have resulted when victims have resisted.
Do not hitchhike or go home with strangers, particularly from nightspots.
Travel in groups of two or more persons whenever possible.
Use the same common sense while traveling in Nicaragua that you would in any high-crime area of a major U.S. city.
Do not wear excessive jewelry in downtown or rural areas.
Do not carry large sums of money, ATM, or credit cards that are not needed, or other valuables.
INFORMATION FOR VICTIMS OF CRIME:
The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate for assistance.
The Embassy/Consulate staff can, for example, assist you to find appropriate medical care, contact family members, or friends and explain how funds could be transferred.
Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime are solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed.

See our information on Victims of Crime.

MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:
Medical care is very limited, particularly outside Managua.
Basic medical services are available in Managua and in many of the smaller towns and villages.
However, treatment for many serious medical problems is either unavailable or available only in Managua.
Emergency ambulance services, as well as certain types of medical equipment, medications and treatments, are not available in Nicaragua.
Physicians and hospital personnel frequently do not speak English, and medical reports are written in Spanish.
Patients must have good understand and an ability to speak Spanish in order to navigate the local medical resources.

In an emergency, individuals are taken to the nearest hospital that will accept a patient.
This is usually a public hospital unless the individual or someone acting on their behalf indicates that they can pay for a private hospital.
Payment for medical services is typically done on a cash basis, although the few private hospitals will accept major credit cards for payment.
U.S. health insurance plans are not accepted in Nicaragua.

Dengue fever is endemic in Nicaragua.
Currently, no vaccine or specific medication is available to prevent or treat Dengue fever.
Malaria is endemic in the Atlantic coast region and anti-malarial medication should be taken before and after travel to this region.
Travelers are advised to take a prophylactic regimen best suited to their health profile.
No prophylaxis anti-malarial medication is required for Managua and the western, Pacific coast region.
For both Dengue fever and malaria, the best prevention is the use of DEET insect repellant, as well as the wearing of protective clothing and bed-nets to prevent mosquito bites.

Tap water is not considered safe in Nicaragua.
All persons should drink only bottled water.
Individuals traveling to Nicaragua should ensure that all their routine vaccinations are up to date.
Vaccination against Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, rabies and typhoid is strongly recommended.
A yellow fever vaccination is not required to enter Nicaragua unless the traveler has recently visited a country where yellow fever is endemic.
Travelers taking prescription medications should bring an adequate supply with them when coming to Nicaragua.
Many newer combination medications are not available in local pharmacies.

The U.S. Department of State is unaware of any HIV/AIDS entry restrictions for visitors to or foreign residents of Nicaragua.

Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC’s web site at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/default.aspx.
For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization’s (WHO) web site at http://www.who.int/en.
Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith/en
MEDICAL INSURANCE:
The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation.
Please see our information on medical insurance overseas.

TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS:
Driving in Nicaragua poses many difficulties and risks, including mandatory arrest for drivers involved in accidents that result in death or serious injury until police are able to determine who is at fault.

Driving is on the right side of the road in Nicaragua.
Motorists driving to Nicaragua should use the principal highways and official border crossings at Guasaule, El Espino, and Las Manos between Nicaragua and Honduras and Penas Blancas between Nicaragua and Costa Rica.
Although some of the principal highways connecting the major cities are in generally good condition, drivers should be aware that seasonal, torrential rains take a heavy toll on road beds.
With few exceptions, secondary roads are in poor repair, potholed, poorly lit, frequently narrow, and lack shoulders.
Road travel after dark is especially hazardous in all areas of the country.
Motorists are encouraged to prepare accordingly and may want to carry a cellular phone in case of an emergency.

Some of the major highways and roads are undergoing major repair, repaving, and upgrading.
Be on the lookout for detours and slow traffic on these roads.
In general, road signs are poor to non-existent.
Bicycles, oxcarts, dogs, horses, and vehicles without lights are at times encountered even on main thoroughfares in Nicaragua.
Motorcycles, often carrying passengers, dart in and out of traffic with little or no warning.
Many vehicles are in poor condition, travel very slowly, and break down without warning.
Drivers should be especially careful on curves and hills, as many drivers will pass on blind spots.
Speed limits vary depending on the type of road, but because the government lacks the resources, traffic rules are rarely enforced.
Due to the age and disrepair of many vehicles, many drivers will not signal their intentions using turn indicators.
Rather, it is common for a vehicle operator to stick his hand out the window to signal a turn.
If you do drive in Nicaragua, you need to exercise the utmost caution, drive defensively, and make sure you have insurance.

Nicaraguan law requires that a driver be taken into custody for driving under the influence or being involved in an accident that caused serious injury or death, even if the driver is insured and appears not to have been at fault.
The minimum detention period is 48 hours; however, detentions frequently last until a judicial decision is reached (often weeks or months), or until a waiver is signed by the injured party (usually as the result of a cash settlement).
Visitors to Nicaragua might want to consider hiring a professional driver during their stay.
Licensed drivers who are familiar with local roads can be hired through local car rental agencies.
In case of accident, only the driver will be taken into custody.

The Embassy has received an increasing number of complaints from U.S. citizens who have been stopped by transit police authorities demanding bribes in order to avoid paying fines.
Motorists in rental cars and those whose cars have foreign license plates are more likely to be stopped by transit police.
Transit police have seized driver licenses and car registration documents from motorists who refuse to or are unable to pay.
Subsequently, these drivers have reported difficulties in recovering the seized documents.
U.S. citizens are urged to ensure that their vehicles comply fully with Nicaraguan transit regulations, including being in possession of an emergency triangle and fire extinguisher, and that the vehicle is properly registered.
If transit police authorities demand an on-the-spot payment, drivers should ask for the officer's name and badge number, as well as a receipt, and inform the Embassy of when/where the event took place.
(Reports should be sent via email to ACS.Managua@state.gov.)
Rental car agencies should also be advised if their vehicles have been deemed negligent in meeting Nicaraguan transit regulations.

As noted in the “Crime” section above, several groups of U.S. citizens driving from Managua’s International Airport at night have been robbed and kidnapped by men dressed as Nicaraguan police officers.
While the majority of these crimes have occurred on the Tipitapa-Masaya Highway, recent reports indicate similar activity along the Managua-Leon Highway.
The U.S. Embassy warns U.S. citizens to exercise extreme caution when driving at night from Managua’s International Airport and to avoid traveling the Tipitapa-Masaya Highway at night.

Avoid taking public transportation buses.
They are overcrowded, unsafe, and often are used by pickpockets.
Because of the conditions discussed above, traffic accidents often result in serious injury or death.
This is most often true when heavy vehicles, such as buses or trucks, are involved.
Traditionally, vehicles involved in accidents in Nicaragua are not moved (even to clear traffic), until authorized by a police officer.
Drivers who violate this norm may be held legally liable for the accident.

Regulations governing transit are administered by the National Police.
For specific information concerning Nicaraguan driver’s permits, vehicle inspection, road tax, and mandatory insurance, you may wish to refer to the National Police web site at http://www.policia.gob.ni.
You may also contact the Embassy of Nicaragua or a Consulate for further information.
Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.
Visit the website of the country’s national tourist office and national authority responsible for road safety at http://www.mti.gob.ni
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of Nicaragua’s Civil Aviation Authority as not being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for oversight of Nicaragua’s air carrier operations.
For more information, travelers may visit the FAA’s web site at http://www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa
SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:
Purchasing Property: U.S. citizens should be aware of the risks of purchasing real estate in Nicaragua and should exercise caution before committing to invest in property.
The U.S. Embassy has seen an increase in property disputes over the last several years.
The 1979-90 Sandinista government expropriated approximately 28,000 real properties, many of which are still involved in disputes or claims.
Land title remains unclear in many cases.
Although the government has resolved several thousand claims by U.S. citizens for compensation or return of properties, there remain hundreds of unresolved claims registered with the Embassy.
Potential investors should engage competent local legal representation and investigate their purchases thoroughly in order to reduce the possibility of property disputes.

The Nicaraguan judicial system offers little relief when the purchase of a property winds up in court.
The Embassy is aware of numerous cases in which buyers purchase property supported by what appear to be legal titles only to see themselves subsequently embroiled in legal battles when the titles are contested by an affected or otherwise interested third party.
Once a property dispute enters the judicial arena, the outcome may be subject to corruption, political pressure, and influence peddling.
Many coastal properties have been tied up in courts recently, leaving the ”buyer” unable to proceed with the intended development pending lengthy and uncertain litigation.
In other cases squatters have simply invaded the land while the police or judicial authorities are unable (or unwilling) to remove the trespassers.
Again, the Embassy advises that those interested in purchasing Nicaraguan property exercise extreme caution.
Please note that Nicaraguan law currently prohibits any individual from buying beach-front property (including islands) unless the original land title was registered before the 1917 Nicaraguan Agrarian Reform Law.
Coastal properties with titles pre-dating 1917 are not risk-free, however.
In 1987 the Nicaraguan Constitution established the property rights of indigenous communities over territory they have traditionally occupied.
The Embassy advises extreme caution when considering the purchase of coastal property in Nicaragua.

Currency and Credit Cards: U.S. dollars are widely accepted throughout the country, and major credit cards are also typically accepted in hotels, restaurants, stores, and other businesses in urban and tourist areas.
Visitors who need to change dollars are encouraged to do this at their hotel since this is typically the safest place.
ATM machines are available at banks in addition to some shopping centers and gas stations in urban and tourist areas.
However, individuals should exercise caution when using an automaticteller machine since they are typically in or near uncontrolled areas and criminal elements can easily see them withdrawing cash.
Traveler’s checks are accepted at a few major hotels and may also be exchanged for local currency at authorized exchange facilities ("casas de cambio").
Visitors will also find enterprising individuals - ”Cambistas” - waving wads of cash in the street.
Changing money in this fashion can be dangerous and is not recommended.

The U.S. Embassy has noted an increase in credit card fraud.
Although local police authorities have made several arrests in conjunction with credit card scam operations, the danger for abuse continues.
Illegal use can include “skimming” or making a copy of the magnetic strip on the credit card or simply copying the number for later use.
U.S. citizens who do continue to use credit cards in Nicaragua are advised to check statements frequently to monitor for abuse and/or to ask banks to email them when transactions exceed a certain number or size.

Disaster Preparedness: Nicaragua is prone to a wide variety of natural disasters, including earthquakes, hurricanes, and volcanic eruptions.
General information about natural disaster preparedness is available via the Internet from the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) at http://www.fema.gov
Boundary Disputes:
On the Atlantic side, nautical travelers should be aware that there is an ongoing boundary dispute with Colombia over the San Andres Island archipelago and the surrounding waters, specifically the area east of the 82nd and up to the 79th meridian.
Furthermore, the Government of Nicaragua has also begun to exercise sovereignty over territorial waters that were formerly controlled by Honduras but recently awarded to Nicaragua by the International Court of Justice.
Since October 2007, the Nicaraguan Navy has impounded about a dozen vessels, including two U.S.-owned vessels, for allegedly fishing without a Nicaraguan permit in theses zones.
Maritime boundary disputes also exist on the Pacific side.
In late-2007, the governments of Nicaragua, Honduras, and El Salvador reached an accord regarding shared fishing rights in the Gulf of Fonseca; however, questions remain regarding boundary demarcations in the Gulf of Fonseca.
Commercial fishing vessels should always ensure that they are properly licensed as problems have been reported in the areas off Cabo Gracias a Dios.
As a result of these disputes, in June 2008, the U.S. Coast Guard published a Special Warning on Nicaragua in the U.S. Notice to Mariners, which can be found at http://www.navcen.uscg.gov/Lnm/d1/lnm01242008.pdf (p. 6).

Travelers should also be aware that narcotics traffickers often use both the Caribbean and the Pacific coastal waters.
Customs Regulations: Before excavating archaeological materials, or agreeing to buy artifacts of historical value, all persons are strongly urged to consult with the National Patrimony Directorate of the Nicaraguan Institute of Culture.
Nicaraguan law and a bilateral accord limit the acquisition, importation into the United States and commercialization of said goods.
Severe criminal penalties may apply.
U.S. citizens planning to stay in Nicaragua for an extended period of time with the intention of bringing vehicles or household goods into the country should consult Nicaraguan customs officials prior to shipment.
Please see our Customs Information.

CRIMINAL PENALTIES:
While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law.
Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses.
Persons violating Nicaraguan laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested, or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Nicaragua are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines.
Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime, prosecutable in the United States.
Please see our information on Criminal Penalties.

CHILDREN'S ISSUES:
For information see our Office of Children’s Issues web pages on intercountry adoption and international parental child abduction.

REGISTRATION / EMBASSY LOCATION:
Americans residing or traveling in Nicaragua are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department’s travel registration website so that they can obtain updated information on travel and security within Nicaragua.
Americans without Internet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in case of emergency.
The U.S. Embassy is located at Kilometer 5 1/2 (5.5) Carretera Sur, Managua; telephone (505) 252-7100 or 252-7888; after hours telephone (505) 252-7634; Consular Section fax (505) 252-7304; Email: consularmanagua@state.gov or ACS.Managua@state.gov; web page: http://nicaragua.usembassy.gov/
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This replaces the Country Specific Information for Nicaragua dated June 3, 2008, to update sections on Country Description, Entry/Exit Requirements, Safety and Security, Crime, Medical Facilities and Health Information, Traffic Safety and Road Conditions, and Special Circumstances.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Thu, 25 Oct 2018 22:17:34 +0200

Montreal, Oct 25, 2018 (AFP) - Canadian tour operator Transat has cancelled all flights to Nicaragua this coming winter over the crisis that has left more than 320 dead in the Central American country, the company said Thursday.   This decision was made "because of the ongoing civil unrest and (the) weak demand that arises," Air Transat spokeswoman Debbie Cabana told AFP.   Air Transat would have offered three direct flights weekly form Toronto or Montreal to Managua from December 20 until the end of March.   "Customers who have reservations at the destination can change their booking or get a full refund," Cabana said.

Protests that began in April against a pension reform in Nicaragua grew into a movement demanding the departure of President Daniel Ortega and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo, who are accused of authoritarianism.    The protests have been severely repressed by police and paramilitaries, and the government proclaimed the situation normalized.   Canada continues to advise its nationals "to avoid any non-essential travel to Nicaragua."
Date: Fri, 7 Sep 2018 19:57:24 +0200

Managua, Sept 7, 2018 (AFP) - Many shops, banks and gas stations were closed Friday in a 24-hour strike in Nicaragua called by the opposition in protest at "political prisoners" and the rule of President Daniel Ortega's government.   In Mercado Oriental, one of the capital Managua's main trade districts, most of the 20,000 shops and businesses were shut, while few people were out on the streets.   "It's an excellent strike, this is how we are supporting those who were taken, who are being tortured, who have no business being in jail just for protesting," shopkeeper Geidy Areas, 38, told AFP.   The normally busy road south from Managua to Masaya, where many shops operate, appeared more desolate than normal.   Friday's strike, the first since July, was called by the opposition Civil Alliance for Justice and Democracy.   More than 300 Nicaraguans have been charged with crimes for taking part in protests, including 85 who are accused of terrorism.   The Alliance is demanding dialogue with Ortega's government after months of turmoil that left more than 300 people dead, according to rights groups.

In Managua, most banks, gas stations, shopping malls and book shops were closed but there were more buses and public transport vehicles running than during previous strikes in June and July.   In an important economic zone north of Managua, many hardware stores, shops and cafes remained open.   "People have to keep struggling because they've got bank debts and need to feed their children," food vendor Johana Blandon, who works in a busy free trade zone to the east of Managua, told AFP.   Government offices were operating as normal.   Nicaragua's descent into chaos was triggered on April 18 when relatively small protests against now-scrapped social security reforms were met with a government crackdown, backed by armed paramilitaries.

Catholic church-brokered peace talks broke down in June after Ortega rejected a key opposition demand to step down and bring forward presidential elections.   Last week, Ortega expelled the United Nations human rights mission after it published a report criticizing the "climate of fear" in the Central American country, one of the poorest in the region.   The UN denounced a wide range of serious violations, including disproportionate use of force by police, which in some cases resulted in extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, arbitrary detention and torture.   Ortega, a former guerrilla leader who has been in power for the last 11 years, denied the claims and described the UN as "an instrument of the policies of terror, lies and infamy."
Date: Thu, 6 Sep 2018 18:06:28 +0200

Managua, Sept 6, 2018 (AFP) - Nicaragua's opposition called a 24-hour strike on Thursday, due to start the next day, in protest against President Daniel Ortega and to demand the release of "political prisoners."   The strike is due to begin at midnight on Thursday, the Civil Alliance for Justice and Democracy, made up of students, businesses and civil service groups, said in a statement.

The opposition is demanding dialogue with Ortega's government after months of turmoil that left more than 300 people dead, according to rights groups.   It called on supporters to "join this national effort from your homes."   "Nicaragua needs an urgent and peaceful solution through dialogue," said the opposition.   "We need to live in security, without kidnappings, without political prisoners, without persecution and without the stigmatization of those who think differently."   Last week, Ortega expelled the United Nations human rights mission after it published a report criticizing the "climate of fear" in the Central American country, one of the poorest in the region.   The UN denounced a wide range of serious violations, including disproportionate use of force by police, which in some cases resulted in extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, arbitrary detention and torture.

Ortega, a former guerrilla leader who has been in power for the last 11 years, refuted the claims and described the UN as "an instrument of the policies of terror, lies and infamy."   In addition to the dead and 2,000 people injured in clashes between anti-government protesters and regime forces back by paramilitaries, more than 300 Nicaraguans have been charged with crimes for taking part in the protests, of which 85 are accused of terrorism.   Two Alliance leaders, Medardo Mairena and Edwin Carcache, are amongst those to have been charged.   The opposition says "dialogue is the only path" to overcome the current political crisis.

Nicaragua's descent into chaos was triggered on April 18 when relatively small protests against now-scrapped social security reforms were met with a government crackdown, backed by armed paramilitaries.   Catholic church-brokered peace talks broke down in June after Ortega rejected a key opposition demand to step down and bring forward presidential elections.   Opposition supporters claimed the last strike in mid-July was 90 percent respected, although government media said businesses had remained open in several trade zones.
Date: Fri, 27 Jul 2018 23:17:00 +0200

Managua, July 27, 2018 (AFP) - More than a dozen doctors, nurses and technical staff in a public hospital in Nicaragua have been sacked because they treated wounded anti-government protesters and were seen backing their cause, medical sources said Friday.

Those fired "without any legal justification" worked at the Oscar Danilo Rosales Hospital in the northwestern city of Leon, surgery and endoscopy department chief Javier Pastora told AFP.   The hospital is run by the health ministry.   The allegation bolstered reports that those perceived to back protest claims calling for the ouster of President Daniel Ortega were being persecuted by his government and sympathizers.

Nicaragua has seen more than three months of unrest as those protests were brutally countered by police and armed pro-government paramilitaries.   More than 300 people have been killed and thousands have fled to neighboring Costa Rica for safety, according to rights groups.   Pastora, who has worked in Nicaragua's public health system for 33 years, said the staff members were fired because they were deemed to support the protesters by treating them.   "They said we were people showing solidarity and support for the people's fight," he said.   Pastora said at least nine medical specialists were among those fired.

- Dismissed in surgery -
"I was in surgery when they came from human resources to tell me I could no longer stay because I was fired," said one of the dismissed medics, cancer surgeon Aaron Delgado.   A dismissed pediatrician, Edgar Zuniga, called the axings "arbitrary."   They were fired "for thinking differently, for saying Nicaragua needs democracy, freedom, that the repression and killings must stop and there has to be dialogue," he said.

The staff and residents in Leon held a protest in front of the hospital demanding the sackings be reversed.   Leon used to be a bastion of support for the Sandinista movement Ortega leads, but as the unrest took hold, there too paramilitaries and anti-riot police have stormed the city several times to crush protests.   Rights groups say more than 2,000 people have been hurt across the country since the clashes erupted mid-April.   Many of them sought medical attention for their wounds from volunteers outside the state health system, which was said to have received orders to turn them away.
Date: Wed, 11 Jul 2018 22:06:35 +0200

Washington, July 11, 2018 (AFP) - The known death toll from a four-month crackdown on anti-government protests in Nicaragua has risen to 264, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights said Wednesday.

"As recorded by the IACHR since the start of the repression against social protests, to date, 264 people have lost their lives and more than 1,800 have been injured," the commission's chief Paulo Abrao told reporters.   He was speaking at a meeting of the Organization of American States -- of which the IACHR is part -- about the situation in the violence-wracked Central American country, where protesters are seeking the ouster of President Daniel Ortega.   The rights body had previously given a toll of 212 dead, although local estimates recently put the toll at about 250.

The influential Roman Catholic church has been mediating between Ortega's government and the opposition to end the unrest, but the process has become bogged down amid continuing violence.   In the latest outburst, at least 14 people died in a weekend raid by a pro-government mob near the opposition bastion of Masaya, in the country's southwest.   The opposition is planning to crank up the pressure on Ortega starting on Thursday with an anti-government protest and general strike.

A former leftist guerrilla, Ortega will next week commemorate the 1979 popular uprising that brought him to power with an annual July 19 march due to start in Masaya.   Once the hero of left-wing revolutionaries, Ortega is now widely viewed as an oppressor.   Having lost a presidential vote in 1990, he was re-elected in 2007 but opponents have accused him -- together with his wife Vice President Rosario Murillo -- of establishing a dictatorship characterized by nepotism and brutal repression.
More ...

Antartica

General:
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Cuba is an independent island country situated in the Caribbean. It is the largest of the islands and covers 42,000sq miles. The climate is sub tropical throughout the year with most of the rainfall in
the northern parts of the country. Temperatures of between 20C to 35C are fairly standard throughout the year. Generally the winter effects of the American continent only last for short periods.
Safety & Security:
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The majority of tourists visiting Cuba will have no difficulty but bag snatching and other street crime appears to be increasing. The old Havana area and other major tourist resorts may be particular areas of concern in this regard. On arrival be careful to only use your recognised tour operator. If you are taking a taxi at any stage make sure it is a registered one and not a private vehicle. It is unwise to carry large quantities of money or jewellery away from your hotel and try not to flaunt wealth with your belongings. Pickpockets are too common an occurrence on buses and trains and at train stations so be careful with your essential documents and credit cards. Valuables should not be stored in suitcases when arriving in or departing from Havana as there have been a number of thefts from cases during the time the cases are coming through baggage handling. There is an airport shrink-wrap facility for those departing Havana which reduces the risk of tampering. Remember to carry a photocopy of your main documents (passport, flight tickets etc).
Road Safety:
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Following a number of serious road accidents involving tourists, you are advised not to use mopeds for travelling around Cuba or in Havana. Also, if you are involved in any accident a police investigation will be required to clear you and this may significantly delay your travel plans. On unlit roads at night there have been a number of accidents associated with roaming cattle (sounds like Ireland!). The traffic moves on the right side of the roads. There is a main highway running the length of the country but many of the country roads are in poor repair.
Local Laws & Customs:
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When arriving into Cuba make sure you are not carrying any items which could be considered offensive. Any illicit drug offense is treated very seriously and Cuban law allows for the death penalty to be used under these circumstances. If you require personal medication for your health, make sure it is in original packing and carry a letter from your doctor describing the medication. Never agree to carry any item for another individual and always secure your cases once they are packed. Taking photographs of military or police installations or around harbours, rail and airport facilities is strictly forbidden.

Currency:
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Since 1993 it is now possible to use US dollars for all transactions within Cuba. Remember, there is a 20$ airport departure tax. Certain travellers cheques and credit cards may not be acceptable within Cuba. This is particularly true of American Express cheques and cards but check your situation with the travel operator before departure.
Health Facilities:
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Generally healthcare facilities outside of Havana are limited and many standard medications may not be available. It is important to carry sufficient quantities of any medications which may be required for the duration of your time in Cuba.
Food & Water:
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The level of food and water hygiene varies throughout the country and between resorts. On arrival check the hotel cold water supply for the smell of chlorine. If it is not present then use sealed bottled water for both drinking and brushing your teeth throughout your stay. Cans and bottles of drinks are safe but take care to avoid pre-cut fruit. Peel it yourself to make sure it is not contaminated. Food from street vendors should be avoided in most cases. Bivalve shellfish are also a high risk food in many countries and Cuba is no exception in this regard. (Eg Mussels, Oysters, Clams etc)
Malaria & Mosquito Borne Diseases:
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Malaria transmission does not occur within Cuba and so prophylaxis is not required. However, a different mosquito borne disease called Dengue has begun to reoccur in the country over the past few years. This viral disease can be very sickening and even progress to death. It is rare for tourists to become infected but avoiding mosquito bites is a wise precaution.
Swimming, Sun & Dehydration:
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The extent of the Cuban sun (particular during the summer months (April to October) can be very excessive so make sure your head and shoulders are covered at all times when exposed. Watch children carefully as they will be a significant risk. Drink plenty of fluids to replace what will be lost through perspiration and, unless there is a reason not to,
take extra salt either on your food or in crisps, peanuts etc. Take care if swimming in the Caribbean to stay with others and to listen to local advice. Never swim after a heavy meal or alcohol.
Rabies Risk in Cuba:
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This viral disease does occur throughout Cuba and it is essential that you avoid any contact with all warm blooded animals. Dogs, cats and monkeys are the most commonly involved in spreading the disease to humans. Don't pick up a monkey for a photograph! If bitten, wash out the wound, apply an antiseptic and seek urgent medical attention.
Vaccinations for Cuba:
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There are no essential vaccines for entry / exit if coming from Ireland. However, for your own personal protection travellers are advised to have cover against the following;
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Tetanus (childhood booster)
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Typhoid (food & water borne disease)
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Hepatitis A (food & water borne disease)
For those planning a longer or more rural trip vaccine cover against conditions like Hepatitis B and Rabies may also need to be considered.
Summary:
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Cuba is becoming a popular destination for tourists and generally most will stay very healthy. However commonsense care against food and water borne disease is essential at all times. Also take care with regard to sun exposure, dehydration and mosquito bites.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Fri, 6 Dec 2019 03:03:18 +0100 (MET)
By Pierre-Henry DESHAYES

Half Moon Island, Antarctica, Dec 6, 2019 (AFP) - The swimsuit-clad tourists leap into the icy water, gasping at the shock, and startling a gaggle of penguins.   They are spectators at the end of the world, luxury visitors experiencing a vulnerable ecosystem close-up.   And their very presence might accelerate its demise.   Antarctica, a vast territory belonging to no one nation, is a continent of extremes: the coldest place on Earth, the windiest, the driest, the most desolate and the most inhospitable.   Now, it's also a choice destination for tourists.

All around Half Moon Island, off the Antarctic Peninsula, blocks of ice of all sizes float by on a calm sea, their varying forms resembling weightless origami shapes.    On this strip of land, that juts out of the Antarctic Polar and towards South America, visitors can see wildlife normally only viewed in zoos or nature documentaries along with spectacular icy landscapes.   The ethereal shades of white that play across the pillowy peaks change with the light, acquiring pastel hues at dawn and dusk.   "Purity, grandeur, a scale that's out of this world," says Helene Brunet, an awestruck 63-year-old French pensioner, enjoying the scene.    "It's unbelievable, totally unbelievable. It's amazing just to be here, like a small speck of dust."

AFP joined the 430 passengers on board the Roald Amundsen, the world's first hybrid electric cruise ship, on its maiden voyage in the Southern Ocean.    "It's not your typical beach, but it's awesome to do it," says a numb Even Carlsen, 58, from Norway, emerging from his polar plunge in the three-degree C (37.4 F) water.   When tourists go ashore, bundled up in neon-coloured windbreakers and slathered in SPF50 sunscreen, they have to follow strict rules: clean your personal effects so you don't introduce invasive species, keep a respectful distance from wildlife to avoid distressing them, don't stray from the marked paths and don't pick up anything.   "We mucked up the rest of the world. We don't want to muck up Antarctica too," says an English tourist, as she vacuums cat hair off her clothes before going ashore.

- 'Heart of the Earth' -
The Antarctic peninsula is one of the regions on Earth that is warming the fastest, by almost three degrees Celsius in the past 50 years, according to the World Meteorological Organization -- three times faster than the global average.    In March 2015, an Argentinian research station registered a balmy 17.5 degrees Celsius, a record.    "Every year you can observe and record the melting of glaciers, the disappearance of sea ice... (and) in areas without ice, the recolonisation of plants and other organisms that were not present in Antarctica before," said Marcelo Leppe, director of the Chilean Antarctic Institute.

Antarctica is "like the heart of the Earth," he added, saying that it expands and contracts like a heart beating, while the mighty current which revolves around the continent is like a circulatory system as it absorbs warm currents from other oceans and redistributes cold water.   The Antarctic Treaty, signed 60 years ago by 12 countries -- it now has 54 signatories -- declared the area a continent dedicated to peace and science, but tourism has gradually increased, with a sharp rise in the past few years.   Tourism is the only commercial activity allowed, apart from fishing -- the subject of international disputes over marine sanctuaries -- and is concentrated mainly around the peninsula, which has a milder climate than the rest of the continent and is easier to access.

Cruise ships have roamed the region for around 50 years, but their numbers only started to increase from 1990, as Soviet ice-breakers found new purposes in the post-Cold War era.   Some 78,500 people are expected to visit the region between November and March, according to the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO).   That's a 40-percent increase from last year, due in part to short visits by a few new cruise ships carrying more than 500 passengers, too many to disembark under IAATO regulations.     "Some might say 'Well, 80,000 people, that doesn't even fill a national stadium'... (and that it) is nothing like Galapagos which welcomes 275,000 a year," says IAATO spokeswoman Amanda Lynnes.    "But Antarctica is a special place and you need to manage it accordingly."

- 'Leave Antarctica to the penguins' -
It is Antarctica's very vulnerability that is attracting more and more visitors.   "We want to see this fantastic nature in Antarctica before it's gone," Guido Hofken, a 52-year-old IT sales director travelling with his wife Martina, says.    They said they had paid a supplement to climate compensate for their flight from Germany.

But some question whether tourists should be going to the region at all.   "The continent probably would be better off being left to penguins and researchers, but the reality is, that is probably never going to happen," said Michael Hall, professor and expert on polar regions at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand.   "Vicarious appreciation never seems to be enough for humans. So with that being the case, it needs to be made as low risk to the Antarctic environment and as low carbon as possible," said Hall.    "However, when the average tourist trip to Antarctica is over five tonnes of CO2 emissions per passenger (including flights), that is a serious ask."

Soot or black carbon in the exhaust gases of the scientific and cruise ships going to the region is also of concern, said Soenke Diesener, transport policy officer at German conservation NGO Nabu.   "These particles will deposit on snow and ice surfaces and accelerate the melting of the ice because the ice gets darker and will absorb the heat from the sun and will melt much faster," he told AFP.   "So the people who go there to observe or preserve the landscape are bringing danger to the area, and leave it less pristine than it was," he added.

- Responsible tourism -
Antarctic tour operators insist they are promoting responsible tourism.   The trend is for more intimate, so-called expedition cruises, in contrast to popular giant cruise liners elsewhere which are criticised for being invasive and polluting.   With greener ships -- heavy fuel, the most commonly used for marine vessels, has been banned in Antarctica since 2011 -- cruise companies have sought to make environmental awareness a selling point, occasionally earning them accusations of greenwashing.

Global warming, pollution and microplastics are the result of human activities on other, faraway continents, say tour operators.   Here, their motto is "Take nothing but photographs, leave nothing but footprints, keep nothing but memories".   But before they've even set foot on the cruise ships departing from South America -- the most common itinerary -- visitors to Antarctica will already have flown across the world, causing emissions that harm the very nature they have come so far to admire.

Most visitors hail from the Northern Hemisphere, and almost half are from the United States and China, IAATO says.   "I'm a tourist who feels a little guilty about taking a flight to come here," admits Francoise Lapeyre, a 58-year-old globetrotter om France.   "But then again, there are priorities. There are some trips I just won't take, because they leave a big footprint and they're not worth it.   "Crisscrossing the planet to go to a beach for example," she says.

- Don't mention climate change -
Like other expedition cruises where accessible science is part of their trademark, the Roald Amundsen, owned by the Hurtigruten company, has no dance floor or casino.  Instead, there are microscopes, science events and lectures about whales and explorers like Charles Darwin.   But they steer clear of climate change, which is only mentioned indirectly.   That's a deliberate decision as the subject has proven "quite controversial", said Verena Meraldi, Hurtigruten's science coordinator.   "We held several lectures dedicated specifically to climate change but it leads to conflicts. There are people who accept it as a fact, others who don't," she said.   Onboard, "passengers" are referred to as "guests" and "explorers" rather than "cruisers".   "Explorers" are typically older, well-heeled, often highly travelled pensioners who are handed walking sticks as they step ashore.   "My 107th country," says a Dane, stepping ashore onto Antarctica.

The Roald Amundsen "guests" choose between three restaurants, from street food to fine dining -- a far cry from the conditions endured by the Norwegian adventurer for whom the ship is named, who had to eat his sled dogs to survive his quest to reach the South Pole in 1911.   They have paid at least 7,000 euros ($7,700) each for an 18-day cruise in a standard cabin, and up to 25,000 euros ($27,500) for a suite with a balcony and private jacuzzi.   Other cruises are banking on ultra-luxury, with James Bond-like ships equipped with helicopters and submarines, suites of more than 200 square metres (2,153 square feet) and butler services.   With a seaplane to boot, the mega-yacht SeaDream Innovation will offer 88-day cruises "from Pole to Pole" starting in 2021. The two most expensive suites, with a price tag of 135,000 euros per person, are already booked.
 
- Worlds collide -
Outside, in the deafening silence, wildlife abounds.   All around are penguins, as awkward on land as they are agile in water. Massive and majestic whales slip through the waves, and sea lions and seals laze in the sun.   On Half Moon Island, chinstrap penguins -- so called because of a black stripe on their chin -- strut about in this spring breeding season, raising their beaks and screeching from their rocky nests.   "This is to tell other males 'This is my space' and also, maybe, 'This is my female'," ornithologist Rebecca Hodgkiss, a member of the Hurtigruten's scientific team, explains, as a group of tourists stroll around ashore.   The colony of 2,500 penguins has been gradually declining over the years, but it's not known if that is man's fault or they have just moved away, according to Karin Strand, Hurtigruten's vice president for expeditions.   Invisible to the naked eye, traces of humankind are however to be found in the pristine landscape.   Not a single piece of rubbish is in sight but microplastics are everywhere, swept in on ocean currents.   "We've detected them in the eggs of penguins for example," Leppe told AFP.

- Venice under water -
The Antarctic, which holds the world's largest reserve of freshwater, is a ticking time bomb, warn experts and studies.   They say that the future of millions of people and species in coastal areas around the world depends on what is happening here.   As a result of global warming, the melting ice sheet -- especially in the western part of the continent -- will increasingly contribute to rising sea levels, radically re-drawing the map of the world, says climate scientist Anders Levermann, of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.   This meltwater will contribute 50 centimetres (almost 20 inches) to the global sea level rise by 2100, and much more after that, he said.   "For every degree of warming, we get 2.5 metres of sea level rise. Not in this century, but in the long run," he said.

Even if the international community meets its obligations under the Paris Agreement to limit global warming to under two degrees Celsius, sea levels will still rise by at least five metres.   "Which means that Venice is under water, Hamburg is under water, New York, Shanghai, Calcutta," he said.   It's impossible to predict when, but the scenario appears unavoidable, says Levermann.   In the same way that a cruise ship powering ahead at full speed can't immediately stop, sea levels will continue to rise even if all greenhouse gas emissions were to cease immediately, a study has said.

- Changing the world? -
The tourism industry says it hopes to make "ambassadors" out of Antarctica visitors.   "It's good for the animal life and for the protection of Antarctica that people see how beautiful this area is, because you cherish what you know and understand," said Hurtigruten chief executive Daniel Skjeldam.   Texan tourist Mark Halvorson, 72, says he is convinced.   "Having seen it, I am that much more committed to having a very high priority in my politics, in my own inner core convictions to being as environmentally friendly in my life as I can," he said.   So, do Guido and Martina Hofken see themselves as future "ambassadors of Antarctica"?    "Just a little bit, probably. But I don't think I will change the world," Guido Hofken concedes.    "The best thing would be for nobody to travel to Antarctica."
Date: Thu, 17 May 2018 09:57:07 +0200

Buenos Aires, May 17, 2018 (AFP) - Tourism regulation in Antarctica has become an urgent matter due to environmental threats, officials from the 53 member countries of the Antarctic Treaty warned at their annual meeting, held this week in Buenos Aires.

In the absence of rules, travel agencies offer trips to the region on boats sometimes equipped with helicopters or submarines, according to Segolene Royal, French ambassador for the Arctic and Antarctic poles.   "This activity creates considerable disturbance ... we are witnessing a race toward large-scale tourism that is dangerous for ecosystems," she said at the assembly on Wednesday.

During the austral summer of 2016/2017, around 44,000 tourists set off for Antarctica, compared with just 9,000 in 1995/1996, according to French authorities.   However, the push for regulation is not about banning tourism, former environmental minister Royal said, but rather about ensuring it is managed in compliance with the treaty and its environmental protection protocol.

In Buenos Aires, the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting  -- whose mission is to regulate human activity on the continent -- also sought to encourage scientific cooperation between countries that have collectively set up around 100 research bases across the ice.   Also up for analysis is China's proposed fifth permanent scientific station in Antarctica, which would be located in the Ross Sea area south of New Zealand.
Date: Wed, 5 Jul 2017 13:01:49 +0200
By Marlowe HOOD

Paris, July 5, 2017 (AFP) - A chunk of ice bigger than the US state of Delaware is hanging by a thread from the West Antarctic ice shelf, satellite images revealed Wednesday.   When it finally calves from the Larsen C ice shelf, one of the biggest icebergs in recorded history will be set adrift -- some 6,600 square kilometres (2,550 square miles) in total, according to the European Space Agency (ESA).

The iceberg's depth below sea level could be as much as 210 metres (almost 700 feet), or about 60 storeys, it said.   "The crack in the ice is now around 200 kilometres (125 miles) long, leaving just five kilometres between the end of the fissure and the ocean," the ESA said in a statement.   "Icebergs calve from Antarctica all the time, but because this one is particularly large its path across the ocean needs to be monitored as it could pose a hazard to maritime traffic."

Scientists tracking the berg's progression expect it to break of within months.    The Larsen C shelf will lose more than 10 percent of its total surface area.   The massive ice cube will float in water and by itself will not add to sea levels when it melts.   The real danger is from inland glaciers.   Ice shelves float on the sea, extending from the coast, and are fed by slow-flowing glaciers from the land.    They act as giant brakes, preventing glaciers from flowing directly into the ocean.   If the glaciers held in check by Larsen C spilt into the Antarctic Ocean, it would lift the global water mark by about 10 centimetres (four inches), researchers have said.

The calving of ice shelves occurs naturally, though global warming is believed to have accelerated the process.   Warming ocean water erodes the underbelly of the ice shelves, while rising air temperatures weaken them from above.   The nearby Larsen A ice shelf collapsed in 1995, and Larsen B dramatically broke up seven years later.   The ESA is keeping an eye on Larsen C with its Copernicus and CryoSat Earth orbiters.

Man-made global warming has already lifted average global air temperatures by about one degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) since pre-industrial levels.    Antarctica is one of the world's fastest-warming regions.   The world's nations undertook in the Paris Agreement, inked in 2015, to cap average global warming at "well under" 2 C.
Date: Wed, 22 Jun 2016 21:35:09 +0200
By Jean-Louis SANTINI

Washington, June 22, 2016 (AFP) - Two sick workers were evacuated from a remote US research station near the South Pole on Wednesday in a risky rescue mission carried out in the dead of Antarctica's winter, a US official said.   A Twin Otter turboprop plane flew in dark and cold conditions to pick up the workers from the Amundsen-Scott station, about 250 meters from the geographic South Pole, a spokesman for the US National Science Foundation (NSF), Peter West told AFP.

The plane's crew and a medical team had made the 10-hour journey to the South Pole in the middle of Antarctica's 24-hour winter on Tuesday night to reach the unidentified patients, who could not be treated on site.   The NSF -- the US research agency that operates the Amundsen-Scott Station -- organized the rescue mission last week given the condition of the first patient, which was not disclosed for privacy reasons.   "It was really an emergency," West said.   It later became apparent that the second worker also needed to be evacuated.

The sick workers -- employees of the US company Lockheed Martin who worked on base logistics -- were then taken to the Rothera base, a British research station some 2,200 kilometers (about 1,365 miles) away, the spokesman said.   The pair, who were not identified, were then to be transferred to a hospital in South America, West said, without giving further details.   The Amundsen-Scott base was home to 48 people -- 39 men and nine women -- who work on-site throughout the austral winter, which spans February through October.

- Rare rescue mission -
Near the world's southernmost point, workers spend this period withstanding nearly complete darkness and dramatically low temperatures -- on Tuesday, the thermometer dropped to -60 degrees Celsius (-76 degrees Fahrenheit).   It was only the third time that an emergency rescue operation has been launched in the middle of winter.   In 2001, the only doctor at the Amundsen-Scott station was suffering from a life-threatening pancreatic condition and required urgent evacuation. A second medical evacuation was carried out that year.

In 1999, the US station's doctor Jerri Nielsen, who was self-treating her own breast cancer, required medical evacuation but weather conditions were more favorable, as the mission took place in the spring.  The Twin Otter plane, operated by the Canadian company Kenn Borek Air, is specially designed to operate in extremely cold temperatures.

Research projects at the Amundsen-Scott station include monitoring long-term levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere.     The station also operates two telescopes that observe "cosmic microwave background" radiation -- the faint light signature left by the Big Bang -- to study the origins of the universe, dark energy and dark matter.
Date: Wed, 18 Jun 2014 09:04:56 +0200 (METDST)
by Martin PARRY

SYDNEY, June 18, 2014 (AFP) - Antarctic scientists warned Wednesday that a surge in tourists visiting the frozen continent and new roads and runways built to service research facilities were threatening its fragile environment.   Tourist numbers have exploded from less than 5,000 in 1990 to about 40,000 a year, according to industry figures, and most people go to the fragmented ice-free areas that make up less than one percent of Antarctica.   A growing number of research facilities are also being built, along with associated infrastructure such as fuel depots and runways, in the tiny ice-free zones.

It is these areas which contain most of the continent's wildlife and plants, yet they are among the planet's least-protected, said a study led by the Australian government-funded National Environmental Research Programme (NERP) and the Australian Antarctic Division.   "Many people think that Antarctica is well protected from threats to its biodiversity because it's isolated and no one lives there," said Justine Shaw from the NERP of the study published in the journal PLoS Biology.   "However, we show that there are threats to Antarctic biodiversity.   "Most of Antarctica is covered in ice, with less than one percent permanently ice-free," she added.   "Only 1.5 percent of this ice-free area belongs to Antarctic Specially Protected Areas under the Antarctic Treaty System, yet ice-free land is where the majority of biodiversity occurs."   Five of the distinct ice-free areas have no protection at all while all 55 of the continent's protected zones are close to sites of human activity.

- Fragile ecosystems -
Steven Chown of Monash University, another collaborator in the study, said the ice-free areas contain very simple ecosystems due to Antarctica's low species diversity.   This makes its native wildlife and plants extremely vulnerable to invasion by outside species, which can be introduced by human activity.   "Antarctica has been invaded by plants and animals, mostly grasses and insects, from other continents," he said.    "The very real current and future threats from invasions are typically located close to protected areas.    "Such threats to protected areas from invasive species have been demonstrated elsewhere in the world, and we find that Antarctica is, unfortunately, no exception."

The study said the current level of protection was "inadequate by any measure" with Shaw saying more was needed to guard against the threat posed by the booming tourism industry.   "(We need) to protect a diverse suite of native insects, plants and seabirds, many of which occur nowhere else in the world," she said.   "We also need to ensure that Antarctic protected areas are not going to be impacted by human activities, such as pollution, trampling or invasive species."   Antarctica is considered one of the last frontiers for adventurous travellers.   Most travel by sea, some paying in excess of US$20,000 for a luxury cabin in the peak period from November to March. There is also a healthy market for sightseeing flights.

Approximately 30 nations operate permanent research stations on the continent including the US, China, Russia, Australia, Britain, France and Argentina, and more are on the way.   China's state media said in December that the country was building its fourth base and a fifth was being planned.   Fellow study author Hugh Possingham, from NERP, said that without better protection "this unique and fragile ecosystem could be lost".   "Although we show that the risks to biodiversity from increasing human activity are high, they are even worse when considered together with climate change," he added.    "This combined effect provides even more incentive for a better system of area protection in Antarctica."
More ...

Mexico

General Information
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Mexico is becoming a very popular destination for Irish travellers. The country has many well known tourist destinations including the idyllic resort of Acapulco on the Pacific Ocean and t
e Yucatan Peninsula stretching out between the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico. There is a rapidly developing economy and luxury hotels are widely available throughout the country. Tourist facilities in the more remote regions (seldom visited by tourists) may be very limited.
Climate
************************************
The country experiences a wide temperature profile with cool to cold temperatures on the mountainous ranges to a hot sub-tropical climate on the sea coasts. There is a rainy season from June to October and a dry season from November to May each year. Temperatures in April May and June tend to be in the mid 20’s centigrade. The southern and eastern regions tend to experience the heaviest rainfall.
Food & Water
************************************
Some tourists visiting Mexico will undertake a trekking holiday for part of their time in the country. This will bring them out from the major cities into many of the poorer regions of the country. In these areas the level of food and water hygiene may be poor and travellers need to exercise continuous caution in this regard. Typically great care should be taken with the consumption of any cold foods. Lettuce would be a common cause of illness and should be avoided. Undercooked shellfish (prawns, oysters, mussels etc.) should be avoided at any time. The risk of contamination with a variety of diseases is just too high.
Street Vendors
************************************
Many of the larger towns have a number of street vendors selling their produce on the side of the road. In general purchases of food from these vendors should be avoided. This is especially true with regard to buying ‘freshly squeezed’ fruit juice drinks. In some cases potentially contaminated tap water may have been used to supplement the supply. Another particular risk in Mexico involves the purchase of water melons from the market place. These are usually sold by their weight and it is reported that certain vendors may inject them with tap water to increase their value. Be sensible and take care.
Rabies
************************************
This is another viral disease that occurs throughout Mexico. 69 cases of human Rabies were reported in 1990 but this figure has dropped to 24 in 1995. The disease is transmitted through the bite of any infected warm blooded animal (dog, cats, monkey etc.). Animals should be avoided at all costs and any bite (lick or scratch) should be immediately washed out with water and then have a strong antiseptic applied. The individual should then always seek urgent competent medical attention. Cycling in the early morning is a high risk time. Dogs may become agitated and run out at the bicycle.
Protection against Mosquitoes & Sandflys
************************************
Travellers will need to exercise care against mosquito bites throughout the year and this has become particularly important due to regular outbreaks of Dengue Fever. This viral disease has swept through the Caribbean region over the past decade and Mexico has also been involved. There were approx. 4,500 cases during 1995 with about 16 deaths. More recently (Oct ‘99) the disease has been reported close to the US border with over 5000 patients affected. The disease seldom kills travellers but causes a severe flu like illness and pronounced skin rash in many of those infected. It is an unpleasant disease and can leave an individual ill for many weeks after infection. The mosquitoes can bite during the day or night. Most tourists should take care against mosquitoes by;
*
Using adequate Insect Repellent
*
Covering up well with pale coloured clothing
*
Refraining from using Perfumes or Aftershaves at the risk times for bites.
Malaria
************************************
For many tourists to Mexico the chance of contracting malaria is negligible. The disease does occur in some of the country and those planning to trek through the rural areas may be advised to consider prophylaxis. The states most affected are Oaxaca, Hiapas, Sinaloa, Campeche, Quintana Roo, Nayarit, Tabasco, Michoacán, Chihuahua and Hidalgo. The risk extends throughout the year and visitors to these regions always should consider adequate malaria prophylaxis.

Larva Migrans
************************************
Walking on the beach above the high tide mark in many of the hotter countries without shoe covering may expose the traveller to infection with the Larva Migrans parasite. Mexico is no exception. This minute worm penetrates through the skin and causes a significant irritation just under the skin in those infected. The rash moves and becomes very itchy. Treatment is straightforward once a diagnosis is reached. Travellers walking along the beaches (above the high tide mark) should always wear shoe covering and avoid sitting straight on the sand.
Vaccinations
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No vaccines are essential for entry to Mexico however, in most cases, short term travellers will be advised to consider vaccination cover for;
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Tetanus (childhood booster)
*
Typhoid (food & water borne)
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Hepatitis A (food & water borne)
For those undertaking a trekking holiday (or those who will live in the region for some months) vaccination cover against Rabies (animal bites), Meningococcal Meningitis (air borne) and Hepatitis B (accidents) may need to be considered.
General Health
************************************
Further information on staying healthy while abroad may be obtained from the Tropical Medical Bureau.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Thu, 9 Jan 2020 17:49:58 +0100 (MET)

Mexico City, Jan 9, 2020 (AFP) - Mexico's Popocatepetl volcano dramatically spewed a fiery cloud of ash and rock into the sky Thursday, though it did not prompt authorities to raise their eruption alert level.   "Popo," as the volcano is known, exploded early in the morning, belching "a moderate amount of ash and incandescent material" from its crater, the National Disaster Prevention Center wrote on Twitter.   The explosion created a cloud of ash that reached 3,000 meters (1.9 miles) into the air.

The authorities, however, left the volcano's alert level at "Yellow Phase Two," which instructs people to remain at least 12 kilometres (7.5 miles) from the crater and be prepared for a possible evacuation.   Popocatepetl, which means "smoking mountain" in the indigenous Nahuatl language, has not had a massive eruption in more than a millennium, but has shown increased activity in the past 26 years.   It is considered one of the world's most dangerous volcanoes, because some 25 million people live within a 100-kilometer (60-mile) radius.
Date: Mon, 30 Dec 2019 02:39:19 +0100 (MET)

San Cristóbal de las Casas, Mexico, Dec 30, 2019 (AFP) - At least 11 people died and seven were injured on Sunday when a car and a van carrying tourists crashed on a highway in Mexico's southern Chiapas state, local prosecutors said.   "Eleven people were killed and seven more were injured," the prosecutor's office said in a statement, adding an investigation had been opened into the accident's cause.

According to reports from local authorities, the victims included tourists traveling in the van to San Cristobal de las Casas, one of the most visited cities in Chiapas state.   During the Christmas and New Year's holiday season, traffic is heavier on Mexico's roads and accidents occur more frequently.
Date: Sat, 21 Dec 2019 00:03:55 +0100 (MET)

Mexico City, Dec 20, 2019 (AFP) - Six people were injured Friday when two enormous cruise ships operated by US-based Carnival collided off Mexico's Caribbean coast, the company said.   "Oh my God!" a man can be heard saying in a dramatic video of the Carnival Glory crashing into the Carnival Legend as it docked at the popular island resort of Cozumel.   "Someone could have died!" he said.

Videos posted online show the 290-meter (952-foot) Glory slowly arcing through the azure water off Cozumel toward the 294-meter (963-foot) Legend, then making impact with a loud boom.   The Legend's massive bow then scraped along the back of the Glory, leaving the tip of the other ship's stern a mangled jumble of wreckage.   "Carnival Glory was in the process of docking when it made contact with Carnival Legend which was already docked," the company said in a statement.   "Six guests with minor injuries have presented themselves to the Carnival Glory medical centre for evaluation."

Carnival said it was still assessing the damage, but insisted there was no impact on the seaworthiness of either ship or their itineraries.   "We have advised guests from both ships to enjoy their day ashore in Cozumel," it said.   According to Carnival, the Glory weighs 110,000 tons and has capacity for 2,980 guests and 1,150 crew. The Legend weighs 88,500 tons and has capacity for 2,124 guests and 930 crew.
Date: Mon 11 Nov 2019
Source: Pan American Health Organization (PAHO)

Mexico has become the 1st country in the world to receive validation from the World Health Organization (WHO) for eliminating dog-transmitted rabies as a public health problem. "Eliminating [dog-transmitted] rabies doesn't happen by accident," said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General. "It takes political resolve, careful planning, and meticulous execution. I congratulate the Government of Mexico on this wonderful achievement and hope many other countries will follow its example."

Rabies causes 60,000 deaths each year, mainly in Asia and Africa. In Latin America and the Caribbean, new cases of rabies were reduced by more than 95 percent in humans and 98 percent in dogs since 1983.

"By eliminating human rabies transmitted by dogs, Mexico is showing the world that ending infectious diseases for the next generation is possible and is the right way forward," said PAHO Director, Carissa F Etienne.

Mexico's achievement
--------------------
In order to achieve elimination, the country has implemented a national strategy for the control and elimination of rabies. This includes free, mass vaccination campaigns for dogs, that have taken place since the 1990's with more than 80 percent coverage; continuous and effective surveillance; public awareness-raising campaigns; timely diagnosis; and the availability of post-exposure prophylaxis in the country's public health services.

As a result, the country went from registering 60 cases of human rabies transmitted by dogs in 1990, to 3 cases in 1999, and zero cases in 2006. The last 2 cases occurred in 2 people from the State of Mexico, who were attacked in 2005 and presented symptoms in 2006.

The validation process
----------------------
WHO considers a country to be free of rabies after registering 2 years of zero transmission of rabies to humans. However, there was previously no process to verify the achievement of this goal, until this was developed by PAHO/WHO. Mexico became the 1st country in the world to begin this in December 2016.

The validation process was extensive and included the creation of a group of independent international experts established by PAHO/WHO. It also included the preparation, by Mexico, of an almost 300-page file containing all historical information about the situation of rabies in the country. PAHO and its specialized center in veterinary public health, PANAFTOSA, accompanied and supervised the implementation of the validation process throughout.

The group of experts carried out a mission to Mexico in September 2018 to review the file and verify the country complied with all WHO requirements. In September 2019, the group recommended the Director General of WHO and PAHO validate the elimination.

Moving forward
--------------
In order to sustain elimination, PAHO/WHO recommends continuing all rabies prevention, surveillance and control actions, particularly as rabies virus continues to circulate among wild animals such as bats.

PAHO collaborated with the countries of the Americas to eliminate rabies through technical cooperation, staff training, periodic meetings between those responsible for the issue in-country, and through the provision of recommendations on international standards. As of September 2019, there have been zero cases of rabies transmitted by dogs in humans in the Americas.

In addition to rabies, Mexico eliminated onchocerciasis in 2015 and trachoma in 2017, 3 of the more than 30 infectious diseases and related conditions that PAHO's new Communicable Disease Elimination Initiative in the Region of the Americas has set as a goal for elimination from the continent by 2030.
===================
[This is certainly an outstanding achievement and should be celebrated by all. It is also an example to other countries.  Of course, someone acquiring rabies from a bat would be outside of this situation. This WHO/PAHO validation specifically refers to rabies acquired from dog bites. This is a great milestone. Congratulations Mexico! - ProMED Mod.TG]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of Mexico:
Date: Sat, 21 Sep 2019 00:59:40 +0200 (METDST)

Mexico City, Sept 20, 2019 (AFP) - Lorena made landfall Friday as a Category 1 hurricane, lashing the turquoise waters of popular beach destination Los Cabos on Mexico's Baja California peninsula.   "The eye of Hurricane Lorena is now passing over the coast of Los Cabos," Mexico's hurricane monitor, CONAGUA, wrote on Twitter.

The hurricane, which has been churning up the Pacific coast, first made landfall Thursday in west-central Mexico, then was briefly downgraded to a tropical storm before moving back over the water and regaining strength.   According to CONAGUA, Lorena was packing sustained winds of 140 kilometres (87 miles) per hour as it battered Los Cabos, making it a Category One hurricane on the scale of one to five.   After moving slowly northwest throughout the morning, it ground to a halt 70 kilometres from the beach town of Cabo San Lucas, dumping torrential rain on the area.

The US National Hurricane Center said the storm was expected to pour up to 20 centimetres (eight inches) of rain on the region, which "may result in flash flooding."   It warned that the storm's trajectory was "highly uncertain."   "Some weakening is forecast during the next 48 hours if Lorena moves inland. If the hurricane moves over the Gulf of California, it could strengthen instead," it said in its 2100 GMT update.

Lorena already buffeted west-central Mexico with strong winds, torrential rain and high waves, leading officials to cancel school in the affected areas.   Authorities suspended classes in Los Cabos for Friday, and ordered all boats and ships to remain docked.   The army said it had deployed troops to set up 14 emergency shelters in case they were needed.
More ...

World Travel News Headlines

Date: Thu, 23 Jan 2020 17:57:34 +0100 (MET)
By Eva XIAO

Beijing, Jan 23, 2020 (AFP) - The first fatality of China's new virus would come to represent a common set of traits for those who died to the disease: he was over the age of 60 and in poor health.   Since China reported the emergence of a new coronavirus at the end of December, the SARS-like virus has infected more than 500 and killed 17.   So far, the majority of the victims were elderly individuals with pre-existing health conditions, such as diabetes and liver cirrhosis.   All hailed from central Hubei province, where a local seafood market in the capital city of Wuhan is believed to be the epicentre of the epidemic.   But while older individuals have died from the Wuhan virus, some younger patients -- including a 10-year-old boy -- have since been released from the hospital.   Here's what we know so far about the deaths:

Most victims were over 60
According to details released by China's National Health Commission (NHC) on Thursday, the 17 victims of the virus were between 48 and 89 years old.   Only two were under the age of 60, while the average age of the victims was 73.   Most of them died this week, according to the NHC.   Among those who have been discharged from the hospital were younger patients, including a 35-year-old man from Shenzhen, a bustling tech hub in southern Guangdong province.   He was released from the hospital on Thursday, according to the local health commission, as well as the 10-year-old boy who had visited relatives in Wuhan before falling ill.

Many had pre-existing health conditions
Many of those who died from the virus also had pre-existing health issues before contracting the Wuhan disease, such as diabetes and hypertension.   One man, an 86-year-old who was hospitalised on January 9, had surgery for colon cancer four years prior, on top of suffering from high blood pressure and diabetes.   Another, an 80-year-old woman surnamed Hu, had Parkinson's Disease and more than 20 years of high blood pressure and diabetes in her medical history.

Some were hospitalised for weeks before dying
Several of the 17 victims were hospitalised for weeks before dying -- raising questions on the preparedness of hospitals that may have to treat patients for long periods of time.   The youngest victim of the Wuhan virus, a woman surnamed Yin, was hospitalised for more than a month before succumbing to the virus.   On December 10, the 48-year-old woman reported a fever, coughing, body soreness, and fatigue, and underwent anti-infection treatment for two weeks, according to the NHC.   Later in the end of the month, Yin suffered shortness of breath and chest tightness, and she passed away on January 20.

Not all of them had a fever
Currently, Wuhan authorities are screening passengers for fever at the airport, railway stations, and bus terminals.   At four airports in Thailand, authorities introduced mandatory thermal scans of passengers arriving from high-risk areas of China.   But not all those who died after being infected reported a fever before being hospitalised, according to the NHC.   A 66-year-old man surnamed Luo reported a "mainly dry cough" but no fever on December 22 before suffering from shortness of breath more than a week later.

By mid-January, Luo required a ventilator to help him breathe.   "A major concern is the range of severity of symptoms this virus is causing," said Dr Jeremy Farrar, Director of the Wellcome Trust.   "It is clear some people are being affected and are infectious while experiencing only very mild symptoms or possibly without experiencing symptoms at all," he said in an emailed statement.   "This may be masking the true numbers infected and the extent of person to person transmission," he added.
Date: Thu, 23 Jan 2020 16:05:30 +0100 (MET)

Singapore, Jan 23, 2020 (AFP) - Singapore Thursday confirmed its first case of the new SARS-like virus which has killed 17 people in China and spread to multiple countries including the United States.   The Ministry of Health (MOH) said the patient was a 66-year-old man from Wuhan who arrived in Singapore with his family on Monday.    He was immediately isolated after arriving at a hospital with a fever and cough, and test results later confirmed he was infected with the coronavirus.   One of his travelling companions, a 37-year-old man from Wuhan, has also been admitted to hospital as a suspect case.

Prior to admission, they had stayed at a hotel on the resort island of Sentosa, the ministry said.   It added that Singapore was expecting more cases and alarms "given the high volume of international travel".   Singapore's Changi Airport started screening flights from Wuhan at the beginning of the month, and on Wednesday extended the checks to all flights from China.   The travel hub receives over 430 flights from China every week.   The virus has caused alarm in China and abroad because of its genetic similarities to Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which killed nearly 650 people across mainland China and Hong Kong in 2002-2003.

Singapore was among the hardest hit by SARS with 33 deaths.   Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who is in Davos for the World Economic Forum, said there was "no need to panic".   Speaking to reporters travelling with him, Lee said Singapore has beefed up its hospital facilities and laid out response measures since the SARS epidemic.   "I think we are much better prepared now," he said in remarks carried by the Straits Times newspaper.
Date: Thu, 23 Jan 2020 14:43:33 +0100 (MET)

Barcelona, Jan 23, 2020 (AFP) - The death toll from a violent storm which has wrought havoc on huge swathes of Spain's eastern and southern coastline rose to nine on Thursday as rescuers pressed the hunt for at least five missing people.    The latest death was that of a man whose body was found in a flooded river near Jorba, some 70 kilometres (45 miles) northwest of Barcelona, the emergency services said.    Rescuers in Catalonia had been searching for a missing person in the same area but said it was too early to confirm if it was him.

Catalan rescuers had late on Wednesday found another body of a man who died after falling into the water in Palamos, a port town about 100 kilometres up the coast from Barcelona.    They are also searching for a man who went missing from a merchant ship in the same area, as well as a person in Cadaques near the French border.   Earlier on Thursday, regional officials confirmed the death of a 75-year-old woman whose house collapsed because of heavy rain in Alcoi, a town in the eastern Alicante region.

Storm Gloria hit the region on Sunday, bringing strong winds, torrential rains and heavy snow, battering Spain's southern and eastern flanks before moving north.   Gale-force winds and huge waves smashed into seafront towns, with dramatic images showing massive flooding that has damaged shops, houses and restaurants.   National weather agency Aemet had on Wednesday said the storm was starting to abate although it kept Catalonia and the Balearic Islands on alert.   As the storm eased, Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez was on Thursday visiting some of the worst-hit areas, overflying parts of Catalonia before heading to the Balearic Islands which on Tuesday were hit by record waves, the port authority said.

Rescuers on the islands are still searching for three people, including a 25-year-old Briton who went missing on a beach in northern Ibiza, and a 27-year-old Spaniard who disappeared in Mallorca while practising canyoning -- a mix of rappelling, climbing and watersliding through deep gorges.   Rescuers had found three other bodies on Wednesday, including that of a 67-year-old man who went missing in his car near the southeastern resort town of Benidom.    They also found two bodies in the southern Andalusia region, one of a 77-year-old man who died when a greenhouse collapsed on him in a hailstorm in Nijar as well as that of a homeless man who died of hypothermia.
Date: Wed 22 Jan 2020 1:04 PM EAT
Source: Uganda Red Cross Twitter [edited]

One confirmed case of Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever, 4 others suspected, in Kagadi [western Uganda]

A district Task Force has been formed to manage and coordinate the cases across the district @MinofHealthUG @robert_kwesiga @inakasiita1
========================
[Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever (CCHF) can cause serious disease in humans, with a case fatality rate of 10-40%. It can be responsible for severe outbreaks in humans, but it is not pathogenic for ruminants, their amplifying hosts. WHO states that the onset of symptoms in humans is sudden, with fever, myalgia, (muscle ache), dizziness, neck pain and stiffness, backache, headache, sore eyes and photophobia (sensitivity to light). There may be nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, abdominal pain, and sore throat early on, followed by sharp mood swings and confusion. After 2-4 days, the agitation may be replaced by sleepiness, depression, and lassitude, and the abdominal pain may localize to the upper right quadrant, with detectable hepatomegaly (liver enlargement). Other clinical signs include tachycardia (fast heart rate), lymphadenopathy (enlarged lymph nodes), and a petechial rash (a rash caused by bleeding into the skin) on internal mucosal surfaces, such as in the mouth and throat, and on the skin.

Public education, especially among individuals in contact with livestock or their products, is needed to prevent cases of CCHF infection. A One Health approach is needed for effective surveillance, with effective communication between animal health and human health professionals.

The information in the tweet above indicates that there is one confirmed and at least 4 suspected cases of CCHF in Kagadi district, in the western region of Uganda.  Any updates on the epidemiology of these cases, occupational exposure, and public health response measures to control the transmission will be highly appreciated. - ProMED Mod.UBA]

[Maps of Uganda:
Date: Mon 20 Jan 2020
Source: Global News [edited]

A doctor working with Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) in Saskatchewan is urging caution to residents in and around Onion Lake First Nation following 2 people contracting a rare, deadly bacterial infection. Medical health officer Dr. Ibrahim Khan wrote a letter to the chief of the Onion Lake First Nation that said both patients were admitted to medical facilities shortly after New Years Day with diphtheria. He said one patient is under 18, while the other is an adult and was suffering from skin abrasions [? cutaneous diphtheria], which Khan said is rare for that disease.

In the letter, he said the disease is very uncommon in the province and can lead to "severe complications like breathing problems, heart failure, and paralysis, and without appropriate treatment can result in death." He applauded the medical team in Onion Lake, saying they contained the infection and made sure everyone in the community was aware of the risk and vaccinated.

"Everybody gets that vaccination, and they have that protection. That's why we don't see it. We don't see that many measles cases. We don't see that many prostatitis [pertussis?] cases, and we do not see any tetanus cases, because there is a good immunization for it. A good vaccination for it (and) people are aware of it," he told Global News. He said other local agencies, like pharmacies, made sure those on the front lines were supplied if they came across someone who wasn't vaccinated.

The letter to Chief Henry Louis said vaccination is the best method for preventing diphtheria and that the disease could virtually be eradicated if everyone who could be vaccinated received the shot. He said the target is for 97% of the population to receive the vaccination to prevent further spread in the community and noted the rates in Onion Lake are below that benchmark.  [Byline: Kyle Benning]
=====================
[Although the news report above says that one of the 2 patients with diphtheria was an adult "suffering from skin abrasions, which is rare for that disease," perhaps implying that this patient had cutaneous diphtheria, we are not told specifically the patients' clinical manifestations, i.e., whether they had respiratory diphtheria, cutaneous diphtheria, or both; if the strains of _Corynebacterium diphtheriae_ were toxin-producers; or if the patients were vaccinated against diphtheria.

Diphtheria became nationally notifiable in Canada in 1924, and that year 9057 cases were reported, the highest annual number of cases ever recorded in Canada  (<https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/immunization/vaccine-preventable-diseases/diphtheria/health-professionals.html>).

The diphtheria vaccine was 1st introduced in 1926, and routine immunization in infancy and childhood has been widely practiced since 1930 in Canada. By the mid-1950s, routine immunization had resulted in a remarkable decline in the morbidity and mortality of the disease. Another steep decline in cases occurred in 1980, which has been attributed, in part, to a change in case definition to exclude carriers from reported cases in all provinces and territories. Since 1993, a total of 19 cases have been reported with a range of 0-4 cases annually  (<https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/immunization/vaccine-preventable-diseases/diphtheria/health-professionals.html>).

In the USA, the case definition for reporting to the National Notifiable Diseases Surveillance System includes only respiratory diphtheria
(<https://wwwn.cdc.gov/nndss/conditions/diphtheria/case-definition/2010/>).

Similarly, the WHO case definition for reporting diphtheria only includes clinical respiratory diphtheria. Although no longer reportable, cutaneous diphtheria still occurs in the USA and has been most often associated with homelessness, poor sanitation, poverty, and crowded living conditions  (<https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/pubs/pinkbook/dip.html>).

However, the Canadian case definition includes both respiratory diphtheria and infection at another site (e.g., wound, cutaneous)
(<https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/immunization/vaccine-preventable-diseases/diphtheria/health-professionals/national-case-definition.html>).

Cutaneous diphtheria is contagious and can be a source of both respiratory and cutaneous infections in contacts. Acquisition of _Corynebacterium diphtheriae_, the cause of diphtheria, can occur even in vaccinated contacts, as vaccine-induced immunity is anti-toxin. - ProMED Mod.ML]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map:
Saskatchewan province, Canada: <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/262>]
Date: Wed, 22 Jan 2020 17:37:27 +0100 (MET)
By Helen ROXBURGH

Beijing, Jan 22, 2020 (AFP) - A new SARS-like virus has killed 17 people in China, infected hundreds and reached as far as the United States, with fears mounting about its spread as hundreds of millions travel for Lunar New Year celebrations, which start Friday.   Many countries have stepped up screening of passengers from Wuhan, the Chinese city identified as the epicentre, and the World Health Organization has called an emergency meeting.   Here's what we know so far about the virus:

- It's entirely new -
The pathogen appears to be a never-before-seen strain of coronavirus -- a large family of viruses that can cause diseases ranging from the common cold to Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which killed 349 people in mainland China and another 299 in Hong Kong between 2002 and 2003.   Arnaud Fontanet, head of the department of epidemiology at the Institut Pasteur in Paris, told AFP the current virus strain was 80 percent genetically identical to SARS.   China has already shared the genome sequencing of this novel coronavirus with the international scientific community.   It has been named "2019-nCoV".

- It's being passed between humans -
The WHO said Monday it believed an animal source was the "primary source" of the outbreak, and Wuhan authorities identified a seafood market as the centre of the epidemic.   But China has since confirmed that there was evidence the virus is now passing from person to person, without any contact with the now-closed market.

The virus has infected more than 400 people across the country, with most cases in Wuhan, according to officials. Li Bin of China's National Health Commission on Wednesday said 1,394 people were still under medical observation.   Doctor Nathalie MacDermott of King's College London said it seems likely that the virus is spread through droplets in the air from sneezing or coughing.   Doctors at the University of Hong Kong published an initial paper on Tuesday modelling the spread of the virus which estimated that there have been some 1,343 cases in Wuhan -- similar to a projection of 1,700 last week by scientists at Imperial College, London.   Both are much higher than official figures.

- It is milder than SARS -
Compared with SARS, the symptoms appear to be less aggressive, and experts say the death toll is still relatively low.   "It's difficult to compare this disease with SARS," said Zhong Nanshan, a renowned scientist at China's National Health Commission at a press conference this week. "It's mild. The condition of the lung is not like SARS."   However, the milder nature of the virus can also cause alarm.

The outbreak comes as China prepares for the Lunar New Year Holiday, with hundreds of millions travelling across the country to see family.   Professor Antoine Flahault, director of the Institute of Global Health at the University of Geneva, told AFP that the fact that the virus seems milder in the majority of people is "paradoxically more worrying" as it allows people to travel further before their symptoms are detected.   "Wuhan is a major hub and with travel being a huge part of the fast approaching Chinese New Year, the concern level must remain high," said Jeremy Farrar, Director of the Wellcome Trust.

- International public health emergency? -
The WHO will hold a meeting on Wednesday to determine whether the outbreak constitutes a "public health emergency of international concern" and if so, what should be done to manage it.   Cases have so far been confirmed in Thailand, Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, Macau and the United States.

The WHO has only used the rare label a handful of times, including during the H1N1 -- or swine flu -- pandemic of 2009 and the Ebola epidemic that devastated parts of West Africa from 2014 to 2016.   The Chinese government announced Tuesday it was classifying the outbreak in the same category as the SARS outbreak, meaning compulsory isolation for those diagnosed with the disease and the potential to implement quarantine measures on travel.   But if the WHO decides to take this step, it would put the Wuhan virus in the same category as a handful of very serious epidemics.

- Global precautions -
As the number of confirmed deaths and infections has risen, so has concern worldwide about the disease spreading to other countries.   In Thailand, authorities have introduced mandatory thermal scans of passengers arriving at airports in Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Phuket and Krabi from high-risk areas in China.

In Hong Kong, where hundreds died during the SARS outbreak of 2002-2003, authorities have said they are on high alert, carrying out scans at the city's airport -- one of the world's busiest -- and at other international land and sea crossing points.

The United States also ordered the screening of passengers arriving on direct or connecting flights from Wuhan, including at airports in New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles.   Taiwan has issued travel advisories, and went to its second-highest alert level for those travelling to or from Wuhan. Vietnam has also ordered more border checks on its border with China.
Date: Wed, 22 Jan 2020 16:53:32 +0100 (MET)
By Beiyi SEOW

Beijing, Jan 22, 2020 (AFP) - The death toll from a new SARS-like virus that has infected hundreds in China rose to 17 on Wednesday, as authorities urged people to steer clear of the city at the centre of the outbreak.   The coronavirus has caused alarm because of its similarity to SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome), which killed nearly 650 people across mainland China and Hong Kong in 2002-2003.   With hundreds of millions of people travelling across China this week for the Lunar New Year holiday, the National Health Commission announced measures to contain the disease -- including sterilisation and ventilation at airports and bus stations, as well as inside planes and trains.

In Wuhan, the epicentre of the epidemic, large public events were cancelled and international football matches were moved to a new location. Visitors were urged to stay away, while residents were advised to not to leave the central city, which is home to 11 million people.   "If it's not necessary we suggest that people don't come to Wuhan," Wuhan Mayor Zhou Xianwang told state broadcaster CCTV.    The illness is mainly transmitted via the respiratory tract and there "is the possibility of viral mutation and further spread of the disease", health commission vice minister Li Bin told a news conference in Beijing.   More than 500 cases have now been reported, with the majority in Wuhan, capital of Hubei province.

The virus has now infected at least 444 people in Hubei province alone, said provincial officials at a press conference, adding that the death toll had risen from nine to 17.   Major cities, including Beijing, Shanghai, and Chongqing have also reported cases, as well as provinces in northeastern, central, and southern China.   The World Health Organization started an emergency meeting Wednesday to decide whether or not to declare a rare global public health emergency over the disease, which has now been detected in the United States, Taiwan, Thailand, Japan, South Korea and Macau.

The Chinese government has classified the outbreak in the same category as the SARS epidemic, meaning compulsory isolation for those diagnosed with the illness and the potential to implement quarantine measures.   But they still have not been able to confirm the exact source of the virus.   "We will step up research efforts to identify the source and transmission of the disease," Li said, adding that "the cases are mostly linked to Wuhan".   Countries have intensified efforts to stop the spread of the pathogen -- known by its technical name 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV).   Passengers are facing screening measures at five US airports and a host of transport hubs across Asia. Britain and Italy on Wednesday also announced enhanced monitoring of passengers from Wuhan.

- Virus source -
A prominent expert from China's National Health Commission confirmed this week that the virus can be passed between people.   However, animals are suspected to be the primary source of the outbreak.   A Wuhan market is believed to be the epicentre of the outbreak.

A price list circulating online in China for a business there lists a menagerie of animals or animal-based products including live foxes, crocodiles, wolf puppies and rats. It also offered civets, the animal linked to SARS.   "We already know that the disease originated from a market which conducted illegal transaction of wild animals," said Gao Fu, director of the Chinese centre for disease control and prevention.   He said it was clear "this virus is adapting and mutating".   Hong Kong and British scientists have estimated that between 1,300 and 1,700 people in Wuhan may have been infected.

- Containment -
Health authorities are urging people to wash their hands regularly, avoid crowded places, get plenty of fresh air and wear a mask if they have a cough.   Anyone with a cough or fever was urged to go to hospital.   In Wuhan, city authorities made it mandatory to wear a mask in public places on Wednesday, according to state-run People's Daily.

In response to skyrocketing demand for masks -- which were starting to sell out at pharmacies and on some popular websites -- China's industry and information technology ministry said it would "spare no effort in increasing supply", state media reported.   "These days, I wear masks even in places that are not too crowded, although I wouldn't have done so in the past," said Wang Suping, 50, who works at a Beijing arts school.   At the capital's main international airport, the majority of people were wearing masks.

Hong Kong flag carrier Cathay Pacific said it had agreed to allow staff to wear surgical masks on mainland China flights, and that passengers from Wuhan would be offered masks and antiseptic wipes.   In Wuhan, police were conducting vehicle spot checks for live poultry or wild animals leaving and entering the city, state media said.   Officials also screened people on roads, the airport and the train station for fever.   The local government has cancelled major public activities and banned tour groups from heading out of the city.   Women's Olympics football qualifiers scheduled for February 3-9 in Wuhan have been moved to the eastern city of Nanjing.
Date: Wed, 22 Jan 2020 15:49:25 +0100 (MET)

Montreal, Jan 22, 2020 (AFP) - A Canadian guide died and five French tourists were missing after at least one snowmobile plunged through ice in northern Quebec, police said Tuesday.   The group were riding close to where a river exits the Saint-Jean lake, and were outside the approved area for snowmobiles, police spokesman Hugues Beaulieu told AFP.   Nine people, including the guide, were on the trip on Tuesday evening when the ice broke underneath them.   Police said they were alerted by two of the tourists who had rescued a third tourist from the freezing water.

The 42-year-old guide was pulled out by emergency response teams and taken to hospital, but he died overnight, Beaulieu said, adding "five French tourists are still missing."   The police and army were searching the area on Wednesday, assisted by divers.   "This sector was not part of a marked trail, they were off-piste," said the spokesman.
Date: Wed, 22 Jan 2020 04:55:57 +0100 (MET)

Hong Kong, Jan 22, 2020 (AFP) - Macau on Wednesday reported its first confirmed case of the new SARS-like coronavirus as authorities announced all staff in the city's bustling casinos had been ordered to wear face masks.   The former Portuguese colony is a huge draw for mainland tourists as the only place in China that allows gambling.

With the Lunar New Year approaching this weekend, a huge influx of mainland tourists is expected in the city.   Asian countries have ramped up measures to block the spread of the new virus, which emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan and has so far killed at least nine people.

On Wednesday, Macau announced its first confirmed case -- a 52-year-old businesswoman from Wuhan who arrived in the city by high-speed rail on Sunday, via the neighbouring city of Zhuhai.    "A series of tests found that she was positive for the coronavirus and had symptoms of pneumonia," Lei Chin-lon, the head of Macau's health bureau, told reporters.    The woman had been staying at the New Orient Landmark Hotel with two friends who were being monitored since her admission to hospital on Tuesday.

Ao Ieong Iu, Macau's Secretary for Social Affairs and Culture, said staff in all casinos would be required to wear masks while anyone arriving at entry ports along the city's border with the mainland would need to fill out health declaration forms.    "We have not banned tourism groups from Wuhan but we are not encouraging them," Ao Ieong said.    "We will stay in close contact with tourism agencies and require them to notify us of all groups going to and coming from Wuhan," she added.
Date: Tue, 21 Jan 2020 22:23:22 +0100 (MET)
By Issam Ahmed with Helen Roxburgh

Washington/Beijing, Jan 21, 2020 (AFP) - The United States on Tuesday announced its first case of a new virus that has claimed six lives in China and sickened hundreds, joining countries around the world in ramping up measures to block its spread.   The man, a US resident in his 30s who lives near Seattle, is in good condition, according to federal and state officials, and approached authorities himself after reading about the SARS-like virus in news reports.   He is "currently hospitalized out of an abundance of precaution, and for short term monitoring, not because there was severe illness," said Chris Spitters, a Washington state health official.  "This is an evolving situation and again, we do expect additional patients in the United States and globally," added Nancy Messonier, a senior official at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), but stressed that the overall risk to Americans remained low.

The man entered the country on January 15 after traveling to Wuhan, two days before the US began deploying health officials at major airports to screen passengers arriving from that central Chinese city which is at the heart of the outbreak. The efforts are to be extended now to a total of five US airports.   It came as countries ramped up measures to block the spread of the virus -- known by its technical name 2019 Novel Coronavirus or 2019-nCoV -- as the number of cases surpassed 300, raising concerns in the middle of a major Chinese holiday travel rush.

Fears of a bigger outbreak rose after a prominent expert from China's National Health Commission confirmed late Monday that the virus can be passed between people.   That conclusion is shared by the CDC, which said "person-to-person spread is occurring, although it's unclear how easily the virus spreads between people," even as the World Health Organization (WHO) adopted a more cautious approach, saying it is still investigating.   The UN agency will hold an emergency meeting Wednesday to determine whether to declare a rare global public health emergency over the disease, which has also been detected in Thailand, Japan and South Korea and Taiwan.

- Holiday rush -
Authorities previously said there was no obvious evidence of person-to-person transmission and animals were suspected to be the source, as a seafood market where live animals were sold in Wuhan was identified as the center of the outbreak.   Hundreds of millions of people are criss-crossing China this week in packed buses, trains and planes to celebrate the Lunar New Year with relatives.

More than 80 new cases have been confirmed, bringing the total number of people hit by the virus in China to 315, with the vast majority in Hubei, the province where Wuhan lies, according to officials.   But cases have also been confirmed around the country, including Beijing and Shanghai.   The first case on the self-ruled island of Taiwan was also confirmed Tuesday, with a woman taken to hospital on arrival at the airport from Wuhan.   Wuhan mayor Zhou Xianwang told state broadcaster CCTV Tuesday that the death toll had risen from four to six.   The coronavirus has caused alarm because of its genetic similarities to Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which killed nearly 650 people across mainland China and Hong Kong in 2002-2003.

- Fever checks -
At four airports in Thailand, authorities introduced mandatory thermal scans of passengers arriving from high-risk areas of China.   In Hong Kong, authorities said they were on "extreme high alert," with passengers from Wuhan required to fill out health declarations and face possible jail time if they do not declare symptoms.   Enhanced screening measures have also been set up at airports in Australia, Bangladesh, Nepal, Singapore and Russia, Malaysia and Vietnam.   A man showing symptoms of the disease who had travelled to Wuhan has been put in isolation in Australia as health officials await test results, authorities said Tuesday.   In China, the government announced it was classifying the outbreak in the same category as SARS, meaning compulsory isolation for those diagnosed ith the disease and the potential to implement quarantine measures on travel.

In Wuhan, authorities banned tour groups and police were conducting spot checks for animals in vehicles leaving and entering the city, state media said.   It added that city health authorities had scheduled 800 beds to be made available in three hospitals and 1,200 more would soon be ready, and passengers were being screened for fever at the airport, railway stations and bus terminals.   Doctors at the University of Hong Kong released a study on Tuesday estimating that there have been 1,343 cases of the new virus in Wuhan.   The WHO has only called a global public health emergency a handful of times, including during the H1N1 -- or swine flu -- pandemic of 2009 and the Ebola epidemic that devastated parts of West Africa from 2014 to 2016.