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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 ...

Slovakia

Slovak Republic US Consular Information Sheet
July 09, 2008
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
The Slovak Republic is a rapidly developing European nation. Tourist facilities are not as developed as those found in Western Europe, particularly outside th
major cities, and some goods and services taken for granted in other European countries are occasionally unavailable.
Read the Department of State Background Notes on the Slovak Republic for additional information.

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS: A passport is required. A visa is not required for stays for tourism or business up to 90 days within six months of the date of first entry into the Slovak Republic/Schengen zone. That period begins when you enter any of the Schengen countries: Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain and Sweden.
All foreigners seeking entry into the Slovak Republic must carry proof of a medical insurance policy contracted for payment of all costs for hospitalization and medical treatment in the Slovak Republic.
Border police have the right to request evidence of finances sufficient to pay for the proposed stay in the Slovak Republic in the amount of $50 per person per day.
Current information can be found on the Slovak Embassy’s web site at http://www.slovakembassy-us.org.

All persons in Slovakia over the age of 15 must carry official identification at all times. American citizens staying overnight in Slovakia must register with the local Border and Aliens Police within three working days.
Persons staying hotels are registered automatically.
Visit the Slovak Ministry of the Interior’s web site at http://www.minv.sk for the most current information.

NOTE: On December 21, 2007, Slovakia became a member of a group of countries collectively known as “Schengen countries” or the “Schengen zone.” Americans may enter and remain within the entire Schengen zone without a visa for no more than 90 days in any six-month period. If an American has just spent 60 days in another Schengen country, for example, he or she would be permitted to enter Slovakia only for the remaining 30 days. It is not possible to extend a tourist stay beyond 90 days in the Schengen zone. Once an American has used his/her 90 days, he/she cannot reenter Slovakia until he/she has spent at least three months outside the Schengen zone.

Although European Union regulations require that non-EU visitors obtain a stamp in their passport upon initial entry to a Schengen country, many borders are not staffed with officers carrying out this function. If an American citizen wishes to ensure that his or her entry is properly documented, it may be necessary to request a stamp at an official point of entry. Under local law, travelers without a stamp in their passport may be questioned and asked to document the length of their stay in Schengen countries, and could face possible fines or other repercussions if unable to do so.

Persons wishing to remain in Slovakia longer than 90 days or arriving for purposes other than tourism or business travel may apply for temporary residency and/or work permits shortly after arrival in Slovakia.
However, it is strongly recommended that such persons review the requirements and begin preparing their applications prior to travel, as many documents required of U.S. citizens are more easily obtained in the United States.
For example, U.S. citizens must submit a certificate not older than 90 days showing the result of a fingerprint records check by the FBI.
As authorities in Slovakia cannot take fingerprints for this purpose, it is extremely difficult to obtain this certificate after arrival in Slovakia.
In addition, Slovakia requires all documents (birth certificates, etc) intended for official use in Slovakia to be authenticated (e.g. to have an apostille). See our section on Judicial Assistance for more 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:
Taking photographs of security/military installations (for example, military bases, government buildings, nuclear power plants, etc.) is prohibited. Violation of this law may result in confiscation of the camera, film or memory card, a reprimand or fine, or even expulsion from the country. Serious cases may be reported to and handled by local and/or military police.

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

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

CRIME:
The Slovak Republic has a medium rate of crime. Police forces suffer from a lack of manpower resources and equipment. Local police are not likely to speak English. Western visitors, especially short-term visitors such as tourists and students, are the primary foreign targets of street crime. The majority of street crime is non-violent and ranges from pickpocketing (particularly in the summer) and purse and cellular telephone snatchings to mugging, armed robbery, shooting, drugging and robbing of unsuspecting victims at nightspots and bars. Most reported thefts occur at crowded tourist sites (such as Bratislava’s Old Town area) or on public buses or trains. Thieves in the Slovak Republic often work in groups or pairs. In most cases, one thief distracts the victim, another performs the robbery, and a third person hands off the stolen item to a nearby accomplice. Groups of street children are known to divert tourists’ attention so that a member of their group can pickpocket the tourists while they are distracted. Do not leave personal items in unattended vehicles, even if locked.
Reports of racially motivated incidents against foreigners and minorities, particularly perpetrated by groups with a history of targeting persons of Roma, African, or Asian descent, have occurred in the Slovak Republic. In addition to incidents of assault, persons of Roma, African, or Asian heritage may be subject to various types of harassment, such as verbal abuse.

Both indigenous and foreign organized crime groups are well-established in the Slovak Republic. They do not target U.S. or other foreign individuals and tend to co-exist peacefully in the tourist district so as not to scare away tourist dollars. Though not common, violent incidents sometimes do occur outside of Old Town Bratislava.

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.
The local equivalent to the 911 emergency line in Slovakia is 155.
See our information on Victims of Crime.
MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:
Medical facilities are available in the Slovak Republic, although the quality and availability varies within the country. Ambulances are only a means of transportation to the hospital; they may not have life support stabilization equipment on board. Only a limited number of doctors speak English.
Doctors and hospitals expect cash payment for health services unless the patient can present an insurance number from the Slovak National Insurance Company. Serious medical problems requiring hospitalization and/or medical evacuation to the United States can cost tens of thousands of dollars or more.

Medical prescriptions issued in the U.S. are not valid in the Slovak Republic. If needed, a local doctor must issue a prescription. Medicines are generally available locally, if not under the American name the doctor can be consulted for a substitute. The Ministry of Health of Slovak Republic administers the use of medicines and medicine brought to the Slovak Republic for personal use may become subject to comparison against the list of those authorized for use in the Slovak Republic.

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 the Slovak Republic is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.

Roads in the Slovak Republic typically are safe and well maintained. Four-lane highways exist in and around Bratislava. However, most roads outside of built-up areas are two lanes only, and aggressive drivers attempting to pass at unsafe speeds pose a serious hazard. Due to poor lighting and narrow, winding roads, nighttime driving outside of built-up areas is not recommended.

From November through March there is often heavy snowfall, which is not adequately cleared from many rural roads. Roads in the mountainous northern part of the country are particularly prone to hazardous conditions during winter months. Winter tires are recommended and chains are necessary in certain mountainous areas.

In the Slovak Republic, vehicles travel on the right side of the road. Headlights must be used at all times (day and night) from October 15 until March 15. The maximum legal speed on highways is 130 kilometers per hour (78 mph). On smaller roads the maximum speed in 90 kph (54 mph). The limit in towns is 60 kph (36 mph). Use of cellular phones while driving is strictly prohibited. Safety reflection vests and first aid kits are compulsory equipment of each vehicle.

Drivers must yield the right of way to all vehicles with flashing blue lights (police, ambulances, fire trucks, motorcades). Vehicles with yellow or orange lights usually mean that traffic must slow down. Drivers must always be cautious, however, as many slowly moving vehicles, such as agricultural vehicles, are not well marked.

Driving under the influence of alcohol is strictly prohibited. The blood alcohol tolerance level is zero percent.
Penalties for drivers involved in car accidents involving injury of death are decided by a court of law. Penalties for minor offenses are not generally large, but foreigners are sometimes targeted for additional sums. Anyone suspecting this has occurred should ask for a written receipt and note the name and number of the traffic officer imposing the fine.

Gasoline is readily available, although many gas stations are closed on Sunday, especially in rural areas. Gas stations typically do not offer repair service; private mechanics must be found. Most gas stations accept credit cards, but mechanics less frequently accept them, so travelers should expect to pay for these services in cash.

A highway user decal must be purchased for travel on most major roads outside of Bratislava. The decal is valid for the calendar year in which it is purchased, and is available at gas stations, post offices and some newspaper kiosks. The cost is 1100 Sk (Slovak crowns) for all vehicles up to 3.5 tons. A short-term decal valid for 30 days may be purchased for 300 Sk and for 7 days for 150Sk.

Taxi companies provide generally reliable, safe, and economical services. Avoid independent cabs that do not prominently display a company name. Visitors should be alert to the potential for substantial overcharging by taxis, particularly in areas frequented by tourists. Radio-dispatched taxis are often much more reliable.

Buses, trolleys, and trams are mechanically safe, but there have been reports of thefts on city transportation and of harassment by the transport police. On public transportation it is obligatory to have a time-ticket validated after entering the vehicle (valid for 10, 30, or 60 minutes), or a prepaid zone ticket (valid for 24,.48,. or 68-hours, and 1 month, 3 months or 1 year). Children from 6 to 15 years of age pay reduced fares. Passengers who are traveling without a valid ticket will be fined by the ticker inspector. The ticket inspector has to have an identification card and must provide a ticket for the fine. More information is provided in English at www.imhd.sk.

Inter-city travel is widely available by bus, train, or taxi and is generally safe (inquire about taxi fares in advance). There are regular international trains and buses which are mechanically safe. However, there is a danger of theft, even from locked compartments, particularly on international night trains serving Warsaw, Prague and Budapest. Taxi drivers with special permits may provide international taxi service.

A motorcycle driver’s license and helmet are required. Small motorcycles are not allowed on highways. All traffic regulations apply.

Tourists coming to the Slovak Republic are required to have an International Drivers’ Permit. A U.S. driver’s license alone is not sufficient to drive in Slovakia. The U.S. driver’s license must be accompanied by an International Driver’s Permit, obtainable in the United States from the American Automobile Association and the American Automobile Touring Alliance.

A Slovak Driver’s License can be applied for at the Dopravny Inspektorat in the district of the applicant’s place of residence in the Slovak Republic. Completion of the regular driving course and a written examination (in Slovak) are required for issuance of a Slovak driver’s license. For specific information concerning Slovak driver’s permit, vehicle inspection, road tax and mandatory insurance, contact the Slovak Embassy in Washington, DC.

Please refer to our Road Safety page for information.

AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: As there is no direct commercial air service to the United States by carriers registered in the Slovak Republic, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed the Slovak Republic’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:
Slovak customs authorities enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation into or export from the Slovak Republic of items such as firearms, antiquities, medications, business equipment, etc. It is advisable to contact the Embassy of the Slovak Republic in Washington, D.C, or one of the Slovak consulates in the United States for specific information regarding customs requirements.

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 Slovak laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Slovakia 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 Office of Children’s Issues web pages on intercountry adoption and international parental child abduction.

REGISTRATION/EMBASSY AND CONSULATE LOCATIONS:
Americans living in the Slovak Republic are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy of Consulate through the State Department’s travel registration web site so that they can obtain updated information on travel and security within the Slovak Republic.
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 in Bratislava is located at Hviezdoslavovo namestie 4, Bratislava telephone (421) (2)5443 0861; (421) (2) 5443 3338, fax (421) (2) 5441 8861; mailing address: U.S. Embassy, P.O. Box 309, 814 99 Bratislava, Slovak Republic; e-mail: consul@usembassy.gov; web site:http://slovakia.usembassy.gov
* * * *
This replaces the Country Specific Information for Slovakia dated December 17, 2007 without substantive changes.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Thu 2 Jun 2016
Source: The Slovak Spectator [edited]
<http://spectator.sme.sk/c/20179834/number-of-people-infected-with-tick-borne-encephalitis-rises.html>

The number of people suffering from tick-borne encephalitis in Košice increased again on 1 Jun [2016]. So far 27 infected patients have been hospitalised at the Infectology and Travel Medicine Department (KICM) of the Louis Pasteur University Hospital (UNLP) while another 5 are being monitored by doctors at outpatient departments. "This number is not necessarily definitive, as the incubation period of the disease (between 7-14 days - ed. note) has not expired yet," said Ladislava Šustova¡, the hospital's spokesperson, as cited by the SITA newswire.

Some patients have been released from the hospital already while doctors have not recorded any complications in treatment so far. Local tick-borne encephalitis broke out in Košice last weekend [28-29 May 2016]. Consumption of cheese produced from unpasteurized sheep's milk is said to have caused the infection. Symptoms of this infectious viral disease come in 2 stages: "The 1st presents as a mild flu, including a loss of appetite and intestinal problems," explained Šustova.

"After 3 or 4 days these problems fade and the so-called asymptomatic phase occurs, which can last up to 20 days. Then a 2nd phase sets in abruptly, featuring high fever, persistent headaches, vomiting, sensitivity to light, a stiff neck, and other symptoms characteristic of the involvement of the central nervous system." One of the most serious complications of the disease is meningitis. KICM records 6 cases of tick-borne encephalitis on average per year.

"Such a mass outbreak of tick-borne encephalitis has not been recorded at this hospital for the past 5 years," said Šustová. In total, Slovak doctors diagnosed 88 cases of tick-borne encephalitis in Slovakia last year [2015], 17 of which were found to be contracted via food. So far this year [2016], except for the local epidemic in Košice, 8 people have contracted the disease, none of them via food, Martina Merková from the Public Health Authority (ÚVZ) told the TASR newswire.
=======================
[Central and Eastern Europe countries are endemic for the European subtype of tick-borne encephalitis (TBE) virus and cases occur yearly there. Although castor bean ticks, _Ixodes ricinus_, are the main vectors that transmit TBE virus to people, individuals can become infected by consumption of unpasteurized milk and milk products coming from infected animals -- goats in the situation above.

Presumably, the public will be warned of this risk and advised of measures to avoid tick bites and be vaccinated as people become more active out of doors with the onset of warmer weather. The Standing Commission on Vaccination Recommendations at the Robert Koch Institute recommends vaccination against TBE for people who live or work in areas at risk of TBE and who are at risk of tick bites, and for people in endemic areas for other reasons if they are at risk of tick exposure. - ProMed Mod.TY]

[Maps of Slovakia can be seen at <http://www.ezilon.com/maps/images/europe/Slovakian-political-map.gif> and <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/53556>. - ProMed Sr.Tech.Ed.MJ]
   Date: Tue 14 Oct 2014
Source: Czech News Agency [edited]

Sanitary authorities registered dozens of cases of hepatitis A in southern Slovakia over the past few weeks, and due to the local epidemic, they ordered the suspension of activity at some schools and vaccination in the afflicted localities, the health authority in Nitra said today, 14 Oct 2014.

The hepatitis mainly spread in the Zlate Moravce and Levice districts, afflicting all age groups, the office said. In Zlate Moravce, most of the cases were confirmed with the local Romas and the people living in very poor sanitary conditions. As many as 14 infected persons lived at the same address in the village of caradice, without water and toilets.

"The number of ill is rising," the head of the teaching hospital in Nitra, Jozef Valocky, is quoted as saying. So far, at least 50 people have contracted hepatitis. In the afflicted localities, the sanitary officers have ordered the vaccination of about 1000 people as well as preventative vaccination of the children living in poor sanitary conditions.
====================
[Hepatitis A is a liver infection caused by the hepatitis A virus. The virus is spread by faecal-oral transmission. Hepatitis A is closely associated with inadequate sanitation and poor personal hygiene. Unlike hepatitis B and C, hepatitis A infection does not cause chronic liver disease and is rarely fatal, but it can cause debilitating symptoms. Hepatitis A occurs sporadically and in epidemics worldwide, with a tendency for cyclic recurrences. Waterborne outbreaks are usually associated with sewage contaminated- or inadequately treated water.

Casual contact among people does not spread the virus. In developing countries (where sanitary conditions are poor), most children experience infection in early childhood. As a consequence of poor sanitary conditions and hygienic practices, most children (up to 90 percent) have been infected with the hepatitis A virus before the age of 10. Those infected in childhood do not experience any noticeable symptoms. Consequently, epidemics are uncommon because older children and adults are generally immune. Symptomatic disease rates in these areas are low, and outbreaks are generally rare, although one seems to have occurred here. - ProMed Mod.LL]

[A HealthMap/ProMED-mail map can be accessed at:
Date: Sat 10 Nov 2012
Source: NOVINY.SK [in Slovak, trans., edited]

Farm in Staskovce quarantined because of anthrax
------------------------------------------------
In the past few days 4 oxen have died on a farm in the village of Staskovce, Stropkov [district, Presov region]. The diagnosis has been confirmed in one of the animals.

The animals died over a short period of some 3-4 hours and the event took everyone by surprise. The farmers claim that they have seen nothing like this in the previous 20 years. And they take pride in the quality of livestock -- cattle, pigs, horses -- that they produce.

The veterinarians are on the farm and the affected herd has been quarantined in the farm stables. The affected animals had appeared to be healthy and the owner was taken by surprise.

Anthrax had been seen previously in the district of Svidnik 2 years ago.
----------------------------------------
communicated by:
Sabine Zentis
Castleview Pedigree English Longhorns
Gut Laach
52385 Nideggen
Germany
=====================
[This report is abstracted from a TV news report and if you go to the site you can hear the full report in Slovak.

In July 2010, 3 farms in Svidnik, Presov region, were reported with outbreaks and 9 animals were affected (see <http://www.oie.int/wahis_2/public%5C..%5Ctemp%5Creports/en_fup_0000010361_20110314_165943.pdf>). From the OIE reports and map they would appear to have been adjoining farms. These 2010 outbreaks were the first since 1995 in Slovakia, which is regarded as essentially free. But they had a human case in 2003, not otherwise explained, which suggests that the their freedom was conditional, that is, there were some unreported background cases. This could hint at the farmer having bought contaminated hay grown in one of those disturbed fields and the hay got soil contaminated -- this can happen if it rains during haymaking and mud gets included in the hay.

These outbreaks out of the blue usually are a result of earth moving activities on the farm, which resulted in an old anthrax grave being disturbed or of a waste-pit at a now closed tannery, which is much the same thing epidemiologically. However a new risk has shown itself latterly of contaminated imported bone meals. If this were the case there will be essentially simultaneous outbreaks on other dairy farms in the area from the same bone meal shipment.

Let us hope that the Slovak veterinarians are investigating this outbreak to discover the source of the infection.

Date: Tue, 18 Sep 2012 15:08:54 +0200 (METDST)

Bratislava, Slovakia, Sept 18, 2012 (AFP) - Slovakia banned alcohol from the Czech Republic Tuesday amid a wave of poisoning from methanol-tainted bootleg spirits that has claimed 21 Czech lives and put four Slovaks in hospital. "As a neighbouring country, which imports a quarter of Czech-made alcohol, we decided to ban the import and sale of Czech alcohol, effective as of 5 pm (1500 GMT) today," Agriculture Minister Lubomir Jahnatek told journalists.  "This is a precautionary measure after we learned that grocery chains were planning a big sale on Czech alcohol for tomorrow," he added. So far Slovakia, a nation of 5.4 million, has not recorded any bootleg-related deaths. Four people were hospitalised on Sunday after drinking a bottle of Czech-made plum brandy ordered over the Internet, but were reported to be in good condition.

The Slovaks had bought the liquor for a 50th birthday party via the Internet and received it in plastic bottles, local media reported. Poland banned the sale of all Czech-made alcohol except for beer and wine on Sunday after five deaths were recorded in the past two weeks, though they were not necessarily linked. On Friday, the Czech health ministry imposed a blanket ban on sales of spirits with over 20 percent alcohol content for the first time in the history of the nation of 10.5 million, which has the world's second highest adult alcohol intake after Moldova.

The ban could last for months, Health Minister Leos Heger said. A health ministry analysis showed most of those affected had drunk one of two types of tainted liquor -- vodka or a local rum dubbed "tuzemak". The Czech Association of Spirits Producers and Importers meanwhile said it estimated the bootleg liquor sold on the black market "made up 20 percent of total Czech alcohol consumption." Czech police were still looking Tuesday for the primary source of the poisonings but 23 suspected bootleggers and their distributors had faced charges as of Tuesday.
Date: Wed, 11 Jul 2012 21:56:23 +0200 (METDST)

BRATISLAVA, July 11, 2012 (AFP) - An 18-year-old Belgian boy scout was killed by a lightning while hiking in the High Tatra mountains in northern Slovakia on Wednesday, local media reported. "A group of Belgian boy scouts were hiking in the High Tatra mountains when a lightning struck one of them" on the summit of Slavkovsky Stit, 2,452 metres (8,045 feet) above sea level, the TASR news agency said. "The scouts called the emergency and started resuscitating him but neither they nor the emergency team that arrived by helicopter succeeded and the boy died," it added.
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.
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Antigua and Barbuda

Antigua and Barbuda - US Consular Information Sheet
April 02, 2008
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
Antigua and Barbuda is a dual island nation known for its beaches, and is a favorite destination for yachtsmen.
Tourist facilities are widely avai
able.
English is the primary language.
Banking facilities and ATMs are available throughout the island.
Read the Department of State Background Notes on Antigua and Barbuda for additional information.

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:
All Americans traveling by air outside the United States are required to present a passport or other valid travel document to enter or re-enter the United States.
This requirement will be extended to sea travel (except closed loop cruises), including ferry service, by the summer of 2009.
Until then, U.S. citizens traveling by sea must have government-issued photo identification and a document showing their U.S. citizenship (for example, a birth certificate or certificate of nationalization), or other WHTI compliant document such as a passport card for entry or re-entry to the U.S.
Sea travelers should also check with their cruise line and countries of destination for any foreign entry requirements.

Applications for the new U.S. Passport Card are now being accepted.
We expect cards will be available and mailed to applicants in spring 2008.
The card may not be used to travel by air and is available only to U.S. citizens. Further information on the Passport Card is available at http://travel.state.gov/passport/ppt_card/ppt_card_3926.html and upcoming changes to U.S. passport policy can be found on the Bureau of Consular Affairs web site at http://travel.state.gov/travel/cbpmc/cbpmc_2223.html.
We strongly encourage all American citizen travelers to apply for a U.S. passport well in advance of anticipated travel.
American citizens can visit travel.state.gov or call 1-877-4USA-PPT (1-877-487-2778) for information on how to apply for their passports.

Immigration officials are strict about getting exact information about where visitors are staying, and will often request to see a return ticket or ticket for onward travel, as well as proof of sufficient funds to cover the cost of the visitor’s intended stay.
There is a departure tax payable when departing the country.
For further information on entry requirements, travelers can contact the Embassy of Antigua and Barbuda, 3216 New Mexico Avenue NW, Washington, DC
20016, telephone (202) 362-5122, or consulates in Miami.
Additional information may be found on the home page of the Antigua and Barbuda Department of Tourism at http://www.antigua-barbuda.org.

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:
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 Worldwide Caution, Travel Warnings, and Travel Alerts 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:
Petty street crime does occur, and valuables left unattended on beaches, in rental cars or in hotel rooms are vulnerable to theft.
There has been an increase in crime in Antigua, including violent crimes, in the last six months.
However, this increase has not, for the most part, affected visitors to the island.
The Government of Antigua and Barbuda has taken steps to improve the effectiveness of the police in responding to crimes.
As everywhere, visitors to Antigua and Barbuda are advised to be alert and maintain the same level of personal security used when visiting major U.S. cities.

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:
There are many qualified doctors in Antigua and Barbuda, but medical facilities are limited to a public hospital and a private clinic and are not up to U.S. standards.
The principal medical facility on Antigua is Holberton Hospital, on Hospital Road, St. John's (telephone (268) 462-0251).
There is no hyperbaric chamber; divers requiring treatment for decompression illness must be evacuated from the island, to either Saba or Guadeloupe.
Serious medical problems requiring hospitalization and/or medical evacuation to the United States can cost thousands of dollars.
Doctors and hospitals often expect immediate cash payment for health services, and U.S. medical insurance is not always valid outside the United States.
U.S. Medicare and Medicaid programs do not provide payment for medical services outside the United States.

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 Antigua and Barbuda is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.

Traffic in Antigua and Barbuda moves on the left.
Major roads are generally in good condition, but drivers may encounter wandering animals and slow moving heavy equipment.
There is relatively little police enforcement of traffic regulations.
Buses and vans are frequently crowded and may travel at excessive speeds.
Automobiles may lack working safety and signaling devices, such as brake lights.

Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.
For specific information concerning Antigua and Barbuda driving permits, vehicle inspection, road tax, and mandatory insurance, contact the Antigua and Barbuda national tourist organization offices in New York via e-mail at info@antigua-barbuda.org.

AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT:
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of Antigua and Barbuda’s Civil Aviation Authority as being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for oversight of Antigua and Barbuda’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:
Like all Caribbean countries, Antigua can be affected by hurricanes. The hurricane season normally runs from June to the end of November, but there have been hurricanes in December in recent years.
General information about natural disaster preparedness is available via the Internet from the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) at http://www.fema.gov/.
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 Antigua and Barbuda laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Antigua and Barbuda 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 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 Antigua and Barbuda 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/, and to obtain updated information on travel and security within Antigua and Barbuda.
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 in Bridgetown in located in the Wildey Business Park in suburban Wildey, south and east of downtown Bridgetown.
The main number for the Consular Section is (246) 431-0225; after hours, the Embassy duty officer can be reached by calling (246) 436-4950.
The web site for Embassy Bridgetown is http://barbados.usembassy.gov/. Hours of operation are 8:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m., Monday-Friday, except local and U.S. holidays.

The U.S. Consular Agent, Rebecca Simon, in Antigua provides passport, citizenship and notarial services, and assists Americans in distress.
The Consular Agency is located in Suite #2, Jasmine Court, Friars Hill Rd, St. John’s, Antigua.
Contact information is as follows: telephone 1-268-463-6531, cellular 1-268-726-6531, or e-mail ANUWndrGyal@aol.com. The mailing address is P.O. Box W-1562, St. John’s, Antigua. The Consular Agent is available by appointment only.
The office is closed for local and U.S. Holidays.
*

*

*
This replaces the Country Specific Information for Antigua and Barbuda dated April 2, 2007, to update sections on Entry/Exit Requirements, Safety and Security, Medical Facilities and Health Information, Traffic Safety and Road Conditions, and Crime.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Wed, 21 Mar 2018 18:14:27 +0100
By Gemma Handy

St. John's, Antigua and Barbuda, March 21, 2018 (AFP) - Voters in the hurricane-wracked twin island nation of Antigua and Barbuda headed to the polls Wednesday to elect a new government after Prime Minister Gaston Browne called snap elections.   Browne's Antigua Barbuda Labour Party, which has led the eastern Caribbean country since 2014, is widely expected to secure a second consecutive term.   The prime minister announced general elections on February 24, 15 months before a constitutionally mandated deadline, giving opposition parties less than four weeks to prepare.

And there will be no polling stations on Barbuda, which was battered by Hurricane Irma in September.    As a result, the estimated 400 Barbudans who have since returned home will have to travel to Antigua to cast their ballot. The government has promised to pay for related transport, accommodation and meal expenses.   Just over 51,000 Antiguans and Barbudans are eligible to vote. Voter turnout was around 90 percent in 2014.

Browne says the government wants to protect half a billion US dollars worth of developments currently under construction in the tourism-dependent country, and provide investors with stability.    One of the most prominent -- and controversial -- projects is a $250 million mega resort being built by Hollywood star Robert De Niro on Barbuda which was devastated by Hurricane Irma in September.   Lowering the cost of living in the country of 100,000 people is high on the
agenda.

- Ruling party dominates -
Browne, a former businessman and banker, has pledged to reduce electricity bills, along with the cost of land, and provide more affordable housing, under the slogan "Rebuilding Together." His wife Maria is also running for a seat on an ABLP ticket.   On Sunday, thousands of Browne's supporters donned the party's red colours and walked alongside a motorcade in an event that culminated in a public rally.   The "Delivering Hope" campaign of the main opposition group, the United Progressive Party (UPP), cites revitalization of the tourism and agricultural sectors as key priorities.

Fifty-three candidates will vie for seats in the 17 single-member constituencies -- of which the ABLP currently holds 14 -- in a first-past-the-post system.    The ruling party is alone in presenting a full slate of 17 candidates. The UPP, led by former finance minister Harold Lovell, has put forward 16.    A new party, the Democratic National Alliance, headed by current lawmaker and former UPP representative Joanne Massiah has registered 13 candidates.    There is a handful of smaller parties, a single independent runner and one representing the Barbuda People's Movement (BPM) contesting the small island's sole seat.

Polling stations opened at 6:00 am (1000 GMT) and are due to close at 6:00 pm. Alcohol sales are restricted during those hours and all public schools are closed, as many are serving as polling stations.   Teams representing the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) are observing the elections.   On its path through the Caribbean in September, Irma caused "absolute devastation" on Barbuda where up to 30 percent of properties were demolished, and 95 percent damaged, Browne had said at the time.    After a 10-year hiatus, voters returned Browne's Labour Party to power during the last ballot four years ago, when he pledged to economically transform the country.   The country became fully independent from Britain in 1981.
Date: Sun, 25 Feb 2018 08:04:27 +0100

Georgetown, Guyana, Feb 25, 2018 (AFP) - Antigua and Barbuda, a hurricane-ravaged Caribbean tourist destination, will go to the polls next month more than a year earlier than scheduled, the prime minister said on Saturday.   The two-island nation's parliamentary elections were scheduled for June 2019, but will now be held on March 21, Gaston Browne said.   Voters will select the 17 members of Antigua and Barbuda's House of Representatives, its lower house. Members of the Senate are appointed.   "Our primary focus for calling elections early is not about politics but is about your development. God forbid for there to be change in government," Browne said on radio.

After a 10-year hiatus, voters returned Browne's Labour Party to power during the last ballot in 2014, when he pledged to economically transform the country.   On Saturday, Browne said there had been "significant gains" since and that the government wanted to guard against unpredictability in the investment climate.   He cited cheaper housing for ordinary people, better roads, two Marriott-branded hotels, as well as a new airport on the island of Barbuda, which was battered last year by Hurricane Irma.   On its path through the Caribbean in September, Irma caused "absolute devastation" on Barbuda where up to 30 percent of properties were demolished, and 95 percent damaged, Browne had said at the time.    Labour has ruled Antigua and Barbuda almost continuously since 1949. The country became fully independent from Britain in 1981.
Date: Sat, 9 Sep 2017 18:35:21 +0200
By Gemma Handy

Codrington, Antigua and Barbuda, Sept 9, 2017 (AFP) - Homes, shops and government buildings were destroyed when Hurricane Irma slammed the Caribbean island of Barbuda this week, while a huge stretch of its once glorious 11-mile west coast beach has been wiped out.   Destruction was so widespread that authorities have ordered the entire population of 1,800 to evacuate as Hurricane Jose approached the island over the weekend. 

By mid-day Saturday Jose, a Category Four hurricane, was tracking towards the north-west and no longer expected to hit Barbuda, but it remained under a Tropical Storm warning.   Authorities on Barbuda -- one of the two islands that make up the nation of Antigua and Barbuda -- have only begun to measure the damage caused when Irma struck the island as a powerful Category Five hurricane overnight Tuesday to Wednesday.   "Terrifying," "horrific" and the "worst damage seen in a lifetime" were some of the descriptions from residents as they emerged from their shelters after Irma's passage.    A child died when Irma, the strongest storm ever recorded to form in the Atlantic, struck the island.   Authorities said 30 percent of properties were demolished by the monster storm.

- Surviving in a wardrobe -
Barbudans swapped tales of hiding in wardrobes and showers as 157 mile (252 kilometer) per hour wind from Irma ripped off roofs, uprooted trees and knocked down walls.   Sira Berzas, 40, spent more than an hour huddled in a wardrobe with a friend after Irma tore the roof off the home they were hiding in.   "I have never been so scared in my life. Jackie and I were holding on to each other and basically saying our goodbyes," Berzas told AFP.

When the eye of the hurricane came, she said, "we ran outside in our underwear screaming for help. Luckily there was a police truck which took us to a safer building."   In the rush to safety "we had to leave Jackie's kitten behind," said Berzas, who lost her Pink Sand Beach home, bar and restaurant to the disaster.   Thankfully Houdini lived up to his name. The kitten was later found crouched in a corner of the ruined house, trembling but alive.

- Fleeing Hurricane Jose -
Hundreds of Barbudans were transported on Friday to Antigua via a Venezuelan military plane for safety ahead of Hurricane Jose.   Many have family to visit on the sister island, but others had no idea where they would stay when they arrived.   "I don't know where we are going when we get to Antigua -- or how we will get there," said Beautymey John, who was on a dock waiting to board a boat to safety with her five children.   "I would rather stay here, it doesn't feel right to leave. We have to try and start again," she told AFP.

Other Barbudans also said they were determined to rebuild their homes and livelihoods.   Teacher Maurice George, 30, said the small bag he was taking to Antigua contained the bare essentials, but vowed to return as soon as the secondary school he works in reopens.   "It is heart-breaking to see our island looking like this," he said.   "But where some people see devastation, I see an opportunity to rebuild," he added.
Date: Sat, 19 Mar 2016 13:18:00 +0100

Washington, March 19, 2016 (AFP) - A 6.0-magnitude earthquake hit off the coast of the Caribbean island nation of Antigua and Barbuda Saturday, US experts said, but caused no tsunami warning or immediate reports of damage or injury.   The strong quake, which hit at 1126 GMT, struck at a depth of 24 kilometres (15 miles) with its epicentre located 153 kilometres northeast of the capital of Saint John's, according to the US Geological Survey.
Date: Mon 14 Dec 2015
Source: Antigua Observer [edited]

Prison sources are still complaining that, despite the alleged outbreak of chicken pox at Her Majesty's Prison (HMP), not much has been done to ensure that the virus does not affect more people who either work there or are in custody. A source said since Observer media reported on the incident, last Thu 10 Dec 2015 that there has been another suspected case, bringing the number of affected persons to 19.

The source explained that this occurred even while the other 18 infected persons were already in isolation in the chapel in the prison yard. That source is suggesting that health authorities should to go into the jail to "clean it and spray out the cells" because the virus, according to research, can be picked up from contaminated surfaces.

An official at HMP, who is not authorized to speak with the media, said although the affected inmates are being housed in the chapel away from the rest of the prison population, they are still able to come and go to other parts of the jail, including the washroom and for breaks. Another source indicated that most of the affected persons are on remand and it is highly likely they will be released at any time, and then the virus would likely spread to communities outside the prison walls.

Observer media was unable to reach the prison boss, Superintendent Albert Wade, for comment.

In the meantime, Attorney General Steadroy "Cutie" Benjamin, who has responsibility for the prison, has given assurance that prison authorities have taken adequate steps to control the spread of chickenpox.
======================
[Outbreaks of chickenpox are not uncommon in closed communities where contagious virus can spread rapidly. Chickenpox is a very contagious disease caused by varicella-zoster virus (VZV), a herpes virus. It causes a blister-like rash, itching, tiredness, and fever. Chickenpox can be serious, especially in babies, adults, and people with weakened immune systems. It spreads easily from infected people to others who have never had chickenpox or received the chickenpox vaccine. Chickenpox spreads in the air through coughing or sneezing. It can also be spread by touching or breathing in the virus particles that come from chickenpox blisters and can be transmitted by touching surfaces that have recently be contaminated by open lesions as well. Chickenpox most commonly causes an illness that lasts about 7-10 days.

The classic symptom of chickenpox is a rash that turns into itchy, fluid-filled blisters that eventually turn into scabs. The rash may 1st show up on the face, chest, and back, then spread to the rest of the body, including inside the mouth, eyelids, or genital area. It usually takes about a week for all the blisters to become scabs. Some people who have been vaccinated against chickenpox can still get the disease. However, the symptoms are usually milder with fewer blisters and mild or no fever. About 25 to 30 percent of vaccinated people who get chickenpox will develop illness as serious as chickenpox in unvaccinated persons.

Chickenpox vaccine is safe and effective at preventing the disease. Most people who get the vaccine will not get chickenpox. If a vaccinated person does get chickenpox, it is usually mild -- with fewer blisters and mild or no fever. The chickenpox vaccine prevents almost all cases of severe disease (for further information, see: <http://www.cdc.gov/chickenpox/index.html>). - ProMed Mod.LL]

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

Suriname - US Consular Information Sheet
December 19, 2008
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
The Republic of Suriname is a developing nation located on the northern coast of South America. Tourist facilities are widely available in the capital city of
aramaribo; they are less developed and in some cases non-existent in the country's rugged jungle interior. English is widely used, and most tourist arrangements can be made in English. Please read the Department of State Background Notes on Suriname for additional information.

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS: A passport, valid visa, and, if traveling by air, return ticket are required for travel to Suriname. There is a processing fee for business and tourist visas, and visas must be obtained before arrival in Suriname. A business visa requires a letter from the sponsoring company detailing the reason for the visit. There is an airport departure charge and a terminal fee, normally included in the price of airfare. Travelers arriving from Guyana, French Guiana, and Brazil are required to show proof of a yellow fever vaccination. For further information, travelers can contact the Embassy of the Republic of Suriname, 4301 Connecticut Avenue, NW, Suite 460, Washington, DC 20008, telephone (202) 244-7488, email: embsur@erols.com, or the Consulate of Suriname in Miami, 7235 NW 19th Street, Suite A, Miami, Fl 33126, telephone (305) 593-2697.
Visit the Embassy of Suriname web site at www.surinameembassy.org for the most current visa information.

Important information for foreigners who have the intention of staying longer than three months:
s of October 1, 2008, persons who intend to stay longer than three months in Suriname must apply for an Authorization for Temporary Stay (MVK) before travel to Suriname. The above implies that foreigners who need a visa (with the exception of foreigners of Surinamese origin) who have traveled to Suriname on a tourist or business visa will not be able to apply for residence during their stay in Suriname.

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

SAFETY AND SECURITY:
Demonstrations do occur, primarily in the capital or second cities, and are usually peaceful, but American citizens traveling to or residing in Suriname should take common-sense precautions and avoid large gatherings or other events where crowds have congregated to demonstrate or protest. Travelers proceeding to the interior may encounter difficulties due to limited government authority. Limited transportation and communications may hamper the ability of the U.S. Embassy to assist in an emergency situation.

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 pamphlet A Safe Trip Abroad.

CRIME:
Criminal activity throughout the country is on the rise and foreigners, including Americans, may be viewed as targets of opportunity. Burglary, armed robbery, and violent crime occur with some frequency in Paramaribo and in outlying areas. Pick-pocketing and robbery are increasingly common in the major business and shopping districts of the capital. Visitors should avoid wearing expensive or flashy jewelry or displaying large amounts of money in public.
There have been several reports of criminal incidents in the vicinity of the major tourist hotels and night walks outside the immediate vicinity of the hotels are therefore to be avoided.
Visitors should avoid the Palm Garden area (“Palmentuin” in Dutch) after dark, as there is no police presence and it is commonly the site of criminal activity.

Theft from vehicles is infrequent, but it does occur, especially in areas near the business district. Drivers are cautioned not to leave packages and other belongings in plain view in their vehicles. There have been reports of carjackings within Paramaribo, particularly in residential areas. When driving, car windows should be closed and doors locked. The use of public minibuses is discouraged, due to widespread unsafe driving and poor maintenance.
Travel to the interior is usually trouble-free, but there have been reports of tourists being robbed. Police presence outside Paramaribo is minimal, and banditry and lawlessness are occasionally of concern in the cities of Albina and Moengo and the district of Brokopondo, as well as along the East-West Highway between Paramaribo and Albina and the Afobakka Highway in the district of Para. There have been reports of attempted and actual carjackings committed by gangs of men along the East-West Highway. Travelers proceeding to the interior are advised to make use of well-established tour companies for a safer experience.

The emergency number 115 is used for police, fire, and rescue and normally does not provide English-language services.
Fire and rescue services provide a relatively timely response, but police response, especially during nighttime hours, is a rarity for all but the most serious of crimes.

In many countries around the world, counterfeit and pirated goods are widely available.
Transactions involving such products may be illegal under local law.
In addition, bringing them back to the United States may result in forfeitures and/or fines.
More information on this serious problem is available at http://www.cybercrime.gov/18usc2320.htm
INFORMATION FOR VICTIMS OF CRIME:
The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate for assistance.
The Embassy/Consulate staff can, for example, assist you to find appropriate medical care, contact family members or friends and explain how funds could be transferred.
Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime are solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed.

See our information on Victims of Crime.

MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:
Medical care, including emergency medical care, is limited and does not meet U.S. standards. There is one public emergency room in Paramaribo with only a small ambulance fleet providing emergency transport with limited first response capabilities. The emergency room has no neurosurgeon, and other medical specialists may not always be available. As a rule, hospital facilities are not air-conditioned, although private rooms with individual air-conditioning are available at extra cost and on a space-available basis. Emergency medical care outside Paramaribo is limited and is virtually non-existent in the interior of the country.

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 Suriname is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
Traffic moves on the left in Suriname; left-hand-drive cars are allowed on the road. Excessive speed, unpredictable movements by vehicles, and motorcyclists/bicycles, unusual right of way patterns, poorly maintained roads, and a lack of basic safety equipment on many vehicles are daily hazards on Surinamese roads. As of January 2007, seatbelts are required for all passengers of automobiles, and drivers must use a hands-free device if using a mobile phone while driving. Visitors are encouraged to use automobiles equipped with seat belts and to avoid the use of motorcycles or scooters. An international driver's license is necessary to rent a car.
The major roads in Paramaribo are usually paved, but not always well maintained. Large potholes are common on city streets, especially during the rainy seasons, which last from approximately mid-November to January, and from April to July (rainy seasons can differ from year to year by as much as six weeks). Roads are often not marked with traffic lines. Many main thoroughfares do not have sidewalks, forcing pedestrians, motorcycles, and bicycle traffic to share the same space.
The East-West Highway, a paved road that stretches from Nieuw Nickerie in the west to Albina in the east, runs through extensive agriculture areas; it is not uncommon to encounter slow-moving farm traffic or animals on the road. Travelers should exercise caution when driving to and from Nieuw Nickerie at night due to poor lighting and sharp road turns without adequate warning signs.
There are few service stations along the road, and western style rest stops are non-existent.
The road is not always well maintained, and during the rainy season, large, sometimes impassable, sink holes develop along the road.
Police recommend that travelers check with the police station in Albina for the latest safety information regarding travel between Paramaribo and Albina.
Roads in the interior are sporadically maintained dirt roads that pass through rugged, sparsely populated rain forest. Some roads are passable for sedans in the dry season, but they deteriorate rapidly during the rainy season. Interior roads are not lit, nor are there service stations or emergency call boxes. Bridges in the interior are in various states of repair. Travelers are advised to consult with local sources, including The Foundation for Nature Conservation in Suriname, or STINASU, at telephone (597) 421-683 or 476-579, or with their hotels regarding interior road conditions before proceeding.

For specific information concerning Suriname driving permits, vehicle inspection, road tax, and mandatory insurance, please contact the Embassy of Suriname in Washington, D.C., or the Consulate of Suriname in Miami.
Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.
Visit the website of the country’s national tourist office and national authority responsible for road safety at http://www.suriname-tourism.org/cms/
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT:
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of Suriname’s Civil Aviation Authority as being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for oversight of Suriname’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:
Credit cards are not widely accepted outside the major hotels and upscale restaurants. Travelers should contact their intended hotel or tour company to confirm that credit cards are accepted. Currently, only one bank, Royal Bank of Trinidad and Tobago (RBTT), has Automatic Teller Machines (ATMs) accepting foreign ATM cards. In order to withdraw money from the ATM machines of other banks, you must have a local Surinamese bank account and ATM card. Visitors can exchange currency at banks, hotels, and official exchange houses, which are called “cambios.” Exchanging money outside these locations is illegal and can be dangerous. Telephone service within Suriname can be problematic, especially during periods of heavy rains. 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 Surinamese laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested, or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Suriname are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines.
Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime, prosecutable in the United States.
Please see our information on Criminal Penalties.

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

REGISTRATION / EMBASSY LOCATION:
Americans residing or traveling in Suriname 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 Suriname.
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 Dr. Sophie Redmondstraat 129, telephone (011) (597) 472-900, web site http://suriname.usembassy.gov. The Consular Section hours of operation for routine American citizen services are Mondays and Wednesdays from 8:00 to 10:00 AM, or by appointment, except on American and Surinamese holidays. U.S. citizens requiring emergency assistance on evenings, weekends, and holidays may contact an Embassy duty officer by cell phone at (011) (597) 088-08302. The U.S. Embassy in Paramaribo also provides consular services for French Guiana.
* * *
This replaces the Country Specific Information for Suriname dated April 11, 2008, to update the sections on Entry/Exit Requirements, Crime, and Registration/Embassy Location.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Tue 28 Mar 2017
Source: WHO Disease Outbreak News [edited]

On Thu 9 March 2017, the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) in the Netherlands reported a case of yellow fever to WHO. The patient is a Dutch adult female traveller who visited Suriname from the middle of February until early March 2017. She was not vaccinated against yellow fever.

The case was confirmed for yellow fever in the Netherlands by RT-PCR in 2 serum samples taken with an interval of 3 days at the Erasmus University Medical Center (Erasmus MC), Rotterdam. The presence of yellow fever virus was confirmed on Thu 9 Mar 2017 by PCR and sequencing at Erasmus MC, and by PCR on a different target at the Bernhard Nocht Institute for Tropical Medicine, Hamburg, Germany.

While in Suriname, the patient spent nights in Paramaribo and visited places around Paramaribo, including the districts of Commewijne (Frederiksdorp and Peperpot) and Brokopondo (Brownsberg), the latter is considered to be the most probable place of infection. She experienced onset of symptoms (headache and high fever) on Tue 28 Feb 2017 and was admitted to an intensive care unit (University Medical Center) in the Netherlands on Fri 3 Mar 2017 with liver failure. The patient is currently in critical condition.

Suriname is considered an area at risk for yellow fever and requires a yellow fever vaccination certificate at entry for travellers over one year of age arriving from countries with risk of yellow fever, according to the WHO list of countries with risk of yellow fever transmission; WHO also recommends yellow fever vaccination to all travellers aged 9 months and older. This is the 1st reported case of yellow fever in Suriname since 1972.

Public health response

This report of a yellow fever case in the Netherlands with travel history to Suriname has triggered further investigations. Following this event, health authorities in Suriname have implemented several measures to investigate and respond to a potential outbreak in their country, including:
 - Enhancing vaccination activity to increase vaccination coverage among residents. Suriname will continue with its national vaccination programme and will focus on the district of Brokopondo. A catch-up vaccination campaign is also being conducted to increase coverage in Brownsweg.
 - Enhancing epidemiologic and entomologic surveillance including strengthening laboratory capacity.
 - Implementing vector control activities in the district Brokopondo.
 - Carrying out a survey of dead monkeys in the suspected areas.
 - Conducting social mobilization to eliminate _Aedes aegypti_ breeding sites (e.g. by covering water containers/ barrels).
 - Issuing a press release to alert the public.
 - Mapping of the suspect area of Brownsweg, as well as the Peperpot Resort.
================
[This case would suggest local transmission of yellow fever in Suriname which isn't surprising given the on-going outbreak in Brazil. This case would also suggest travelers to the area consider getting vaccinated for yellow fever prior to entering the country. One wonders if perhaps the local wildlife may be acting as a reservoir as well based on the outbreaks seen in monkeys in Brazil. - ProMED Mod.JH]

[A HealthMap/ProMED-mail map can be accessed at:
Eurosurveillance, Volume 22, Issue 11, 16 March 2017
http://www.eurosurveillance.org/ViewArticle.aspx?ArticleId=22744

A Dutch traveller returning from Suriname in early March 2017, presented with fever and severe acute liver injury. Yellow fever was diagnosed by (q)RT-PCR and sequencing. During hospital stay, the patient’s condition deteriorated and she developed hepatic encephalopathy requiring transfer to the intensive care. Although yellow fever has not been reported in the last four decades in Suriname, vaccination is recommended by the World Health Organization for visitors to this country.

Yellow fever virus (YFV) is known to be enzootic in South America, causing periodic outbreaks of disease in monkeys and humans in some countries. In Brazil, there has been an outbreak of yellow fever ongoing since December 2016 with 1,500 cases as at 9 March [1,2]. Here we report an imported case of human infection with YFV in a traveller returning from Suriname, on the north-eastern coast of South America, from where the last case of yellow fever was reported 45 years ago.

Case description

In March 2017, a Dutch Caucasian female in her late 20s from the Netherlands was referred to the University Medical Center Groningen in the Netherlands because of high fever and signs of severe acute liver injury after returning from a two-week stay in Suriname. She had no co-morbidities apart from obesity (body mass index around 40 kg/m2, norm: 18.5–25 kg/m2). During her visit she stayed in the capital of Suriname, Paramaribo, and she made several daytrips by boat and car, of which two in the tropical rainforest (Figure).

Figure

Timeline of events and diagnostic results, case of yellow fever in a traveller returning from Suriname to the Netherlands, March 2017

/images/dynamic/articles/22744/17-00187-f1

P: Paramaribo; RNA: ribonucleic acid; UMCG: University Medical Center Groningen; YFV: yellow fever virus.

She recalled having been bitten by mosquitoes during her hike at Brownsberg, a nature resort in the rainforest with wildlife. Before her travel, she did not visit a travel clinic and did not receive yellow fever vaccination. On day 12 of her visit in Suriname, she experienced mild muscle pain, headache and nausea and she developed a high-grade fever. She returned to the Netherlands on day 15 and visited the emergency department of a secondary care centre, from where she was referred to our University hospital. At physical examination she was not icteric. Except for a temperature of 39.9 °C, vital parameters were normal. The results of the remaining physical examination were unremarkable. Laboratory testing revealed leukopenia (leukocytes 0.9x109/L, norm: 4.0–10.0x109/L) and massive liver injury (aspartate aminotransferase 5,787 U/L, norm: <31 U/L; alanine aminotransferase 4,910 U/L, norm: <34 U/L), with mildly elevated bilirubin levels (total bilirubin 20 µmol/L, norm: <17 µmol/L). Liver synthesis was impaired as revealed by increased clotting times (activated partial thromboplastin time (APTT): 49s, norm: 23–33s; prothrombin time (PT): 26.6s, norm: 9.0–12.0s) and reduced antithrombin (49%, norm: 80–120%). Fibrinogen was diminished suggestive of diffuse intravascular coagulation. Renal function was normal apart from severe albuminuria (up to 22.6 g/24h, norm: 0g/24h). Malaria, viral hepatitis (A, B, C, E, Epstein Barr virus, cytomegalovirus, herpes simplex virus), dengue, chikungunya and Zika were ruled out (Table). Diagnostic tests to exclude leptospirosis performed on day 6 post onset of symptoms (dps 6) were inconclusive (Table) and a convalescent serum was going to be tested at the time of publication. Because of the combination of fever, leukopenia, thrombocytopenia, liver injury and travel history, yellow fever was included in the differential diagnosis. Real-time reverse transcriptase PCR (qRT-PCR) was positive for YFV in serum taken on dps 3. On dps 7 the patient’s condition deteriorated due to hepatic encephalopathy (ammonia 149 µmol/L, norm: 15–45 µmol/L). Cerebral oedema and bleeding was ruled out by computed tomography (CT)-scan. The patient was transferred to the intensive care unit for close observation of vital parameters. Vitamin K was administered. Hepatic encephalopathy was treated with rifaximin and lactulose. Ceftriaxone (2g per day intravenously) was given for 7 days as antibiotic prophylaxis. Consequently, possible leptospirosis was also treated. Her neurological condition stabilised on dps 10 together with the coagulation parameters. On dps 13 the patient was transferred back to the ward.

Table

Pathogens for which laboratory tests were performed, yellow fever case, the Netherlands, March 2017


Pathogen Blood (day 3 post onset of symptoms)
Plasmodium spp. Thick smear negative, antigen test negative
Hepatitis A virus IgM and IgG negative
Hepatitis B virus Serological screening negative
Hepatitis C virus Serological screening negative
Hepatitis E virus PCR negative
Epstein Barr virus IgM and IgG negative
Cytomegalovirus IgM and IgG negative
Herpes simplex virus type 1 and 2 PCR negative
Dengue virus PCR negative, IgM and IgG negative
Chikungunya virus PCR negative, IgM and IgG negative
Zika virus PCR negative, IgM and IgG negativea
Leptospira spp. PCR negative, microscopic agglutination test negative, IgM 1:80b

a Performed on day 5 post onset of symptoms (dps 5).

b ELISA (in-house ELISA Dutch Leptospirosis Reference Center) performed on dps 6 showed IgM 1:80 (cut-off positive IgM ≥1:160). IgM results were negative on dps 3 and dps 7 using Leptocheck-WB (Zephyr Biomedicals, Goa, India).

Virology findings

qRT-PCR and/or pan-flavivirus RT-PCR on blood samples on dps 3 did not detect chikungunya virus (CHIKV), dengue virus (DENV), or Zika virus (ZIKV) (Table) [3,4]. In four consecutive samples of dps 3–6, YFV-RNA was detected (Figure) [4-6], with increasing Ct values (from 23 to 31 from dps 3 to dps 5 [5] and 39 on dps 6 [6]). Sequencing of a 176 bp pan-flavivirus hemi-nested RT-PCR product, targeting part of the NS5 genomic region confirmed YFV infection [4]. The sequence was deposited in the GenBank database under the following accession number: KY774973.

On dps 3, indirect immunofluorescence assays (IFA) was negative for IgM and IgG against YFV (Flavivirus Mosaic, Euroimmun AG, Luebeck, Germany). A convalescent sample of dps 6 was clearly positive for YFV IgM (titre 1:10, Figure), with non-reactive IgG. This anti-YFV IgM response on dps 6 is in line with literature stating that IgM antibodies usually appear during the first week of illness. Neutralising IgG antibodies are likely to appear towards the end of the first week after onset of illness and will be tested for in convalescent serum [7].

Background

YFV is a mosquito-borne virus in the genus Flavivirus, family Flaviviridae, related to DENV, ZIKV, tick-borne encephalitis virus and West Nile virus. YFV is maintained in a sylvatic cycle between non-human primates and so-called ‘jungle’-mosquitoes (Hemagogus and Sabethes spp. in South America) [8]. Sporadic infection of humans with sylvatic YFV can occur when unprotected humans are exposed while entering the habitats where the viruses circulate. Subsequent introduction of a viraemic human case to urban areas with high population densities and Aedes aegypti mosquitoes can initiate an urban transmission cycle [9]. YFV is endemic in (sub)tropical areas of South America and Africa. The risk for YFV infection in South America is the highest in tropical regions and during the rainy season (January–May) when mosquito population densities peak [10]. In 2011, Suriname was identified by the World Health Organization (WHO) as one of 14 South American countries at risk for YFV transmission based on current or historic reports of yellow fever, plus the presence of competent mosquito vectors and animal reservoirs [11].

Since December 2016, an outbreak of sylvatic YFV is ongoing in Brazil; as at 9 March 2017, there were 371 confirmed and 966 suspected human cases, while a total of 968 epizootics in non-human primates have been reported, of which 386 were confirmed [2]. So far, there has been no evidence for a change from sylvatic to an urban transmission cycle [1]. In addition, Bolivia, Colombia and Peru have reported suspected and confirmed yellow fever cases in 2017 [2].

A subclinical infection with YFV is believed to occur in most infected people. In symptomatic cases, symptoms of general malaise occur after an incubation period of 3–6 days (range 2–9 days), followed by remission of the disease in the majority of patients. However, 15-25% of symptomatic persons develop a complicated course of illness, in which symptoms recur after 24–48 hours, with a reported mortality of 20-60% [7,12]. This phase is characterised by fever, abdominal symptoms, severe hepatic dysfunction and jaundice, multi-organ failure and haemorrhagic diathesis. As no specific antiviral treatment is currently available, treatment consists of supportive care [7,12].

Discussion

Although Suriname is considered to be endemic for YFV, no human cases have been officially reported since 1971 [13]. With a population of ca 570,000 people, Suriname has a YFV vaccination coverage of 80–85% in infants [14]. Although WHO recommends vaccination for travellers to countries with risk of YFV transmission like Suriname, sporadic cases of imported yellow fever in returning travellers have been reported for example in Europe, the United States and Asia [15-17], with three reported cases related to the ongoing YFV outbreaks in South America in European travellers since 2016 [18,19]. The establishment of ongoing YFV circulation in Suriname extends the current YFV activity in South America to five countries [2]. However, despite the presence of competent Ae. albopictus mosquitoes in France [20] and Ae. aegypti in Madeira, the risk for YFV transmission in Europe is currently considered to be very low due to the lack of vector activity [18]. An effective, safe live-attenuated YFV vaccine is available for people aged ≥ 9 months and offers lifelong immunity [7]. Vaccination is advised by the WHO for all travellers to Suriname, for the coastal area as well as the inlands [21]. With regard to yellow fever, pre-travel health advice should take into account destination, duration of travel, season and the likelihood of exposure to mosquitoes (in rural areas, forests versus urban areas), and potential contraindications for vaccination with a live-attenuated vaccine.

The multi-country YFV activity might reflect current, wide-spread ecological conditions that favour elevated YFV transmissibility among wildlife and spill-over to humans. Thorough sequence analysis of currently circulating strains in Brazil, Bolivia, Colombia, Peru and Suriname should provide insight whether the human cases in these countries are epidemiologically linked or represent multiple, independent spill-over events without extensive ongoing community transmission. Because of its potential public health impact, our case of yellow fever was notified to the WHO and the European Union Early Warning and Response System on 9 March 2017, according to the international health regulations [22].

Conclusion

Clinicians in non-endemic countries should be aware of yellow fever in travellers presenting with fever, jaundice and/or haemorrhage returning from South America including Suriname. This case report illustrates the importance of maintaining awareness of the need for YFV vaccination, even for countries with risk of YFV transmission that have not reported cases for decades.

Date: Fri 11 Dec 2015
From: Abraham Goorhuis, MD <a.goorhuis@amc.nl> [edited]

We report a confirmed case of Zika virus infection in a 60-year-old and otherwise healthy female patient, who had returned from Suriname on 29 Nov 2015, following a 3-week holiday. She had visited Paramaribo, Carolina Kreek, Klaaskreek and the Commewijne province. On the day of return to the Netherlands, she developed fever, itching in the hands and a red skin rash on the face, neck, trunk and extremities. The skin was painful upon touch and the joints of her fingers and ankles felt stiff. She also reported swelling of both lower legs. She reported multiple insect bites. She presented at our outpatient clinic at the AMC in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, on 2 Dec 2015, the 3rd day of her illness.

Physical examination showed an afebrile patient who was not acutely ill. She had a pronounced macular skin rash of her trunk, extremities, neck and face, as well as a marked conjunctival injection. In addition, she had pitting oedema on both lower legs.

Laboratory investigation showed a normal red and white blood cell count, with atypical lymphocytes in the differential. Renal function and liver enzymes were normal, except for a slightly elevated LDH of 297 IU/l.

One day after her initial presentation, the skin rash had improved markedly. She recovered quickly. Upon follow-up on 11 Dec 2015, her only complaints were arthralgias that seemed to further improve.

The clinical diagnosis of Zika virus infection was confirmed by PCR (Erasmus MC, Rotterdam), on a sample taken on 2 Dec 2015 (the 3rd day of illness).

To date, Zika virus infection has been rarely reported as cause of febrile illness among returned travellers and this is the 1st confirmed case in the Netherlands. Because symptomatology and clinical course are often mild, it is likely that the diagnosis is easily missed. Given the expanding base of information regarding complications possibly associated with this disease (such as neurologic manifestations and the reported increase of infants born with microcephaly in endemic areas), it is important to facilitate diagnostic capacities. This case underscores the fact that changing epidemiology of infectious disease also affects the spectrum of disease in returned travelers. Among other arboviral infections, such as dengue and chikungunya, Zika virus infection should be included in the differential diagnosis of any febrile traveler who has returned from an endemic area, such as Suriname.
------------------------------------
Abraham Goorhuis, MD, on behalf of the medical team
Center of Tropical and Travel Medicine
Academic Medical Center
Amsterdam
The Netherlands
=====================
[Although ProMED does not normally post case reports of arboviruses imported into countries with no possibility of ongoing mosquito transmission unless there is something unusual about them, this case is important for the very reasons noted above. With Zika virus expanding its geographic range in the Americas, we are likely to see more cases imported into a variety of localities where it has not occurred before. The sound advice of Dr. Goorhuis and colleagues to include Zika virus, along with dengue and chikungunya viruses in differential diagnoses when patients with histories of travel to Zika-endemic countries seek medical attention for febrile disease with rash is prudent. This case also illustrates the need to obtain patient travel histories. And clinicians should not forget that there was good evidence of sexual transmission when an infected man infected in Africa returned to his home in a country where Zika virus was not present ((see ProMED-mail archive no.  http://promedmail.org/post/20150516.3367156).

ProMED thanks Dr. Goorhuis and colleagues for submitting this case report.

It was not surprising that Zika virus arrived in Suriname, since 2 other countries in northern South America -- adjacent Brazil and somewhat more distant Colombia -- have reported ongoing cases. Transmission of the virus is continuing there.

A map showing the location of Suriname in northeastern South America can be accessed at
<http://healthmap.org/promed/p/37>. - ProMed Mod.TY]
Date: Tue 3 Nov 2015
Source: Loop [edited]

There are 2 confirmed cases of the Zika virus, also known as Zik-V.

These cases were confirmed by the AZP [Academisch Ziekenhuis Paramaribo, a scientific research center in Paramaribo, Suriname]. The Bureau of Public Health (BOG) has made it known that it requires external confirmation of these results. This stance has dismayed AZP Lab director John Codrington, who stated that it shows a lack of confidence in local authority.

The BOG has made it clear why they have come to this decision. They will conduct further tests through the CARPHA [Caribbean Public Health Agency] because this is the 1st possible instance of the virus locally; the virus is similar in presentation to other ailments such as dengue fever and chikungunya, also known as Chik-V; and the positive test cases may have brought it back from foreign travels.

The call for further study will not disrupt any preventative measures as doctors have been armed with the necessary information that the public requires regarding the nature and procedures surrounding the virus. Its similarity to dengue and Chik-V means that a similar approach to prevention is required.

People need to ensure that their homes and communities are free of mosquito-friendly breeding grounds. As with the chikungunya virus, there is no vaccine or preventive drug for Zik-V, and only treatment of symptoms is possible. Usually non-steroid anti-inflammatories and/or non-salicylic analgesics are used.

While there is no cure or vaccine for the virus, health officials urge people to reduce the risk of contracting Zika virus infection by using the following measures:

Use anti-mosquito devices (insecticide-treated bed nets, coils, smudge pots, spray, repellents) and wearing long sleeves and clothes with long legs, especially during the hours of highest mosquito activity (morning and late afternoon).

Mosquito repellent based on a 30 per cent DEET concentration is recommended -- for new-born children under 3 months, repellents are not recommended; instead, insecticide-treated bed nets should be used.

Before using repellents, pregnant women and children under the age of 12 years should consult a physician or pharmacist.

Unlike Chik-V, Zik-V can also be transmitted through sexual contact.

[byline: Jonathan Stuart]
=================
[It would not be surprising if Zika virus has arrived in Suriname, since 2 other countries in northern South America -- adjacent Brazil and somewhat more distant Colombia -- have reported ongoing cases. The report does not indicate if these 2 cases are locally acquired or are imported cases of Zika virus infection. Sending samples to an outside international reference laboratory is prudent in situations when a new pathogen appears. The AZP laboratory should welcome confirmation of their test results.

A map showing the location of Suriname in north eastern South America can be accessed at
<http://healthmap.org/promed/p/37>. - ProMED Mod.TY]
Monday 30th January 2012
A ProMED-mail post
<http://www.promedmail.org>

- Suriname. 25 Jan 2012. "Up to now more than 300 dengue cases have been registered at the Academic hospital lab, while other labs also confirm cases," the health ministry said in a press release. With the dengue outbreak now a month old, health authorities said they believe cases of the mosquito-borne disease are peaking. Due to overcrowding in hospitals, patients were being treated in the army's health facilities.
======================
[A HealthMap/ProMED-mail interactive map of Suriname can be accessed at <http://healthmap.org/r/1GZ2>. - ProMed Mod.TY]
More ...

Liberia

Liberia - US Consular Information Sheet
February 21, 2008
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION: Liberia is a country in West Africa that suffered from years of instability and conflict from 1990 - 2003, with attendant destruction of buildings, roads, and infras
ructure and public institutions.
A comprehensive peace accord ended the conflict in August 2003 and a United Nations peacekeeping force (UNMIL) was deployed to facilitate disarmament and demobilization, help arrange democratic elections and provide for security of the country.
In late 2005, Liberians went to the polls and elected Ellen Johnson Sirleaf as president.
The new government was inaugurated in January 2006, and has made tremendous progress towards restoring security and stability to the country.

Despite nearly four years of peace and a renewal of economic growth, Liberia is still one of the poorest countries in the world and many basic services (public power, water and sewage, land line phones) are either limited or unavailable.
Facilities for foreign visitors are adequate in the capital, Monrovia, but virtually non-existent in the rest of the country.
The official language of Liberia is English.
Read the Department of State Background Notes on Liberia for additional information.

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:
A passport and a visa are required for entry, as is evidence of a yellow fever vaccination and a physician's letter attesting to absence of communicable diseases.
Visa applicants may also be asked to provide evidence of health insurance.
Immigration officials no longer issue visas at the airport.
Persons arriving without a visa may be deported immediately, without leaving the airport.
Persons arriving from the United States must obtain a Liberian visa before traveling.
There is a US $25 airport tax on departing passengers, although this is usually collected as part of the ticket price.
For the latest information on entry requirements, visa fees and airport tax for Liberia, contact the Embassy of the Republic of Liberia, 5201 16th Street NW, Washington, DC 20011, tel. (202) 723-0437, web site www.embassyofliberia.org.
Overseas, inquiries should be made at the nearest Liberian embassy or consulate.

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:
The Department of State urges U.S. citizens to plan proposed travel to Liberia carefully and to exercise caution when traveling in Liberia.
Neither public transport nor taxis are available at the international airport, which is located 40 miles outside of Monrovia; therefore, before traveling to Liberia, Americans are urged to make arrangements for transportation from the international airport into the city center.
Americans traveling to Liberia are also urged to ensure that they have confirmed reservations at a reputable hotel, as rooms can be scarce and difficult to find without advance plans.

Americans who travel to or reside in Liberia should realize that Liberia's police force is in the process of being rebuilt.
There is a UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL), but its mandate is to ensure political stability in Liberia.
Americans who travel around Liberia must realize that the role of UN Police (UNPOL) officers is to serve as advisors to the Liberia National Police. Accordingly, they do not have the authority to arrest or detain, and they are unarmed.
The Liberia National Police, for its part, has a limited presence in Monrovia, and even less of a presence outside of Monrovia.
In addition, police officers can be a source of problems for visitors as well as a source of aid or assistance.
Although problems with corruption have improved, travelers may be detained by police officers who solicit bribes.
Americans are encouraged to carry a photocopy of their passports with them at all times so that, if questioned by local officials, proof of identity and U.S. citizenship is readily available.
If detained or arrested, U.S. citizens should always ask to be allowed to contact the U.S. Embassy.

U.S. citizens in Liberia should be aware of their surroundings at all times and use caution when moving around, especially at night.
The U.S. Embassy recommends that American citizens observe a suggested curfew of 2:00 a.m. – 6:00 a.m.
Travel outside of Monrovia after dark is strongly discouraged as roads are in poor condition and thus dangerous to navigate at night.
U.S. citizens should avoid crowds, political rallies, and street demonstrations and maintain security awareness at all times.
For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department’s Internet web site, where the current Worldwide Caution Public Announcement, Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts can be found. Up-to-date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S., or for callers outside the U.S. and Canada, a regular toll-line at 1-202-501-4444.
These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).

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:
Crime in Liberia is rated high and is exacerbated by the high rate of unemployment.
Theft, assault, sexual crimes, and murder are problems, and they occur more frequently after dark.
Foreigners, including U.S. citizens, have been targets of street crime, robbery, and sexual assault.
Women have been attacked on deserted beaches.
Residential armed break-ins occur.
The police are ill equipped and largely incapable of providing effective protection or investigation.
Criminal activity is reported in both urban and rural areas.

Perpetrators of business fraud often target foreigners, including Americans.
Formerly associated with Nigeria, these fraud schemes are now prevalent throughout western Africa, including Liberia, and pose a danger of both financial loss and physical harm.
An increasing number of American citizens have been the targets of such scams.
The best way to avoid becoming a victim of fraud is common sense – if it looks too good to be true, it probably is.
Any unsolicited business proposal originating in Liberia should be carefully checked before committing any funds, providing any goods or services, or undertaking any travel.
There is also an increase in Liberian/American Internet relationships, where there are eventual requests for financial assistance under fraudulent pretenses.
For additional information, please see the Department of State's Bureau of Consular Affairs brochure International Financial Scams.

Petty corruption is rampant; poorly paid government officials are not immune from the temptation to collect fees for doing their job.
The result is that travelers may be asked for bribes and inconvenienced for not paying them.

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:
Hospitals and medical facilities in Liberia are very poorly equipped and are incapable of providing many services.
Emergency services comparable to those in the U.S. or Europe are non-existent, and the blood supply is unreliable and unsafe for transfusion.
Americans with serious medical problems travel or are medically evacuated to the United States, Europe or South Africa.
Medicines are scarce, often beyond expiration dates, and generally unavailable in most areas.
As there is neither an effective garbage removal service nor a functioning sewer system, the level of sanitation throughout urban areas is very poor, which increases the potential for disease.
Upper respiratory infections and diarrhea are common, as well as the more serious diseases, typhoid and malaria.
All travelers to Liberia must be vaccinated against yellow fever and should carry a supply of all prescription medication, plus anti-malaria medication, adequate for their entire stay.
A typhoid vaccination is also recommended.

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.
For travel to Liberia, obtaining separate medical evacuation insurance before arriving in Liberia is strongly recommended.
Please see our information on medical insurance overseas.
SWIMMING HAZARD:
Liberia has many excellent beaches along the Atlantic coastline that tourist and those who live in the country enjoy throughout the year, however American citizens should be aware of the threat of dangerous rip currents better known as rip tides.
These strong currents can occur anywhere on the coast given the right surf conditions.
The Liberia Weather Service does not provide information on where and when these tides form and there are no lifeguards posted on beaches.
American citizens who plan to swim in the Atlantic should read from various sources e about the dangers of rip currents and how to navigate if you find yourself in such a situation; or better still do not swim if you are unfamiliar with swimming in water where very strong rip currents occur.

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 Liberia is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.

Road travel in Liberia can be hazardous.
Potholes and poor road surfaces are common, making safe driving extremely challenging.
Cars, trucks, and taxis are often overloaded with people and goods and make frequent stops without signaling.
Drivers overtake on the right as well as the left.
Many vehicles operate with threadbare tires, and blowouts are frequent.
Public taxis are poorly maintained and usually overloaded.
Intersections must be approached with caution.
The absence of public streetlights makes pedestrians walking in the city streets and those walking on country roads difficult to see at night.
Drivers and pedestrians are cautioned that high-speed car convoys carrying government officials require all other vehicles to pull off the road until they have passed.

Travelers should expect delays at UNMIL security checkpoints, as well as time-consuming detours around the many bridges and roads damaged by war, neglect, or the heavy annual rains, which occur from May to November.
Travelers can expect strict enforcement of border controls by Liberian, Ivorian, Sierra Leonean, and Guinean authorities.
At times border crossings to neighboring countries are closed.

Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.

AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: As there is no direct commercial air service between the United States and Liberia, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed Liberia’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:
Lodging, fuel, transportation, and telephone services are unevenly available in Liberia, and are nonexistent or severely limited in rural areas.
Neither water nor electricity is commercially available in Liberia, including the capital of Monrovia.
Most hotels have utilities available, but not always on a 24-hour basis.
There is no working landline telephone system in Liberia.
Several cell phone companies provide service in Monrovia and some areas outside the capital.
US cellular phones do not always work in Liberia and it is advisable to rent or purchase a local cellular phone.
The postal system is slow and unreliable.
Commercial air courier service is available through UPS, Federal Express (FedEx), and other companies.

The U.S. dollar is readily accepted in Liberia, and there is no limit on the amount of foreign currency that can be transported into and out of the country, provided one follows the specific regulations on how such transfers must be done.
Sums in excess of US $10,000 must be reported at the port of entry and no more than US $7,500 in foreign currency banknotes can be moved out of the country at one time.
Larger sums must be transferred via bank drafts or other financial instruments; persons without a Liberian bank account are limited to two outgoing US $5,000 over-the-counter cash wire transfers per month.
Wire transfers are not widely used and are subject to substantial fees.
ATMs are unavailable and Traveler's checks and credit/debit cards are not accepted anywhere in Liberia.

Photographing military installations, air and seaports, and important government buildings is prohibited.
Visitors should not take photographs of sites or activities that might be considered sensitive, or police are liable to confiscate the camera.

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 Liberian law, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested, or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Liberia are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines.
The U.S. Embassy does not always receive timely notification of the arrest of U.S. citizens by Liberian authorities.
If arrested, U.S. citizens should ask to be allowed to contact the U.S. Embassy (see the Registration/Embassy Location section below).
Americans should carry a photocopy of their U.S. passport with them at all times.
The consular section of the U.S. Embassy cannot give legal assistance but can provide a list of Liberian attorneys if one is required.
Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime, prosecutable in the United States.
Please see our information on Criminal Penalties.

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

REGISTRATION / EMBASSY LOCATION:
Americans living or traveling in Liberia 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 Liberia.
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 111 United Nations Drive, Mamba Point, Monrovia; telephone 231-77-054-826; fax 231-77-010-370; web site http://monrovia.usembassy.gov.
U.S. citizens who wish to write to the U.S. Embassy in Monrovia may address letters to the Consular Section, 8800 Monrovia Place, U.S. Department of State, Washington, D.C. 20521-8800, or send emails to ConsularMonrovia@state.gov.
*

*

*
This replaces the Consular Information Sheet on Liberia dated June 15, 2007 to include a caution on swimming at local beaches.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Mon, 23 Sep 2019 19:35:57 +0200 (METDST)

Monrovia, Sept 23, 2019 (AFP) - More than 10,000 Liberian health workers began a strike Monday to demand salary arrears and regular supplies of medicine and equipment in a country ravaged by civil war and an Ebola epidemic.   Battered two back-to-back civil wars and then in 2014-16 by the worst Ebola epidemic in history, Liberia's health sector is on its knees.   The crumbling infrastructure lacks almost everything -- medicine, beds, equipment, ambulances, even a reliable electricity supply.   "We are striking because we do not have medicines in the hospitals, no materials like gloves to protect ourselves before treating the patients which is dangerous for us, the laboratories are unequipped.... until today most of the workers have not got their July salaries," George Williams, secretary general of the Health Workers Association, told AFP.   "We have realised the exchange rate with the US dollar is so terrible, and these salaries we are making are the same we have been making since eight years, the cost of living has tripled," he said.   State-run hospitals and clinics were closed, sparking protests from patients in Monrovia.   Some 40 pregnant and sick women blocked a road in the northern suburb of Paynesville, shouting slogans.   "I don't have money; I am not rich like the big people, so I cannot afford to go in any private clinic. I am eight months pregnant," Annie Sieh, 35, said.
Date: Mon 2 Sep 2019
Source: Daily Observer [edited]

Just 5 years after containing the deadly Ebola virus disease (EVD), authorities at the Ministry of Health (MoH) have confirmed an outbreak of Lassa fever across the country.  The situation is so serious that Chief Medical Officer (CMO) Dr Francis Nah Kateh, has warned Liberians to take the necessary preventive measures, "even though this is what we have been taking care of all the while. For the disease to spread to Grand Kru County, gives health authorities the cause for concern."  According to MoH data, a total of 92 suspected cases between 1 Jan-25 Aug 2019, including 21 deaths, have been reported.  "Of these, 25 cases have been confirmed by RT-PCR (Nimba-9, Bong-10, Grand Bassa-5, and Grand Kru -1), while 9 remain suspected cases," the release recorded.  The case fatality rate among confirmed cases is 36% (9 deaths out of 25 confirmed cases). Males are mostly affected by the disease (56%) of confirmed cases as compared to females.

The MoH release also said that although Lassa fever is not new to Liberia, it is a deadly viral disease that requires urgent attention. The disease is spread by rodents or rats and through close contact with infected persons.  "We are concerned about the sporadic increase of Lassa fever cases outside the Lassa Belt in Liberia," meaning Nimba, Bong, and Grand Gedeh counties.  "For Lassa fever to affect Grand Kru other than those counties it has previously affected, gives us the fear to raise the alert," Dr Kateh told the Daily Observer via mobile phone on [Fri 2 Sep 2019].

Henceforth, MoH authorities in collaboration with partners and the National Public Health Institute of Liberia (NPHIL), said they are responding to the Lassa fever outbreak in the country.  According to a release issued in Monrovia on 22 Aug 2019, Bong County Health Team notified NPHIL and MoH of the disease's outbreak following the confirmation of one case from Suakoko District, Bong County.  The case concerned the death of a 30-year-old male and a laboratory technician; a health worker, who previously worked with the Phebe Hospital, and a resident of Phebe Airstrip.  "Our hearts are broken, and we express our heartfelt condolences to members of the bereaved family," MoH said in a release on [Fri 30 Aug 2019].  Similarly, on 24 and 25 Aug 2019, the National Public Health Reference Laboratory confirmed 2 additional cases of Lassa fever infection in a 46-year old male as well as a 14-year old female, both residents of Suakoko Town, Bong County.

So far, the release said a total of 30 contacts, including 18 health workers, have been line-listed and are being followed up to the extent that 2 of the contacts have become symptomatic, though one of them have been tested negative. Additionally, 2 cases (one contact) remain in isolation and are undergoing Ribavirin (Lassa) treatment, "because this is the 10th confirmed case being detected from Bong County since [the beginning of] 2019." In response to the outbreak, MoH, NPHIL, World Health Organization (WHO), United States-based Centers for Disease Control and Preventions (CDC), and partners are providing technical, financial, and logistical support to the District Response Teams.  "No epidemiological link has been established between these cases. However, there is a likelihood for these cases to be linked based on history of the source of infection," the release declared.

Health authorities are therefore advising people to "Keep your environment clean; cover your dishes to prevent rats excreting or urinating on them; cover food in tightly-closed containers to prevent rats from playing in food or drinking water; do not eat rats, because you can get the sickness by coming in contact with their blood, [urine, or feces] do not dry food in open places where rats can reach; avoid body contact with infected persons and endemic zone; and visit a health facility immediately when you feel sick."

Meanwhile, NPHIL, MoH, and partners have appealed to the general public to take necessary preventive measures, and kindly report cases of fever (any kind) to the nearest health facility.  "We continue to improve our rapid response teams at county, district, and community levels through the County Emergency Operations Centers (EOCs), and to provide technical, financial and logistical support to the outbreak," the release said.
Date: Mon 6 May 2019
Source: Front Page Africa [edited]

The emergence of a rare skin disease known in Liberia as "Be Serious" has sparked fear amongst residents of Charlie Town in Rivercess County. Residents, mainly parents, say children who are under 15 years of are seriously infected. They are afraid that the disease is contagious and is fast spreading rashes on the bodies of school-going-kids.

They are afraid that the situation will become an emergency, due to lack of adequate medication at the only clinic in the area. Joe Gbessigie, a resident of the town, says he's worried that instead of providing medicines, the clinic only gives patients prescriptions to buy drugs from private pharmacies.

Nathaniel Zoklah, the Township Commissioner, says some kids who are affected by the disease are in school, and he is concerned that the situation poses risk to other pupils. "At this time of the school year, keeping children who are affected with the disease may affect their education, so the kids are in schools with their friends but it is risky also," Commissioner Zoklah said. "They are interacting, eating together and this disease has the ability to spread through contact, so more children risk being affected."

The residents have not been able to state the actual cause of the disease, but some are assuming that it is waterborne. Some of the residents in Charlie Town and its surroundings said the hand pumps that are a major source of drinking water are all damaged, forcing residents to fetch water from creeks.  [Byline: Willie N. Tokpah]
===========================
[The disease referred to in this report and its accompanying photograph is most likely to be scabies.  Scabies is a skin infestation by the scabies mite - _Sarcoptes scabiei_. The infection is found worldwide and is transmitted under poor hygienic conditions. The mite is transmitted by physical contact and poor hygiene is a main risk factor. Outbreaks are seen in refugee camps and nursing homes.

An outbreak is handled by ensuring that the affected people and close contacts at risk have a frequent bath and change clothes daily. The traditional treatment is pyrethroid containing ointments which kill the mites, but ivermectin orally is easier to administer and thus more acceptable and ensures better compliance. Especially in an outbreak in a school the best way to stop the outbreak would be administration of ivermectin to all children. - ProMED Mod.EP]

[HealthMap/ProMED map available at:
Rivercess County, Liberia: <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/42309>]
Date: Tue 23 Oct 2018
Source: The Bush Chicken [edited]

The director for immunization at the Ministry of Health says there are currently 29 reported measles cases in Grand Gedeh, with 7 of those cases confirmed.

Director for immunization at the Health Ministry Adolphus T. Clarke said reports of the outbreak in Tchien district 1st emerged on [Wed 17 Oct 2018]. Speaking to The Bush Chicken in an exclusive interview, Clarke said out of the 29 cases reported, health officials in the area realized that 11 children under 5 years of age were affected by the disease. The other children were older than 5.

"The 29 cases identified were managed at the Martha Tubman Memorial Hospital in Zwedru, and the affected children fully recovered with no death reported."

With support from the Ministry of Health, Clarke said the county responded quickly with vaccinations. "The exercise has concluded, and health officials were able to reach a total of 1551 children not less than 5 years," he said. "So I can say that the county responded swiftly to the outbreak of the disease and recorded zero deaths."

However, things did not go smoothly. Due to the poor road conditions in the south-eastern region, Clarke said some health officials who left Monrovia with vaccinations for Grand Gedeh endured difficulties during the journey. "Others had to travel through neighbouring Ivory Coast to reach the country," he said.

The director indicated that, due to the challenge in attaining high vaccination coverage, health authorities in the country knew that, at some point in time, there would be sporadic outbreaks of the disease in the county.

Clarke said the current outbreak was not severe, because the ministry has dealt with sporadic outbreaks of measles in the past. He noted that health officials in Grand Gedeh have now been encouraged to carry out vaccination campaigns in affected and nearby communities as the dry season approaches.

"We have encouraged mothers to make use of the health facilities in the county and ensure that their children are vaccinated against all the diseases the ministry is preventing," Clarke said.  [Byline: Zeze Ballah]
Date: Thu 27 Sep 2018
Source: Front Page Africa [edited]

The National Public Health Institute of Liberia (NPHIL) in collaboration with the Ministry of Health (MoH) and partners is investigating a suspected case of yellow fever in Grand Kru County.

According to a release issued in Monrovia, the suspected case is a 2-year-old female from Farina Town, Barclayville Health District. There has been no death or new cases reported. The suspected case has been managed and is in good health.

A blood specimen has been collected and sent to the National Public Health Reference Laboratory (NPHRL) for confirmation. According to the release, health authorities in the county are conducting an active case search, risk assessment, and planning for a possible reactive vaccination exercise, pending the laboratory result.

Since January 2018, this is the 2nd reported suspected case from Grand Kru County. The 1st was a 29-year-old female from Dorbor District.

There have been no confirmed cases of yellow fever in the country since the 2009 nationwide preventive vaccination campaign. The release also noted that a total of 94 suspected cases of yellow fever have been recorded across the country since the beginning of 2018.

Yellow fever is an acute viral haemorrhagic disease transmitted by infected mosquitoes. The symptoms include fever, headache, jaundice, muscle pain, nausea, vomiting, and fatigue. Communities have been advised to report unexplained deaths for safe and dignified burials as measures to prevent infection. Community engagement and response activities have been intensified in the area.

Meanwhile, the public is advised to take the following public-health measures:
- Keep your environment clean
- Visit a health facility immediately when you feel the symptoms of yellow fever
- Continue sleeping under treated bed nets

Yellow fever is not transmitted through body touch or body fluids.
=====================
[Yellow fever (YF) cases have occurred sporadically in Liberia, although the last YF ProMED-mail post was in 2009. The 94 suspected YF cases this year (2018), including the most recent one above, is a cause for serious concern. It is important to have a timely laboratory diagnosis and well-developed contingency plans should YF be confirmed. YF can quickly spread if a significant proportion of the human population is unvaccinated and the vector mosquitoes are abundant. The above report does not indicate the number of unvaccinated individuals nor the status of the vector mosquito population. - ProMED Mod.TY]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map:
Grand Kru County, Liberia: <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/32407>]
More ...

South Korea

General Information
****************************************
The land mass of Korea is currently divided into North and South since World War 11. The South is a democratic Republic and there are extensive tourist facilities available throughout
he main urban areas. The national tourism organisation (KNTO) operates an English language web site (http://www.knto.or.kr) which provides useful information for intending tourists.
Weather Profile
****************************************
South Korea has four distinct seasons throughout the year. The winters can be very cold while the summers hot and very humid. The rainfall is mainly concentrated during the summer season.
Overcoming Jet Lag
****************************************
ry to arrange your flights so that you arrive in plenty of time before the first match. Allow 48 hours if at all possible to get over the inevitable jet lag. Walk about on the flight, drink plenty of water and stay off the alcohol. Flight crews are understandably very sensitive nowadays about any disturbance and the last thing you will want is to be dumped off the flight to make your own way home. Sleep on the plane if possible though remember this may increase the risk of blood clots so move your legs about when awake. Talk to your doctor about taking aspirin if you are at higher than normal risk (older age group, over weight, on the contraceptive pill, varicose veins etc).
Arriving into Seoul
****************************************
The new Incheon international airport is an hour or two away from Seoul and there are no subways or rail systems connecting the airport to the city. However, buses and taxis are easily available. Customs facilities are good but careful so remember not to carry any parcels for another unless you are certain of the contents. A departure tax may be payable on leaving South Korea.
Personal Safety
****************************************
In Seoul, like any other major city, there is an increased risk of petty crime (pickpocketing, purse snatching etc) so take extra care of your belongings - especially in crowded places like markets, local buses and football matches! The Itaewon and other large markets are known risk areas for this type of activity. Use the hotel safe for your main valuables and carry little of importance while out and about.
Emergency Numbers
****************************************
In South Korea the emergency number for the main services is 112. The operators will usually speak good English. There is also a 24/7 service available through the Korean National Police where travellers can report crime etc. The number in Seoul is 313-0842 and in other regions 02-313-0842.
Medical Services
****************************************
Generally the level of health facilities throughout most of the main urban centres is excellent. However, treatment can be expensive and the medical providers will expect payment before treatment is started. Make sure your travel health insurance is adequate for your journey.
Road Safety
****************************************
The road infrastructure throughout most of South Korea is excellent. However, accidents do occur and if hiring a car ‘defensive’ driving is essential at all times while abroad. Safety belts are compulsory at all times for both front and rear seats. Any accident tends to lead to long delays as the paperwork is sorted out. The Koreans may at times drive their motorbikes and scooters on foot pavements so care should be taken at all times.
Customs Regulations
****************************************
The level of security at South Korean immigration is high so beware of the delays which may be incurred.
Food & Water Care
****************************************
While travelling it is essential that care is taken to protect your stomach against unnecessary risk. Generally tourists will be keen to try out the local cuisine but this can lead to days of illness. In most circumstances it is wise to stick to hot, freshly cooked food fruit you peel yourself. Bivalve shell fish (mussels, clams, oysters etc) are seldom cooked sufficiently to sterilise them completely and are best avoided. Undercooked fish (Sushi) or any meats should also be avoided.
Heat & Humidity
****************************************
The summer months in South Korea are hot and sticky. It will be important to have the right clothing (light weight loosely fitted cotton) and to drink plenty of water to replace what is lost through dehydration. Salt will also need to be replaced and providing there is no medical contraindication eating crisps, salted nuts etc is an excellent way to replenish your levels.
Avoiding Prickly Heat
****************************************
The term prickly heat is used in a variety of ways but the cause is generally the same. In a hot climate the body perspires to maintain the internal temperature at a correct level. In the perspiration there will be fluid and your personal salts. The fluid evaporates but the salt dries against the skin. It is your individual reaction to this salt that leads to the ‘prickly heat rash’. The reaction to these salts can be minimised by removing the salts from the skin surface as soon as possible. Change your clothes regularly, use plenty of talcum powder to absorb the perspiration and dry off well after showering.
Breathing the air
****************************************
Any of the airborne diseases are most commonly spread when folks crowd together. International football matches, market places, local transport and the cinema are times when exposure and infection are most likely. Carrying some simple cold remedies might be a wise precaution and avoid the crowds where possible!
Vaccines for your trip
****************************************
In most cases the only particular problem for those visiting either Japan or South Korea will be the risk of Hepatitis A (food and water spread). Of course Tetanus and various other food and water problems can occur but generally the risk is small providing a sensible approach is taken to act sensibly.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Thu, 3 Oct 2019 10:18:25 +0200 (METDST)

Busan, South Korea, Oct 3, 2019 (AFP) - At least nine people were killed and several others missing after Typhoon Mitag lashed South Korea with heavy rain and strong winds, authorities said Thursday.   The storm hit southern parts of the country on Wednesday night, prompting flood warnings and triggering landslides in affected areas.   A total of nine people were killed across the country as of Thursday afternoon, the Ministry of Interior and Safety said, but the toll was expected to rise with several people missing.

A woman in her 60s was found dead after her home was buried in a landslide in the southern port city of Busan and around 600 rescue workers were trying to locate three others believed to be trapped beneath the rubble.   Park Young-hak was inside his tool shed -- later buried in the landslide -- and said he escaped after hearing a loud "roar".   "When I ran out to see what it was the house next to me had already disappeared," Park told AFP.   More than 1,000 homes were damaged and over 1,500 people evacuated their houses in advance, the ministry said.   Mitag is the 18th typhoon this year and seventh to hit the Korean peninsula.
Date: Thu, 3 Oct 2019 08:45:16 +0200 (METDST)

Busan, South Korea, Oct 3, 2019 (AFP) - At least six people were killed and several others missing after Typhoon Mitag lashed South Korea with heavy rain and strong winds, authorities said Thursday.   The storm hit southern parts of the country on Wednesday night, prompting flood warnings and triggering landslides in affected areas.   A woman in her 70s died after she was swept away by strong winds in the south-eastern city of Pohang while another woman was killed after heavy rain caused her house to collapse as she slept, the Ministry of the Interior and Safety said.   A total of six people were killed across the country but the toll was expected to rise with several people missing.

In the southern port city of Busan -- one of the hardest hit areas -- around 600 rescue workers were trying to locate four people believed to be trapped beneath a landslide.   "An enormous amount of sand and earth slid down several hundred metres and instantly buried a house and a restaurant," said a witness quoted by Yonhap news agency.   More than 100 homes were flooded and over 1,500 families evacuated their houses in advance, the ministry said.   Mitag is the 18th typhoon this year and seventh to hit the Korean peninsula.
Date: Thu 12 Sep 2019
Source: Korea Biomedical Review [abridged, edited]

The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) said it has confirmed that contaminated fermented shellfish was the main culprit behind the hepatitis A outbreak this summer. The KCDC came to the conclusions after conducting an in-depth epidemiological investigation.

The agency randomly sampled 270 of the 2178 hepatitis A patients, diagnosed between 28 Jul and 24 Aug 2019, and surveyed whether they consumed fermented shellfish this summer. It found that 42% of the patients had eaten fermented shellfish during the incubation period. KCDC also found that 80.7% of the 26 patients diagnosed with hepatitis A in August 2019 also ate fermented shellfish, while discovering hepatitis A virus genes in 11 batches out of the 18 batches collected after the outbreak. Notably, 5 of these genes found in the research showed close relations with the virus detected in hepatitis A patients.

The agency recommended that the public should stop consuming salted clams until it can confirm that they are safe to eat. The Ministry of Food and Drug Safety also plans to conduct a full survey of fermented shellfish distribution products this month [September 2019]. As of now, the disease control agency has confirmed 10 products that have tested positive for the hepatitis A virus; 9 of them were imported from China, and one was made in Korea. The KFDC asked the producers of sauced clams to halt the distribution and sale of their products for the time being and to conduct the hepatitis A virus test for each product when importing fermented shellfish.  [Byline: Lee Han-soo]
Date: Thu 12 Sep 2019
Source: Korea Biomedical Review [abridged, edited]

The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) said that it has confirmed that contaminated fermented shellfish was the main culprit behind the hepatitis A outbreak this summer of 2019.

The KCDC came to the conclusions after conducting an in-depth epidemiological investigation. The agency randomly sampled 270 of the 2178 hepatitis A patients, diagnosed between [28 Jul 2019] and [24 Aug 2019], and surveyed whether they consumed fermented shellfish this summer. It found that 42% of the patients had eaten fermented shellfish during the incubation period.

KCDC also found that 80.7% of the 26 patients diagnosed with hepatitis A in August 2019 also ate fermented shellfish, while discovering hepatitis A virus genes in 11 batches of the 18 batches collected after the outbreak. Notably, 5 of these genes found in the research showed close relations with the virus detected in hepatitis A patients.

The agency recommended that the public should stop consuming salted clams until it can confirm that they are safe to eat. The Ministry of Food and Drug Safety also plans to conduct a full survey of fermented shellfish distribution products this month [September 2019].

As of now, the disease control agency has confirmed 10 products that have tested positive to the hepatitis A virus. Nine of them were imported from China, and one was made in Korea. The KFDC asked the producers of sauced clams to halt the distribution and sale of their products for the time being and to conduct the hepatitis A virus test for each product when importing fermented shellfish.  [Byline: Lee Han-soo]
========================
[This outbreak in South Korea seems to be related to contaminated shellfish. In most developed countries, hepatitis A virus outbreaks are related to a definable food vehicle. This is not what has occurred in the USA in the past several years, where the huge increase in cases is related to poor hygiene and inadequate sanitation in marginalized populations. - ProMED Mod.LL]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map:
Date: Sat 4 May 2019
Source: Outbreak News Today [edited]

Officials with the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) report (computer translated) the 1st case of the tickborne infection, severe fever with thrombocytopenia syndrome (SFTS) in a 55-year-old female from Chungcheongnam-do (Chungnam) province in the west of the country.

This has prompted health officials to advise the public to take precautions when doing outdoor activities to avoid tick bites.

The patient was gardening prior to the appearance of symptoms. On 28 Apr [2019], she presented with symptoms of fever and erythema and was hospitalized at the medical institution. SFTS testing returned positive.

Severe fever with thrombocytopenia syndrome (SFTS) is a newly emerging infectious disease. Symptoms and laboratory abnormalities are fever, thrombocytopenia, leukocytopenia, and elevated serum enzyme levels. Multiorgan failure occurs in severe cases, and 6%-30% of case-patients die. The syndrome is caused by the SFTS virus (SFTSV) (genus _Phlebovirus_, family Bunyaviridae).  Ixodid tick species are implicated as vectors of SFTSV.
=======================
[SFTS has been occurring sporadically in South Korea since 2013 and is endemic there. SFTSV can cause a serious disease and is of significant public health concern. Although SFTS virus infections may be serious, there is evidence for subclinical or mild infections as well. There is also some previous evidence for person-to-person direct transmission of the virus, and a previous report provides more objective evidence that aerosol transmission could occur (see Severe fever w/ thrombocytopenia synd. - South Korea: poss. aerosol transmission http://promedmail.org/post/20190108.6248997).

SFTS virus is a tick-transmitted phlebovirus in the Bunyavirus family. Images of a _Haemaphysalis longicornis_ tick, the SFTS vector, can be seen at

[HealthMap/ProMED map available at:
More ...

Montenegro

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

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

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Wed, 14 Aug 2019 14:19:50 +0200 (METDST)

Podgorica, Montenegro, Aug 14, 2019 (AFP) - Smoking indoors in public places was banned from Wednesday in Montenegro, a major challenge in the tobacco-mad Balkan country with some of the highest smoking rates in Europe.    More than one third of adults among the population of just  650,000 are regular smokers, according to the public health institute.    Under the new law, lighting up is  prohibited in all closed public places, including restaurants and cafes where smoking was previously common as elsewhere across the region.   The exception is casinos, where smoking will still be allowed. Businesses can also set up separate rooms solely for smoking.

Fines for violating the law range from 500 euros ($560) to 20,000 euros ($22,370) under legislation that also regulates cigarette sales and warnings on the  packaging.    On Wednesday, cafes in the capital Podgorica had put up notices about the ban in their windows and removed ashtrays from indoor tables.    "Fines are high and we have to comply with the ban," said barista Milan.   But the ban is not without its critics.   "This law is hypocritical. If its adoption was motivated by health concerns, casinos should not have been exempted," says Dusan, a customer.

Montenegro, which is hoping to join the European Union, had already adopted an anti-tobacco law in 2004, but it was not respected.    Regulations passed in 2012  requiring restaurants to pay additional taxes for allowing smoking inside were similarly ineffective.   "The Ministry will persevere in its efforts to enforce every section of the law to the letter," assured Health Minister Kenan Hrapovic.    According to the health ministry, some 400 Montenegrins are diagnosed with lung cancer every year.   The medical treatment is costly -- amounting to some 70,000 euros per patient.    Smoking indoors is widespread in the Balkans, though Croatia and North Macedonia have similar bans on closed public places.
Date: Wed, 22 Aug 2018 05:37:28 +0200
By Sally MAIRS and Olivera NIKOLIC

Kotor, Montenegro, Aug 22, 2018 (AFP) - Montenegro's medieval walled city of Kotor, an Adriatic seaport cradled in a spectacular fjord-like bay, has survived centuries of weather and warfare.    Now it is facing a different kind of assault, that of gargantuan cruise ships disgorging throngs of tourists threatening a place that was only a few years ago commonly described as a "hidden gem".    The coastline the poet Lord Byron called the "most beautiful merging of land and sea" is now one of unbridled real estate development.

With rocky slopes jutting into azure waters, Kotor's bay and its white-stone old town have been hailed as an alternative for travellers looking to avoid the mass tourism choking Dubrovnik some 70 kilometres (45 miles) up the coast in Croatia.   Last year the hugely popular Dubrovnik -- like Kotor, a medieval walled city and a UNESCO World Heritage site -- became synonymous with the global "overtourism" scourge, showing up on lists of destinations to avoid.

Dubrovnik has seen a marked surge of visitors since scenes of the HBO series "Game of Thrones" were set there.   Now there are fears Kotor could meet a similar fate.   "Kotor was once known for being more authentic (than Dubrovnik), but now we're in the same place," said Sandra Kapetanovic from Expedito, a local architecture group that advocates sustainable development.    "We are being transformed into a city of souvenir shops," she said, noting that rising prices have forced out a library, hair salon, market and shoemaker in the past year.   Last week a Lonely Planet travel writer tweeted a photo of a massive cruise ship moored in Kotor, which welcomes up to four of them at once, contributing to some 10,000 daily visitors at the height of the season.

- Tipping point? -
"There were 3 of these obnoxious giants clogging up the bay yesterday," wrote Peter Dragicevich. "They've killed #Venice and #Dubrovnik. Here's hoping they don't kill #Kotor as well."   UNESCO, which named Kotor a World Heritage site in 1979, has been warning for years that rampant construction in the bay is threatening its main appeal -- the city's "harmony" with the natural landscape.   In 2016 the UN cultural body threatened to revoke Kotor's heritage status -- a wakeup call for the Montenegro authorities, who imposed a temporary moratorium on construction last year.   "The question is what happens next?" asked Ana Nives Radovic, head of Kotor's local tourism body.   "We are witnessing an era where we either make big changes, or we will be completely devastated if we just choose some profit from investments," she warned.

Montenegro was once a magnet for the glitterati, drawing American movie stars like Elizabeth Taylor and British royalty like Princess Margaret in the 1960s.   But the tourism industry collapsed with the wars leading to the break-up of Yugoslavia in the 1990s.    After the tiny country of just 600,000 people declared independence 2006, it went on a construction spree.    Foreign investors -- mostly Russians -- drove a property boom that saw apartment complexes blight the coast.    Tourism was largely spared the ravages of the 2008 global financial crisis, and today accounts for nearly a quarter of Montenegro's gross domestic product.

The annual influx totals around two million visitors -- mostly in summer, and mostly on the coast.   During that time, tourism puts "great pressure on cities, on the area, on communal infrastructure," said Damir Davidovic, a senior tourism ministry official.    Authorities are "analysing" the situation to find the right balance, he told AFP.   One key concern is the rise of private accommodation -- a model that hurts hotel operators and is changing the character of communities, as many locals evacuate for the summer to rent their homes.    The explosion of online rental platforms like Airbnb has only amplified the problem.   "It is really a serious issue," said Davidovic, estimating that more than half the private accommodation for tourists operate in a "grey zone", with owners evading taxes by not registering their properties.   Rade Ratkovic, a professor of tourism in nearby Budva, another hotspot marred by over-construction, said the town was being "attacked by huge buildings".

- Love-hate -
For now, many locals are trapped in a love-hate relationship with the visitors.    Gazing at a jam-packed beach in Ulcinj farther south, local journalist and tourism expert Mustafa Canka shook his head.   "Traffic, parking, electricity... with such huge numbers of tourists it is an attack on the infrastructure -- and on the nerves of the local people," he said.   "But," he added, "all of us who work in tourism live for these 45 days."   Without other industries in Montenegro's coastal towns, the crucial income from travellers has so far staved off "overtourism" protests like those seen in Barcelona and Venice.    Yet Canka is worried about the future.    "We are not worthy of this city and its history," he said, gesturing towards Ulcinj's ancient castle, perched on a rocky peninsula.   "Greed is what is happening, and this consumerism is eating up our space and our people -- and now our future."
Date: Mon, 17 Jul 2017 23:08:04 +0200

Podgorica, Montenegro, July 17, 2017 (AFP) - Montenegro asked Monday for international help to fight wildfires in the Lustica peninsula on the country's Adriatic coast, while forest fires in neighbouring Croatia spread to suburbs of the coastal city of Split.   "The situation at Lustica is critical. The interior ministry of Montenegro asked for the European Union Civil Protection Mechanism" to be activated to help extinguish the fire, the government said in a statement.   Mayors of the threatened coastal towns of Kotor, Tivat and Herceg Novi urged the government to ask neighbouring nations -- Croatia, Bosnia and Serbia--  to send fire-extinguishing aircraft.   Fanned by strong winds, the forest fires forced the evacuation of more than a hundred campers. 

Firefighters aided by the armed forces and volunteers have been battling the blazes since Sunday, boosted by police aircraft on Monday, the interior ministry said.   Further north, wildfires on Monday evening spread to the suburbs of Split, Croatia's  second largest city on the central Adriatic coast, where a shopping centre had to be evacuated and several cars were burned, local media reported.   The city waste dump was set on fire, HRT state-run television reported, while the town was covered with thick black smoke.

Some dozen wildfires were raging for the second consecutive day in the Split area villages, burning several houses, local media reported.   Some 400 firefighters were trying to fight the blaze, helped by more than 100 soldiers and firefighting planes.   "Current situation is apocalyptical, the blaze engulfed a large area, all is in smoke and fire," head of the Split county, Blazenko Boban, told reporters.   The cause of the fires is not known.
Date: Sat, 11 Jun 2016 05:02:47 +0200
By Olivera Nikolic

Kotor, Montenegro, June 11, 2016 (AFP) - With its winding cobbled streets and stunning Adriatic bay, the Montenegrin town of Kotor draws crowds of visitors each summer.   But deadly gang violence threatens to cloud the tourist boom.

Dozens of anti-terrorist police officers have descended on the medieval fortress town in the past week after a string of public shootouts between rival drug-trafficking clans.   "Kotor is a hostage town," Montenegro's Interior Minister Goran Danilovic told reporters after the special forces were sent into the Balkan resort last weekend.   "Kotor has to stop being centre of clashes between criminal gangs."

According to police sources, Kotor's main drugs cartel split into three feuding gangs in 2014 over the disappearance of 200 kilograms (440 pounds) of South American cocaine in the Spanish town of Valencia.   Their quarrels have led to at least five murders in the past year across the region -- and at least four murder attempts in the past two months in Kotor, all of them in public places.

The latest on June 3 -- although there were no casualties -- pushed the authorities to deploy an anti-terrorist unit that has nearly 70 members, the police sources said, speaking on condition of anonymity.   "The town is in a drugs hell, left to criminals," said 52-year-old Mladen, working in an art gallery in the town centre.   Like most local residents who spoke to AFP, he was afraid to give his full name because of the tensions in the small community.   "I fear for the future of my two sons," he said, complaining that authorities "do nothing" to stop rampant crime.

- Lonely Planet's top city -
The heightened security comes as Kotor, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, gears up for a bumper tourist season.   Kotor was named the top city in the world to visit in 2016 by travel guide Lonely Planet, and tourism officials expect up to a million visitors this year.   Many of them arrive on cruise ships carrying up to 3,000 people, and the restaurants, churches and museums behind the 12th-century walls are already filling up.   For now, the police presence is subtle: an AFP reporter saw one black armoured vehicle parked at the entrance to the old town, about 20 metres from anchored cruise liners.

But some locals are worried the security forces could turn off holiday-makers.   "I'm afraid that sending them only few weeks before the start of the tourist season will damage it," said Branko, a 55-year-old former sailor, sitting in a cafe in the old town.   With nearly 850,000 visitors last year, making it the country's top tourist destination, Kotor sums up the Montenegrin dilemma: a growing tourism sector under the threat of powerful organised crime.   The nation of fewer than 650,000 people is a candidate for European Union membership, but the EU's progress report on Montenegro last year said "further efforts are needed, in particular to investigate wider criminal networks and to counter money laundering".

- From sailing to trafficking -
Kotor has a rich seafaring history and was once home to successful shipping company Jugooceanija, which fell apart with the break up of Yugoslavia.    Some out-of-work sailors are thought to have subsequently got involved in lucrative cocaine trafficking.   The sense of impunity among Kotor's criminal gangs today is such that they installed surveillance cameras around town to control each other's movements -- something a prosecutor is now investigating.   Balkans "cocaine king" Darko Saric, who was jailed for 20 years by a Serbian court last year, had several companies in Kotor including a nightclub popular with tourists, according to local media.

Foreign visitors who spoke to AFP expressed little awareness of Kotor's darker side.    Canadian cruise-goer Claire Tremblay, 58, said she had chosen Montenegro over Istanbul owing to recent terrorist attacks in Turkey.   "Now we see that we got a bonus. Kotor and the Adriatic Sea are beautiful," she said.   Kotor's Mayor Aleksandar Stjepcevic said the situation had improved since the special police arrived, but he regretted that his town had become "the scene of clashes" between gangs.   "I am disappointed that such scenes became part of everyday life. They should not be a characteristic of this ancient town," he said.
Date: Tue, 29 Mar 2016 14:35:21 +0200

Podgorica, Montenegro, March 29, 2016 (AFP) - Montenegro has deported 58 foreign members of a Japanese doomsday cult, most of them Russians, for lacking the right permits to visit the Balkan country, police said on Tuesday.   "Police received information from partner security services showing that a group of foreign nationals, who were members of a closed religious group, were staying in Montenegro," a police statement said.    The statement did not specify the religious group, but a police source told AFP anonymously that they belonged to Aum Shinrikyo, the Japanese doomsday cult that carried out a deadly sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway in 1995.   Local media also reported that the expelled group belonged to the cult.

Police briefly detained the group at a hotel in the central town of Danilovgrad on Friday and found they were not in possession of valid visitor permits, so they were asked to leave the country, the statement said.   The group was made up of 43 Russian nationals, seven from Belarus, four from Japan, three from Ukraine and one from Uzbekistan. Police did not elaborate on their reasons for being in Montenegro.    An earlier Russian foreign ministry statement said 60 foreign nationals, including Russians, had been detained by Montenegro police on suspicion of involvement in "international organised crime" but were released without charge after questioning.   It said however they were to be deported for failing to register their stay.
More ...

Iceland

Iceland US Consular Information Sheet
November 17, 2008
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
Iceland is a highly developed, stable democracy with a modern economy.
The national language is Icelandic, but English is widely spoken, especially in the ca
ital city of Reykjavik.
Read the Department of State Background Notes on Iceland for additional information.

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:
Iceland is a party to the Schengen agreement.
As such, U.S. citizens may enter Iceland 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.
For further information in English concerning entry requirements for Iceland, please contact the Icelandic Directorate of Immigration via their web site at www.utl.is.

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:
There have been no terrorist attacks and very few criminal attacks affecting Americans in Iceland.
However, like other countries in the Schengen area, Iceland’s open borders with its Western European neighbors allow the possibility of terrorists or other criminals 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, 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:
Iceland has a relatively low crime rate, but minor assaults, automobile break-ins and other street crimes do occur, especially in the capital city of Reykjavik.
Tourists should be aware that downtown Reykjavik can become especially disorderly in the early morning hours on weekends.
Violent crime is rare, but it does occasionally occur.

INFORMATION FOR VICTIMS OF CRIME:
The loss or theft of a U.S. passport abroad 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.
Iceland maintains a limited crime victim’s assistance program through the Ministry of Justice.
Please contact the U.S. Embassy in Reykjavik for further details.
Those suffering psychological trauma or who are victims of rape may receive psychological assistance by contacting the University of Iceland’s Hospital Psychological Trauma Center at 354-543-2000. For further information about possible U.S. compensation, see our Information for Victims of Crime
The local equivalent to the “911” emergency line in Iceland is:112.
MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:
Excellent medical facilities are available in Iceland.
To obtain emergency medical assistance anywhere in the country, dial 112.
To obtain non-emergency medical assistance in the Reykjavik metropolitan area dial 544-4114 during business hours and outside of normal business hours, dial 1770.
The nurse who answers will offer advice on how to handle the problem, suggest that the patient come to an after-hours clinic, or send a physician to make a house call.
For information on after-hours dental care, call 575-0505.

The U.S. Department of State is unaware of any HIV/AIDS entry restrictions for visitors to or foreign residents of Iceland.
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 web site at http://www.who.int/en.
Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith
MEDICAL INSURANCE:
Most medical services in Iceland, including emergency care, require full payment at the time of service.
Payment to the medical facility must be paid in full before an individual will be able to leave the country.
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.
Additional travel insurance to cover the price of medical evacuations is also strongly recommended.
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 Iceland is provided for general reference only, and may not be completely accurate in a particular location or circumstance.

Less than a third of Iceland’s total road network is paved (2,262 miles of paved road vs. 5,774 miles of gravel or dirt road).
Most of the 900-mile ring road (Highway 1) that encircles the country is paved, but many other roads outside the capital, especially those that run through the center of the country, are dirt or gravel tracks.
Even those roads that are paved tend to be narrow and lack a shoulder or margin.
Most bridges are only one lane wide, requiring drivers to be cognizant of oncoming traffic.
Extreme care should be taken when driving in rural areas during the winter (October through March), when daylight hours are limited and the weather and road conditions can change rapidly.
Many routes in the interior of the country are impassable until July, due to muddy conditions caused by snowmelt.
When driving in the interior, consider traveling with a second vehicle and always inform someone of your travel plans.
For information on current road conditions throughout the country, please call the Public Roads Administration (Vegagerdin) at 1777 or consult its web site at http://www.vegagerdin.is/english/.

For recorded weather information in English, call the Icelandic Weather Office (Vedurstofa Islands) at 902-0600, press 1 for English.

Icelandic law requires drivers to keep headlights on at all times.
Talking on cell phones while driving is prohibited and is subject to a 5000 Icelandic Kronur fine, except when using a hands-free system.
Unless otherwise posted, the speed limit is 50 km/h in urban areas and 30 km/h in residential areas.
In rural areas, the speed limit depends on the type of road.
On dirt and gravel roads, the speed limit is 80 km/h.
On paved highways, the speed limit is 90 km/h.
It is illegal to turn right on a red light.
At four-way intersections, the right of way goes to the driver on the right; in traffic circles, to drivers in the inside lane.
Many intersections in the capital have automatic cameras to catch traffic violators.

The use of seatbelts is mandatory in both the front and rear seats, and children under the age of six must be secured in a special car seat designed for their size and weight.
Drivers are held responsible for any passenger under the age of 15 who is not wearing a seatbelt.
No one who is less than 140 centimeters tall, weighs less than 40 kilograms, or is under the age of 12 is allowed to ride in a front seat equipped with an airbag.

Driving under the influence of alcohol is considered a serious offense in Iceland.
The threshold blood alcohol test (BAT) level is very low.
Drivers can be charged with DUI with a BAT as low as .05%.
Drivers stopped under suspicion of DUI are usually given a ``balloon’’ or Breathalyzer test.
If the test is positive, a blood test is routinely administered.
Under Icelandic law, a blood test cannot be refused and will be administered by force if necessary.
The minimum punishment for a first offense is a fine of 50,000 Icelandic Kronur and the loss of driving privileges for two months.
U.S. citizens spending less than 90 days in Iceland may drive using their U.S. licenses.

Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.
Visit the web site of the country’s national tourist office and national authority responsible for road safety at http://www.vegagerdin.is/english/road-conditions-and-weather/
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT:
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of Iceland’s Civil Aviation Authority as being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for oversight of Iceland’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:
Extreme care should be exercised when touring Iceland's numerous nature attractions, which include glaciers, volcanic craters, lava fields, ice caves, hot springs, boiling mud pots, geysers, waterfalls, and glacial rivers.
There are few warning signs or barriers to alert travelers to potential hazards.
Several tourists are scalded each year because they get too close to an erupting geyser, or because they fall or step into a hot spring or boiling mud pot.
High winds and icy conditions can exacerbate the dangers of visiting these nature areas.
Hikers and backpackers are well advised to stay on marked trails, travel with someone, notify a third party about their travel plans and check weather reports, as there are often no means of communication from remote locations.
This is especially important as weather conditions in Iceland are subject to frequent and unexpected changes.
Those planning visits to dangerous or remote locations in Iceland are strongly encouraged to register with the U.S. Embassy before beginning their journey and to leave a travel itinerary with local guides/officials if planning to trek through remote parts of the country.
See below for information on how to register.

Please see our information on customs regulations.

CRIMINAL PENALTIES:
While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law.
Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses.
Persons violating Icelandic laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession, use or trafficking in illegal drugs in Iceland are strict, 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.

DISASTER PREPAREDNESS:
Iceland is subject to natural disasters in the form of earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, avalanches, and violent storms.
Travelers should learn how to prepare for and react to such events by consulting the web site of Iceland's National Civil Defense Agency at http://www.almannavarnir.is.
General information about natural disaster preparedness is available via the Internet from the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) at http://www.fema.gov.

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 in or visiting Iceland 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 Iceland.
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 Laufasvegur 21, tel. +354-562-9100; fax +354-562-9110.
Information about consular services can be found in the Consular section of the Embassy home page at http://iceland.usembassy.gov
* * *
This replaces the Country Specific Information sheet dated May 7, 2008 to update the sections on Information for Victims of Crime and Medical Facilities and Health Information.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Sat 13 Jul 2019
Source: Food Safety News [edited]

At least 3 children have developed kidney failure after being diagnosed with _Escherichia coli_ infections that are linked to eating ice cream from a farm. A cluster of infections due to Shiga toxin producing enterohemorrhagic _E. coli_ (EHEC) O26:H11 has been traced to the tourist attraction Efstidalur II farm in Blaskogabyggd in the south of Iceland.

The 17 ill children are aged between 14 months and 12 years. At least 3 of them developed haemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a severe condition associated with _E. coli_ infections that causes kidney failure. Around one-third of employees at the farm have also been investigated, but none tested positive for the bacterium.

It was initially suspected that children who fell ill after visiting the farm were infected because of contact with calves, but further investigation found some children had no contact with this animal while 9 had eaten ice cream and the 10th child was infected by a sibling.

Product testing of ice cream did not find the outbreak strain, but samples were not the same as what the children had eaten, as new product was being sold. An investigation found the _E. coli_ strain that infected the children was also detected in faeces from calves.

Officials from the Directorate of Health urged anyone who had visited the farm between 10 Jun 2019 and 4 Jul 2019, and developed diarrhoea within 10 days, to contact a doctor to be tested for the bacterium. "After contact with animals, before eating or preparing food and especially after caring for individuals with diarrhoea, hand-washing with soap and water is strongly recommended. Alcohol-based hand-sanitizer is an optional addition but may not be sufficient on its own against many causes of diarrhoea," added the agency.

The Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority (Matvaelastofnun) recently detected EHEC in 30% of lamb samples and 11.5% of beef samples it tested. Of 148 samples of Icelandic sheep meat, 44 samples were positive for EHEC, and in the 148 samples of domestic and foreign beef, 17 samples were contaminated.

Symptoms of infections caused by EHEC include abdominal cramps and diarrhoea. The incubation period can range from 3 to 8 days and many people recover within 10 days.  [byline: Joe Whitworth]
=======================
[It may well be that contact with the calves was the initial transmission event and the ice cream eating using unwashed hands facilitated transfer. Alternatively, since the outbreak strain was found in calves, were there milk-producing cows present, and, if the ice cream was made there, was the milk used to make the ice cream pasteurized?

Three of 17 cases developing HUS is a high proportion. Some strains seem to produce a higher risk of HUS, but the use of antimicrobials early in the infection can increase the risk of HUS. In episodes of diarrhoea (with or without blood) with significant abdominal pain and little or no fever, EHEC must be suspected and antimicrobials withheld. - ProMED Mod.LL]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of Iceland:
Date: Thu 4 Jul 2019
Source: Outbreak News Today [edited]

Iceland health officials have reported 4 paediatric Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (also called enterohemorrhagic E. coli [EHEC]) cases. Officials say all the children are from the capital of Reykjavik; however, all have probably been infected in Arnessysla county or, more specifically, in Blaskogabyggd.

The source of the infection is unknown at this time. The Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority and the South Iceland Health Inspectorate are now working to analyse the origin of the infections and stop further spread.

Health officials say individuals who have been in Arnessysla (Blaskogabyggd) in the past 2 to 3 weeks and sickened with bloody diarrhoea are encouraged to seek medical advice so that they can check whether they have been infected with [EHEC].

The symptoms of [EHEC] infections vary for each person but often include severe stomach cramps, diarrhoea (often bloody), and vomiting. If there is fever, it usually is not very high (less than 101 deg F/less than 38.5 deg C). Most people get better within 5 to 7 days. Some infections are very mild, but others are severe or even life-threatening.

The Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority recently analysed the presence of pathogenic bacteria in meat in the Icelandic market. It was found that [EHEC] bacteria are found in 30% of lamb and 11.5% of beef. In addition, the bacteria can be found in unpasteurized milk.
========================
[The serotype of EHEC involved is not stated, and it is not entirely clear whether the cases are related to the same food or are even the same serotype. - ProMED Mod.LL]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map:
Date: Thu, 14 Mar 2019 18:17:56 +0100

Reykjavik, March 14, 2019 (AFP) - Iceland has blocked the millions of tourists who descend upon the volcanic island each year from visiting a canyon that has been overrun since it was featured in a Justin Bieber music video.   An influx of tourists and a humid winter have disrupted the Fjadrargljufur canyon's fragile ecosystem, so the Environment Agency of Iceland has closed the site to the public until June 1.   "During periods of thaw, the path is completely muddy and is practically unusable for hikers," agency advisor Daniel Freyr Jonsson told AFP on Thursday.   "Because the mud is so thick, visitors step over the fences and walk parallel to the path, which rapidly damages the plant life," he added.

Fjadrargljufur is a gorge about 100 meters (yards) deep and two kilometres (1.25 miles) long, with steep green walls and a winding riverbed. The canyon was created by progressive erosion from water melting from glaciers 9,000 years ago.   The canyon was little known to foreigners until the end of 2015, when Canadian singer Justin Bieber featured the site in his song "I'll Show You".   "Visits to the site have risen by 50 to 80 percent per year since 2016," said Daniel Freyr Jonsson, estimating that around 300,000 people visited the canyon in 2018.   A growing number of tourist sites in Iceland have been closed in a bid to
preserve them.

The popular Reykjadalur valley and its hot springs were temporarily closed in April 2018 and a hiking trail overlooking the Skogafoss waterfall is currently shut.   "The infrastructure is not set up to accomodate so many visitors," said Daniel Freyr Jonsson.    "Tourism in winter and spring, the most sensitive periods for wildlife in Iceland, (was previously) almost unheard of in Iceland."   Since 2010 and the eruption of the Eyjafjallajokull volcano -- which generated a lot of publicity for the island -- the number of visitors has grown by 25 percent per year on average.   Last year, a record 2.3 million people visited Iceland.
Date: Wed, 27 Dec 2017 18:20:14 +0100

Reykjavik, Dec 27, 2017 (AFP) - A coach carrying Chinese tourists visiting Iceland overturned on Wednesday, killing one person and leaving 12 others seriously injured, local authorities said.   The 44 passengers in the coach were all Chinese nationals, a police spokesman told AFP.   The most seriously injured were taken by helicopter to the capital Reykjavik, around 250 kilometres (340 miles) from the scene of the accident in Kirkjubaejarklaustur.

It happened in the heart of the Icelandic winter with harsh weather conditions and icy roads.   The coach crashed into the back of a car carrying Lithuanian tourists, before going off the road and overturning, authorities said in a statement.   Tourism is a growing sector in Iceland, which welcomed a record number of 1.8 million visitors in 2016.   The number of tourists coming from china have tripled between 2014 and 2016 when 67,00O visited the small volcanic island nation of 335,000.
Date: Fri, 31 Mar 2017 17:26:19 +0200

Reykjavik, March 31, 2017 (AFP) - Tourists keen to explore Iceland's natural beauty will have to pay more from next year, after Reykjavik announced a tax hike Friday on the sector, which has exploded in recent years.   The island nation announced the end of an 11 percent reduced rate of value-added sales tax, saying it will make a typical holiday there about 4 percent more expensive.

Tax on hotels, campsites, travel agents' services, pools and spas and such like will rise to the regular rate, which was itself reduced to 22.5 percent.   The government said the reduced rate was no longer justified since tourism in Iceland, which was badly hit by the 2008 global economic near-meltdown, has exploded seven-fold in the last seven years.

Some 1.77 million visitors came last year, with 2.2-2.3 million expected to make the trip in 2017.   "Most types of tourism will be classified under the general value-added tax bracket," said the finance ministry, announcing the end or the lower rate from July 1, 2018.   Reykjavik estimates the move will reduce tourist numbers by 1 or 2 percent, saying that cost was not the decisive factor for visitors to the country.   According to an opinion poll last year by the national tourism office, 83 percent of visitors cited Iceland's natural beauty as a reason they chose to come, against only 19 percent who said low prices were a factor.
More ...

World Travel News Headlines

Date: Fri, 6 Dec 2019 10:30:54 +0100 (MET)

Moscow, Dec 6, 2019 (AFP) - More than 50 polar bears have gathered on the edge of a village in Russia's far north, environmentalists and residents said, as weak Arctic ice leaves them unable to roam.   The Russian branch of the World Wildlife Fund said climate change was to blame, as unusually warm temperatures prevented coastal ice from forming.   The WWF said 56 polar bears had gathered in a one-square-kilometre (0.4-square-mile) area near the village of Ryrkaipy in Chukotka on the north-eastern tip of Russia.

There were concerns they could enter the village, home to fewer than 1,000 people, and patrols had been set up to monitor their movements.   "The number of human and predator encounters in the Arctic is increasing," the WWF said in statement.    "The main reason is the decline of sea ice area due to the changing climate. In the absence of ice cover, animals are forced to go ashore in search of food."

Residents had gathered walrus carcasses in the area to try to keep the bears from wandering into the village.   "We have created a feeding point with walrus carcasses that we gathered along the coast," Tatyana Minenko of the local "Bear Patrol" told news agency RIA Novosti.   "As long as there is no big freeze, the sea ice will not form and the bears will stay on the coast," she said.

Russia's weather service said temperatures in the region should fall from Saturday and that coastal ice should freeze by December 11.    Polar bears regularly visit areas inhabited by humans in Arctic Russia to search for food, often in rubbish tips.   But the number of visits has been growing as the melting of Arctic ice from climate change forces the bears to spend more time on land where they compete for food.
Date: Fri, 6 Dec 2019 10:28:26 +0100 (MET)
By Joseph Schmid

Paris, Dec 6, 2019 (AFP) - Travellers across France endured a second day of chaos on Friday as unions vowed to keep up their strike until President Emmanuel Macron backs down on controversial pension overhauls.   Rail operator SNCF said 90 percent of high-speed TGV trains were again cancelled, and several airlines dropped flights including Air France, EasyJet and Ryanair.

Nine of the capital's 16 metro lines were shut and most others severely disrupted, sparking some 350 kilometres (220 miles) of traffic jams in the Paris region, well above the usual 200 km, the traffic website Sytadin reported.   Many employees were unable to get to work and several schools again provided only daycare, though fewer teachers were on strike compared with Thursday when some 800,000 people demonstrated across the country according to the interior ministry.   Bike paths were crowded with bikes and electric scooters, with metro operator RATP sponsoring special deals for commuters with a range of ride-hailing companies and other transportation alternatives.

The walkout is the latest test for Macron after months of protests from teachers, hospital workers, police and firefighters as well as the "yellow vest" movement demanding improved living standards.   Unions say his "universal" pension system, which would eliminate dozens of separate plans for public workers, forces millions of people in both public and private sectors to work well beyond the legal retirement age of 62.   Health Minister Agnes Buzyn said Friday that the government had "heard" the protesters' anger and would meet with union leaders to discuss the reform on Monday.   The government has yet to lay out the details of its plan, and Buzyn told Europe 1 radio that "there is indeed a discussion going on about who will be affected, what age it kicks in, which generations will be concerned -- all that is still on the table".

- Macron 'determined' -
Yves Veyrier, head of the hardline FO union, warned Thursday the strike could last at least until Monday if the government did not take the right action.   But it remains to be seen if the protests will match the magnitude of the 1995 strikes against pension overhauls, when France was paralysed for three weeks from November to December in an action that forced the government to back down.

Macron, a former investment banker, has largely succeeded in pushing through a series of controversial reforms, including loosening labour laws and tightening access to unemployment benefits.   But this is the first time the various disgruntled groups have come together in protest.   So far Macron has not spoken publicly on the stoppages though a presidential official, who asked not to be named, said Thursday that the president was "calm" and "determined to carry out this reform" in a mood of "listening and consultation".

While most of Thursday's rallies were peaceful, police fired tear gas to disperse dozens of black-clad protesters smashing windows and throwing stones during the Paris march, with one construction trailer set on fire. Sporadic clashes were also reported in some other cities.   Many people were bracing for further disruptions over the weekend, including the prospect of fuel shortages as unions blocked most of the country's eight oil refineries.

The minimum pension age in France is 62, one of the lowest among developed countries, but there are 42 "special regimes" for railway workers, lawyers, opera employees and others offering earlier retirements and other benefits.   The government says a single system will be fairer for everyone while ensuring its financial viability while acknowledging that people will gradually have to work longer.
Date: Fri, 6 Dec 2019 04:23:51 +0100 (MET)

Sydney, Dec 6, 2019 (AFP) - Three hundred animals have been evacuated from a wildlife park north of Sydney as massive bushfires encircled Australia's largest city and foreign firefighters arrived to relieve beleaguered local forces.   Walkabout Wildlife Park said it had shipped out lizards, dingoes, peacocks and marsupials, as firefighters battled more than 100 fires up and down the eastern seaboard.   "This fire has been doing some crazy things, so we have to be prepared," general manager Tassin Barnard told AFP.

Prolonged drought has left much of eastern Australia tinder dry and spot fires have raged every day for the past three months, leaving firefighters struggling to cope.   New South Wales rural fire chief Shane Fitzsimmons said Friday that some US and Canadian firefighters had arrived to help out, easing the strain on the exhausted largely volunteer Australian force.

The incident-management and aviation specialists will help ease "fatigue and crew rotations" he said.   "We are not only appreciative of their presence here today, but of their sacrifice," said Fitzsimmons -- who has become a fixture on Australian television screens for weeks, updating the public on blazes in towns, national parks and backwaters.    "They are volunteering to sacrifice time from loved ones, from families, to give up that special time of the year around Christmas and New Year to come down here and lend us a hand," he said.

More than 600 homes have been destroyed and six people have died since the crisis began in September. That is many fewer than Australia's deadliest recent fire season in 2009 when almost 200 people died, but 2019's toll belies the scale of devastation.    Millions of hectares have burned -- the size of some small countries -- across a region spanning hundreds of kilometres (miles).   Bushfires are common in Australia but scientists say this year's season has come earlier and with more intensity due to a prolonged drought and climatic conditions fuelled by global warming.

The fires have taken a toll in Sydney and other major cities, which have been blanketed in toxic smoke for weeks and occasionally sprinkled with snow-like embers.   Fitzsimmons said he could not "overstate the effect that this profound drought is having" as he warned of a long, painful summer ahead.   "There is an absolute lack of moisture in the soil, a lack of moisture in the vegetation... you are seeing fires started very easily and they are spreading extremely quickly, and they are burning ridiculously intensely."
Date: Fri, 6 Dec 2019 03:03:18 +0100 (MET)
By Pierre-Henry DESHAYES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

- Changing the world? -
The tourism industry says it hopes to make "ambassadors" out of Antarctica visitors.   "It's good for the animal life and for the protection of Antarctica that people see how beautiful this area is, because you cherish what you know and understand," said Hurtigruten chief executive Daniel Skjeldam.   Texan tourist Mark Halvorson, 72, says he is convinced.   "Having seen it, I am that much more committed to having a very high priority in my politics, in my own inner core convictions to being as environmentally friendly in my life as I can," he said.   So, do Guido and Martina Hofken see themselves as future "ambassadors of Antarctica"?    "Just a little bit, probably. But I don't think I will change the world," Guido Hofken concedes.    "The best thing would be for nobody to travel to Antarctica."
Date: Thu, 5 Dec 2019 16:37:37 +0100 (MET)

Paris, Dec 5, 2019 (AFP) - French rail operator SNCF said Thursday that it had cancelled 90 percent of all high-speed TGV trains and 70 percent of regional trains for Friday due to a strike over the government's pension reforms.   SNCF said that services would "still be very disrupted" on the second day of the biggest transport strike in the country in years, with the Eurostar service to Britain and the Thalys service to northern Europe set to be "very heavily disrupted".   In Paris, where only two of 16 metro lines were operating normally Thursday, public transport workers voted to remain on strike until Monday.

France's civil aviation authority meanwhile told airlines to cut 20 percent of their flights in and out of airports in Paris, Beauvais, Lyon, Marseille, Toulouse and Bordeaux on Friday, the same proportion as on Thursday.   Striking transport workers, air traffic controllers, teachers, fire fighters, lawyers and other groups all fear they will have to work longer or receive reduced pensions under the government's proposal to scrap 42 special pension schemes and replace them with a single plan.   Anticipating the worst travel chaos in years, many employees opted to work from home on Thursday. Those who did venture out travelled mainly by car, bicycle, electric scooter or on foot.
Date: Thu, 5 Dec 2019 12:19:45 +0100 (MET)
By Sofia CHRISTENSEN

Johannesburg, Dec 5, 2019 (AFP) - South African Airways was placed under a state-approved rescue plan on Thursday to avoid the embattled airline's collapse following a costly week-long strike last month.   Thousands of South African Airways (SAA) staff walked out on November 15 after the flag carrier failed to meet a string of demands, including higher wages and job in-sourcing.   The strike was called off the following week after SAA management and unions eventually clinched a deal.

But the walkout dealt a severe blow to the debt-ridden airline, which has failed to make a profit since 2011 and survives on government bailouts.   "The Board of SAA has adopted a resolution to place the company into business rescue," said a statement by South Africa's Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan, adding that the decision was also supported by the government.   "It must be clear that this is not a bailout," said Gordhan. "This is the provision of financial assistance in order to facilitate a radical restructure of the airline."   The business rescue process will be directed by an independent practitioner. It is meant to prevent a "disorderly collapse of the airline", he added.   Gordhan said the government would provide 2 billion rand ($136 million) to SAA in "a fiscally neutral manner".   Existing lenders will also provide a 2 billion rand loan guaranteed by the government.

- 'Financial challenges' -
South Africa is struggling to get state-owned companies back on track after nine years of corruption and mismanagement under former president Jacob Zuma.   Its national airline -- which employs more than 5,000 workers and is Africa's second largest airline after Ethiopian Airlines -- had been losing 52 million rand ($3.5 million) a day during the strike.   SAA's board said the business rescue, scheduled to start immediately, was decided after consultations with shareholders and the public enterprises department "to find a solution to our company's well-documented financial challenges".

"The considered and unanimous conclusion has been to place the company into business rescue in order to create a better return for the company's creditors and shareholders," said the SAA board of directors in a statement.   The rescue plan will include a "new provisional timetable" and ensure "selected activities... continue operating successfully".   With a fleet of more than 50 aircraft, SAA flies to over 35 domestic and international destinations.   "SAA understand that this decision presents many challenges and uncertainties for its staff," said the board.   "The company will engage in targeted communication and support for all its employee groups at this difficult time.

- 'Lesser evil' -
Unions told AFP they would comment later on Thursday.   They have agreed to a 5.9-percent wage increase backdated to April, but which would only start to be paid out next March depending on funding.   SAA had initially refused any pay rise.    The cash-strapped airline needs two billion rand ($136 million) to fund operations through the end of March. But it was unable to cover all of its staff salaries last month.    "Business rescue allows for the airline to continue to operate while it is being restructured, as opposed to liquidation," analyst Daniel Silke told AFP.   He said the rescue was a "lesser evil for SAA" and would save more jobs than a "shutdown".

But Silke still expected jobs to be cut as SAA attempted to reduce costs.   "Various divisions that make of SAA could be privatised," he said. "There will be a review of SAA aircraft and routes covered by SAA."   Unions had already demanded a three-year guarantee of job security following an announcement last month that almost 1,000 SAA employees could lose their jobs as part of another restructuring plan.   SAA pledged to defer that process to the end of January as part of the deal that ended the strike.
Date: Wed 4 Dec 2019
Source: Stock Daily Dish [edited]

Out of the 7 patients who were admitted to the hospital suspecting Nipah virus infection, one has been tested positive while the other 6 have been tested negative.

Kerala health minister K K Shailaja said at a press briefing in Kochi on Thursday [28 Nov 2019] that of "7 patients admitted to the hospital, one patient's result is positive for Nipah virus, while 6 patients' results are negative. No one has been discharged from the isolation ward. The source of the virus is not confirmed yet."

On the other hand, 2 persons suffering from high fever were put under observation at Trivandrum Medical College on Thursday [28 Nov 2019]. Their samples have been sent for examination.

On 4 Jun [2019], a 23-year-old-man had tested positive for Nipah virus infection, which killed 17 people in Kerala last year [2018].

As of now, a total of 15 people are under observation in the state.

Union minister for health and family welfare Dr Harsh Vardhan had said on 4 Jun [2019] that the centre had rushed a team of doctors to Kerala for investigation in the wake of the scare of Nipah virus. Vardhan had asserted that he was "very vigorously" following the situation.

Nipah virus is transmitted from animals [bats] to humans and then spreads through people to people, causing respiratory illness. Its symptoms include fever, muscle pain, headache, fever, dizziness, and nausea.

The Health Department in Karnataka issued a circular asking administration in Chamarajanagar, Mysuru, Kodagu, Dakshina Kannada, Uttara Kannada, Udupi, Shivamogga, and Chikkamagaluru districts to immediately convene interdepartmental coordination committee meetings, including the veterinary department, the Indian Medical Association, and the Indian Academy of Pediatrics.

Authorities in these 8 districts have been directed to identify 2 isolation beds to quarantine suspected human cases. They have been asked to keep all the logistics available at all levels, read the circular. The department has also asked district authorities to direct government and private hospitals to keep an eye on suspected cases.

Once a patient shows symptoms of Nipah, the hospitals have to monitor for acute encephalitis syndrome, check all vital parameters, and take a travel history of the patients.

The district hospitals should have an ICU with ventilator facilities and capacity to receive emergency cases, the circular read.

The department asked the districts to furnish a daily outbreak report regarding Nipah virus. It also directed authorities to sensitise health assistants and ASHA workers.
==================
[This is the 3rd case of Nipah virus infection [NVI] in Kerala state this year (2019). It is prudent that surveillance and patient-care capacity have been increased. Last year (2018), as of 17 Jul 2018, a total of 19 Nipah virus (NiV) cases, including 17 deaths, were reported from Kerala state: 18 of the cases were laboratory confirmed, and the deceased index case was suspected to have NVI but could not be tested. The 2018 outbreak was localized to 2 districts in Kerala state: Kozhikode and Malappuram.

The exact circumstances under which this or the previous confirmed Nipah virus cases this year (2019) acquired their infections are not stated in the above or in previous reports, nor is it stated whether these individuals had contact with flying fox fruit bats (_Pteropus giganteus_), the reservoir hosts of Nipah virus, or fruit that the bats may have contaminated. It is interesting to note that 12 of 36 fruit bats tested at the National Institute of Virology were positive for Nipah virus. Although Kerala health minister KK Shailaja officially had declared Ernakulam district Nipah-free, it may have been free of human cases but is unlikely to have been free of the virus in _Pteropus giganteus_ fruit bats. - ProMED Mod.TY]

[Maps of India:
Date: Wed 4 Dec 2019
Source: Stock Daily Dish [edited]

Bihar Health Minister Mangal Pandey on [Sat 30 Nov 2019] said the state government is doing its best to save children, as the death toll due to acute encephalitis syndrome [AES] in Muzaffarpur mounted to 73.

Pandey said doctors and nurses are being called in from Patna for additional help. "We are trying everything and anything that can save children's lives. Everything is being made available from medicines to doctors. We have even called doctors and nurses from AIIMS in Patna," he said. "There is a protocol regarding what kind of medicines and facilities should be given and we are doing the same. We are monitoring things regularly and trying to save our children."

Recalling the situation that prevailed 5 years ago, Pandey said a team that was formed to ascertain the cause of this disease concluded that sleeping empty stomach at night, dehydration due to humidity and eating lychee on empty stomach were some of the causes of encephalitis.

"Our government has tried to spread awareness which will be beneficial as well. Advertisement in newspapers, radio jingles, pamphlets and mic [microphone] announcements are going to spread awareness regarding the disease. Health ministry is also working on it," he said.

On being asked about spread of ASE in Gorakhpur last year [2018], he said, "From Gorakhpur to Muzaffarpur region, this disease had spread last year and the Union government had worked on this and we will continue to fight it now."

"This incident in Muzaffarpur is very saddening and we also feel bad when children of our nation die like this. Not the whole district is affected but a large part is suffering from it," he added.

From [1 Jan 2019], until now [5 Dec 2019], 220 children were admitted in Sri Krishna Medical College and Hospital in Muzaffarpur due to AES, out of which 62 lost their lives.

As per the data of SKMCH hospital, 235 children were admitted, of which 89 died; in 2013 - 90 children were admitted, of which 35 died; in 2014 - 334 children were admitted, of which 117 died; in 2015 - 37 children were admitted, of which 15 died; in 2016 - 31 children were admitted, of which 6 died; in 2017 - 44 children were admitted, of which 18 died; and in 2018 - 43 children were admitted, of which 12 died.

Meanwhile, Minister of State for Union ministry for home affairs, Nityanand Rai, visited Sri Krishna Medical College and Hospital to review the situation after the outbreak of AES.

Encephalitis is a viral disease, which causes mild flu-like symptoms such as high fever, convulsions and headaches and has been claiming lives in the district for the past few weeks.
======================
[The dates within which these AES cases have occurred is not stated. The urgency that has prompted Behar health officials to request the aid of physicians and nurses from adjoining Patna suggests that the AES outbreak is going on currently. The uncertainty about the etiology of AES continues. It is curious that the above report makes no mention of negative or positive tests for Japanese encephalitis among the AES patients, although that virus is endemic in northeastern India, including Bihar state. Neighboring Uttar Pradesh state has had JE cases as well this summer (2019) but has intensified its JE vaccination program.

The issue of the aetiology of AES has been under discussion for a long time. Lychee fruit contain toxins. Encephalopathy and hypoglycaemia have been associated with consumption of lychee fruit contains phytotoxins, specifically alpha-(methylenecyclopropyl)glycine (see ProMED-mail archive no. http://promedmail.org/post/20150201.3132842). However, the current cases cannot be due to lychee consumption, since the season for that fruit has passed.

AES has continued to be attributed to a variety of aetiologies, including Reye syndrome-like disease, possible enterovirus infection from polluted water, heatstroke, lychee fruit consumption, and scrub typhus (_Orientia tsutsugamushi_). A recent publication (reference below) states that dengue virus is one of the 3 most common agents identified in AES, but existing surveillance for AES does not include routine testing for dengue. Until the etiology (or etiologies) of these AES cases is determined, effective and efficient prevention of these cases will not be possible.

Reference:
Ravi V, Hameed SKS, Desai A, et al. Dengue virus is an under-recognised causative agent of acute encephalitis syndrome (AES): results from a 4-year AES surveillance study of Japanese encephalitis in selected states of India. Int J Infect Dis 2019;84 Suppl:19-24. <https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijid.2019.01.008>.

Available at:

[Maps of India:
HealthMap/ProMED maps available
at:<http://healthmap.org/promed/p/364>, and Bihar, India:
Date: Thu 5 Dec 2019 6:11 PM EET
Source: Enab Baladi [edited]

[Leishmaniasis] is spreading widely among residents of Deir ez-Zor, and especially children. Some of the areas affected are controlled by the Kurdish self-administration while others are under the control of the Syrian regime. Medical sources counted hundreds of infected civilians and confirmed the disease's rapid spread.

According to Atef al-Tawil, a manager of the Leishmania & Environmental Health Programme at the Syrian regime's Ministry of Health, most infections in eastern Deir ez-Zor are spread among school children.

In a Facebook comment on a post by Twasol agency, al-Tawil claimed that cases of leishmaniasis were detected, at the end of November [2019], in primary schools in eastern Deir ez-Zor and its surrounding villages (al-Jalaa, al-Salihiyah, al-Tawtha, al-Abbas, al-Mujawdeh, al-Hasarat, al-Saial, al-Ghabrah).

According to al-Tawil, 455 infections of children were detected. A treatment team of 10 members was formed in the affected locations, to help control the disease to aid in early detection.

The Syrian Ministry of Health acted after several appeals by civilians residing in the area as they noticed the disease spreading among their children. Al-Tawil said that this rapid spread was due to the fact that all the infected people have lately returned to their original areas which lack medical centers.

Autonomous administration areas
-------------------------------
According to Euphrates Post network, leishmaniasis is also widely spread in areas controlled by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). In its post on [Sun 1 Dec 2019], the network claimed that the spread of leishmaniasis is mostly concentrated in the eastern countryside of Deir ez-Zor.

According to the network, unofficial statistics by the SDF-affiliated local council shows more than 7000 leishmaniasis infections among children in al-Baghouz, Hajin, Diban, al-Sha'afa, al-Kishkiye, Abu Hamam, and Gharanij. The local councils' attempts of controlling the disease are still substandard, according to the Euphrates Post.

The network also quoted doctors and nurses calling for international organizations to interfere and provide hospitals and clinics with the required vaccine [there is no vaccine for leishmaniasis; ed.], and to train specialized medical staff in each clinic to deal with the disease.

The autonomous-administration-affiliated media center in Deir ez-Zor also confirmed the spread of leishmaniasis and pointed out that the authorities took actions, by the end of November [2019], to provide treatments.

According to the media center, special medical teams and cadres were distributed among the clinics to provide 12,000 ampoules of the required [medicine] to treat leishmaniasis with the support of the World Health Organization.

Leishmaniasis is a parasitic disease transmitted by the bite of infected female phlebotomine sandflies -- a very small yellow fly that is active at night and makes no sound when it bites -- and the main cause for its spread is dirt and lack of hygiene.  [Byline: Enab Baladi]
========================
[Deir ez-Zor is east and south of the locations in the previous ProMED reports (see below), indicating further increase in cases of cutaneous leishmaniasis beyond its historical concentration in western Syria (<https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4861536/>) and beyond the area of the MENTOR initiative in northern Syria (<https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/eid/article/24/11/17-2146_article>).

Cutaneous leishmaniasis is endemic in Syria with its reservoir in rodents. It has been a problem throughout the Syrian civil war and in ISIS controlled areas during the war due to a breakdown in rodent and vector control. - ProMED Mod.EP]

[Maps of Syria:
Date: Tue 3 Dec 2019
Source: Twitter feed in Arabic [machine trans., edited]

Taiz health official: 24 laboratory-confirmed cases of West Nile virus and more than 300 suspected cases. #Republic_Yemen
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[Any information on the actual number of WNV cases, their lab confirmation, and public health response activities in this regard will be highly appreciated. - ProMED Mod.UBA]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of Yemen: