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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: Tue, 24 Sep 2019 07:27:34 +0200 (METDST)

Miami, Sept 24, 2019 (AFP) - A strong 6.0 magnitude struck off the northwest coast of Puerto Rico late Monday, the United States Geological Survey said, although no casualties or damage were reported.   The quake struck 62km northwest of San Antonio at 11:23 pm local time (03:20 GMT) at a depth of 10km, the agency said.  San Antonio is home to Rafael Hernandez Airport, a key air link to the mainland US.    In 2010 nearby Haiti was struck by a devastating 7.0 magnitude earthquake that killed more than 250,000 people and crippled the nation's infrastructure.
Date: Mon, 12 Feb 2018 05:54:19 +0100

San Juan, Feb 12, 2018 (AFP) - Most of San Juan and a strip of northern Puerto Rico municipalities were plunged into darkness Sunday night after an explosion at a power station, five months after two hurricanes destroyed the island's electricity network.

The state electric power authority (AEE) said the blast was caused by a broken-down switch in Rio Piedras, resulting in a blackout in central San Juan and Palo Seco in the north.   "We have personnel working to restore the system as soon as possible," the AEE said.   San Juan's mayor, Carmen Yulin Cruz, said on Twitter that emergency services and local officials attended the scene in the neighbourhood of Monacillos, but no injuries were reported.

Meanwhile, the Puerto Rican capital's airport said it was maintaining its schedule using emergency generators.   The blackout comes as nearly 500,000 of AEE's 1.6 million customers remain without power since Hurricanes Irma and Maria struck the US territory in September 2017.   AEE engineer Jorge Bracero warned on Twitter that the outage was "serious," and advised those affected that power would not be restored until Monday.
Date: Wed, 13 Dec 2017 03:08:12 +0100
By Leila MACOR

Fajardo, Puerto Rico, Dec 13, 2017 (AFP) - Until Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, Jose Figueroa did brisk business renting kayaks to tourists itching to see a lagoon that lights up by night thanks to millions of microorganisms.   Today, things are so dire he's considering selling water to motorists stopped at red lights.   "Now we are trying to survive," the 46-year-old tour guide said.

It used to be that visitors had to reserve a month in advance to get one of his kayaks and paddle around in the dark on the enchanting, bioluminescent body of water called Laguna Grande.   But tourists are scarce these days as the Caribbean island tries to recover from the ravages of the storm back in September.   "We do not know if we will have any work tonight," Figueroa said. "Last week, we worked only one day."    He and another employee of a company called Glass Bottom PR are cleaning kayaks on the seaside promenade of Fajardo, a tourist town in eastern Puerto Rico whose main attraction is the so-called Bio Bay.

The year started off well for Puerto Rico, with the global success of the song "Despacito" by local musicians Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee.   The catchy tune helped promote the US commonwealth island of 3.4 million people, which is saddled with huge debts and declared bankruptcy in May.    But the hurricane turned what should be an island bustling with tourists into one with deserted beaches, shuttered restaurants and hotels full of mainland US officials working on the rebuilding of the island.   "What few tourists we have are the federal officials themselves," said Figueroa.

- Locals only -
The grim outlook spreads up and down the seaside promenade of Fajardo, where many restaurants are closed because there is no electricity.   On this particular day around noon, the only restaurant open is one called Racar Seafood. It has its own emergency generator.   "We get by on local tourists," said its 61-year-old owner, Justino Cruz.   "Our clients are local -- those who have no electricity, no generator, cold food or no food."

Puerto Rico's once-devastated power grid is now back up to 70 percent capacity, but this is mainly concentrated in the capital San Juan.   So while inland towns that depend on tourism are struggling mightily, things are getting better in San Juan as cruise ships are once again docking.   On November 30, the first cruise ship since the storm arrived with thousands of vacationers on board. They were received with great fanfare -- quite literally, with trumpet blaring and cymbals crashing.

- Pitching in to help -
The World Travel & Tourism Council, based in London, says tourism accounted for about eight percent of Puerto Rico's GDP in 2016, or $8.1 billion.   Hurricane Maria's damage has been uneven. Although some tour guides now have no work and many eateries are shut down, hotels that have their own generators are doing just fine.   Thanks to the thousands of US government officials and reconstruction crew members that came in after the storm, the hotels that are open -- about 80 percent of the total -- are pretty much full.

These people are starting to leave the island this month but hotels may receive tourists around Christmas, at least in San Juan, where power has for the most part been restored.   The hurricane "undoubtedly cost billions in lost revenue," said Jose Izquierdo, executive director of the Puerto Rico Tourism Company.    But Izquierdo nevertheless says he is "optimistic" and suggests an alternative: put tourists to work as volunteers in the gargantuan reconstruction effort that the island needs.   "We want to look for travellers who want to travel with a purpose, who might have the commitment to help rebuild," said Izquierdo.

The program, called "Meaningful Travel" and launched in mid-November, organizes trips on which residents, Puerto Ricans living abroad and tourists are invited to help the island get back on its feet.   "The plan aims to create empathy with this tourist destination," said Izquierdo.    "We want to be like New Orleans after Katrina, where 10 years after the hurricane, tourism is the driving force of its economy. We want to build that narrative of recovery," he added.   "There are different ways in which the world wants to help Puerto Rico. The best way is to visit us."
Date: Thu, 9 Nov 2017 12:39:04 +0100
By Marcos PÉREZ RAMÍREZ

San Juan, Nov 9, 2017 (AFP) - Andrea Olivero, 11, consults her classmate Ada about an exercise during their daily English class at San Juan's Sotero Figueroa Elementary School. The task: list the positive and negative aspects of Hurricane Maria's passing almost two months ago.

The girls only have to look around. There is no electricity and they "roast" in the heat, Andrea says. At the back of the room, computers and televisions collect dust.   "We would like to move past the topic of the hurricane a bit. It is already getting repetitive," Andrea told AFP.   She is one of more than 300,000 pupils in the public education system, although only half of schools are functioning. Barely 42 per cent of Puerto Ricans have electricity seven weeks after Maria struck, killing at least 51 in the American territory.

The lack of power has prompted disorienting timetable changes on the tropical island, to avoid both the hottest hours of the day and the use of dining facilities.   "The children are very anxious. We manage to make progress in lessons and they change the hours again. Everything is messed up and we fall behind," English teacher Joan Rodriguez explained.   "We can't use the computers to illustrate classes," she said. "They are reading the novel "Charlotte's Web," and we wanted to do exercises comparing it to the film version. But we cannot use the television.

- Suspicions -
From October 23, some directors reopened their schools in the western region of Mayaguez and San Juan.   But last Thursday, the Department of Education ordered their closure, insisting they must be evaluated by engineering and architectural firms, then certified by the US Army Corps of Engineers.   One of those schools was Vila Mayo, also in San Juan. The community presumed it would open, as it had been used as a shelter, its electrical infrastructure had been inspected and it had not suffered structural damage.

But Luis Orengo, the education department's director in San Juan, told protesters outside the school it was closed as inspectors' findings had not reached the central government.   "This is unacceptable! The school is ready to give classes but they don't want to open it. Our children cannot lose a year," fumed Enid Guzman, who protested with her 11-year-old son, Reanny De la Cruz.   There are suspicions the stalled reopening of schools is, in part, related to the prior closure of 240 schools over the past year during Puerto Rico's long-running financial crisis.   The fiscal difficulties have seen the island's population drop over the past decade by 14 percent, leading in turn to a fall in school enrolment.

Before the storms, 300 schools were at risk of closure -- and for the president of Puerto Rico's federation of teachers, Mercedes Martinez, the government's aim is clear.   "Secretary (Julia) Keleher seems to have an orchestrated plan to close schools," she said, referring to the education secretary. "Why do you have to wait 30 days to get a certification so a school can open?"   Keleher has announced she expects most schools to be open by the middle of November.
Date: Tue 24 Oct 2017
Source: KFOR Oklahoma News4 [edited]

Puerto Rico has reported at least 76 cases of suspected and confirmed leptospirosis, including a handful of deaths, in the month after Hurricane Maria, said Dr. Carmen Deseda, the state epidemiologist for Puerto Rico.

Two deaths involved leptospirosis confirmed through laboratory testing, and "several other" deaths are pending test results, Deseda said. The 76 cases, up from 74 last week, also include one patient with confirmed leptospirosis who is currently hospitalized.

The island typically sees between 63 and 95 cases per year, she said. Health officials had expected that there would be a jump after the hurricane. "It's neither an epidemic nor a confirmed outbreak," Public Affairs Secretary Ramon Rosario Cortes said at a news conference Sunday [22 Oct 2017]. "But obviously, we are making all the announcements as though it were a health emergency."

Leptospirosis may be treated with antibiotics, but many people recover on their own. "The majority of leptospirosis cases is a mild, subclinical disease with no complications," Deseda said. "But one out of 10 people who have leptospirosis develop severe illness." In the 1st stage of leptospirosis, symptoms vary widely from fever and headache to red eyes and rashes. Some people may have no symptoms at all. But a small number will develop dire complications: meningitis, kidney and liver damage, bleeding in the lungs and even death.

Doctors are required to report any potential leptospirosis cases to health authorities, Deseda said. Those cases must then be tested to confirm the bacteria, since the symptoms can be difficult to tell apart from other illnesses. After that, health officials may look for patterns or clusters and determine whether there is an outbreak.

The lab tests on the suspected cases have been sent to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Deseda said. The turnaround time is about 5-6 days.

Doctors on the island have expressed concerns about burgeoning health crises amid hospitals that are overwhelmed, undersupplied and sometimes burning hot. Influenza is another concern on the horizon, Deseda said. Drinking water is also hard to come by on many parts of the island.

Dr. Raul Hernandez, an internist in San Juan, told CNN that people were drinking water from whatever sources they could find, such as rivers and creeks. If that water contains urine from a [leptospirosis-infected rat], those people will be at risk, he said.

Deseda said people should be discouraged from walking barefoot, drinking or swimming in potentially leptospirosis-contaminated waters.

"These diseases are everywhere, and there's a way to prevent them," she said.
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[Leptospirosis is a zoonotic, spirochetal infection that occurs worldwide and is transmitted to humans by exposure to soil or fresh water contaminated with the urine of wild and domestic animals (including dogs, cattle, swine, and especially rodents) that are chronically infected with pathogenic _Leptospira_. _Leptospira_ may survive in contaminated fresh water or moist soil for weeks to months. Outbreaks of leptospirosis frequently follow heavy rainfall, flooding with fresh water, and increasing rodent numbers.

Parts of Puerto Rico saw more than 30 inches of rain and consequent flooding with recent Hurricane Maria. A map showing the estimated rainfall across Puerto Rico with this hurricane is available at <https://twitter.com/NWSSanJuan/status/910983698597777409/photo/1?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw&ref_url>.

With continued absence of potable water, inadequate sanitation, and flooding in the streets for a large proportion of the population in Puerto Rico, food- and water-borne diseases, like leptospirosis, will be a major problem. - ProMED Mod.ML]

[A HealthMap/ProMED-mail map can be accessed at:
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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 ...

Sweden

Sweden - US Consular Information Sheet
14th October 2008
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
Sweden is a highly developed, stable democracy with a modern economy.
Read the Department of State Background Notes on Sweden for additional information.
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ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:
Sweden is a party to the Schengen agreement.
As such, U.S. citizens may enter Sweden for up to 90 days for tourist or business purposes without a visa.
The passport should be valid for at least three months beyond the period of stay.
For further details about travel into and within Schengen countries, please see our Schengen Fact Sheet.
Contact the Swedish Embassy at 901 30th Street, NW, Washington, DC
20007, tel: (202) 467-2600 (mailing address 2900 K Street, N.W., Washington, DC), or the Swedish Consulate General in New York at (212) 583-2550. Visit the Sweden Abroad web site at www.swedenabroad.com for the most current visa information.
Sweden’s immigration authorities (Migrationsverket) also maintain a home page at http://www.migrationsverket.se/english.jsp.

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:
Sweden remains largely free of terrorist incidents.
However, like other countries in the Schengen area, Sweden’s open borders with its Western European neighbors allow the possibility of terrorist groups entering/exiting the country with anonymity.
Americans are reminded to remain vigilant with regard to their personal security and to exercise caution.

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, including the Worldwide Caution, can be found.

Up to date information on security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the United States, or, for callers outside the United States 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 A Safe Trip Abroad.

CRIME:
Sweden has a low crime rate with rare, but increasing, instances of violent crime.
Most crimes involve the theft of personal property from cars or residences or in public areas. Pickpockets and purse-snatchers are becoming more prevalent. Many American citizens fall victim to these highly skilled thieves, especially at the main train stations in Stockholm and Gothenburg and during bus or train transit to and from airports. Do not put any bags containing valuables, such as your passport, down on the ground. Computer bags are particularly desirable.
Pickpockets and purse-snatchers often work in pairs or groups with one distracting the victim while another grabs valuables.
Often they operate in or near major tourist attractions such as Stockholm’s Old Town, restaurants, amusement parks, museums, bars, buses, long distance trains, subway trains, train and bus stations, and airports.
Hotel breakfast rooms and lobbies attract professional, well-dressed thieves who blend in with guests and target purses and briefcases left unguarded by unsuspecting tourists and business travelers.
Valuables should not be left in parked vehicles.

INFORMATION FOR VICTIMS OF CRIME:
The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to both 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, contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate for assistance.
The Embassy/Consulate staff can, for example, assist you in finding appropriate medical care, contacting family members or friends, and explaining how funds can be transferred.
Although the investigation and prosecution of a crime abroad 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.

Sweden has a limited criminal injuries compensation program for victims of violent, personal, and property crime.
Foreign citizens who are victims of crime on Swedish territory are eligible to apply for compensation, but if the victim and offender’s affiliation to Sweden is transitory in nature, compensation may not be awarded even though the crime occurred on Swedish soil.
Application forms in English are available at local police stations and other government agencies as well as on the Internet at
http://www.brottsoffermyndigheten.se/default.asp?id=1345.
Claimants are generally notified of the program’s decision within four months.

The local equivalent to the “911” emergency line in Sweden is 112.
See our information for Victims of Crime.
MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:
Medical care is comparable to that found in the United States.
The Swedish medical system is a state-run system, so instead of visiting a local private general practitioner, travelers can visit a local medical center or clinic, called an “Akutmottagning” or “Vardcentral.”
Patients should be prepared to present their passports.
In case of a medical emergency, use the emergency telephone number “112” (see above) to contact the appropriate emergency service.

Travelers with special medical needs should consult with their personal physician and take appropriate precautions, including bringing adequate supplies of necessary medication.
Medicines may be brought into the country as long as they are intended for the traveler’s personal use.
Medications categorized as narcotics may only be brought into the country to cover the traveler's personal use for a maximum of five days and must be accompanied by a medical certificate stating why the traveler needs them.
In addition, stringent Swedish customs regulations prohibit travelers from receiving drugs from abroad after having arrived in the country.
Travelers may also find local physicians reluctant to prescribe equivalent quantities or dosages.
Prescriptions are dispensed at state-run pharmacies called “Apotek” in Swedish.
Most pharmacies are open during normal shopping hours but major cities have a 24-hour pharmacy.

The U.S. Department of State is unaware of any HIV/AIDS entry restrictions for visitors to or foreign residents of Sweden.
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 Sweden is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.


A valid U.S. driver’s license may be used while visiting Sweden, but drivers must be at least 18 years of age.
Driving in Sweden is on the right.
Road signs use standard international symbols and Swedish text.
Many urban streets have traffic lanes reserved for public transportation only.

Swedish roads are comparable to those in the U.S., though secondary roads may be less heavily traveled.
These secondary routes often narrow to two lanes with a wider shoulder.
Slower vehicles are expected to move onto the shoulder to allow faster moving vehicles to pass.
All vehicles must have headlights lit when on the road, no matter what time of day.
The use of snow tires is mandatory between December 1 and March 31 and, experience in driving on ice and snow is recommended before navigating Sweden’s winter roads.

Public transport in Sweden is of good quality and is the recommended method of travel.
Passenger trains, intercity buses, and plane flights provide regular service over longer distances.
Public transportation in urban centers includes buses, subways, trams, suburban trains, and taxis.
Taxis are more expensive than in major U.S. cities.
Most local residents use public transport in Stockholm as parking can be hard to find and expensive.
The bus, train, and subway systems are relatively safe.

Use of seat belts is mandatory for drivers and all passengers, and children under the age of seven must be seated in approved child or booster seats.
The maximum speed limit is 110 kilometers per hour.
Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, including prescription drugs, is considered a very serious offense.
The rules are stringently enforced and fines can be severe.
Violations can result in severe fines and possible jail sentences.

Emergency services for traffic accidents can be reached by calling 112 (the equivalent to 911 in the U.S.).
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 www.visitsweden.se and at http://www.vv.se/templates/page2_2____13172.aspx?epslanguage=EN
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT:
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of Sweden’s Civil Aviation Authority as being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for oversight of Sweden’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:
Please see our information on Customs Information and the Swedish web site www.tullverket.se/en for customs information specific to Sweden.
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 Sweden’s laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Sweden are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines.
There is no bail system in Sweden and non-resident Americans who are arrested may be held in custody until the trial is complete.
Engaging in illicit 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 Sweden are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department’s travel registration web site, https://travelregistration.state.gov, so that they can obtain updated information on travel and security within Sweden.
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
Dag Hammarskjoldsvag 31, telephone: (46) (8) 783-5300, fax:
(46) (8) 783-5480, and after-hours telephone: (46) (8) 783-5310.
The Embassy’s web site is http://stockholm.usembassy.gov/
* * *
This replaces the Consular Information Sheet dated March 4, 2008 to update the sections on Entry Requirements, Information for Victims of Crime and Medical Facilities and Health Information.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Wed 13 Nov 2019
Source: Swedish Public Health Agency [in Swedish, trans. ProMED Mod.EP, edited]

The Public Health Agency of Sweden is investigating an increase in notified cases of infection with _Cryptosporidium_.

During the autumn and in particular during weeks 44 and 45 [28 Oct-8 Nov 2019], an increase in the number of reported cases of cryptosporidiosis, infected in Sweden, was noted. Half of the regions in Sweden have reported cases in all age groups but mostly in adults. Most cases have been seen in the Stockholm region.

The Agency has initiated an outbreak investigation in collaboration with regional authorities and the Swedish Food Agency to identify a possible common source. The investigation will focus on food and water consumption in cases and controls and samples will be analysed by the agency.
=====================
[The graph in the article (see source URL above] shows that approximately 85 cases were recorded in week 45, compared to 20 to 30 cases weekly from week 32 (5-11 Aug 2019]. All cases were infected in Sweden.

Infection with _Cryptosporidium_ spp. is a zoonosis with a natural reservoir in ruminants from which surface water such as in lakes and rivers, is contaminated.

This outbreak is observed in half of the regions in Sweden, which strongly suggests that the infection is foodborne and not related to contaminated drinking water. The concentration of cases in Stockholm most probably reflects the distribution of the population between the regions. - ProMED Mod.EP]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of Sweden:
Date: 10 Oct 2019
Source: Food Safety News [edited]

Livsmedelsverket has warned people to correctly soak and cook dried legumes such as beans, peas and lentils after they were linked to a large food poisoning outbreak at a school.

Dried legumes naturally contain lectins which can cause nausea, vomiting and diarrhea around 1-7 hours after consumption.

Illness occurred in the canteen at lunchtime in early September 2019 at Baldergymnasiet school in Skelleftea, a city in Vasterbotten County. Swedish media reported that almost 280 people were affected, and samples were sent to a laboratory in the United Kingdom.

Sandra Wallstrom, a food inspector at Skelleftea municipality, said it was thought to be the 1st time elevated levels of lectin have been shown to have caused food poisoning in Sweden.

Follow-up checks will be made at the school to ensure the handling of beans and similar foods is safe in the future.

Swedish officials urged people to follow instructions on the packaging and in recipes. They should be soaked for at least 12 hours, rinsed and cooked for at least half an hour. Canned beans are already cooked and can be eaten directly without soaking and boiling.  [Byline: Joe Whitworth]
=======================
["Lectins are proteins selectively binding carbohydrates and, importantly, the carbohydrate moieties of the glycoproteins decorating the surface of most animal [and mammal] cells. They are found in a wide range of vegetables (29 out of 88 tested; [1]). Plant lectins not efficiently degraded by digestive enzymes, and that have an affinity for the surface of gut epithelial cells, such as those present in the Leguminosae family, can be poisonous [2]. Acute symptoms following ingestion include nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.

"Ingestion of the lectins present in certain improperly cooked vegetables [especially beans and lentils] can result in acute gastrointestinal (GI) tract distress, but the mechanism of toxicity is unknown. _In vivo_, gut epithelial cells are constantly exposed to mechanical and other stresses and consequently individual cells frequently experience plasma membrane disruptions. Repair of these cell surface disruptions allows the wounded cell to survive: failure results in necrotic cell death. Plasma membrane repair is mediated, in part, by an exocytotic event that adds a patch of internal membrane to the defect site. Lectins are known to inhibit exocytosis.

"Repair of plasma membrane disruptions and exocytosis of mucus was assessed after treatment of cultured cell models and excised segments of the GI tract with lectins. Plasma membrane disruptions were produced by focal irradiation of individual cells, using a microscope-based laser, or by mechanical abrasion of multiple cells, using a syringe needle. Repair was then assessed by monitoring the cytosolic penetration of dyes incapable of crossing the intact plasma membrane. We found cell surface-bound lectins potently inhibited plasma membrane repair, and the exocytosis of mucus normally accompanies the repair response."

1. Nachbar MS, Oppenheim JD. Lectins in the United States diet: a survey of lectins in commonly consumed foods and a review of the literature. Am J Clin Nutr. 1980;33:2338-2345.
2. Vasconcelos IM, Oliveira JT. Antinutritional properties of plant lectins. Toxicon. 2004;44:385-403.

The full article may be found at:

One note: Be sure to discard the water the lentils or beans were soaked in. Fresh water should be added for cooking the lentils/beans. The taste of soaked vs. unsoaked beans may not vary much, but apparently the effect on the GI tract is much different. - ProMED Mod.TG]

[HealthMap/ProMED map available at:
Date: Wed 25 Sep 2019
Source: Food Safety News [edited]

Authorities in Sweden are investigating a national outbreak of monophasic _Salmonella_ Typhimurium, which has affected almost 40 people.

Folkhalsomyndigheten (Public Health Agency of Sweden) reported that the source of the infections is still unknown. During September [2019], there was an increase in the number of cases of salmonellosis. The outbreak was identified, thanks to Folkhalsomyndigheten's microbial surveillance program. The latest date of illness onset is 6 Sep [2019].

To date, 36 illnesses from 10 counties have been linked by whole-genome sequencing. Most patients live in Vastra Gotaland, Jonkoping, Halland, and Dalarna. Those ill come from all age groups, including children and the elderly. More women, 22, than men, 14, have become ill.

Local authorities, Livsmedelsverket (Swedish Food Agency) and Folkhalsomyndigheten are investigating the outbreak to identify the source of infection that is suspected to be a food widely distributed in Sweden. People are being interviewed about what they ate the week before illness, with the aim of identifying common suspect foods.

The outbreak strain has multilocus variable-number tandem-repeat analysis (MLVA) pattern 3-12-11-N-211.

In 2018, isolates from 864 _Salmonella_ infections were typed; 91% were infected in Sweden, and 18% had been infected abroad. Among cases infected in Sweden, Enteritidis, Typhimurium, and monophasic Typhimurium were the most common serotypes.  [Byline: Joe Whitworth]
==========================
[The source of this outbreak is as yet unknown. By monophasic, it is meant that the organism does not have the complete set of flagellar serotypes. - ProMED Mod.LL]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map:
Date: Fri 6 Sep 2019
Source: Rikard Dryselius rikard.dryselius@folkhalsomyndigheten.se
[edited] [re: ProMED-mail Tularemia - Sweden (04): further increase, RFI
http://promedmail.org/post/20190905.6659382]
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
According to clinical reports, a majority (over 70%) of the reported cases during the ongoing outbreak of tularemia in Sweden appear to have contracted the infection through insect bites, mainly mosquito bites. For about 1/4 of the disease cases no path of infection is indicated, while mainly animal contact and in some cases drinking water is indicated as route of infection for the remaining cases. -- Rikard Dryselius Folkhalsomyndigheten rikard.dryselius@folkhalsomyndigheten.se
=====================
[ProMED thanks Rikard Dryselius for this clinical information. - ProMED Mod.LL]
 
[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of Sweden: <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/108>]
Date: Wed 28 Aug 2019
Source: Outbreak News Today [edited]
-------------------------------------
As of [Mon 26 Aug 2019], about 560 human cases have been reported, much more this time of year than usual and even more than 2015 when 859 people across the country suffered from the illness. Most cases of illness are reported from central Sweden (the Dalarna region, Gavleborg and Orebro), but an increasing number of reports are also starting to come in from other regions, especially in northern Sweden.

Since the number of illness cases is usually highest in September in Sweden, the outbreak is expected to grow further in the coming weeks.

Infections in Sweden are mainly seen in forest and field hares and rodents, but the disease has been reported in several other species, including other mammals, birds, amphibians, insects, and ticks.

Tularemia, or harpest as it is known as in Sweden, is one of the most common native zoonoses in people in Sweden. People are infected mainly through mosquitoes, but also through direct contact with sick or dead animals and by inhalation of, for example, infectious dust.

The number of reported cases of harpest in humans varies from year to year, in recent years there have been reported between about 100 to over 800 cases per year. More than 90 percent of reported human cases have fallen ill in Sweden.
=========================
[This outbreak, primarily in central Sweden, continues to increase in size.  _Francisella tularensis_ subsp. _tularensis_ (type A) is associated with lagomorphs (rabbits and hares). Wild rodents are also frequently infected, and occurrence of human cases is usually linked to these host species. _F. tularensis_ is transmitted primarily by ticks and biting flies, and is highly virulent for humans and domestic rabbits.

Tularemia is largely confined to the Northern Hemisphere and is not normally found in the tropics or the Southern Hemisphere. _F. tularensis_ subspecies _holarctica_ naturally infects several mammalian wildlife species in northern Europe, in particular, mice, rabbits, hares, beavers, voles, lemmings, and muskrats. The ticks _Dermacentor reticularis_ and _Ixodes ricinus_ are vectors for the bacterium, although previous research has suggested that mosquito bites are the most frequent route of transmission to humans in Sweden.

In addition to vector transmission, tularemia may be spread via contact with infected animals or environmental fomites by inhalation, or by ingestion of the poorly cooked flesh of infected animals or contaminated water.

Tularemia can be transmitted by aerosol, direct contact, ingestion, or arthropods. Inhalation of aerosolized organisms (in the laboratory or as an airborne agent in an act of bioterrorism) can produce a pneumonic form. Direct contact with, or ingestion of, infected carcasses of wild animals (such as cottontail rabbit) can produce the ulceroglandular, oculoglandular, oropharyngeal (local lesion with regional lymphadenitis), or typhoidal form. Immersion in or ingestion of contaminated water can result in infection in aquatic animals. Ticks can maintain infection transstadially [pathogen remains with the vector from one life stage ("stadium") to the next] and transovarially [transmission of a pathogen from an organism (as a tick) to its offspring by infection of eggs in its ovary], making them efficient reservoirs and vectors.

The manifestations of infection in this growing outbreak in parts of Sweden are not stated. If vector borne, the most common form would be ulceroglandular with an ulcer at the introduction site and enlarged lymph nodes in that area. If waterborne, oropharyngeal would be most common. Among flying vectors, deer flies are often brought up but mosquitoes are also relevant as shown in this Swedish publication:

Reference
---------
Thelaus J, Andersson A, Broman T, et al: _Francisella tularensis_ subspecies _holarctica_ occurs in Swedish mosquitoes, persists through the developmental stages of laboratory-infected mosquitoes and is transmissible during blood feeding. Microb Ecol. 2014; 67(1): 96-107;  <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3907667/>

"Abstract
--------
In Sweden, mosquitoes are considered the major vectors of the bacterium _Francisella tularensis_ subsp. _holarctica_, which causes tularemia. The aim of this study was to investigate whether mosquitoes acquire the bacterium as aquatic larvae and transmit the disease as adults. Mosquitoes sampled in a Swedish area where tularemia is endemic (Orebro) were positive for the presence of _F. tularensis_ deoxyribonucleic acid throughout the summer. Presence of the clinically relevant _F. tularensis_ subsp. _holarctica_ was confirmed in 11 out of the 14 mosquito species sampled. Experiments performed using laboratory-reared _Aedes aegypti_ confirmed that _F. tularensis_ subsp. _holarctica_ was transstadially maintained from orally infected larvae to adult mosquitoes and that 25% of the adults exposed as larvae were positive for the presence of _F. tularensis_-specific sequences for at least 2 weeks. In addition, we found that _F. tularensis_ subsp. _holarctica_ was transmitted to 58% of the adult mosquitoes feeding on diseased mice. In a small-scale in vivo transmission experiment with _F. tularensis_ subsp. _holarctica_-positive adult mosquitoes and susceptible mice, none of the animals developed tularemia. However, we confirmed that there was transmission of the bacterium to blood vials by mosquitoes that had been exposed to the bacterium in the larval stage. Taken together, these results provide evidence that mosquitoes play a role in disease transmission in part of Sweden where tularemia recurs."  - ProMED Mod.LL]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of Sweden:
More ...

Ireland

Ireland US Consular Information Sheet
December 2, 2008
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
Ireland is a highly developed democracy with a modern economy. Tourist facilities are widely available.
Read the Department of State Background Notes on Irela
d for additional information.
ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:
A passport is necessary, but a visa is not required for tourist or business stays of up to three months.
Visit the Embassy of Ireland web site (www.irelandemb.org/) for the most current visa information, or contact the Embassy at 2234 Massachusetts Avenue, NW, Washington, DC
20008, tel: 1-202-462-3939, or the nearest Irish consulate in Boston, Chicago, New York or San Francisco.

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:
Ireland remains largely free of terrorist incidents.
While the 1998 ceasefire in Northern Ireland is holding, there have been incidents of violence in Northern Ireland associated with paramilitary organizations.
These have the potential for some spillover into Ireland.
Travelers to Northern Ireland should consult the Country Specific Information sheet for the United Kingdom and Gibraltar.

Several Americans have reported incidents of verbal abuse, apparently in reaction to U.S. policy on the war on terrorism.
As elsewhere in Europe, there have been public protests, which for the most part were small, peaceful and well policed.
Americans are advised, nonetheless, to avoid public demonstrations in general and to monitor local media when protests occur.
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 United States and Canada, or for callers outside the United States 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 A Safe Trip Abroad.
CRIME:
Ireland has a low rate of violent crime.
There have been a limited number of incidents in which foreigners and tourists have been victims of assault, including instances of violence toward those who appear to be members of racial minority groups.
In addition, there have been several reported assaults in Dublin by small, unorganized gangs roaming the streets in the early morning hours after the pubs close.
There is a high incidence of petty crime – mostly theft, burglary and purse snatching – in major tourist areas.
Thieves target rental cars and tourists, particularly in the vicinity of tourist attractions, and some purse and bag snatching incidents in these areas have turned violent, especially in Dublin.
Travelers should take extra caution to safeguard passports and wallets from pickpockets and bag snatchers.

Crimes involving credit and debit cards and automated teller machines (ATMs) are also a concern.
Travelers should protect their PIN numbers at all times and avoid using ATM machines that appear to have been tampered with.
There has been an increase in Ireland of the use of “skimmers” on ATM machines, especially in tourist areas.
Skimmers are usually small electronic devices that are attached to the outside of an ATM machine in order to “skim” the ATM or credit card data for later criminal use.
Most ATMs in Ireland now have electronic warnings about their use and advise customers to look closely at the ATM before using it.


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 in Ireland, in addition to reporting to local police (Gardai), please contact the U.S. Embassy in Dublin for assistance.
The Embassy staff can, for example, assist you in finding appropriate medical care, contacting family members or friends, and learning how funds can 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.
The Irish Tourist Assistance Service (ITAS) is a free nationwide service offering support and assistance to tourists who are victimized while visiting Ireland. If you are a tourist victim of crime, report the incident to the nearest Garda Station (police station), which will contact ITAS.
All tourist victims of crime are referred to ITAS by the Gardai. To learn about possible compensation in the United States if you are a victim of a violent crime while overseas, see our information on Victims of Crime
The local equivalent to the “911” emergency line in Ireland is 999 or 122.
MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:
Modern medical facilities and highly skilled medical practitioners are available in Ireland.
Because of high demand, however, access to medical specialists can be difficult and admissions to hospitals for certain non-life-threatening medical conditions may require spending significant periods of time on waiting lists.
Those traveling to or intending to reside in Ireland who may require medical treatment while in the country should consult with their personal physicians prior to traveling.
Over-the-counter medication is widely available.
Irish pharmacists may not be able to dispense medication prescribed by your U.S. physician and may direct you to obtain a prescription from an Irish doctor before providing you with your required medication.
A list of Irish general practitioners in each area of Ireland may be obtained from the web site of the Irish College of General Practitioners at http://www.icgp.ie/go/find_a_gp. Emergency services usually respond quickly.
The U.S. Department of State is unaware of any HIV/AIDS entry restrictions for visitors to or foreign residents of Ireland.

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’s) web site at http://www.who.int/en.
Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith/en.
FOOT AND MOUTH DISEASE: The Irish Department of Agriculture and Food advises all incoming passengers to Ireland that the current foot and mouth situation in Great Britain represents a high risk of the spread of disease to Ireland.
If you are traveling from Great Britain to Ireland and have visited a farm with cattle, sheep, goats or pigs on your travels, you must report to the Irish Department of Agriculture and Food office at the port of entry.
Fresh meat or unpasteurized milk products purchased in Great Britain may not be brought into Ireland.
If you are carrying any of these products, they must be disposed of in the bins provided at the port of entry.
For further information, please visit the Irish Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food at www.agriculture.gov.ie.
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 following information concerning Ireland is provided for general reference only and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
As driving is on the left side of the road in Ireland, motorists without experience in left-drive countries should be especially cautious.
Tourists driving on the wrong side of the road are the cause of several serious accidents each year.
Turning on red is not legal in Ireland.
The vast majority of rental cars are manual transmission; it can be difficult to find automatic transmission rental cars.
Road conditions are generally good, but once travelers are off main highways, country roads quickly become narrow, uneven and winding.
Roads are more dangerous during the summer and on holiday weekends due to an increase in traffic. As in the United States, police periodically set up road blocks to check for drunk drivers.
Penalties for driving under the influence can be severe.
More information on driving in Ireland can be found on the U.S. Embassy in Dublin‘s web site at http://dublin.usembassy.gov/service/other-citizen-services/other-citizen-services/driving.html.

For specific information concerning Irish driving permits, vehicle inspection, road tax and mandatory insurance, please visit the official tourism guide for Ireland at http://www.tourismireland.com.

Taxis are reasonably priced but availability varies with time of day and where you are in the country.
Bus service in the cities is generally adequate, although many buses are overcrowded and frequently late.
Intercity bus and train services are reasonably good.

AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT:
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of Ireland’s Civil Aviation Authority as being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for oversight of Ireland’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:
Most Irish banks will not accept U.S. $100 bills.
ATMs are widely available, but some, particularly in rural areas, may not accept cards from U.S. banks.
Credit cards are widely accepted throughout Ireland.
A number of travelers have been told by their airline that their passport must remain valid for six months after their entry into Ireland.
The Government of Ireland has advised that this is a recommendation of the airline industry and is not an Irish legal requirement. Travelers must be in possession of a valid passport to travel.
Please see 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 Ireland’s laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession, use or trafficking in illegal drugs in Ireland 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 Ireland are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department’s travel registration web site so that they can obtain updated information on travel and security within Ireland.
Americans without Internet access may register directly with the Embassy in Dublin.
By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy to contact them in case of emergency.
The U.S. Embassy is located at 42 Elgin Road, Ballsbridge, Dublin 4.
The Embassy can be reached via phone at 353-1-668-8777, after hours number 353-1-668-9612, fax 353-1-668-8056, and online at http://dublin.usembassy.gov
*

*

*
This replaces the Country Specific Information for Ireland dated May 12, 2008, and updates sections on Information for Victims of Crime, Medical Facilities and Health Information, and Special Circumstances.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Thu 10 Oct 2019
Source: Vax-Before-Travel [edited]

The Health Protection Surveillance Centre in Ireland reported an increase in typhoid fever notifications in travellers returning from Pakistan [<http://ndsc.newsweaver.ie/epiinsight/1npbbpsg5wm>]. According to the Irish authorities on [9 Oct 2019], there have been 23 cases of _Salmonella enterica_ serovar Typhi (_S._ Typhi) in 2019. This is the 1st time that cases of XDR typhoid fever have been identified by the national reference laboratory in Ireland.

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) reported 12 of these cases had a recent travel history to Pakistan [see item [2] below]. Unfortunately, 3 of these 12 cases of typhoid fever with travel history in Pakistan were infected with extensively drug-resistant (XDR) strains.

According to the WHO/EMRO bulletin, Pakistan is experiencing a continuous surge of XDR _S._ Typhi since 2016. As of August 2019, 10 365 cases of XDR typhoid fever were reported from 23 districts in Sindh province, with the Karachi district being the most affected, having 67 percent of the cases. Pakistan is the world's 6th-most populous country with a population exceeding 210 million people, located in South Asia.

The XDR _S._ Typhi strain acquired a plasmid that confers resistance to multiple antibiotics, including the 1st-line antibiotics chloramphenicol, ampicillin, and trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole, as well as fluoroquinolones and 3rd-generation cephalosporins, says the ECDC. The strain remained susceptible to azithromycin and carbapenems. The increased resistance in typhoid fever limits treatment options and poses a threat to international spread.

In response, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a Level 1 Travel Alert regarding traveling to Pakistan in 2019 [<https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/notices/watch/xdr-typhoid-fever-pakistan>]. This 'Practice Usual Precautions' Travel Alert published on [30 Sep 2019], is very important since, in rare cases, typhoid fever can be fatal.

According to the Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation, about 1.75 million tourists visited Pakistan in 2017 alone.

The CDC says 'if you are going to South Asia, including Pakistan, protect yourself against typhoid infection by getting a typhoid fever vaccination.' The CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommends 2 typhoid fever vaccines, an oral vaccine, Vivotif, and an injectable vaccine, Typhim VI. The oral vaccine Vivotif is approved for people 6 years of age or older and should be taken as directed, at least one week before departure. The injectable vaccine is approved for people 2 years of age or older. Travelers should receive the injectable vaccine Typhim VI at least 2 weeks before departure. Neither vaccine is 100 percent effective, so travellers should also practice safe eating and drinking while traveling abroad, says the ACIP.

Typhoid fever is a serious disease caused by the bacterium _Salmonella_ Typhi, spread by contaminated food and water. Humans are the only source of these bacteria. The incubation period of typhoid and paratyphoid infections is 6-30 days, says the CDC. Symptoms of typhoid fever often include high fever, weakness, stomach pain, headache, cough, and loss of appetite. People may have diarrhoea or constipation.

If you travel abroad and get sick while traveling, seek medical care ASAP. If you get sick after returning to the United States, seek medical care and tell your health care provider where and when you traveled. Do not prepare food for other people, says the CDC.

An estimated 26 million cases of typhoid fever and 5 million cases of paratyphoid fever occur worldwide each year, causing 215,000 deaths.

Also, the CDC says to ensure you are up-to-date on several vaccinations before visiting Pakistan. These vaccines and related medications can be found at most travel pharmacies in the USA.

Travel Alert news is published by Vax-Before-Travel
Date: Sun 8 Sep 2019
Source: Irish Mirror [abridged, edited]

A TD [member of the Irish Parliament] has warned of "serious repercussions" after it was revealed the child vaccination uptake has dropped into the World Health Organisation (WHO) red zone. Statistics from the Health Protection Surveillance Centre show up to 25% of infants and toddlers are not receiving shots in parts of Ireland.

Sinn Fein spokeswoman Louise O'Reilly said: "We need to get past all the misinformation on social media and the anti-vaxxers and talk to parents face to face."

Fears are growing that highly contagious diseases such as measles could run rampant again, with experts warning of a possible epidemic.

Officials from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control have recorded 10,958 cases of the illness -- which can prove fatal -- across the continent from January to [14 Jul] this year [2019]. It is the worst performance in over a decade and the 1st time the country has been in the range since the anti-vax movement began.

EU countries worst affected are France, Bulgaria, Italy, Poland and Lithuania -- but the slump in Ireland means we could soon be facing an epidemic of our own. The number of measles cases reported tripled last year [2018] with 77 cases -- up from just 25 in 2017.  [Byline: Ailbhe Daly]
Date: Fri 17 May 2019 16:33 IST
Source: Breaking News Irish Examiner Reporter [abridged, edited]

There have been 58 reports of measles recorded so far this year [2019], according to the HSE's [Health Service Executive] Health Protection Surveillance Centre [HPSC].

Another 2 cases were reported to the HPSC in the past week -- one from the Eastern Regional Health Authority and the other from the Southern Health Board. The 2 people affected were both female and aged between 15 and 34 years.

The HSE's assistant national director of health protection, Dr Keven Kelleher, has warned that cases of measles are set to rise over the summer [2019].

There has been an increase in measles, an acute viral disease, throughout the world and cases are spreading because people are travelling more.

Dr Kelleher said measles is very active throughout southern Europe.

Current vaccination rates are not good enough currently, with take-up rates up to 8% below what they should in some parts of the country.  [Byline: Evelyn Ring]
========================
[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of Ireland:
Date: Wed 17 Apr 2019
Source: Leitrim Observer [abridged, edited]

The HSE [Ireland's national health service] says it "had not seen diseases like measles in Donegal, Sligo or Leitrim for a number of years, because 95% of children were vaccinated against them. Last year [2018], the uptake of childhood vaccinations dropped slightly in Donegal, and this resulted in an outbreak of measles in January this year [2019]."

The HSE says "There is also an ongoing mumps outbreak across Donegal, Sligo and Leitrim. The HSE has been notified of 116 cases so far.

"As soon as vaccination rates fall, diseases like measles and mumps return. Fortunately, the majority of people in Donegal, Sligo and Leitrim are protecting their children with vaccination. The most recent figures for 2018 show that 90% of children in Donegal received the MMR and 93% of children in Sligo and Leitrim received it.

"However, over 95% of children need to be vaccinated with the MMR in order to prevent the spread of measles in our community. This is the goal for 2019, as it is really important for 'herd immunity'. In this way, we can protect new-borns and vulnerable children, including those with cancer or immune problems who can't get vaccinated, from coming in contact with measles and other diseases like meningitis."

This year [2019] European Immunisation Week runs 24-30 Apr. The goal is to raise awareness of the benefits of vaccination and to celebrate the vaccine heroes who contribute to protecting lives through vaccination. Vaccine heroes include health workers who administer vaccines, parents who choose vaccination for their children, and everyone who promotes vaccination.

"Every parent wants to protect their child and do what's right for them. Sometimes it can be difficult to know what to do, now that there is so much false and misleading information on the internet and social media when it comes to vaccination," says Dr. Laura Heavey, Specialist Registrar in Public Health Medicine in HSE North West, "I would really encourage parents to look for information in the right places. Two good sources of reliable, evidence-based information are <www.immunisation.ie> and the Vaccine Knowledge Project at <http://vk.ovg.ox.ac.uk/>. Essentially all of the vaccines on the infant, child and adolescent schedule in Ireland are backed up with years of data on their safety."

Another goal for the HSE in 2019 is to continue to increase the uptake of the HPV vaccine in teenagers. In 2018, 70% of teenage girls in Ireland got the vaccine. In Scotland, where HPV vaccination started over 10 years ago and 90% of teenage girls get the HPV vaccine, researchers have found that the vaccine has nearly wiped out cases of cervical pre-cancer in young women. We want to see as many Irish teenagers as possible getting vaccinated in 2019, so that we can see those same results here. This year [2019], the vaccine will also be offered to teenage boys. If all our young people receive the vaccine, cervical cancer could be eliminated in Ireland in the future.
========================
[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of Ireland:
Date: Wed 27 Feb 2019
Source: The Times [abridged, edited]

A total of 384 cases mumps have been reported this year [2019] from Irish Universities, HSE figures have shown.

There were 64 new cases reported last week, bringing the total to 384 since the start of the year [2019]. The number of cases has been rising steadily in recent weeks, with 278 in the 1st 6 weeks of the year. Last year [2018] there had been 52 cases by the end of February. There were 576 cases in total last year [2018].  [Byline : Catherine Sanz]
===================
[Also see ProMED-mail Mumps update (02): USA (CO, TX), Europe (Ireland) http://promedmail.org/post/20190221.6329434 for more on the outbreak in Ireland. - ProMED Mod.LK]

["Before the U.S. mumps vaccination program started in 1967, about 186,000 cases were reported each year, but the actual number of cases was likely much higher due to underreporting. Since the pre-vaccine era, there has been a more than 99% decrease in mumps cases in the United States. Since the 2-dose vaccination program was introduced in 1989, mumps cases have ranged year to year from a couple of hundred to several thousand.

However, in recent years, there has been an increase in the number of reported cases, from 229 cases in 2012 to 6366 cases in 2016. The recent increase has been mainly due to multiple mumps outbreaks reported across the country in settings where people often have close contact with one another, like college campuses." CDC (<https://www.cdc.gov/mumps/outbreaks.html>). - ProMED Mod.LK]
More ...

Ghana

Ghana US Consular Information Sheet
23rd September 2008
DESCRIPTION:
Ghana is a developing country on the West Coast of Africa. The capital is Accra. Facilities for tourism are available in the population centers of the greater Accra regio
, Kumasi in the Ashanti region, and in the Cape Coast area of the Central region, but they are limited in the more remote areas of the country. Read the Department of State Background Notes on Ghana for additional information.
ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:
A passport and visa are required, as is evidence of a yellow fever vaccination. Travelers should obtain the latest information and details from the Embassy of Ghana, 3512 International Drive NW, Washington, DC
20008; telephone (202) 686-4520. Consular services are also available at the Ghana Permanent Mission to the UN at 19 East 47th Street, New York, NY
10017, telephone (212) 832-1300, and the Honorary Consulate of Ghana, 3434 Locke Lane, Houston, TX, telephone (713) 960-8806. Overseas, inquiries should be made at the nearest Ghanaian embassy or consulate. Visit the Embassy of Ghana web site at www.ghanaembassy.org for the most current visa information.
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:
Due to the potential for violence, U.S. citizens should avoid political rallies and street demonstrations and maintain security awareness at all times. There will be frequent political rallies across Ghana in the run-up to the presidential and parliamentary elections on December 7, 2008.

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 other callers, 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:
Pick-pocketing, purse snatching, and various types of scams are the most common forms of crime confronting visitors. U.S. travelers have reported these types of theft at crowded markets, beaches, parks, and tourist attractions. Incidences of violent crime, such as armed robbery, are on the rise, including reports of armed robberies in expatriate residential areas. Victims who resist attackers run a high risk of serious physical injury. Take security measures, such as traveling in groups and avoiding travel at night. Avoid travel in communal taxis. Travelers who limit their display of jewelry and handle their cash discreetly reduce their vulnerability to crime. Travelers are advised to carry limited amounts of cash and only photocopies of key documents.

Use of credit cards in Ghana should be avoided if possible, as a growing number of travelers have been victims of credit card fraud.

In recent years, U.S. citizens have reported substantial financial losses from questionable transactions involving gold and other precious metals. The Government of Ghana maintains strict regulations on these natural resources. All agents must be licensed and all transactions must be certified. (See Special Circumstances below).

Perpetrators of business fraud often target foreigners, including Americans. Such fraud schemes are now prevalent throughout West Africa, including Ghana.
Please refer to the Country Commercial Guide for Ghana at http://www.buyusa.gov/ghana/en/doing_business_in_ghana.html, for further information.

American citizens frequently consult the Embassy regarding questionable business offers sent by people in Ghana. These are scams and typically begin with an unsolicited communication (usually by e-mail) from an unknown individual who describes a situation that promises quick financial gain, often by assisting in the transfer of a large sum of money or valuables out of the country.
A series of “advance fees” must be paid in order to conclude the transaction, such as fees to open a bank account or to pay certain taxes.
In fact, the final payoff does not exist; the purpose of the scams is simply to collect money from the victim.
The Embassy has also received reports of fraudulent charities soliciting contributions through the Internet or direct mail. If you receive such business offers or charity requests, carefully check them out before you commit any funds, provide any goods or services, or undertake any travel. Check with the U.S. Embassy in Ghana at telephone (233-21) 741-100 for an assessment of the offer’s credibility.

Another type of fraud is committed by persons claiming to live in Ghana or who claim to be traveling to Ghana on business, and who profess friendship or romantic interest over the Internet. Once a relationship has been established, the correspondent typically asks the American to send money for living expenses, travel expenses, or visa costs. Sometimes a “hospital” or “doctor” telephones to say that the friend has suffered an “accident” and needs immediate financial assistance to cover medical bills. There are other variations of this scam, but the common goal is to fraudulently obtain as much money as possible from the victim.
Americans have reported losing thousands of dollars through such scams. The anonymity of the Internet means that the victim cannot be sure of the real name, age, marital status, nationality, or even gender of the correspondent. In most cases reported to the Embassy, the correspondent turned out to be a fictitious persona created to lure Americans into sending money.

Visitors to Ghana should also be wary of overly-friendly locals offering tours, discounted lodging or other services that seem too good to be true.
Tourists are often targeted by touts and scam artists.
Some Americans have been the victims of false criminal accusations and have found themselves separated from time, money and trust as they seek to resolve these difficult situations.

For additional information, please see the Department of State brochure International Financial Scams.

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.
Ghana maintains a specialized Domestic Violence Victim Support Unit (DOVVSU) within the Ghana Police Service to assist victims of domestic violence, especially women and children. In addition to its law enforcement responsibilities, the Unit can refer victims to medical providers and counselors, as well as to community support services. Further information is available by following the DOVVSU link at www.ghanapolice.org
The local equivalent to the “911” emergency line in Ghana is: 191
See our information on Victims of Crime.

MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:
Medical facilities in Ghana are limited, particularly outside Accra, the capital. Travelers should carry adequate supplies of any needed prescription medicines, along with copies of their prescriptions, the generic name of the drugs, and a supply of preferred over-the-counter medications. For information on avian influenza (bird flu), please refer to the Department of State's Avian Influenza Fact Sheet.
Documentation of Yellow fever vaccination is required upon arrival from all countries.
There are no HIV/AIDS entry restrictions for visitors to or foreign residents of Ghana.

Motor vehicle accidents, drownings and water-related accidents due to Ghana’s rough surf, muggings and other violent attacks, and the development of sexually transmitted diseases—including HIV—are
health and safety concerns that have been reported by U.S. citizens and can be at least partially mitigated by using common-sense safety precautions.

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:
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 Ghana is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
Primary roads are generally paved and well maintained. However, some side roads within major cities and roads outside of major cities are in poor condition. The road from Accra to the central region tourist area of Cape Coast continues to be the site of many accidents. Travel in darkness, particularly outside the major cities, is extremely hazardous, due to poor street lighting and the unpredictable behavior of pedestrians, bicyclists and farm animals, particularly goats and sheep. Aggressive drivers, poorly maintained vehicles and overloaded vehicles pose serious threats to road safety.

The safety standards of the small private buses that transit roads and highways are uncertain. Travelers are encouraged to consider this when making travel arrangements.

Travelers are routinely stopped at police checkpoints throughout Ghana, and vehicles and passengers may be searched. Drivers must possess an international driver’s license (available from AAA and the American Automobile Touring Alliance). Foreign nationals should carry documentation of their status, such as a passport and visa.

Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information. Visit the website of Ghana’s national tourist office at http://www.touringghana.com/default.asp and the national authority responsible for road safety at http://www.mrt.gov.gh/
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT:
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of Ghana’s Civil Aviation Authority as not being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for the oversight of Ghana’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.

Service provided by a number of regional air carriers is reported to be unreliable. The airlines may alter scheduled stops, cancel or postpone flights on short notice, and regularly overbook flights. Travelers may experience unexpected delays even after checking in. Passengers should get the required seat reconfirmation stamped on the ticket, have enough emergency funds for food and lodging in case of unexpected delays, and arrive at the airport at least two hours before the scheduled departure time.

SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:
Effective July 1, 2007, the Government of Ghana redenominated the local currency, the cedi, introducing new banknotes (Ghana Cedi) and coins (Ghana Pesewa). 10,000 cedis = 1 Ghana Cedi = 100 Ghana Pesewas. The old cedi was taken out of circulation on December 31, 2007, and as of January 1, 2008, can be converted only at commercial banks or the Bank of Ghana. Travelers should be alert to persons who may try to defraud them with the old and new bills. The Government of Ghana established a web site in 2007, www.ghanacedi.gov.gh, to inform the public about the redenomination exercise. The web site includes a useful currency converter.

Visitors arriving or departing Ghana with more than $5,000 in cash are required to declare the amount at the border. Currency exchange is available at most banks and at licensed foreign exchange bureaus, but currency transactions with private citizens are illegal. The Government of Ghana also prohibits departing travelers from carrying more than 5,000,000 cedis (500 Ghana Cedis) out of the country. Ghanaian currency must either be spent or exchanged before departure, or it will be confiscated.

Strict customs regulations govern temporary importation into or export from Ghana of items such as gold, diamonds and precious natural resources. Only agents licensed by the Precious Metals and Mining Commission, telephone (233-21) 664-635 or 664-579, may handle import-export transactions of these natural resources. Any transaction without the commission’s endorsement is illegal and/or fraudulent. All transactions must be completed through the commission at the price set daily by the London exchange. Any transaction that discounts this price, or includes a previously negotiated price, is either illegal or fraudulent. Export of gold dust is rare as it encourages dangerous and environmentally destructive practices, and transactions involving the export of gold dust are probably fraudulent. Attempts to evade regulations are punishable by imprisonment. It is advisable to contact the Embassy of Ghana in Washington, DC, or one of the Ghanaian consulates in the United States, for specific information regarding customs requirements.

In rare instances, visitors arriving in Ghana with sophisticated electronic equipment (video cameras and laptop computers) may have to deposit 17.5 per cent of the item's value with the Customs and Excise office at the airport. To get the deposit refunded, visitors must apply to the Customs and Excise Office in central Accra 48 hours before departure.

Taking pictures near sensitive installations, including military sites and some government buildings, is prohibited. These sites are not always clearly marked and application of these restrictions is subject to interpretation. Permission may be obtained from Ghanaian security personnel. Permission should also be obtained before photographing anyone in uniform (e.g., police officers and military officers). In some cases, film and cameras have been confiscated. For security reasons, taking photographs of the U.S. Embassy is also prohibited.

It is strictly prohibited to wear any military apparel such as camouflage jackets or trousers, or any clothing or items that may appear military in nature.

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 Ghana laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Ghana 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 Ghana are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department’s travel registration web site so that they can obtain updated information on travel and security within Ghana. 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 No. 24 Fourth Circular Road, Cantonments, Accra; telephone (233-21)741-000. The public entrance to the Consular Section is No. 19 Fifth Link Road, Cantonments, Accra; telephone (233-21) 741-100; fax (233-21) 741-362 or 741-426; after-hours (233-21) 741-775.
*

*

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This replaces the Country Specific Information for Ghana dated February 21, 2008, to update sections on safety and security, crime, information for victims of crime, and medical facilities and health information.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Fri, 18 Oct 2019 15:43:29 +0200 (METDST)

Accra, Oct 18, 2019 (AFP) - Floods caused by eight days of torrential downpours in north-eastern Ghana have left 28 people dead and displaced hundreds, officials said Friday.     "At the moment the death toll is 28. About 640 people in some six communities have been displaced and we are providing shelters for them," George Ayisi, spokesman for the National Disaster Management Organisation, told AFP.    "We've counted about 286 collapsed houses during this disaster and that is making life difficult for the people."

Relief items were being transported 800 kilometres (500 miles) by road from the capital Accra to the affected region on the border with Burkina Faso as meteorologists warned the rains could last into November.    "We have to just prepare for anything," Ayisi said.   So far this year 46 people have been killed in floods in the West African nation, the disaster relief agency said.   Flooding in northern and other parts of Ghana happens each year during the rainy season.    Last year, 34 people died in northern Ghana during flooding caused by heavy rains and waters spilling from a dam in Burkina Faso.
Date:   August 30th 2019
Received from HPSC (Ireland)
HPSC website: https://www.hpsc.ie/a-z/vaccinepreventable/polio/

HPSC has received an alert through IHR regarding a recent case of cVDPV2 in a 2 year old female in Ghana who presented with AFP. Hence the cVDPV2 outbreak originating in Jigawa state, Nigeria, continues to spread in West Africa.  Given cross-border population movements with Nigeria and across West Africa, subnational immunity and surveillance gaps, Ghana is considered at high-risk for further transmission of the isolated cVDPV2. In Ghana, the last wild poliovirus was reported in 2008 and this is the first ever cVDPV2 outbreak reported in the country.  [Authorities in] G

WHO’s International Travel and Health recommends that all travellers to polio-affected areas be fully vaccinated against polio. Residents (and visitors for more than 4 weeks) from infected areas should receive an additional dose of OPV or inactivated polio vaccine (IPV) within 4 weeks to 12 months of travel.

cVDPV2 outbreak originating in Jigawa state, Nigeria, continues to spread in West Africa.  In Ghana, cVDPV2 was isolated from an acute flaccid paralysis (AFP) case in Ando-Nyamanu, Chereponi district, Northern Region, bordering Togo.  The case is a two-year and eight-month old girl who had onset of paralysis on 27 July 2019. Stool samples were taken on 27 and 28 July 2019 and were sent to the National Polio Laboratory at Noguchi Memorial Institute for Medical Research for laboratory investigations. The sample tested positive for cVDPV2 as per result received on 17 August 2019.   The sequencing information of the AFP case revealed 25 nucleotide differences compared to the reference Sabin 2 and 6 nucleotides with the closest matching sequence of the AFP case from Kwara State of Nigeria in 2018. Earlier, a related cVDPV2 had been isolated from an environmental sample, collected on 11 June 2019, from Northern Region in Ghana.  Both isolated viruses are linked to an outbreak originating in Jigawa, Nigeria, in 2018.  This same strain has already spread within Nigeria, and internationally to the Republic of Niger, Benin and Cameroon.

On 25 August 2019, the Polio Laboratory reported the isolation of polio virus type 2 in an environmental surveillance (ES) site at Agbogbloshie in Accra, Greater Accra Region, from routine surveillance. This was confirmed as cVDPV2 on 26 August.

Public health response
The Ministry of Health has declared detection of this virus to be a national public health emergency, in line with temporary recommendations issued by the International Health Regulations Emergency Committee regarding the international spread of poliovirus. The Ministry of Health and its Partners are working tirelessly to contain the situation and to prevent the spread of the disease.

An emergency meeting with key stakeholders and partners of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) was held on the 19 August 2019, to discuss response measures in response to this, the Ministry of Health / Ghana Health Service has taken these immediate actions:

1. A national team made up of the Ghana Health Service and the WHO has been deployed to support the regional and district teams carry out detailed investigations and response measures
2. A full epidemiological and field investigation is ongoing, active surveillance is being strengthened, subnational population immunity levels are being analysed and outbreak response actions are being planned
3. Areas at risk are mapped conduction of reactive vaccination campaign in the affected and adjoining high risk districts and planned following approval from the Polio Advisory Group for monovalent Oral Polio Vaccine Type 2 (mOPV2)

WHO risk assessment
Given cross-border population movements with Nigeria and across West Africa, subnational immunity and surveillance gaps, Ghana is considered at high-risk for further transmission of the isolated cVDPV2.  As the current detected case is in a district sharing international land border with Togo where there is a very low population immunity against type 2 poliovirus (IPV coverage of 20% in 2018), there is an increased risk of further international spread of this outbreak. As this outbreak, originating in Jigawa Nigeria has already spread to Niger, Cameroon and Benin the risk of further international spread across West Africa associated with this virus, remains high.
WHO advice
It is important that all countries, in particular those with frequent travel and contacts with polio-affected countries and areas, strengthen surveillance for AFP cases in order to rapidly detect any new virus importation and to facilitate a rapid response. Countries, territories and areas should also maintain uniformly high routine immunization coverage at the district level to minimize the consequences of any new virus introduction.
As per the advice of an Emergency Committee convened under the International Health Regulations (2005), efforts to limit the international spread of poliovirus remains a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC).  Countries affected by poliovirus transmission is subject to Temporary Recommendations.  To comply with the Temporary Recommendations issued under the PHEIC, any country infected by poliovirus should declare the outbreak as a national public health emergency and consider vaccination of all international travellers.

Further Information:
Polio is a highly infectious disease and can cause permanent paralysis or death. The risk of paralytic polio due to exposure to cVDPV2 remains high due to the low population immunity against polio type-2 virus, after the global switch from trivalent oral poliovirus vaccine (tOPV) to bivalent OPV (bOPV). The national immunization coverage for Inactivated Poliovirus Vaccine (IPV) in Ghana was 55% for 2018 (WHO/UNICEF estimation). Poliovirus is a pathogen slated for global eradication. In July 2019, cVDPV2 has been confirmed in Ghana in an environmental sample and the last wild poliovirus was reported in 2008. Any detected Poliovirus subtype either in humans or the environment after the global synchronized withdrawal of tOPV in April 2016 is unusual and unexpected and remains to be of a huge cause of concern.  Poliovirus spreads easily and across large distances. There is evidence of genetic linkage of polio virus isolated from Ghana with polio viruses originating in, Nigeria which has already spread to Niger, Cameroon and Benin. The Chereponi district from where the case is reported also shares an international border with Togo that has low population immunity to type 2 Polio (IPV coverage was 20% for 2018). The risk of further spread to Togo cannot be ruled out.

WHO does not recommend any restriction on travel and/or trade to Ghana based on the information available for the current polio outbreak.
https://www.hpsc.ie/a-z/vaccinepreventable/polio/
Date: Tue, 30 Apr 2019 16:30:41 +0200
By Stacey KNOTT

Cape Coast, Ghana, April 30, 2019 (AFP) - Ghana on Tuesday rolled out the world's only proven malaria vaccine for infants as part of a landmark campaign against the deadly mosquito-borne disease, one week after Malawi became the first country to do so.   Malaria kills hundreds of thousands of people each year, mainly in Africa, and it is hoped a vaccine will bring down the toll.    Children are especially at risk, and babies were Ghana's first vaccine recipients Tuesday in the town of Cape Coast, 150 kilometres (90 miles) west of the capital Accra.   "I hope this will help us to be able to eliminate malaria, so Ghana can be a malaria-free country," said Justice Arthur, the doctor running the clinic.

The vaccines will be given to children between the ages of six months and two years, in a project run by Ghana's health ministry and the World Health Organization (WHO).   "I am really hopeful that the vaccine is going to help me and my family," said Abigail Aguanyi, a woman waiting to get her child, Blessing, vaccinated. Many of her family members had previously been stricken.   The vaccine, known by its lab initials RTS,S, has passed lengthy scientific trials which found it to be safe and effective at preventing about four in ten cases of malaria in infants -- the best ever recorded.   To achieve this level of partial protection, four successive doses must be administered on a strict timetable -- a challenge for rural Africa.

- 'Exciting' -
The rollout in Ghana, Malawi, and soon also Kenya, will seek to evaluate the vaccine's effectiveness as a complementary tool, augmenting -- but not replacing -- measures such as insecticide-treated bed nets and the use of sprays.   It will also test the feasibility of administering the four required doses in children in areas of the world with limited access to healthcare.   Data from the programme will inform a WHO policy on the broader use of RTS,S.   Malaria is spread to people by mosquitoes, which transfer the parasite while sucking blood from humans. RTS,S is effective against the Plasmodium falciparum parasite most prevalent in Africa.   In Ghana alone, there were 5.5 million confirmed cases of malaria last year, and many more suspected.

Worldwide, the WHO says malaria killed 435,000 people worldwide in 2017.    The number of cases climbed to 219 million in 2017, two million more than in 2016. Over 90 percent of cases occurred in Africa.   "This is an exciting and long-awaited step forward to fight malaria and its devastating effects on the most vulnerable," said WHO boss in Ghana, Owen Kaluwa.
Date: Sat 3 Nov 2018
Source: Ghana Web [edited]
<https://www.ghanaweb.com/GhanaHomePage/health/Doctors-announce-Apollo-outbreak-in-Tamale-697640>

A new surge of the contagious viral eye disease known [locally] as "apollo" or haemorrhagic conjunctivitis has been confirmed by doctors at the Tamale Central Hospital in the northern regional capital. Apollo is an infection caused by the Coxsackie virus and presents with painful swollen red eyes, purulent discharges and headache, and affects the lining of the eyelids and eyeball. It usually affects both eyes but may affect one eye and later spread to the other. The disease affects people of all ages, particularly those in crowded living conditions (i.e., homes, schools, daycare centres, and work places) and those who engage in poor handwashing practices.

Apollo is spread by contact with the hands, towels, face cloths, goggles and other surfaces exposed to secretions that contain the virus. The symptoms of apollo include sore eyes, feeling of grittiness or burning, redness, watery discharge, swelling of eyelids and light sensitivity. The disease has damaged eyes of many people since its last outbreak 7 years ago in the country. A report of the outbreak has been issued by the senior optometrist of the hospital, Dr. Daniel Opoku, to the National Health Directorate in the region. The report said the hospital had received an increasing number of cases of the disease since last month [October 2018], without specifying a figure.

The statement also confirms some of the hospital staff have been affected in the outbreak and have been asked to visit the eye clinic for treatment. The hospital staff have been cautioned to be careful in their contact with patients and their folders. The staff have also been advised to practice proper hand hygiene to avoid being infected. The Ophthalmological Society of Ghana (OSG) in the region has not commented on the report, and there have not been any comments from the Red Cross Society. The Regional Health Service has confirmed the report but said the situation is being contained.
===========================
[Acute haemorrhagic conjunctivitis (AHC) was 1st described in Ghana in 1969 [1]. Its appearance coincided with the 1st Apollo moon landing, prompting the Ghanaians to give it the name Apollo 11 disease [2]. The etiological agent in this outbreak was identified as enterovirus 70 (EV70) [2, 3]. In the following year [1970], an outbreak of apollo was described in Singapore [4]; however, in this case, the cause was determined to be a Coxsackie virus A24 variant (CVA24v) [5].

Since then, numerous reports of AHC have emerged from across the world, associated with either EV70 or CVA24v. These 2 viruses are now recognized as the primary agents of AHC [6]. ... AHC usually resolves without sequelae, although secondary corneal infection has been reported after treatment with topical steroids [8].

References
1. Chatterjee S, Quarcoopome CO, Apenteng A. Unusual type of epidemic conjunctivitis in Ghana. Br J Ophthal 1970;54:628-630.
2. Kono R. Apollo 11 disease or acute hemorrhagic conjunctivitis: a pandemic of a new enterovirus infection of the eyes. Am J Epidemiol 1975;101:383-390.
3. Mirkovic RR, Kono R, Yin-Murphy M, et al. Enterovirus type 70: the etiologic agent of pandemic acute haemorrhagic conjunctivitis. Bull World Health Org 1973;49:341-346.
4. Mirkovic RR, Schmidt NJ, Yin-Murphy M, Melnick JL. Enterovirus etiology of the 1970 Singapore epidemic of acute conjunctivitis. Intervirology A 1974;4:119-127.
5. Line KH, Yin-Murphy M. An epidemic of conjunctivitis in Singapore in 1970. Singapore Med J 1971;12:247-249.
6. Wright PW, Strausss GH, Langford MP. Acute hemorrhagic conjunctivitis. Am Fam Phys 1992;45:173-178. …
8. Vajpayee RB, Sharma N, Chand M, et al. Corneal superinfection in acute hemorrhagic conjunctivitis. Cornea 1998;6:614-617. Excerpted from Burr SE, Sillah, Joof H, et al. An outbreak of acute haemorrhagic conjunctivitis associated with coxsackievirus A24 variant in The Gambia, West Africa. BMC Res Notes 2017;10:692. - ProMED Mod.LK]
 
[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map:
Ghana: <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/53>]
Date: Thu, 20 Sep 2018 22:11:23 +0200

Accra, Sept 20, 2018 (AFP) - At least 34 people have died in northern Ghana during flooding caused by heavy rains and waters spilling from a dam in neighbouring Burkina Faso, relief agency officials said Thursday.   Bagre Dam is located on the White Volta river that begins in Burkina Faso and which converges with the Black Volta downstream and feeds into Lake Volta in southern Ghana.  The authorities open the dam's spillways during annual rains, but the excess volumes of water regularly flood communities along the rivers.

People living along the White Volta have been urged to stay away from its banks.Others have been told to move to higher ground.   Seji Saji, deputy head of Ghana's National Disaster Management Organisation, said the situation was under control and teams were working flat out to reach those affected.   "In all we have on record 34 deaths and two people missing. The affected people are over 52,000 and we are still assessing the situation," he added.   "All these happened during the time that the river overflowed its banks but the rate of spillage has reduced considerably and fortunately since last week and this week there has not been any heavy rainfall."

Ghana's President Nana Akufo-Addo and his government have been criticised for not visiting victims of the floods.  Aid agency Oxfam's inequality programmes and campaign manager in Ghana, Zakaria Sulemana, said the situation required "high-powered political attention".   "People want to hear the president, in fact we should have seen the president visit the area to console them or better still initiate an action to ensure that this does not happen again," he added.   Saji said Vice-President Mahamudu Bawumia will be visiting flood victims this weekend.   In 1999, flooding in the Upper West, Upper East, Northern and Brong Ahafo and Volta regions of northern Ghana affected more than 300,000 people, according to NADMO.
More ...

Latvia

Latvia US Consular Information Sheet
October 02, 2008
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
Latvia is a stable democracy with a developing economy. Most tourist facilities found in a western European city are available in the capital city of Riga. However,
some of the goods and services taken for granted in other countries are not yet available in other parts of the country. Read the Department of State Background Notes on Latvia for additional information.
ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS: Latvia is a party to the Schengen agreement. As such, U.S. citizens may enter Latvia for up to 90 days for tourist or business purposes without a visa. The passport should be valid for at least three months beyond the period of stay. For further details about travel into and within Schengen countries, please see our fact sheet. Travelers remaining in Latvia for more than 90 days, including 180 day periods that cross over two half-calendar years, must apply for temporary residence. All travelers must have a valid insurance policy, covering medical expenses while in Latvia. Repatriation costs, including funeral and disposition of remains costs also have to be covered by the policy. In addition, upon entering or exiting the country, travelers must declare cash in excess of 10,000 euros to Latvian customs. For more information, travelers may contact the Latvian Embassy, at 2306 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20008, tel. (202)328-2840, fax (202) 328-2860. For further information, visit http://www.latvia-usa.org. Within Latvia, contact the Ministry of Interiors Office of Citizenship and Migration Affairs at Ciekurkalna 1, linija 1,k,3,Riga, LV 1026. Tel. (371)67219645, (371)67219679, (371)80007657, fax (371)67219654, e-mail: pmlp@pmlp.gov.lv, web site http://www.ocma.gov.
Any traveler to Russia, even in transit, is advised to obtain a visa prior to entry into Latvia. The process of obtaining a visa at the Russian Embassy in Riga can be lengthy, and involve surrender of the passport for an undetermined period of time. Visit the Embassy of Latvia web site at http://www.latvia-usa.org for the most current visa information.
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.
SAFETY AND SECURITY:
Civil unrest is not a problem in Riga. Nonetheless, in the past, Riga has seen large, peaceful demonstrations related to internal political issues. While demonstrations have been peaceful, American citizens are nevertheless cautioned to avoid any large public demonstrations. There have been no incidents of terrorism directed toward American interests. Incidents of anti-Americanism are rare. However, instances of racially motivated verbal harassment, and on occasion, physical assaults on non-Caucasian foreigners, have occurred in Riga. There have also been reports of non-Caucasian foreigners being subjected to extra scrutiny by security guards in shops and malls in Riga. Additionally, individuals displaying alternative lifestyles have experienced harassment.

For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department’s 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 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 notice A Safe Trip Abroad.
CRIME: Crime in Riga is generally non-violent. The majority of non-violent crime tends toward acts of pickpocketing, identity theft, and personal scams. However, there have been instances of serious violent assaults and robberies. Street crime is a serious problem, particularly for tourists. In addition to pickpockets in all public areas, there are numerous scam artists targeting foreigners in the tourist pubs and restaurants. There have been a number of reports recently of foreign tourists being charged xorbitant prices for drinks in bars. Some have then been assaulted or forced to withdraw money from an ATM to pay the bill. You can avoid situations like this by ensuring that you check the price of drinks before ordering, pay for one round at a time and seek recommendations for bars from trustworthy sources. There have also been a few cases of tourists and residents being drugged in bars and restaurants and then taken outside or to their residences and robbed. In any public area, one should always be alert, particularly to being surrounded by two or more people at once. It is not uncommon for groups of pickpockets to attempt to overwhelm their victim. Gangs of professional pickpockets are specifically targeting foreigners, particularly those carrying backpacks. In addition, Riga has one of the highest rates of car theft in the world.
Internet crime is a growing concern in Latvia. Common fraudulent schemes involve both Internet auction sites and Internet job search sites. In the first scam, criminals offer valuable items for sale at low prices on Internet auctions and request that payments be sent by wire transfer to a bank in Latvia or through a fraudulent escrow site that they have created themselves. In this scheme, the money passes through a bank in Latvia and is quickly withdrawn by ATM or transferred to a bank in another country. It is very difficult in these cases to discover the identities of the account holders or recover the funds.
The second common scam involves identity theft through false job offers. In this scheme, a company claiming to be located in Latvia, but which has a non-existent address, offers the victim employment as a U.S. – based agent or freight forwarder. When the victim responds to the job offer, commonly posted on one of several popular Internet job sites, a Social Security Number and other identifying information needed for the identity theft is required under the guise of conducting a background check.

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 or 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. For more information, see Victims of Crime.
MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION: Medical care in Latvia is steadily improving, but remains limited in several important respects. There are a few private clinics with medical supplies and services, including disposable needles and basic modern diagnostics, which are nearly equal to Western Europe or U.S. standards. However, because of the lack of equipment and resources, most major invasive procedures or surgeries in Latvia are not recommended. Hospital services have shown good progress but are still not equal to Western standards. Elderly travelers and those with existing health problems may be at risk due to inadequate medical facilities. Most, but not all, antibiotics and prescription medications are available but as they are generally produced in Europe or Latvia, they often have different names and instructions are usually not printed in English. Diphtheria, hepatitis and tick-borne encephalitis are present. According to the World Health Organization, tuberculosis is a significant problem in Latvia, with 9% of all cases being multi-drug resistant. For further information, please consult the CDC’s Travel notice on TB at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/yellowBookCh4-TB.aspx. State ambulance service for emergencies is available by dialing 112 anywhere in Latvia. However, response time is poor in rural areas. Air ambulance service is available for medical evacuations. In general, private air ambulance services are very expensive and require advance payment before the patient is transported.
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 Latvia is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
Foreign visitors to Latvia planning to operate a motor vehicle are required to obtain an International Driving Permit. These may be obtained through the American Automobile Association (AAA) or the American Automobile Touring Alliance for a small fee. A U.S. state driver’s license is not sufficient. These requirements apply to those operating rental cars as well, whether or not the rental company chooses to enforce the requirement as a condition of rental. Individuals driving without an International Driving Permit may have their vehicle confiscated by the police. Americans resident in Latvia for more than six months are required to apply for a Latvian driver’s license. Upon receipt of a Latvian driver’s license, American citizens are required to surrender their US driver’s license to the Latvian authorities. The licenses are then returned to their respective states of issuance. For more information, visit the Latvian Road and Traffic Safety Department at http://www.csdd.lv
Latvia has one of the highest rates of automobile accidents and fatalities in Europe. While recent reports show a decrease in the number of traffic accident fatalities, there are still a number of hazards to watch out for. Drivers should be alert for pedestrians and slow moving vehicles in traffic. Additionally, violation of traffic rules is common, and it is not unusual to be overtaken by other automobiles traveling at high speeds, even in crowed urban areas. Drivers do not always yield to pedestrians, even at marked intersections. During winter, most major roads are cleared of snow. However, drivers should be alert for fog, snow, and ice while driving. Driving while intoxicated is a very serous offense and carries heavy penalties. Local authorities use roadblocks and Breathalyzer tests as enforcement tools. Drivers and pedestrians should be alert to the possibility of drunk drivers and drunken pedestrians wandering on the road. Drivers must use their headlights at all times. Speed limits are usually 50 km/hr in the city and 90 km/hr on the highways. Public transportation is generally considered safe, but travelers are encouraged to select well-marked taxis. Emergency services are fair but improving (See section on Medical Facilities above); response time may be especially slow in traffic or in rural settings. Dial 112 for ambulance service.
Please refer to our Road Safety page for information. Visit the website of Latvia’s national tourist office at http://latviatourism.lv/info.php and the national authority responsible for road safety at http://www.csdd.lv/
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT:As there is no direct commercial air service to the United States by carriers registered in Latvia, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed Latvia’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 www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa
SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:
Banks and currency exchange counters may refuse to accept U.S. currency that is crumpled, torn, discolored or defaced (even small pen stokes, hand written numbers and letters are considered defacing). If such notes are accepted for exchange, an additional processing fee, based on the size of the transaction, may be charged. ATMs are widely available in Riga and in major towns. For security purposes, it is recommended that visitors use ATMs located inside major hotels or shopping malls, versus those located on the street, in high-volume tourist areas. Telephone connections with the United States are reliable. However, 1-800 numbers cannot be accessed from Latvia. Please check with your long distance carrier before departure to see if they offer service in Latvia. Local Internet cafés offer computer access, and fax machines are widely available.
Latvian customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation into or export from Latvia of items such as firearms, religious materials, antiquities, medications, business equipment, drugs, etc. It is advisable to contact the Embassy of Latvia in Washington or one of the Latvian consulates in the United States for specific information regarding customs requirements at http://www.latvia-usa.org.
Please see our information on 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 Latvian laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Latvia are strict and convicted offenders can expect jail sentences and heavy fines. Engaging in illicit 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 web pages on intercountry adoption and international parental child abduction.
REGISTRATION/EMBASSY AND CONSULATE LOCATIONS: Americans living or traveling in Latvia are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy of Consulate through the State Department’s travel registration website, https://travelregistration.state.gov/ibrs/ui/ and to obtain updated information on travel and security within Latvia. 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 7 Raina Blvd. Riga, LV-1510, and may be reached by dialing +371-703-6200. The fax number for the Consular American Citizen Services section is+371-781-4088. You can find the ACS section online at http://riga.usembassy.gov/
* * * * * *
This replaces the Consular Information Sheet dated March 12, 2008 with updated information on Entry Requirements.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Thu, 7 Nov 2019 17:11:10 +0100 (MET)

Riga, Nov 7, 2019 (AFP) - Thousands of doctors and nurses rallied Thursday in front of the Latvian parliament in Riga calling for better pay in what was the Baltic state's largest protest in over a decade.   Police said more than 5,000 people, including patients, turned out for the protest, which featured coffins and signs with slogans such as "United for health", "I only want to work one job" and "Patients supporting doctors and nurses".   The LVSADA medical labour union organised the rally to condemn lawmakers for planning to increase their own salaries next year while reneging on a promise to boost wages in the chronically underfunded medical profession.   "We won't allow the healthcare system to be starved again," LVSADA chief Valdis Keris said at the rally, which state hospital employees attended by taking a day of unpaid leave.

Some doctors also participated in the protest by only performing emergency surgery and tending to emergency patients on Thursday while rescheduling everything else.    "The average monthly wage for a doctor at a Latvian public hospital is only between 1,000-3,000 euros ($1,100-$3,300)," protester and doctor Roberts Furmanis said in a statement sent to media.    "I work my daily shift at one hospital, at night I also work overtime driving around in an ambulance, plus sometimes I lecture at medical schools on my rare days off," he added.   "I get less than 3,000 euros a month for those jobs combined. How am I supposed to support my family?"   Last year, lawmakers voted to raise wages for almost all employees of the government-run healthcare system, but now say that they are unable to find the necessary funds in the 2020 state budget.    "I express deep regret for last year's promise, which we cannot carry out," speaker of parliament Inara Murniece told the rally.

Those protesting, however, point out that the 2020 state budget exceeds 10 billion euros for the first time ever in the country of just 1.9 million people -- or 700 million more euros than this year.    Medical workers are upset that while there is no room for better healthcare wages in the new budget, the country's lawmakers and ministers plan to increase their own salaries next year and have also earmarked taxpayer money for their respective political parties.    Thursday's rally was Latvia's largest since some 10,000 people attended a January 2009 protest against government cuts, which grew violent and resulted in dozens of arrests.
Date: Sat 21 Sep 2019
Source: Food Safety News [edited]
<https://www.foodsafetynews.com/2019/09/latvian-officials-investigate-salmonella-and-e-coli-illnesses/>

Officials in Latvia are investigating 40 _Salmonella_ and Shiga toxin-producing _E. coli_ illnesses with mostly children affected. A total of 36 children and 4 employees of educational institutions are ill, according to the Latvian Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (SPKC). Salmonellosis has been laboratory confirmed in 9 children with symptoms of acute intestinal infection thought to have occurred from [9 to 11 Sep 2019]. Patients have been recorded at Levina and Tornisi kindergartens. Shiga toxin-producing also called enterotoxigenic _E. coli_ (EHEC) infections have been linked to schools identified as Levina, Saulite and Piladzitis in Sigulda, a town in the country.

At least 4 children aged 3 to 6 years old have developed hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) after EHEC infection from early September 2019 in Sigulda. HUS is a type of kidney failure associated with EHEC infection. It can occur in people of any age but is most common in children under 5 years old. The SPKC has surveyed parents of sick children, visited preschools to obtain information on absent children and staff and the cause, analysed food menus and possible risk factors. A total of 19 infections at 3 other pre-school facilities in Ikskile, Garkalne and Ogre are not thought to be related to those ill in Sigulda.

The Latvian Food and Veterinary Service (PVD) has been investigating catering units at the 3 sites linked to _E. coli_ infection where catering comes from one company. Initial suspicions pointed to contaminated watermelons. Inspections at the catering units did not reveal violations of hygiene requirements that could contribute to the spread of infection. The sites also underwent cleaning and disinfection. PVD suspended operations of a vegetable processing firm called "Jelgavas Augļi" due to violations of hygiene requirements, product traceability and inadequate storage temperature for pre-packed vegetables that were stored at 13 deg. C [approx. 55 deg. F] instead of the required 6 deg. C [approx. 42 deg. F].

The company, through Baltic Restaurants Latvia, supplies fresh fruits and vegetables to Sigulda educational institutions but a connection to the outbreak has not been established. Testing at the firm so far has not found _E. coli_. Other results are pending but the company will be allowed to resume operations if they are negative and when it corrects the deficiencies identified by authorities. Authorities have also found issues with transportation of food by the company "Point to Point" Ltd between educational institutions.
=================
[These are two outbreaks of enteric pathogens that appear to be related to food supplied to schools. The EHEC outbreak has been possibly linked to watermelon. With 9 cases of EHEC and 4 of them developing HUS, it is possible that the strain is a hyperproducer of Shiga toxin but most likely related to use of antimicrobials early in the infection which increases the risk of HUS. - ProMED Mod.LL]

[HealthMap/ProMED map available at: Latvia: <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/119>]
Date: Wed, 15 May 2019 19:20:02 +0200

Riga, May 15, 2019 (AFP) - A second Albanian soldier has died of his injuries from a World War II landmine blast last week during a NATO exercise in Latvia, the Baltic state's defence minister said Wednesday.   Klodian Tanushi, who held the rank of major, died following surgery at a Riga hospital over the weekend, days after the landmine explosion that also killed another soldier.    "I would like to express my deepest sympathy to the soldiers' relatives and friends, to their fellow service members and to the people of Albania," Latvian Defence Minister Artis Pabriks told AFP.    "Latvia is very grateful to our ally Albania for contributing to NATO's expanded presence in Latvia."

In 2016, NATO deployed four multinational battalions to Poland and the Baltic states to guard against possible Russian adventurism.   The defence group's rotating battalion in Latvia is led by Canada and also includes soldiers from Albania, the Czech Republic, Italy, Montenegro, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia and Spain.   Tanushi, a father-of-three, was the commanding officer of the Albanian contingent stationed at the NATO base in the central village of Adazi.    Both world wars left Latvia littered with many unexploded sea and landmines as well as artillery shells, which continue to be found on a daily basis.    Clearing areas of such explosives is a frequent focus of NATO military exercises in the region.
Date: Sun, 22 Jul 2018 18:58:20 +0200

Riga, July 22, 2018 (AFP) - Fires raging for five days have destroyed more than 800 hectares (2,000 acres) of western Latvia, authorities said Sunday, with continuing extreme temperatures hampering firefighters' efforts.   Satellite images showed the fires have wiped out 170 acres of forest, 257 hectares of scrubland and nearly 400 hectares of peatland.

A peat fire in the Courland region broke out last Tuesday and spread eastwards, with the smoke noticeable in the resort town of Jurmala, more than 100 kilometres (60 miles) away in the neighbouring Riga region.   "Peatland fires burn downward, but when there's wind, which brings oxygen, the fires can erupt into flames," Latvian fire services spokesman Inta Palkavniece told reporters.   "The main goal is to prevent the fires from spreading," he added.   The fire services said on its website that firefighting efforts would be "long and troublesome".    "The weather is unfavourable to firefighting and will remain so over the next days," it said.

The Courland region is sparsely populated, with few roads and many areas inaccessible because of its vast marshes.   Residents of Stikli, a village that was evacuated because of the fire, began to return home after the wind changed "of their own accord", the mayor of its municipality Ventspils, Aivars Mucenieks, told reporters.   Pupils of a school for disabled children in Stikli will not return until the situation is fully under control, he added.

Meteorologists warned that the high temperatures are persisting and no rain is expected for the next two weeks.   Latvia has experienced severe drought over the last few months, prompting authorities to declare a natural catastrophe in the agricultural sector.   The Baltic country has not yet asked for help from other European countries and has no proposals to do so for the time being.   But other countries in Europe have been in the grip of an unusually long heatwave for recent weeks with little prospect of rain for the time being.

In Sweden, where temperatures are the highest for a century, farmers are even sending their animals to slaughter because there is no hay left to feed them.   It has asked for help from other European countries, because of the lack of manpower and capacity to tackle such natural catastrophes.   Poland has asked the EU for financial aid after more than 91,000 farms were affected by an unusual spring drought, according to the agriculture ministry.   In Germany, which suffered a drought in May and June, agricultural producers warned the harvest this year will be down by between 20 and 50 percent.
Date: Wed, 18 Jul 2018 19:41:17 +0200

Riga, July 18, 2018 (AFP) - Latvian authorities on Wednesday ordered the evacuation of a village threatened by a wildfire in the west of the Baltic state as firefighters struggled to control the blaze.   Clouds of smoke and ash from the fire choked the small community of Stikli, forcing the evacuation of dozens of residents including handicapped children from a boarding school, the state fire and rescue service said.   The fire broke out in a peat bog in the Kurzeme region on Tuesday before quickly engulfing bone-dry forests nearby.

The blaze covers an area of nearly 200 football pitches (180 hectares, 444 acres), according to firefighters.   "Firefighting is very problematic, as this part of Kurzeme is only sparsely populated, the roads are few and narrow and many areas are inaccessible due to vast marshlands," said Zigmunds Jaunkirkis, an official with the State Forestry Department.   The army and national guard deployed a specialised helicopter on Wednesday to help firefighters fight the flames.

Neighbouring Lithuania has also sent a helicopter while residents from the nearby port city of Ventspils have started to form volunteer units.   Daytime temperatures of up to 30 degrees Celsius (86 Fahrenheit) and strong winds have fanned the flames amid a long heatwave.   No substantial rain is forecast for the next two weeks.    An EU and NATO member of 1.9 million people, Latvia has suffered from severe drought in recent months, forcing its government to declare a national disaster in the farm sector in June.
More ...

World Travel News Headlines

Date: Thu, 21 Nov 2019 22:38:09 +0100 (MET)

Bogota, Nov 21, 2019 (AFP) - Tens of thousands of Colombians took to the streets of the capital Bogota on Thursday amid a general strike to protest the policies of President Ivan Duque's right-wing government.   There were no reported outbreaks of major violence as trade unions, students, opposition parties and the South American country's indigenous organizations challenged the full gamut of Duque's economic, social and security policies.   "It is an accumulation of situations that we hope to see reviewed after today, including a great national dialogue of conciliation," Robert Gomez, president of the main workers' union, told AFP.   The protest comes amid social upheaval across South America, as a wave of unrest over the past two months has battered governments in Chile, Bolivia and Ecuador.   The popularity of Duque's right-wing government -- a key US ally -- has been on the wane since his election 18 months ago, as it deals with hosting 1.4 million refugees from neighboring Venezuela's economic meltdown as well as the complex fallout of a 2016 peace deal with FARC rebels and rampant drug trafficking.

- Troops deployed -
Troops were deployed in the capital and other cities to protect "strategic facilities," authorities said.   The Colombian office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights voiced concern over the deployment, saying states must limit the use of military forces "for the control of internal disturbances."   Authorities said the protests were largely peaceful, though riot police fired tear gas to break up groups of demonstrators in isolated clashes in Bogota and the western city of Cali. Blocked roads in some areas snarled transportation.

The general strike was widely followed in Bogota, and other big cities like Bucaramanga in the northeast and Medellin in the northwest.   Several separate marches converged on Bolivar Square, the historic center of the capital close to the presidency.   "We are marching because in Colombia we are tired of corruption, of impunity, that the government does nothing for the poor," Olga Canon, 55, told AFP.   Organizations that participated in the strike take issue with Duque's security policy as well as attempts to introduce a more flexible labor market, weaken public pension funds and raise the retirement age.   Students are demanding more funding for education, while indigenous communities insist on greater protection in remote areas where 134 activists have been killed since Duque came to power in August 2018.

- 'Afraid to march' -
"We are very afraid to march in the streets but we do it anyway because the state is spreading so much fear with its militarization and by closing the borders," political science student Valentina Gaitan, 21, told AFP.    Duque admitted some of the criticisms were legitimate in a televised speech on the eve of the strike, but said the campaign against his government was based on lies seeking to provoke violence.   "We recognize the value of peaceful protests, but also guarantee order," he said.   The borders with Brazil, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela were closed until Friday to avoid any threat to "public order and security," authorities said.   Political analyst Jason Marczak said the outrage against the government, the target of several demonstrations in recent months, is part of a "considerable demonstration of discontent in the region."   "The unsatisfied claims and deep polarization are the basis for this massive event," said Marczak, of the Washington-based Atlantic Council.
Date: Thu, 21 Nov 2019 09:12:36 +0100 (MET)

Bangkok, Nov 21, 2019 (AFP) - A shallow 6.1-magnitude earthquake hit north-western Laos near the Thai border early Thursday, the United States Geological Survey reported, alarming locals who felt buildings shake as far away as Bangkok.  The quake hit at 6:50am (2350 GMT Wednesday), roughly three hours after a 5.7-magnitude earthquake in the same region triggered an immediate suspension to Laos' largest-capacity power plant located near its epicentre.    Tremors could be felt more than 700 kilometres (435 miles) away in the Thai capital, where Pope Francis is currently on a four-day visit.    "The shaking... was the main shock from a quake in Laos at 6:50 am and was felt in northern and northeastern Thailand and Bangkok and suburbs," said Sophon Chaila, an official at the Thai Meteorological Department.

The department said the quake affected nine provinces in Thailand and there were four lesser aftershocks.    It also became a top trending topic on Twitter in Thailand, as locals shared videos of swaying overhead lights and rattling window blinds in office buildings.    Residents in the Vietnamese capital Hanoi also felt buildings sway.    "The ceiling lights were shaking quite strongly. I felt dizzy and scared," said Hanoi resident Tran Hoa Phuong, who felt the earthquake in her 27-storey apartment building.    After the first quake, the 1,878-megawatt Hongsa Power Plant -- Laos' largest-capacity thermal energy generator -- immediately suspended operations according to a statement from the Thai-owned company.

No "fundamental" damages or injuries have been found so far, "merely damages to the external texture of the buildings", it said, adding that Hongsa is expected to take 24 hours to complete its inspection.    Photos shared by Thai news showed portions of the power plant's walls had collapsed, and debris littered its premises.    Nearby Xayaburi dam project, one of Laos' largest hydropower dams, has seen "no impact" so far, and is continuing to generate electricity "as normal", said a statement from CK Power.   Information is slow to trickle out of the closed communist state, and there were similarly no official reports of injuries after the twin quakes hit early Thursday.

Impoverished Laos has ploughed ahead with ambitious dam-building projects that critics say lack transparency and stringent safety measures.   The cost was laid bare last year when a massive hydropower project collapsed in southern Laos, killing dozens and leaving thousands homeless.   Pope Francis arrived in Bangkok on Wednesday and has a busy agenda Thursday meeting officials and the Thai king before he leads a mass in the evening.    There was no word from his team on whether he felt the quake.    Powerful earthquakes occasionally strike hard in Southeast Asia.   In 2016 a 6.8-magnitude quake struck Myanmar, killing at least three people and damaging temples in the ancient temple town of Bagan.
Date: Tue, 19 Nov 2019 14:25:40 +0100 (MET)

Ottawa, Nov 19, 2019 (AFP) - Train operators at Canadian National Railway went on strike on Tuesday after months of contract talks failed, effectively shutting down the largest rail network in Canada.   The union representing more than 3,000 CN workers had given a midnight (0500 GMT) deadline to reach a deal to replace an agreement that expired in July.   "Unfortunately, we were unable to reach a deal with CN," the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference said in a statement.   "The company remains unwilling to address our member's health and safety issues. As a result, members at CN will be on strike... at 00:01 Eastern Time."

The workers had expressed concerns over long hours and fatigue leading to dangerous working conditions. Wages are not in dispute.   The labour dispute follows layoffs of 1,600 staff in North America announced by CN on Friday.    Employment Minister Patty Hajdu has encouraged both sides to continue the negotiations and reach an agreement.    "We are monitoring the situation closely," she said on Saturday after the Teamsters gave a 72-hour strike notice.
Date: Tue, 19 Nov 2019 09:24:19 +0100 (MET)

Wellington, Nov 19, 2019 (AFP) - The death toll from a measles outbreak raging in the Pacific nation of Samoa has risen to 15, with most of the victims young children, UNICEF said Tuesday.   The UN children's agency said that suspected measles cases had topped 1,000 in the island nation, which has declared a state of emergency and launched a compulsory vaccination programme.   "The epidemic has claimed the lives of 14 children under-five years old and one adult," it said in a statement.   UNICEF said it was in the process of delivering more than 110,000 doses of measles vaccine to Samoa's population of about 200,000.   With the virus sweeping through the South Pacific, the agency said it had also sent vaccines to Tonga and Fiji.

Officials were also helping with preparations for potential outbreaks in Vanuatu, the Solomon Islands, Kiribati, the Cook Islands, the Marshall Islands and Micronesia.   It said Samoa, which is by far the worst affected, had low measles vaccination rates of 28-40 percent.   In Tonga and Fiji, which have vaccination rates of 99 percent and 81 percent respectively, the outbreak is more contained and there have been no fatalities.   Children are the most vulnerable to measles, which typically causes a rash and fever but can also lead to brain damage and death.   Samoa has closed all schools and kindergartens, as well as banning children from public gatherings, in a bid to halt the spread of the virus.    After initially facing criticism for its slow response, the government had opened a national emergency operations centre to roll out mass vaccinations.
Date: Mon, 18 Nov 2019 19:25:45 +0100 (MET)

Srinagar, India, Nov 18, 2019 (AFP) - An avalanche on Monday hit an Indian patrol in the world's highest militarised zone in the Himalayas, killing four soldiers and two porters, an army spokesman said.   The disaster was the latest on the Siachen Glacier at more than 5,000 metres (16,500 feet) that is claimed by India and rival Pakistan.

Hundreds of troops from both sides have died in avalanches and from the fierce climate in the region over the past three decades.   An Indian military spokesman told AFP that the avalanche engulfed eight people in the patrol at the northern end of the glacier in the Karakoram mountain range.   Rescue teams managed to dig the patrol members out of the snow, and they were taken by helicopter to hospital.   "Despite best efforts, six casualties which includes four soldiers and two civilian porters succumbed to extreme hypothermia," said the spokesman, Colonel Rajesh Kalia.

Avalanches are common on the 700-square-kilometre (270-square-mile) glacier, where temperatures regularly fall to minus 60 degrees Celsius (-76 Fahrenheit).   In 2016, 10 Indian soldiers were buried and killed.   About 900 Indian soldiers alone have died on the glacier since 1984, when Indian forces took complete control of Siachen.   The glacier is located at the northern end of the Line of Control that divides Kashmir, which India and Pakistan have fought over since 1947.
Date: Mon, 18 Nov 2019 16:10:29 +0100 (MET)

Vienna, Nov 18, 2019 (AFP) - A man died on Monday in a landslide that destroyed much of his home in southern Austria, which has been hit by heavy rainfall and snow affecting transport and electricity.   The retiree was behind his house in Carinthia state when part of the hill above it slid off, killing the 79-year-old, police said.   Earlier Monday, two women were rescued from the rubble of two houses after another landslide, this one in the spa town of Bad Gastein in Salzburg state.   Salzburg, Tyrol and Carinthia states have all seen heavy rain and snowfall since last week, leading to power cuts in thousands of homes.   Many roads and railway lines have also been cut, and several schools in these areas remained closed on Monday.
Date: Fri, 15 Nov 2019 13:19:27 +0100 (MET)

Karachi, Nov 15, 2019 (AFP) - Lightning strikes killed at least 18 people and injured several more during a deadly night in Pakistan's Thar desert, police said Friday, describing the deaths as "unprecedented".   Thunderstorms and a heavy downpour caused havoc in several villages, destroying dozens of homes, in an unusual rainfall event that a meteorologist says could be linked to climate change.

It was the lightning strikes in 18 different places which had the greatest impact.   "We have so far confirmation of 18 deaths in our district," Abdulah Ahmed, the police chief of the region -- which is located in southern Sindh province and stretches over 22,000 square kilometres (8,500 square miles)-- told AFP.   He said that officers in each village had verified that each death was caused by lightning strike.    In contrast, lightning kills an average of three people each year in the UK, according to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents.

The Thar desert, straddling the Indian border and one of Pakistan's poorest areas, is dependent on monsoon rains.   But such a heavy rainfall in November is "unusual", while "lightning of that intensity is unprecedented," said Dr Syed Sarfraz, a senior meteorological officer in Karachi.   He said the causes were still being investigated but suggested hot air over the desert had met with a cold air mass entering from Iran, fuelling the storms. Climate change could also be playing a role, he added.    Dozens of tents and blankets were dispatched from Karachi in a relief effort for the families who lost their homes in the rain.
Date: Fri, 15 Nov 2019 09:41:09 +0100 (MET)

Phnom Penh, Nov 15, 2019 (AFP) - Cambodia will ban all elephant rides at the country's famed Angkor temple park by early next year, an official said Friday, a rare win for conservationists who have long decried the popular practice as cruel.   The Angkor archaeological complex in northern Siem Reap attracts the bulk of the kingdom's foreign tourists -- which topped six million in 2018 -- and many opt for elephants rides around the ancient temples.

But these rides "will end by the start of 2020", said Long Kosal, a spokesman with the Apsara Authority, which manages the park.   "Using elephants for business is not appropriate anymore," he told AFP, adding that some of the animals were "already old".   So far, five of the 14 working elephants have been transferred to a community forest about 40 kilometres (25 miles) away from the temples.   "They will live out their natural lives there," Kosal said.   The company that owns the elephants will continue to look after them, he added. 

Cambodia has long come under fire from animal rights groups for ubiquitous elephant rides on offer for tourists, also seen in neighbouring Thailand, Vietnam and Laos.    The elephants are broken in during training and rights groups have accused handlers of overworking them.   In 2016, a female elephant died by the roadside after carrying tourists around the Angkor Wat temple complex in severely hot weather.   The animal had been working for around 45 minutes before she collapsed.
Date: Fri, 15 Nov 2019 05:28:34 +0100 (MET)

Bangkok, Nov 15, 2019 (AFP) - A French tourist has died after falling from a waterfall while trying to take a selfie in Thailand, police said Friday.   The accident happened Thursday afternoon on the tropical island of Koh Samui, whose palm-fringed, white-sand beaches are a magnet for both backpackers and high-end tourists.   The 33-year-old man fell from Na Mueang 2 waterfall, the same spot where a Spanish tourist died in a fall in July, Lieutenant Phuvadol Viriyavarangkul of the island's tourist police told AFP.

"It took several hours to retrieve his body because the waterfall is slippery and steep," he said by phone, adding that the spot is roped off and there is a sign warning tourists of the danger.   "His friend said he was trying to take a selfie and then he slipped and fell."   Thailand is largely considered a safe destination for tourists and typically draws more than 35 million visitors each year.    But the industry took a hit in 2018 after a ferry carrying Chinese visitors in the country's south sank last year, killing 47 people.   The accident highlighted lax safety rules in the tourism sector and authorities have been scrambling to restore the country's image since.
Date: Fri, 15 Nov 2019 01:13:41 +0100 (MET)
By Sophie PONS

Dakhla, Western Sahara, Nov 15, 2019 (AFP) - In the heart of disputed Western Sahara, a former garrison town has become an unlikely tourist magnet after kitesurfers discovered the windswept desert coast was perfect for their sport.  In Dakhla, an Atlantic seaport town punctuated with military buildings in Morocco-administered Western Sahara, swarms of kitesurfers now sail in the lagoon daily.y    "Here there is nothing other than sun, wind and waves. We turned the adversity of the elements to our advantage: that's the very principle of kitesurfing," said Rachid Roussafi. 

After an international career in windsurfing and kitesurfing, Roussafi founded the first tourist camp at the lagoon at the start of the 2000s.    "At the time, a single flight a week landed in Dakhla," the 49-year-old Moroccan said.   Today, there are 25 a week, including direct flights to Europe.   "Dakhla has become a world destination for kitesurfing," said Mohamed Cherif, a regional politician.

Tourist numbers have jumped from 25,000 in 2010 to 100,000 today, he said, adding they hoped to reach 200,000 annual visitors.    The former Spanish garrison is booming today with the visitor influx adding to fishing and trade revenue.   Kitesurfing requires pricey gear -- including a board, harness and kite -- and the niche tourism spot attracts well-off visitors of all nationalities.    Peyo Camillade came from France "to extend the summer season", with a week's holiday costing about 1,500 euros ($1,660). 

Only the names of certain sites, like PK 25 (kilometre point 25), ruined forts in the dunes and the imposing and still in-use military buildings in Dakhla, remind tourists of the region's history of conflict.   In the 1970s, Morocco annexed Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony, and fought a war with the Algeria-backed Polisario Front from 1975 to 1991, when a ceasefire deal was agreed.   A United Nations mission was deployed to monitor the truce and prepare a referendum on Western Sahara's independence from Morocco, but it never materialized.   Without waiting for the political compromise that the UN has been negotiating for decades, hotels have sprouted from the sand along the coast, and rows of streetlights on vacant lots announce future subdivisions.

- 'Good communication' -
"The secret to success is to develop kitesurfing with good communication focused on the organisation of non-political events," said Driss Senoussi, head of the Dakhla Attitude hotel group.    Accordingly, the exploits of kitesurfing champions like Brazilian Mikaili Sol and the Cape Verdian Airton Cozzolino were widely shared online during the World Kiteboarding Championships in Dakhla last month.   The competition seemed to hold little interest for Dakhla's inhabitants however.

Only a few young people with nothing to do and strolling families found themselves on the beach for the finals.   Just as rare are the foreign tourists who venture into the town of 100,000 residents to shop.   Like her friends, Alexandra Paterek prefers to stay at her hotel, some 30 kilometres (19 miles) from downtown.    "Here is the best place in the world for learning kitesurfing," said the 31-year-old Polish stewardess.    On her understanding of the broader regional context, she said: "It's an old Spanish colony and they have good seafood, for sure."

Like many tourists, she was under the impression that the area belonged to Morocco, as the destination tends to be marketed in the travel industry as "Dakhla, Morocco".   That angers the Polisario, which wants independence for the disputed region and tried last year in vain to sue businesses it said were "accomplices to the occupying military power."   The independence movement is now focused on challenging commercial deals between Morocco and the European Union that involve Western Sahara, according to the group's French lawyer Gilles Devers.   Moroccan authorities are looking actively for investors for their development projects on the west coast, the most ambitious being the Dakhla Atlantique megaport with a budget of about $1 billion to promote fishing.

- Environmental concerns -
On the lagoon, surrounded by white sand and with its holiday bungalows, "there is a struggle between developing aquaculture and tourism," said a senior regional representative, who spoke on condition of anonymity.    "One has less impact on the environment, but the other generates more revenue and jobs," said the representative, adding that "pressure from real-estate investors is very high."

With the influx of tourists, the protection of the environment has become a major concern.   "Everything is developing so quickly... we need to recycle plastic waste and resolve the issue of wastewater," said Rachid Roussafi.    Daniel Bellocq, a retired French doctor, worries for the future of this lagoon, that was "once so wild" that he has kitesurfed in for 20 years.   "There is green algae that wasn't there before, it's becoming a septic tank," he said.   Regional councillor Cherif, though, insists the bay is clean, saying: "All the hotels are equipped with wastewater management systems."   For him, the real threat is from plastic waste, whether it is dropped by tourists or brought by sea currents.