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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: 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:
Date: Thu, 19 Oct 2017 16:37:27 +0200
By Ricardo ARDUENGO, con Nelson DEL CASTILLO en San Juan y Leila MACOR en Miami

Utuado, Puerto Rico, Oct 19, 2017 (AFP) - It's been a month since Hurricane Maria ripped through Puerto Rico and Samuel de Jesus still can't drive out of his isolated, blacked-out town.   In fact, much of the US territory in the Caribbean is still a crippled mess four weeks after that fierce Category Four storm.

The bridge connecting Rio Abajo to the rest of the island was swept away when Maria slammed the island on September 20. For two weeks Rio Abajo, located in a mountainous region in central-western Puerto Rico, was cut off and forgotten, without power or phone service.   "We didn't know what to do. We were literally going crazy," said de Jesus, 35.   "Those were difficult, desperate days. We could not find a way out, and the hurricane caused extensive damage," he told AFP.

During the two long weeks following Maria, the 27 families living in Rio Abajo saw their supplies quickly deplete.   De Jesus, who has diabetes, needed to keep his insulin refrigerated. The storm blew away the island's already decrepit power grid, so people resorted to emergency generators.   "But I was running out of gasoline to run the generator," he said.   A helicopter now makes regular deliveries of food, water and medicine because with the bridge washed out, there is no other way in or out of town.

People can't wade across the river because it is contaminated with human waste after a pipe broke when the bridge went.   Some brave souls use a precarious ladder rigged to get across the water, but for most people it is too dangerous.   We need a bridge "to take out our vehicles and leave in case of emergency, or if there is a landslide," he said.   Where the bridge once stood, residents set up a system of ropes, pulleys and buckets to move supplies over the river, which has been contaminated with sewer water since the hurricane.   Over the remains of the bridge locals hung the single-star, red, white and blue flag of Puerto Rico and a sign that reads "the campsite of the forgotten."

- Desperate need for electricity -
Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello visited the surrounding municipality of Utuado on Wednesday to deliver supplies, but he did not stop in Rio Abajo.   "Utuado is certainly one of the most severely affected municipalities in all of Puerto Rico," Rossello said.   "Our commitment is to give it support and aid during the whole road to recovery."   Eighty-one percent of Puerto Rico remains blacked out one month after Maria struck. Clean water for drinking, cooking and bathing is scarce, too.

Puerto Ricans' main obstacle to getting back to some semblance of normality is the slowness of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority in getting the power grid back up and running.   The lack of power has paralyzed a key industry -- pharmaceutical production -- and most businesses including restaurants are closed or operating at great cost through the use of diesel powered generators.

This nightmare comes about a year after the US government established an external fiscal control board for the island after it declared bankruptcy because of 73 billion dollars in debt.   Economist Joaquin Villamil told AFP that damage from Hurricane Maria is estimated at 20 billion dollars -- four times that of Hurricane Georges in 1998, when measured in 2016 dollars.

Villamil said reconstruction money provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and from insurance companies will have a positive impact on the island's economy in the second half of fiscal 2018 and in fiscal 2019, but this boost will just be temporary.   "From an economic point of view there is not much net gain," said Villamil, who works for a consulting firm called Estudios Tecnicos.   He said the economy has been shrinking since 2006 and Maria will delay any prospect of recovery.   It will take at least until 2026 to get back to the GDP level of 2006, he added.

Making things worse, people are leaving the island for the mainland US. Forecasts are that the population now at 3.4 million will go down to 3.1 million or even less by 2026, said Villamil.   The government of Florida estimates that since October 3 -- the day a state of emergency to deal with an influx of Puerto Ricans was declared -- more than 36,000 people from the island have poured in.
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Cook Islands

No Profile is available at present

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

- Cook Islands. 12 Apr 2019

As of Wednesday [10 Apr 2019], the Ministry for Health has 18 confirmed and 12 probable dengue fever cases. This is a total of 30 cases compared to 24 previously identified.
Date: Thu, 2 Jul 2015 05:34:35 +0200 (METDST)

Wellington, July 2, 2015 (AFP) - Airport authorities in the Cook Islands on Thursday warned thrill seekers to stay away from their runway's jet blast zone after three tourists were injured when a plane was taking off.   The main road in the tiny Pacific nation passes by the bottom of the runway and daring plane-spotters often stand in the wash of jet engines, clinging to the airport's fence as aircraft hit maximum thrust for ascent.   "If you don't hang onto anything, you'll be knocked over," Cook Islands Airport Authority chief executive Joe Ngamata told AFP.   "You get the young people and tourists looking for thrills going down there."

Ngamata said three tourists were blown over by the power of the jet blast last Thursday and were lucky to only receive cuts and bruises.   "It can be dangerous," he said, adding that the area was clearly marked with red danger signs to deter the practice.    "We might need to look at extra barriers or fences to keep people away."   However, stopping it may be difficult, with the national tourism authority including the jet blast in a recent marketing video showing "the top 10 reasons to come to the Cook Islands".
Date: Tue 1 Apr 2014
From: Dr Alyssa Pyke <Alyssa.Pyke@health.qld.gov.au> [edited]

A female patient in Townsville, Queensland, Australia has been diagnosed with Zika virus infection following a recent trip to the Cook Islands, where the virus is currently circulating. A serum sample collected in March 2014 was positive by 2 separate Zika virus TaqMan real-time RT-PCRs and a pan-Flavivirus RT-PCR. Nucleotide sequencing and phylogenetics revealed 99.1 per cent homology with a previous Cambodia 2010 sequence within the Asian lineage. Flavivirus IgG and IgM antibodies were also detected in the serum sample.

This is the 1st known imported case of Zika virus infection into northern Queensland, where the potential mosquito vector _Aedes aegypti_ is present, and only the 2nd such case diagnosed within Australia.
----------------------------------------------------
Dr Alyssa Pyke
Public Health Virology
Forensic and Scientific Services
Coopers Plains, Queensland
Australia
==============================
[As of 25 Mar 2014, there were 49 confirmed cases of Zika virus infection in the Cook Islands, the source of the virus in the case above. Concern for Zika virus introduction into northern Queensland where vector mosquitoes are present is a serious concern. Transport of this virus by viremic individuals has been the mechanism for its introduction into several Pacific islands. Dengue viruses have been introduced into Townsville, northern Queensland, by infected individuals and started small outbreaks there. Since that has happened with dengue viruses, it can happen with Zika virus as well.

ProMED thanks Alyssa Pyke for sending in this report.

A HealthMap showing the location of Queensland state can be accessed
at <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/285>, and the Cook Islands at
<http://healthmap.org/promed/p/4035>. - ProMed Mod.TY]
Date: Tue 25 Mar 2014
Source: Radio New Zealand [edited]

There are now 49 confirmed cases of Zika virus [infection] in the Cook Islands, and as many as 630 people are believed to have suffered from the mosquito-borne disease.

Last month [February 2014], health authorities 1st thought they were dealing with dengue fever, but the 1st batch of test results confirmed 18 cases of Zika [virus infection].

The Director of Community Health Services, Dr Rangi Fariu, says further results from French Polynesia, where the disease 1st broke out in the region, take the number to 49.

He says scientists there are still determining the exact nature of the strain. "Tahiti just asked for those who were already shown positive; they wanted more samples to find out if the Zika [virus] strain that we have here is similar to the one that they have in Tahiti."

Dr Rangi Fariu says doctors have reported about 630 cases of suspected Zika virus [infection] in the Cook Islands and says the real number would be much higher.
========================
[This is the 1st report of Zika virus infections in the Cook Islands. The virus has been circulating in the islands of French Polynesia, New Caledonia and Easter Island. Although the distances between these islands is significant, the virus is being moved by viraemic people who travel between them. One can expect further spread to localities where there are populations of vector mosquitoes that can initiate new outbreaks. Zika virus is a flavivirus. Symptoms of Zika fever may include fever, headache, red eyes, rash, muscle aches, and joint pains. The illness is usually mild and lasts 4-7 days. No fatalities caused by Zika virus infection have been reported.

A HealthMap/ProMED-mail map showing the location of the Cook Islands in the Pacific can be accessed at
Monday 7th May 2012
A ProMED-mail post
<http://www.promedmail.org>

- Cook Islands. 4 May 2012. 3 cases of dengue fever have been confirmed on Rarotonga in the Cook Islands and while public health officials expect more victims, they are asking people to be alert but not alarmed. All the confirmed cases emanate from Rarotonga so far, but because the 3 infected individuals come from different parts of the island officials expect more cases will surface. The Cook Islands News reports the latest cases of the mosquito-borne [virus] disease are the 1st to be recorded in the Cook Islands since 2009.
========================
[A HealthMap/ProMED-mail interactive map showing the location of the Cook Islands can be accessed at <http://healthmap.org/r/2jQL>. - ProMed Mod.TY]
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Eritrea

Eritrea US Consular Information Sheet
November 26, 2008
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
Eritrea is a poor but developing East African country, the capital of which is Asmara. Formerly a province of Ethiopia, Eritrea became an independent country on M
y 24, 1993, following a 30-year struggle that culminated in an overwhelming referendum vote for independence. Tourism facilities are very limited. Read the Department of State Background Notes on Eritrea for additional information.

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:
All travelers should have a passport and valid visa prior to arrival; visas are not available at the airport unless specifically pre-authorized by the Eritrean government.
Travelers visiting Eritrea using a foreign passport do not need an exit visa, provided they leave before their entrance visa expiration date.
Persons staying beyond their entrance visa expiration date may be subject to fines or imprisonment, or be required to remain in Eritrea for an extended period while their case is reviewed in court.
All long-term residents, regardless of citizenship, must obtain an exit visa 30 days prior to departure, unless they hold a difficult-to-obtain multiple entry visa.
Upon entry and exit, visitors must declare all foreign currency, and may be asked to declare electronic equipment such as cameras, computers and video equipment.
Visitors must save all receipts for foreign exchange and present these upon departure to account for all foreign currency spent in Eritrea.
Failure to report foreign currency or meet customs requirements usually results in both a fine and imprisonment.
There is also a $20 airport departure tax.
Information about the airport tax and entry/exit requirements is available from the Embassy of Eritrea, 1708 New Hampshire Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20009; telephone (202) 319-1991; fax (202) 319-1304.
Overseas, inquiries may be made at the nearest Eritrean embassy or consulate.

U.S. citizens born in Eritrea, to Eritrean parents, or who in any other way appear to have Eritrean origins, are required to register with the Immigration and Nationality office in Asmara within seven business days of their entry into the country.
The Eritrean government sometimes subjects U.S. citizens of Eritrean heritage to the same entry/exit requirements as Eritrean citizens.
See the “Special Circumstances” section below for more information about dual nationality.

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:
Eritrea and Ethiopia fought a border war from 1998-2000.
United Nations peacekeepers patrolled the border until March 2008, when Government of Eritrea diesel fuel restrictions resulted in the peacekeepers’ withdrawal.
Both Eritrea and Ethiopia maintain large military presences along the border and currently all border crossings into Ethiopia from Eritrea remain closed.
U.S. citizens are strongly advised to avoid travel near the Eritrean-Ethiopian border and to register their presence in Eritrea with the U.S. Embassy in Asmara.

Since April 2008, large numbers of Eritrean troops have been deployed along the northeastern border of Djibouti.
U.S. citizens are strongly advised to avoid non-essential travel to the Southern Red Sea region of Eritrea, including the port of Assab.

Landmines and unexploded ordnance remain a serious problem throughout the country.
There are reports of accidents and numerous incidents where vehicles and people occasionally detonate mines.
Many detonations occurred on relatively well-traveled roads in and near the Gash Barka region of western Eritrea; subsequent investigations indicated that several mines had been recently laid.
Vast areas of the country still have not been certified free of mines and unexploded ordnance left over from both the 30-year war for independence and the subsequent 1998-2000 conflict with Ethiopia.
Americans should avoid walking alone and hiking in riverbeds or areas that local government officials have not certified as safe.

Although Eritrea and Sudan have diplomatic relations, the procedures for crossing their common border are not clear and subject to change.
Overland travel between the two countries is dangerous and ill advised.
Travelers crossing from Eritrea to Sudan north and west of the Keren-Barentu road risk becoming victims of banditry or Islamic extremist insurgent activity.
Several incidents were reported in 2007, apparently involving insurgents or criminals in this area.
The U.S. Embassy also received reports of sporadic bombings of vehicles and government facilities in the Gash Barka region near Sudan in 2007 and 2008.
If travel near the Eritrean-Sudanese border is essential, travelers should consult both the Eritrean authorities and the U.S. Embassy in advance.
Foreign travelers who wish to visit any area outside of Asmara must apply at least ten days in advance for a travel permit from the Eritrean government.

For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs’ website 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 pamphletA Safe Trip Abroad.
CRIME:
Although still a safe city by many measures, Asmara reported significant increases of street crime, such as theft, robbery, and assault in 2008.
Travelers should exercise vigilance in their personal security and safety precautions regarding what valuables they carry and which areas they visit.

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 Eritrea are extremely limited.
Travelers must carry their own supplies of prescription drugs and preventative medicines because pharmaceuticals are in short supply.
Food and water-borne illnesses are very common among travelers, so drink only bottled or purified water and eat foods that are cooked or peeled.
Malaria is a serious risk to travelers in the lowlands of Eritrea, but Asmara is generally considered free of the disease.

There is no HIV testing requirement for temporary or permanent entry into Eritrea.
Please verify this information with the Embassy of Eritrea before you travel.

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

The roads between major cities (Asmara, Massawa, Mendefera, Dekemhare, Barentu, and Keren) are paved and in relatively good condition.
However, secondary roads and those in remote areas are usually unpaved and in poor condition.
U.S. citizens should avoid traveling on these roads, especially at night.
Bad weather can also make the condition of poor roads worse.
If you must take unpaved roads, check first with local government and village officials as new minefields continue to be discovered.

Landmines and unexploded ordnance litter the countryside in many areas, occasionally causing injuries and deaths.
Although the UN conducted de-mining efforts until late 2007, evidence of new mines has been reported, particularly in areas near the Ethiopian border.
All areas that are not well traveled are potentially dangerous due to live mines, especially north and west of Keren.
There are also minefields near Massawa, Ghinda, Agordat, Barentu, south of Tessenae, Nakfa, Adi Keih, Arezza, Dekemhare, and in a roughly 40-kilometer wide region just west of the Eritrean-Ethiopian border between the Setit and Mereb Rivers.

Many Eritreans use inexpensive public transportation, especially bus service.
Travelers should avoid taking buses due to extreme over-crowding.
Taxis are plentiful and inexpensive in Asmara, but usually carry multiple passengers along pre-defined routes.
If an empty taxi is available, a customer may request a "contract" taxi, which accepts no additional passengers, for a significantly higher fixed price.
Drivers should be aware of heavy and erratic pedestrian and bicycle traffic obstructing vehicle flow.
Occasionally horse-drawn carts, cattle, or goats add to the obstacles.
Other hazards are children and the elderly, who sometimes wander into the path of moving traffic, as well as small, slow, motorized carts.
Elderly or disabled people usually drive these carts and do not always yield to faster moving traffic.
When parallel parking on city streets, watch for pedestrians as you back into the space.
Please refer to our Road Safetypage for more information.

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

SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:
Due to Eritrean government restrictions impacting Embassy operations, the consular section of the U.S. Embassy in Asmara does not provide routine services to American citizens in Eritrea, including reports of birth, passports, and notaries.
Americans traveling or residing in Eritrea who require such services must travel to a U.S. Embassy or Consulate outside Eritrea, and should plan accordingly.

American citizens should also be aware that U.S. diplomatic personnel are subject to travel restrictions.
The Government of Eritrea requires resident diplomats to apply 10 days in advance for travel outside of Asmara city limits; often travel permission is not given.
This restriction can delay or prevent U.S. Embassy emergency assistance to American citizens outside of Asmara.

The consular section of the U.S. Embassy in Asmara has been closed for visa services since January 2007.
Eritrea has complicated citizenship laws and does not recognize renunciation of Eritrean citizenship.
Dual nationals who enter the country on Eritrean documents are treated as Eritrean citizens, regardless of their other citizenship.
U.S. citizens born in Eritrea, or who otherwise are considered to have acquired Eritrean citizenship, may be subject to certain obligations, including being drafted into national service, regardless of the documents they present at entry.
(National service is approximately six months of military training, followed by an often unspecified number of years in military or other government service.)

U.S.-Eritrean dual nationals who enter the country on an Eritrean passport or national ID card must obtain an exit visa prior to departure.
Exit visa applications can significantly delay travel plans or be denied, even for persons who entered Eritrea legally.
Eritrean dual nationals are also required to pay a 2% income tax on overseas earnings to the Eritrean Government prior to being granted an exit visa.
Additionally, Eritrean authorities sometimes to not allow Eritreans who left the country after 1993 to depart Eritrea after visiting the country, even if they have a U.S. passport and a valid Eritrean visa.

The government of Eritrea does not inform the U.S. Embassy of the detention of American citizens, and does not allow Embassy officials to visit incarcerated Americans.

Visitors are advised to exercise caution when taking photographs in Eritrea.
Foreigners in Asmara have been harassed and detained by local police and plain clothes security officials for taking photographs of street scenes in the city.
No law has been cited, but the arresting officials' justifications have been that (unmarked) government buildings are in the background and/or that the pictures are being taken (illegally) for commercial reasons.

All foreign nationals in Eritrea are required to apply for permits to travel outside of Asmara.
Travel permits must be presented at all checkpoints.
Checkpoints are found on major roads through Eritrea, but locations may change without notice.
Applications for travel permits are available at the Ministry of Tourism located on Harnet Avenue.
There is a high risk of earthquakes in Eritrea.
General information about natural disaster preparedness is available on the Internet from the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) at http://www.fema.gov.
Please see our information on Customs Regulations.

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 Eritrean laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Eritrea 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 Eritrea are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department's travel registration web site, and to obtain updated information on travel and security within Eritrea.
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 179 Alaa Street, PO Box 211, Asmara; telephone (291-1) 12-00-04; fax (291-1) 124-255 and (291-1) 127-584; the Embassy’s web site is located at http://eritrea.usembassy.gov/
*

*

*
This replaces the Country Specific Information for Eritrea dated April 28, 2008, to update sections on Entry/Exit Requirements, Safety and Security, Crime,
Medical Facilities and Health Information, and Special Circumstances.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Sat 10 Sep 2016
Source: Asmarino Independent [edited]

Activists have reported a serious cholera outbreak in the Upper Gash-Barka Region of Eritrea, which is proving difficult to control. The outbreak was 1st observed at Barentu Referral Hospital 2 weeks ago when people who had travelled from the upper Gash region were reported to be suffering from an illness that was not diagnosed easily. However, as a result of the extended time taken for accurate diagnosis of cholera due to a severe shortage of expertise and infrastructure, the outbreak spread widely, affecting areas of the Gash-Barka Region.

It has now been a week since the Ministry of Health acknowledged the outbreak as being a potential national epidemic and has briefed health professionals in the region to that effect.

So far, the effort to curb the spread is proving futile, and the impact of the outbreak is being felt across the region. Markets were deserted as a result of the spread, and even cattle markets in small villages outside Barentu have been cordoned off to prevent the spread. An expert at the Ministry of Health's public health section for preventing such epidemics stated: "There is currently no national emergency response team to prevent and control such outbreaks; we are, therefore, prone to such epidemics, as it always takes time to pull such a team together to both control the outbreak and treat victims."

Already, the current epidemic is said to have spread from the Upper Gash Region to the Southern Region and particularly to the area of Mai Dima, where an epidemic control team has been dispatched.

According to health experts in the region, when such an outbreak occurs, even able-bodied adults find it impossible to cope with the acute loss of bodily fluids. Without appropriate medical assistance, it is impossible for patients to recover, and the situation is considerably worse for pregnant women and children.

Given the lack of public health awareness, Arbi Harnet calls on the people to take preventive actions by strictly adhering to personal and public hygiene practices.
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[A HealthMap/ProMED-mail map showing Eritrea is available at
Date: Sat, 23 Jan 2016 12:14:06 +0100

Nairobi, Jan 23, 2016 (AFP) - Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki on Saturday dismissed fears the Horn of African nation faces a food crisis, despite sweeping drought across the wider region leaving millions in need of aid.   Floods and failed rains caused by the El Nino weather phenomenon have sparked a dramatic rise in the number of people going hungry in east Africa.

But authoritarian and isolated Eritrea has long rejected UN food aid in favour of a policy of self reliance, and Isaias said he was not worried.    "In view of the harvest shortfall that has affected the whole Horn of Africa region, President Isaias stated that the country will not face any crisis in spite of reduced agricultural output," the information ministry said, after he was interviewed by state-run media.   Isaias praised the government's "judicious policy and approaches of bolstering its strategic food reserves."

In November, the UN warned that Eritrea was among the countries at risk, like all the other nations in the wider region. "The current El Nino pattern, being the strongest ever recorded, has caused severe drought in the Horn of Africa nation, resulting in crop reduction by 50 to 90 percent; even failure in some regions," the United Nations said earlier this month.   In Ethiopia, over 10 million people need food aid, it added.    In Eritrea, few if any major foreign aid agencies are allowed operate, while the UN has limited access across the country, and most assessments are dependent on government reports.

Thousands of Eritreans flee the county each month, saying they are escaping conscription and rampant rights abuses.   Refugees from the repressive Red Sea state make up the third-largest number of people risking the dangerous journey to Europe after Syrians and Afghans, running a gauntlet of ruthless people smugglers to make the treacherous Mediterranean crossing.
Date: Thu 30 Jul 2015
Source: Eurosurveillance edition 2015; 20(30) [edited]

Louse-borne relapsing fever (_Borrelia recurrentis_) in asylum seekers from Eritrea, the Netherlands, July 2015
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[Authors: Wilting KR, Stienstra Y, Sinha B, Braks M, Cornish D, Grundmann H]

Two patients from Eritrea, recently arrived in the Netherlands, presented with fever and were investigated for malaria. Bloodfilms showed spirochetes but no blood parasites. Louse-borne relapsing fever caused by _Borrelia recurrentis_ was diagnosed. Treatment was complicated by severe Jarisch-Herxheimer reactions [inflammatory reaction observed after antimicrobial treatment of several infectious diseases] in both patients. Physicians should be aware of the possibility of _B. recurrentis_ infection in migrant populations who travel under crowded conditions, especially after passing through endemic areas such as Ethiopia and neighbouring countries.

_Borrelia recurrentis_ has for many centuries caused infections of often epidemic proportions known as relapsing fever. Since the infection is exclusively transmitted by body lice and humans are their only host, large scale outbreaks are only expected under circumstances conducive to louse infestation. We here report the 1st introduction of louse-borne relapsing fever into the Netherlands after World War II.

Case descriptions
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Patient 1
On 4 Jul 2015, a young adult from Eritrea was referred from the National Reception Centre for Asylum Seekers (Asielzoekercentrum, AZC) to a regional hospital in the northern Netherlands with a 5-day history of headache, dizziness, right upper quadrant pain, myalgia, and fever (39.3 deg C [102.7 deg F]). Malaria was suspected. The patient had been in the Netherlands for only 2 days after arriving in Europe 14 days earlier. En route to Europe, they travelled through Ethiopia, Sudan, and Libya. Previously, they had noticed chills while sheltering in an unofficial street camp in Rome where they stayed with a small group of fellow Eritreans before travelling to the Netherlands.

Thick and thin bloodfilms did not show malaria parasites and commercial malaria antigen tests were negative. However, filamentous unidentified structures were reported in the thick film by the laboratory of the peripheral hospital. The patient received empirical treatment with a single dose of ceftriaxone (2000 mg intravenously) for suspected bacterial septicaemia. After administration, their condition deteriorated and the patient was transferred within the next 2 hours to the University Medical Center Groningen (UMCG) where they arrived at the emergency department with headache, peripheral hypothermia (35.3 deg C [95.5 deg F]), hypotension (systolic/diastolic blood pressure 78/52 mmHg, heart rate of 106 beats per minute), abdominal pain but no hepatosplenomegaly, and shortness of breath (respiratory rate 23 breaths/min). Laboratory analysis showed leucocytopenia (leucocytes: 1.6 x 10(9)/L, norm: 4.5-10 x 10(9)/L), anaemia (haemoglobin: 6.5mmol/L, norm: 8.6-11.2 mmol/L) and thrombocytopenia (thrombocytes: 16x10(9)/L, norm: 150-450x10(9)/L). C-reactive protein (CRP) was 254 mg/L (norm: less than 1 mg/L). Kidney function was normal. The patient's liver function tests showed mildly elevated transaminases (alanine transaminase: 58 U/L, norm: 7-56 U/L; aspartate transaminase: 108 U/L, norm: 10-40 U/L; alkaline phosphatase: 124 U/L, norm 20-140 U/L; gamma-glutamyl transferase: 93 U/L, norm 0-51 U/L) and total bilirubin levels of 38 micromole/L (norm: less than 26 micromol/L) and direct bilirubin 35 micromol/L (norm: less than 7 micromol/L). Oxygen saturation was 91 percent (norm: 95-100 percent). Giemsa-stained thick and thin films revealed spirochetes in large numbers (Figure 1 [available at the source URL]) and no malaria parasites.

Given the patient's travel history, louse-borne relapsing fever was suspected. The clinical deterioration was provoked by the ceftriaxone administration leading to a severe Jarisch-Herxheimer reaction [1]. Treatment was switched to doxycyline 200 mg per day intravenously intravenously to reduce the risk of relapse [2]. The patient was transferred to the intensive care unit (ICU) for fluid resuscitation, cardiac support with noradrenalin, and supportive oxygen delivery via high flow nose mask.

_B. recurrentis_ was confirmed by 16S rDNA PCR and sequencing directly from blood 2 days later. The patient stayed at the ICU for 2 days, made a full recovery and was discharged after 6 days. The body louse _Pediculus humanus humanus_ was recovered from [the patient's clothing (Figure 2 [available at the source URL]).

Patient 2
In 9 Jul 2015, a 2nd young adult from Eritrea was directly referred by the responsible physician at the AZC to the UMCG. On arrival, the patient presented with general malaise, headache, fever (38.5 deg C [101.3 deg F]) and cough. Blood tests showed elevated inflammatory parameters (leucocytes: leucocytes: 12.7 x 10(9)/L, CRP: 320 mg/L), normal kidney function and slightly elevated transaminases, but the blood sample was haemolytic. Thick and thin films showed spirochetes and treatment was started with doxycyline 200 mg orally. 2 hours later the patient developed a severe Jarisch-Herxheimer reaction [that] required admission to intensive care where they received fluid resuscitation, inotropic treatment with noradrenalin, and oxygen via a face-mask. _B. recurrentis_ was confirmed by 16S rDNA sequencing.

The patient reported symptoms of chills and fever 2 weeks before presentation at our hospital. Their journey through North Africa followed the same route as that of Patient 1, but Patient 2 had arrived in Europe a week earlier. Patient 2 had camped out in the streets for 5 days in Rome (as had Patient 1). Patient 2 arrived in the Netherlands 2 weeks before presenting at our hospitals after travelling through Austria and Germany. The patient made a full recovery and was discharged after 5 days. Lice could not be recovered from the clothing.

Discussion
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_B. recurrentis_ should be suspected in patients presenting with fever and a recent history of migration from or through endemic countries (Ethiopia, Sudan, Eritrea, and Somalia). The infection is transmitted through body lice (_P. humanus humanus_, formally known as _P. humanus corporis_), which typically lives and breeds in the seams of clothes but can occasionally also be found in bed linens. Immigrants may share their clothing and that can pose an additional risk of transmission. The incubation period for relapsing fever is usually 4 to 8 days with a range of 2 to 15 days [3]. It should be noted that head lice (_P. humanus capitis_), which are not uncommon in Northern Europe, are incompetent vectors and cannot transmit _B. recurrentis_. The spirochetes are easily visible under a microscope in a Giemsa-stained thick or thin blood film as used for the diagnosis of _Plasmodium_ spp [4]. In our patients, the diagnosis was confirmed in both cases by 16S rDNA PCR and sequencing from blood.

Published evidence supports a single dose of tetracycline 500 mg intravenously as the conventional treatment, but considering the limited availability of this drug, doxycycline 200 mg can be used as an effective alternative [2,5]. In young children, pregnant women, or patients with a tetracycline allergy, erythromycin 500 mg can be used instead [6].

Both patients had travelled independently along a similar route before arriving in the Netherlands. Given the incubation period, it cannot be ruled out that the infection was acquired within Europe. Crucial information about risk factors such as exact travel history, recollection of louse infestation or bites and onset of symptoms was, however, impossible to obtain from our patients. Apart from being very sick and the fact that communication required an interpreter versed in Tigre our patients appeared to be traumatised and intimidated and not eager to volunteer information for fear of legal consequences.

Both patients developed a severe Jarisch-Herxheimer reaction after starting antibiotic treatment. _B. recurrentis_ evades host immune defences, resulting in very high bacterial loads (10(6)-10(8)/microl), and effective antibiotic therapy is followed by severe reactions characterised by sudden rigors, fever, and hypotension in virtually all treated patients [3]. Clinical symptoms are associated with increased plasma concentrations of tumour necrosis factor alpha (TNF-alpha), interleukin-6 and interleukin-8 [7]. Treating physicians should be aware of this complication and the chances that ICU admission may be warranted. It is advised that patients receive 2 well-placed intravenous lines for rapid fluid resuscitation. Treatment of Jarisch-Herxheimer reaction consists mainly of supportive care. Corticosteroids seem to have limited beneficial effect but studies suggests that TNF-alpha blockers may be useful [8].

An ad hoc survey at the AZC on [16 Jul 2015] found body lice on 2 newly arrived Eritreans. Since then, all asylum seekers arriving from endemic countries to the AZC have been segregated into a different compound, where they turn over all of their personal clothes in exchange for disposable overalls. Personal clothes are then washed and returned on the next day. Used overalls and bed linen are subsequently destroyed. In addition to delousing, all arrivals receive a single dose of ivermectin as pre-emptive treatment against scabies and Eritreans who arrive with clinically manifest scabies (about 80 percent of all new arrivals) receive a 2nd dose a week later. No new cases of _B. recurrentis_ infection have been identified since mandatory delousing was implemented.

Conclusion
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Because infections with _B. recurrentis_ pose a significant health risk to other migrants, aid workers, healthcare personnel, and arguably to the general population, screening and delousing should be considered for arriving migrants already at ports of entry into the European Union. Our patients may have acquired body lice before arriving in Europe but transmission of infected lice between migrants after arrival in Europe cannot be ruled out and could pose an additional public health challenge.

[Figures and references are available at the source URL above.]
======================
[Relapsing fever is a bacterial infection caused certain species of the spirochete _Borrelia_. These organisms are able to periodically change their surface protein molecules to evade the host's immune response, thus causing a relapsing illness. Following an incubation period of about 7 days, the illness is characterized by recurring episodes of high fever, headache, muscle and joint pain, nausea and vomiting, each episode lasting several days, followed by a several-day asymptomatic interval. There may be up to 3-4 recurrences. Complications may include involvement of the lungs (ARDS; acute respiratory distress syndrome), central nervous system, spinal cord, eyes, heart, and liver. The bacteremia is intense (more than 10,000 organisms per ml of blood) during febrile episodes, which allows detection of organisms on a Wright-Giemsa stained blood smear. Thick blood smears are more sensitive than thin smears.

There are 2 types of relapsing fever: Tick-borne relapsing fever (TBRF) and louse-borne relapsing fever (LBRF). LBRF is more severe than TBRF, with case-fatality rates without antimicrobial treatment of 30 to 70 percent in outbreaks. TBRF occurs in the Western hemisphere, Africa, Asia, the Mediterranean region and the Middle East. In the western United States, TBRF is usually associated with sleeping in rustic, rodent-infested cabins in mountainous areas. In the United States, 3 species, _Borrelia hermsii_, _B. parkerii_, and _B. turicatae_, transmitted by the bite of soft-bodied ticks (genus _Ornithodoros_) cause TBRF. A recently discovered _Borrelia_ species, _Borrelia miyamotoi_, has been found in hard-bodied ticks (_Ixodes_) in regions where Lyme disease is endemic.

LBRF is caused by a single species, _Borrelia recurrentis_, transmitted through abraded skin when the body louse is crushed during scratching. LBRF is endemic in Ethiopia, Sudan, Eritrea, and Somalia. Outbreaks are found in developing regions affected by war and in refugee camps characterized by overcrowding and poor personal hygiene. While mammals and reptiles may serve as a reservoir for tick-borne _Borrelia_ species, humans are the only host of _B. recurrentis_.

Treatment of relapsing fever consists of either a tetracycline (such as, doxycycline), a macrolide (such as, erythromycin), penicillin, or other beta-lactam antibiotics (such as, ceftriaxone). LBRF can be treated effectively with a single dose of the antibiotic (<http://jid.oxfordjournals.org/content/137/5/573.abstract>), whereas treatment of TBRF requires 7-10 days to prevent relapse. When initiating antibiotic therapy, all patients should be observed for a Jarisch-Herxheimer reaction. The reaction, caused by massive release of tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-alpha), interleukin-6, interleukin-8, and other cytokines, is manifest by a worsening of symptoms with rigors, tachycardia, sweating, hypotension, and high ever, occurs in over 50 percent of cases. The Jarisch-Herxheimer reaction can be fatal. Pretreatment with anti TNF-alpha antibody has been found to suppress Jarisch-Herxheimer reactions (<http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJM199608013350503>).

Corticosteroids and antipyretic agents have little or no effect (<http://jid.oxfordjournals.org/content/137/5/573.abstract> and <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/6132178?dopt=Abstract>), whereas meptazinol, an opioid agonist-antagonist, has been reported to reduce the severity of the reaction (<http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/6132178?dopt=Abstract>). Treatment with intravenous fluids and vasopressors to maintain adequate blood pressure may be required. - ProMed Mod.ML]

[A HealthMap/ProMED-mail map can be accessed at:
Date: Fri, 20 Jan 2012 13:40:00 +0100 (MET)

ADDIS ABABA, Jan 20, 2012 (AFP) - Addis Ababa said Friday that two Germans kidnapped during a deadly attack by unidentified gunmen on a group of tourists in northern Ethiopia had been taken to neighbouring Ethiopia. Germany said it was still investigating the pair's whereabouts. "There is news that they are in Eritrea by now," foreign ministry spokesman Dina Mufti told AFP.

The Germans are believed to have been abducted when gunmen attacked a group of tourists in Ethiopia's remote Afar region earlier this week. Five people were killed in the attack: two Germans, two Hungarians and one Austrian. The German foreign ministry said three members of Germany's Federal Crime Agency were dispatched to Ethiopia to assist search efforts.  "The Federal Crime Agency (has) sent staff to Ethiopia in order to support the Embassy," a spokeswoman for Germany's foreign ministry told AFP from Berlin.  "They are trying to investigate where the two missing Germans could be." Six other Germans were among twelve survivors, some of them wounded, who were flown back to Addis Ababa on Wednesday. A Belgian citizen with gunshot wounds remains in hospital in Mekele in northern Ethiopia. The five bodies have been flown to the capital.

The attack took place near the famed Erte Ale volcano in Ethiopia's sparsely populated Danakil desert, close to the tense Ethiopia-Eritrea border.  The area, which boasts spectacular moon-like landscapes and is famed to be the hottest place on earth, is popular among travellers.  No group has claimed responsibility for the killings, but Ethiopia blamed arch-foe Eritrea for carrying out the attack. Eritrea vehemently denied being behind the incident, calling Ethiopia's claim "ludicrous" and a "smear campaign." The two Horn of Africa countries fought a bloody border war from 1998 to 2000 which killed 70,000 people. The border remains contested, with Ethiopian troops occupying land that international courts say belongs to Eritrea.
Date: Tue, 30 Aug 2011 12:41:08 +0200 (METDST)
by Jenny Vaughan

Shire, Ethiopia, Aug 30, 2011 (AFP) - In Ethiopias Endabaguna refugee camp, rows of gaunt Eritreans clad in rubber sandals give vent to their exasperation after days of trekking and dodging soldiers in an attempt to escape failed crops, hunger and an autocratic government. Over 12 million people across the Horn of Africa are struggling from the region's worst drought in decades, but secretive Eritrea is the only country to deny it has been affected by the crisis. "This year I farmed, but there was lack of rain. I dont know whats going to happen, only God knows," said Mehreteab, a refugee. He escaped from the army, risking death or jail if caught crossing the heavily militarized border, leaving his wife and three children behind. "There is no food and no grain in the home," he said. "I dont have any idea whats going to happen to them." Camps in northern Ethiopia receive about 900 refugees every month from Eritrea, one of the regions most isolated countries. A former colony of Italy and then part of Ethiopia, Eritrea fought a 30-year war with Ethiopia and only gained independence in 1991. A subsequent border conflict with Ethiopia from 1998-2000 still simmers.  Former rebel leader Issaias Afewoki, who has been in power since 1991 without elections, has cracked down on all dissidents and severely restricted press and religious freedom.

The majority of those arriving in the Ethiopian camps are young men escaping conscription, which forces men above 16 to serve in the military for decades on minimal pay. The UN recently called for tighter economic sanctions after releasing a report linking Eritrea to a failed bomb plot at the African Union. According to satellite imagery from the weather monitoring group FEWSNET, rainfall in parts of Eritrea this year has been "below average" - less than 10 percent of normal levels in some areas. Aid workers admit it is nearly impossible to know just how gravely the Eritrea is affected because access to information is so limited in the country where the only media is state-run. "Its been a black hole for us, we dont know whats going on there," said Matthew Conway, spokesman for the UN humanitarian coordination office in Nairobi. "But thats not to say its not happening."

The US ambassador to the United Nations has said she is "deeply concerned" that Eritrea is facing extreme hunger, and urged the government to allow humanitarian access. "The people of Eritrea who most likely are suffering the very same food shortages that were seeing throughout the region are being left to starve," Susan Rice told reporters in New York. And much like other countries in the region, such as Ethiopia and Kenya, Eritrea is vulnerable to increased food prices, exacerbating the crisis. According to the UN agriculture agency, global food prices jumped 33 percent in the last year. "High international prices affected every country in the world, so from that you can assume Eritrea is affected," said Shukri Ahmed, an economist at the Food and Agriculture Organization. Fiercely self-reliant Eritrea stopped sending market information to FAO about three years ago, Ahmed said, so it is impossible to know how much food prices have risen in the country. "Unfortunately, we dont have any information on the ground," he told AFP by phone from Rome.

Over half of Eritrea's food is imported, the FAO estimate, leaving it vulnerable to market fluctuations for staples such as sorghum and maize. Eritrean refugee Berhane, 35, said the cost of food has surged in recent years, though wages have remained the same. Intermittent work as a labourer earned him about $5 per day. But the cost of grain is about $3 per kilo and a sheep is about $170, more than he could make in a month, he told AFP. "How is someone with no money or daily work supposed to buy this?" he asked. "It is too expensive." Facing steep food costs, he relied on a small plot of land to feed his family. But the rains were two months late this year and his harvest failed. "The government doesnt do anything. Nothing. There are no rations," he told AFP.

The Eritrean authorities deny the country is facing food scarcity. "This nonsense about a hidden famine in Eritrea is utterly false," the Eritrea's information ministry said in an online statement last week. Instead, Asmara claims last year's harvest was the best in a decade, while state run media heap praise on government-run food security programs. But refugee Gebrielxavier, 25, said this is not true. He left Eritrea last November because his crop failed, he could not find work and his family went hungry. "We couldnt live. We were famished," he said. "And the government? It did nothing." He is now running a café in the refugee camp, where he earns less than $2 a  day and relies on UN food rations, but says he is still better off. "I got my freedom," he said.
More ...

Israel

General Information:
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The Middle East is a favourite destination for many Irish holiday makers. The combination of a beautiful climate linked with such historical richness is hard to beat. Unfortunately the
security situation throughout the region has led to some significant concerns over the years. Nevertheless, in the vast majority of cases those visiting the region will not encounter any particular concerns in this regard. It is a wise precaution to ensure that your passport is valid for at least a further six months beyond the time of your holiday as otherwise you may be refused entry.
Security Situation:
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Security throughout the Middle East is generally tight. Carry some means of identification at all times in case you are requested to produce it by police or army personnel. In Jerusalem the city has been divided and it is sensible to remember which quarter you are in at all times.
Health Facilities:
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Generally the health facilities throughout the region are excellent. However, when visiting certain rural regions you may find it difficult to obtain hospital care similar to that at home. In Israel, travellers can find information in English about emergency medical facilities and after-hours pharmacies in the "Jerusalem Post" and English language "Ha'aretz" newspapers.
Food & Water Facilities:
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Again, this depends on your location and the facilities which are there at the time of the year you visit. Bottled water is easily available and food hygiene is usually excellent throughout all the main tourist destinations. However, it is generally wiser not to drink hotel tap water and only to use it for brushing your teeth if there is a clear smell of chlorine. When on organised trips tourists are sometimes offered local tea or other drinks. Generally this will be safe as the water is boiled but take care that the cup hygiene is acceptable.
Sun Exposure:
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The climatic conditions in the Middle East vary considerably throughout the year. Many tourists visit in late autumn or early spring. At these times the climate is much cooler and the evenings can be distinctly chilly. However, during the main tourist season (May to September) the temperatures rise high into the 80’s or 90’s and dehydration can easily occur. Increasing fluid and salt intake is important under these circumstances. It is essential that travellers are aware of the climatic conditions which should be present for their trip and that sensible clothing is used at all times.
Rabies:
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Tourists should avoid all animals as this viral disease is transmitted through the bite, lick or scratch of any infected warm blooded animal. In Israel the most common animals involved are foxes and jackals and in Jordan, dogs tend to be the main culprits.
Exploring the Region:
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Leaving the main tourist routes is unwise. There are a number of security risks which have to be considered and there are also significant health concerns which may be encountered. In July 2000 an 18 year old American tourist died of sunstroke when she became separated from her group in the Dead Sea region of Israel. Those exploring caves and parts of the desert areas also run the risk of diseases like Borreliosis and Rabies.
Walking & Trekking:
***************************************
For many going to these countries their trip will involve visiting some of the major ruins and archeological sites. This will involve a good deal of walking and trekking. Good supporting foot wear is essential and it would be wise to carry a crepe bandage in case of a sprained ankle. Having a suitable painkiller or anti-inflammatory medication would also be advantageous. Check your health will be up to the journey.
Swimming:
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Pools are usually very well maintained and the risk of disease is small. Those swimming in the sea should remember that the Mediterranean is home to many jelly fish. Swim with others and never alone and especially after alcohol or a heavy meal.
Anthrax:
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This bacterial disease is rare in the Middle east though travellers should be aware that it can be transmitted through unprepared leather goods usually bought in the local market places. Typically the disease may then present with a black ulcerated skin lesion.

Malaria:
***************************************
Fortunately this disease does not occur in Israel or Jordan. However other mosquito and sandfly diseases do occur and so protection against their bites should be used when necessary.
Hepatitis:
***************************************
There are many forms of this disease but the most common is Hepatitis A, often known as Infectious Jaundice. This disease can keep an infected individual off work for many weeks and it is wise to consider vaccination cover before exposure. In Israel approx 65% of the population will have been infected before 18 years of age.
Vaccinations:
***************************************
There are no essential vaccines for entry/exit however most Irish tourists are recommended to receive cover against; Poliomyelitis, Typhoid, Tetanus and Hepatitis A. Those living in these countries or planning an extended trip should also consider cover against Hepatitis B and Rabies.
Summary:
***************************************
Due to the unrest within Israel there are concerns regarding the safety of tourists at this time. If you are travelling to this region it is wise to ensure that your insurance policy is sufficient if your circumstances or travel plans change.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Source: Arutz Sheva 7 [edited]
Date: Tue 13 Aug 2019

A stewardess of Israel's El Al airline died Tuesday [13 Aug 2019], following a months-long battle with measles. The 43-year-old stewardess was infected with the measles virus during a flight from New York to Israel 5 months ago.

After she was infected, the stewardess was hospitalized in serious condition at Meir Medical Center in Kfar Saba in central Israel after she was found unconscious and struggling to breathe. During her hospitalization, the stewardess' condition deteriorated, and she was transferred to the quarantine section of the hospital's intensive care wing.

On Tuesday [13 Aug 2019], doctors at Meir hospital declared her death, following the 5-month struggle.  [Byline: Orly Harari]
===========================
[This is a very sad outcome, and our condolences go out to the family of the flight attendant, who worked for El Al, the Israeli national airline. It is not clear whether she contracted the virus in New York, in Israel, or on a flight between the two locations. The flight attendant received only one dose of the measles vaccine when she was a child. It wasn't discovered until later that one dose is only about 93% effective. More recently -- in the USA, starting in 1989 -- children have been given 2 doses, which is about 97% effective, according to the CDC. See Measles update (27) http://promedmail.org/post/20190418.6429834 for an earlier report on the flight attendant. - ProMED Mod.LK]
Date: Wed, 14 Aug 2019 17:55:43 +0200 (METDST)

Jerusalem, Aug 14, 2019 (AFP) - An Israeli flight attendant has died months after contracting measles on a flight from New York to Tel Aviv, Israel's health ministry and local media said Wednesday.   Rotem Amitai, 43 and a mother of three, was hospitalised in March following the flight with Israeli airline El Al, Israeli media reported.

She died on Tuesday at a hospital near the coastal city of Tel Aviv, a hospital spokeswoman said.   The health ministry confirmed her death and said her condition had been complicated by encephalitis, inflammation of the brain.   "The immediate cause of death was not defined as measles," it said in a statement. "However, the disability (caused by) the disease was a secondary cause."

The World Health Organization said Tuesday that measles cases had nearly tripled globally during the first seven months of the year compared to the same period in 2018.   The global body warned against "misinformation about vaccines".   The so-called anti-vax movement -- driven by fraudulent claims linking the MMR vaccine against measles, mumps and rubella to a risk of autism in children -- has gained traction.

So far this year, 364,808 measles cases have been reported around the world, compared to 129,239 cases during the first seven months a year earlier -- the highest registered since 2006.   Amitai's death was the first related to measles in Israel this year, following two last year, according to the ministry.   The highly contagious disease can be entirely prevented through a two-dose vaccine.   Amitai had only received one dose, Israeli media reported.

The Democratic Republic of Congo, Madagascar and Ukraine registered the highest number of cases, WHO said.   The United States has registered 1,164 cases so far this year, up from 372 for the whole of 2018 and the highest number on record in a quarter-century.   Nearly 90,000 cases have been registered in Europe this year -- well above the 84,462 cases registered last year.   The airborne infection, which causes fever, coughing and rashes that can be deadly in rare cases -- had been officially eliminated in many countries with advanced healthcare systems.
Date: Fri, 26 Jul 2019 15:53:07 +0200

Jerusalem, July 26, 2019 (AFP) - A forest fire in northern Israel's Galilee region is threatening a church where Christians believe the transfiguration of Jesus took place, the fire service said Friday.    It said in a statement that the blaze broke out on Thursday and monks were evacuated from the  Basilica of the Transfiguration overnight.

Fanned by strong winds the flames still menaced the church on Friday afternoon, fire service spokesman Dudi Peretz told AFP.   "An additional front of the fire is at the moment advancing  toward the church," he said in Hebrew.   "The fire's centre is far from main roads and the topography of the area and difficulty of access are hindering the work of the firefighting teams."    He said that the church itself had so far not been damaged.   Police said that arson was not suspected.   Israel has been gripped by record high temperatures accompanied by drought and strong winds over the past week, with wildfires reported across the country.

The basilica, built in 1924, by the Roman Catholic Franciscan order, sits atop the wooded Mount Tabor at a site where the Christian gospels say that Jesus -- accompanied by disciples Peter, John and James -- glowed with light and spoke with the prophets Moses and Elijah.   Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims visit the church every year, according to the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land, which oversees Roman Catholic properties in the area.   In a statement Friday it accused Israeli authorities of neglecting essential infrastructure at the site, failing to provide a proper water supply.   The fire, it said,"is a direct consequence of state negligence".
Date: Wed 17 Apr 2019
Source: Jerusalem Post [abridged, edited]

More than 2 million Israelis [population 8.2 million] are either unvaccinated or only partially vaccinated for the measles, according to a Channel 13 report. An outbreak of the measles has been worrying Israelis for months as it spread throughout the country, as well as in the rest of the world. But Israeli media reports on Tuesday night [16 Apr 2019] exposed the severity of the situation and the difficulty in solving the crisis.

The Health Ministry claims that it has only 115,000 doses of measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine available and 100,000 additional doses of the MMRV vaccine, which combines the diminished measles, mumps, rubella and varicella vaccine with the addition of chickenpox vaccine, according to Channel 13.

State comptroller Yosef Shapira has considered examining the Health Ministry's handling of the recent measles outbreak, according to a report released in January [2019].

The comptroller's office contacted infectious disease and public health experts and is working on compiling data about past efforts regarding the measles outbreak, examining if they were sufficient. However, no formal decision has been made so far over the next steps to take in combating the outbreak.

The ministry released a statement in the past warning the general public about the dangers of measles, including that one out of every 10 patients requires hospitalization after contracting the virus. Nearly 3% of hospitalized patients also have encountered issues with pneumonia. According to data presented at that time, 3 have contracted meningitis, and 2 measles cases resulted in fatalities.

The ministry has been facing intense criticism for its "ineffective" efforts in containing the outbreak. Critics cite the delayed start of vaccination efforts in the Jerusalem area, the city with the largest amount of unvaccinated people. Moreover, those born between 1957 and 1977 only received one dose of the measles vaccine and are only partially protected.

For years, the ministry has also not taken action against doctors who distributed false information about vaccines and has not worked to exhort the public to vaccinate their children. Finally, critics mentioned the lack of government support for Tipat Halav (early childhood clinics), where most infants receive their 1st vaccinations.

The measles surfaced due to the failure of thousands of parents to vaccinate themselves or their children, particularly among the Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) communities in Jerusalem, according to Health Ministry officials. Community leaders and rabbis in recent months have sent mobile units to entire neighbourhoods to vaccinate citizens living in the affected areas.

Several members of Knesset have reacted to the outbreak in the past.

The Health Ministry has since shown their inability to contain the outbreak within Israel's affected communities, and at the moment, there have been 2000 reported cases of Israelis who have contracted measles during the last few months, according to Israel Hayom.

The Health Ministry has not held any informational seminars to encourage these parents to immunize their children, and even though the Health Ministry offers to pay for these services, the parents still decline them just the same, according to Israel Hayom.  [Byline: Zachary Keyser]
Date: Wed 17 Apr 2019
Source: CNN [edited]

An Israeli flight attendant has slipped into a coma after contracting measles, according to health officials. The 43-year-old woman has encephalitis, or inflammation of the brain, a well-known and potentially deadly complication of the virus. She was otherwise healthy before getting measles.  "She's been in a deep coma for 10 days, and we're now just hoping for the best," said Dr. Itamar Grotto, associate director general of Israel's Ministry of Health.

The flight attendant, who works for El Al, the Israeli national airline, might have contracted the virus in New York, in Israel, or on a flight between the 2, Grotto said. Health authorities do not believe that she spread the virus to anyone on the flights.  She's unable to breathe on her own and is on a respirator in the intensive care unit at Meir Medical Center in Kfar Saba, near Tel Aviv. She developed a fever on 31 Mar [2019] and entered the hospital that same day.

Ongoing measles outbreaks in the USA and Israel started with parents who've chosen not to vaccinate their children, according to health authorities. Authorities believe that the flight attendant was vaccinated as a child, but the vaccine isn't perfect, and in her case, it didn't work.  "I knew this was going to happen sooner or later," said Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist at Vanderbilt University and an adviser to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on vaccines. "We have the reintroduction of a serious viral infection with a population that's withholding the vaccine from their children, and now it's spreading beyond that population."

Like many others of her generation around the world, the flight attendant, who has not been identified, received only one dose of the measles vaccine when she was a child.  It wasn't discovered until later that one dose is only about 93% effective. More recently -- in the USA, starting in 1989 -- children have been given 2 doses, which is about 97% effective, according to the CDC. It's not known why most people who get measles recover fully while others have devastating complications.

About one out of every 1000 children who gets measles will develop encephalitis, according to the CDC. This can lead to convulsions and leave a child deaf or with an intellectual disability.  Additionally, one or 2 out of 1000 US children who get measles will die from it. Worldwide, the illness is fatal in one or 2 out of every 100 children. No fatalities have been reported in the USA from measles this year [2019] or last year [2018]. In Israel, a toddler and an elderly woman died last year [2018] of the disease. In the European Union, 35 people died of the disease in 2018, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.

There have been 3920 cases of measles in Israel from March 2018 through 11 Apr [2019], said Grotto, who is also a professor of epidemiology and public health at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.  In the USA, there have been fewer than 1000 cases in about the same time period.
 
In Europe, there were 34 383 cases of measles based on data reported to the World Health Organization from April of last year [2018] to April of this year [2019]. Ukraine had the highest number of cases in the past 12 months, with more than 72 000, followed by Madagascar and India with more than 69 000 and 60 000 cases, respectively. WHO warned that there are delays in reporting and that this data may be incomplete.

Grotto said there was a surge of cases in Israel last fall [2018] when large numbers of ultra-Orthodox Israelis traveled to Ukraine on a religious pilgrimage during the Jewish New Year. Ukraine has had more than 72 000 measles cases this year [2019], more than any other country, according to the World Health Organization.

About 85% to 90% of Israeli measles cases have been among ultra-Orthodox Jews, Grotto said. There's nothing in Judaism that teaches against vaccination; on the contrary, rabbis encourage vaccination in keeping with Jewish teachings on protecting your health and the health of others.

Ultra-Orthodox Jews tend to have large families, and Grotto said those who don't vaccinate tend to have practical, not ideological, reasons. "Sometimes, they vaccinate their 1st or 2nd child, but with so many children, they don't always have time to vaccinate them all," he said. "They're not against vaccines. They have nothing against them ideologically."

To turn the tide in the outbreak, Israeli public health authorities have increased vaccine clinic hours, opened mobile clinics in religious neighborhoods and taken out ads in newspapers in religious communities.  [Byline: Elizabeth Cohen]
=======================
[Additional information: "A 10-year-old boy on the same flight also has suffered permanent brain damage from measles infection. In November [2018], an 18-month-old toddler in Jerusalem died of the disease, the 1st recorded death from measles in Israel in the past 15 years. A month later, an 82-year-old woman became the 2nd fatality." <https://www.jpost.com/Breaking-News/El-Al-stewardess-10-year-old-child-in-coma-after-contracting-measles-587236>.  Communicated by: ProMED-mail Rapporteur Kunihiko Iizuka]

[There is concern that transmission will increase as family and friends gather for Passover. - ProMED Mod.LK]
More ...

World Travel News Headlines

Date: Tue, 20 Aug 2019 05:21:07 +0200 (METDST)

Bangkok, Aug 20, 2019 (AFP) - At least 13 Chinese tourists were killed and dozens injured when their bus skidded off the road and plunged 30 metres into a ravine in Laos, a police officer said Tuesday.   The bus was carrying more than 40 Chinese nationals heading towards the tourist town of Luang Prabang when the accident occurred late on Monday.   "At this moment, 13 bodies have been recovered... while two are still missing," police officer Xaiyaphon Chitavong told AFP, blaming brake failure for the accident.   He added that 31 people were receiving medical treatment.    Chinese state media showed photos of rescuers wading through ankle-deep floodwaters.

Traffic accidents in Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Myanmar are common, with safety regulations often flouted and law enforcement low.    The monsoon season from June to October also drenches rural roads with heavy rains creating slippery conditions.   Tourism to communist-run Laos has grown in recent years, and visitors from China increased by 13 percent in the first half of 2019 compared to the year before, according to the state-backed Vientiane Times.
Date: Mon, 19 Aug 2019 20:57:15 +0200 (METDST)

Bukavu, DR Congo, Aug 19, 2019 (AFP) - A child has died from Ebola in DR Congo's South Kivu, health authorities said Monday, the second person to succumb to the virus since the epidemic spread to the eastern province.   The announcement last week of the first confirmed cases in South Kivu revived concerns that the highly contagious disease could cross the porous borders of the central African country, where it has claimed more than 1,900 lives since August last year.   "A seven-year-old child died yesterday (Sunday) of Ebola" in South Kivu's Mwenga region, said Claude Bahizire, communication officer of South Kivu's provincial health division.

The first death in South Kivu was a woman in her twenties who evaded movement controls to travel from the North Kivu town of Beni, the epicentre of the outbreak, to South Kivu's capital Bukavu and then Mwenga.    She died on Wednesday, and her seven-month-old son has been diagnosed with the virus and is receiving treatment.   Bahizire said that "two other suspected cases, two women, have been detected and admitted to Bukavu's transit centre".   The two women "were in contact with the woman who died last week while she was staying in Bukavu on the way to Mwenga," he added.

The outbreak of the haemorrhagic virus began in North Kivu on August 1, 2018 and spread to Ituri province.   The health ministry also announced that "a new health zone had been assigned in North Kivu".   A confirmed case of Ebola has been recorded in North Kivu's Pinga region, in Walikale territory, a source said without providing further details.   According to the latest numbers published on Sunday, 1,934 people have since died, while 862 have been cured.

The latest outbreak is the second-deadliest on record after more than 11,000 people were killed in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia between 2014-2016.   Also on Monday, World Health Organization (WHO) chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus called on the nine countries that share a border with DR Congo to show solidarity to stop the spread of Ebola.   "We now have an Ebola vaccine that is more than 97 percent effective and treatments that are more than 90 per cent effective if used early enough," he said in Republic of Congo capital Brazzaville.
Date: Mon, 19 Aug 2019 19:48:07 +0200 (METDST)
By Alain JEAN-ROBERT

Paris, Aug 19, 2019 (AFP) - French construction workers wearing protective masks returned to the site of stricken Notre-Dame cathedral on Monday after a three-week pause due to the risk of lead contamination.   Labour Minister Muriel Penicaud was given a tour of the scorched monumet wearing a white protective suit while workers could again be seen surveying the structure which was left damaged and weakened in a massive fire in April.

Restoration of the cathedral has yet to begin with efforts focused entirely on securing the building. The culture ministry has warned it is still at risk of collapse.   Efforts to remove lead from the area around Notre-Dame began last week after alarm grew over the presence of the toxic metal.   Hundreds of tonnes of lead in the roof and steeple melted during the April 15 blaze that nearly destroyed the gothic masterpiece, with winds spreading the particles well beyond the church grounds.

Residents have accused the Paris authorities of underplaying the risk from the lead although the culture ministry insists safety is the top priority.   But prefect Michel Cadot, the government's top official for the Paris region, approved the resumption of the works after visiting the site.   "I saw that the different recommendations of the labour inspectors had been implemented," he said, adding the decontamination work would help keep contractors safe.   Securing the structure is required before the restoration work can start.    The culture ministry said that stones had fallen from the nave vault during a heatwave in July.   "It is only the urgency linked to the persistent risk of a collapse that justifies the rhythm of work undertaken" since the fire, it said in a statement Wednesday.

President Emmanuel Macron has set an ambitious target of five years for the restoration to be finished. But the ministry said the work would not even begin until next year.   Paris prosecutors said in June that a poorly stubbed-out cigarette or an electrical fault could have started the fire and opened an investigation into criminal negligence, without targeting any individual.

French investigative news site Mediapart published a report this week accusing the ministry of repeatedly ignoring warnings by labour inspectors about the dangers posed by the lead until work was finally suspended on July 25.   Critics have accused the city of failing to notify the public about the test results, while an environmental group has filed a lawsuit alleging that officials failed to sufficiently contain the contamination.   The ministry rejected Mediapart's allegations it had failed to pay attention to the risks encountered by workers on the site.
Date: Mon, 19 Aug 2019 13:26:06 +0200 (METDST)

Jalalabad, Afghanistan, Aug 19, 2019 (AFP) - Scores of people including children were wounded Monday after a series of explosions shook the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad, as the country's independence day was marred by bloodshed.

As many as 10 blasts were reported in and around the city in Nangarhar province, authorities said, and casualty numbers rose as the day wore on.   "The explosions were caused by IEDs in different parts of the city and as groups of people were celebrating independence day," the Nangarhar governor's spokesman Attaullah Khogyani said, referring to improvised explosive devices.   Jalalabad is the scene of frequent bomb attacks, and the surrounding terrain is home to both Taliban fighters and the Islamic State group's local affiliate.

At least 52 people were wounded, Khogyani said. Zaher Adel, a spokesman for a local hospital, said 66 wounded people had been brought in. An AFP correspondent saw children among the victims.   This year's August 19 celebrations mark 100 years of Afghan independence from British influence.   The day was supposed to be one of national pride and unity, but was overshadowed by an IS suicide attack Saturday on a crowded Kabul wedding hall that killed at least 63 people.

In Kabul, locals took to the streets to wave the black-red-and-green Afghan flag, but several public events to commemorate the date were scrapped as Kabul mourns and due to fears of a fresh attack.    "We postponed the celebrations to honour the victims, but we will definitely take revenge for our people," Afghan President Ahraf Ghani said.   "We will avenge the blood of our people, every drop of it."

Mayhem from Afghanistan's war continues to wreak havoc on Afghans every day, even though the US and the Taliban are in final negotiations for a deal that would see US troops begin to quit Afghanistan and could potentially lead to a reduction in violence.
Date: Wed 14 Aug 2019
Source: Universitat Hohenheim [in German, trans. Britta Lassmann, edited]

The University of Hohenheim and the Bundeswehr Institute of Microbiology [IMB] have detected spotted fever in a hyalomma tick, the 1st time such a tick is suspected to have caused disease in a human in Germany.

This tick feeds on humans and can transmit a form of spotted fever in Germany. What were still unanswered questions about the tropical giant tick hyalomma is now certainty. At the beginning of August [2019], it was suspected that for the 1st time, a human in Germany had contracted a disease with the typical symptoms of rickettsiosis from the bite of a hyalomma tick. Experts from the University of Hohenheim in Stuttgart and the IMB in Munich were able to detect the pathogen _Rickettsia aeschlimannii_ in the tick. The number of hyalomma ticks in Germany increased significantly in 2019 compared to the previous year [2018]. In nearly half of the hyalomma ticks, _R. aeschlimannii_ can be detected. The tick researchers continue to ask the population to send them suspicious ticks.

It was probably no coincidence that this 1st case was in a horse owner. Tropical ticks of the genus _Hyalomma_ feed on large mammals. For several years, these ticks have been on the rise in Germany. Now tick researchers report the 1st suspected case of spotted fever transmitted in Germany. "Not only do we now know for sure that the hyalomma tick is also targeting humans," says Prof Dr Med Ute Mackenstedt, a parasitologist at the University of Hohenheim, "but also that there is the urgent suspicion that the transmission of spotted fever by these ticks is actually possible here in Germany."

The case: At the end of July [2019], the horse owner from near Siegen was bitten by a hyalomma tick. He sent the tick to the tick researcher in Hohenheim. He then presented to the hospital only a few days later with severe symptoms. Spotted fever caused by the bacterium _R. aeschlimannii_ was suspected. The tick was sent by courier service to the IMB in Munich, where the pathogen was detected in the tick. Thereafter, the patient received targeted antibiotic therapy, and his symptoms rapidly improved.

"We are talking about a suspected case, because direct detection of the pathogen from the patient was not possible," explains PD Dr Med Gerhard Dobler, medical doctor at the IMB. "The treatment of the patient came 1st. But the preceding tick bite, the typical symptoms
and, above all, the proof of the pathogen in the tick suggest that the case was spotted fever. The fact that the patient responded to targeted antibiotic therapy further supports this."

_R. aeschlimannii_ causes a feverish infection with headache and muscle pain, extreme joint pain, and a burning sensation. Typical for the disease, however, is the rash that gave the disease its name. This classic sign shows mainly on the extremities. The incubation period is about one week.

"If spotted fever is suspected after a hyalomma bite, a swab should be taken from the bite site and sent for examination," advises PD Dobler. "If there are questions, you are welcome to contact us. Ideally, we would also like to examine the tick."

About half of the hyalomma ticks, the researchers say, are infected with rickettsia. Transmission takes place exclusively via tick bite. "The number of hyalomma ticks in Germany is significantly higher this year [2019] than in the previous year [2018]," reports Prof Dr Med Mackenstedt, referencing the publication in which the situation was presented in 2018. The Hohenheim parasitologist not only cooperates closely with the IMB in Munich, but also with the working group of Prof Dr Med Christina Strube at the Veterinary University (TiHo) Hannover. "Together they already have found 50 such ticks in Germany in 2019. Last year [2018] there were a total of 35." Last year, these ticks had survived the winter in Germany for the 1st time.

"Rickettsia are the only pathogens that we have been able to detect so far," explains PD Dr. Dobler. "We have not found the virus that causes the dangerous Crimean Congo hemorrhagic fever, nor the pathogens _Theileria equi_ and _Babesia caballi_, both of which can be transmitted from ticks to horses."

The research team continues to ask the population for support to further explore the spread and potential dangers. In case of a tick bite, it's best to remove the tick with a tick remover, TickCard, or tweezers. Then send the animal in a small, tightly closed container to:
University of Hohenheim
Prof. Dr. Ute Mackenstedt
Department of Parasitology
Emil-Wolff-Strasse 34
70599 Stuttgart

Background: Tick genus _Hyalomma_
_Hyalomma marginatum_ and _Hyalomma rufipes_ are native to the dry and semi-arid areas of Africa, Asia, and southern Europe. Until recently, they did not occur in central and northern Europe. Their striped legs are striking, and they are much larger than the native ixodes ticks.

The adult ticks feed on large animals. They are active hunters and move quickly towards their host. They cover a distance of up to 100 m [328 ft]. Humans can serve as hosts. In contrast, tick larvae and nymphs mainly infest birds and small mammals and can stay up to 28 days with their hosts. Migratory birds can introduce larvae and nymphs to Germany.

In Eurasia, both _Hyalomma_ species are considered transmitters of the Crimean Congo hemorrhagic fever virus and the Arabic hemorrhagic fever virus (Alkhumra virus). They also transmit the bacterium _Rickettsia aeschlimannii_, which causes a form of spotted fever.

Reference:
Chitimia-Dobler L, et al. Imported _Hyalomma_ ticks in Germany in 2018. Parasites & Vectors. 2019; 12 (134).

More information:
Picture and video material [in German]
Press release: Tropical ticks in Germany: University of Hohenheim asks to send conspicuous tick finds [in German]
Press release: Tropical ticks: New immigrant species winters in Germany for the 1st time [in German]
-----------------------------------
communicated by:
Roland Hubner
Superior Health Council
Brussels
Belgium
====================
[Given that the ticks were found last year (2018) and that they overwintered and were found again this year (2019), it is likely that this genus of tick is becoming established in Germany. Although the species of _Hyalomma_ that infected the man with _Rickettsia aeschlimannii_ was not determined, there is a clear association of this rickettsia with the 2 species of _Hyalomma_ that were tested. The published report cited above states, "35 ticks with an unusual appearance or behaviour were reported to us during summer-autumn 2018. For 17 of them, the description or photos implied that they belong to the hard tick genus _Hyalomma_. The remaining 18 ticks were sent to us and were identified as adult _Hyalomma marginatum_ (10 specimens) or adult _Hyalomma rufipes_ (8 specimens). All ticks tested negative for CCHF virus, _Coxiella burnetii_, _Coxiella_-like organisms, _Babesia_ spp. and _Theileria_ spp. The screening for rickettsiae gave positive results in 9 specimens. The _Rickettsia_ species in all cases was identified as _R. aeschlimannii_." Given that these ticks can be transported by birds migrating from Africa, continued surveillance in Germany for the rickettsia and the other pathogens that were not found currently is prudent. - ProMED Mod.TY]

The first human case of _R. aeschlimannii_ infection was identified in a patient who had fever, rash, and an eschar similar to _R. conori_ infection (Mediaterrian spotted fever) after travel in Morocco (1). _R. aeschlimannii_ infections in humans have been previously confirmed in South Africa, in Algeria, and in Tunisia (2). To our knowledge, the first human case of _R. aeschlimannii_ infection reported in Europe occurred in Greece and was reported in 2013 (3).

1. Raoult D, Fournier PE, Abboud P, Caron F. First documented human Rickettsia aeschlimannii infection. Emerg Infect Dis. 2002; 8: 748-9. doi: 10.3201/eid0807.010480
2. Demoncheaux JP, Socolovschi C, Davoust B, Haddad S, Raoult D, Parola P. First detection of _Rickettsia aeschlimanii_ in _Hyalomma dromedarii_ ticks in Tunisia. Ticks Tick Borne Dis. 2012; 3: 398-402.
3. Germanakis A, Chochlakis D, Angelakis E, Tselentis Y, Psaroulaki A. _Rickettsia aeschlimannii_ infection in a man, Greece. Emerg Infect Dis. 2013; 19: 1176-7.  - ProMED Mod. LL]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of Germany:
Date: Wed 19 Aug 2019, 12:48 PM
Source: Kazakh Telegraph Agency [edited]

A total of 4 anthrax cases have been confirmed in the Akmola region, reports the health care department. "Up to [now] 5 [suspected cases of] anthrax have been recorded; lab tests have confirmed 4. The cause of contamination was cow butchering without a veterinary certificate in a private yard," said the interlocutor.

"Epidemiological situation in the Akmola region and Nur-Sultan is stable," said the department. "The situation is being constantly monitored by the committee," said Ludmila Burabekova, chairfigure of the committee of quality control and goods safety. "Anti-epidemic and anti-epizootic arrangements have been organized in the area," she added.
*****************************
Date: Wed 19 Aug 2019, 12:04 PM GMT
Source: Radio Free Europe [edited]

A village near the Kazakh capital, Nur-Sultan, is under quarantine after lab tests confirmed anthrax infections in several people.

The Health Ministry said on [19 Aug 2019] that 5 residents of the village of Olginka, 100 km [about 62 mi] east of Nur-Sultan, have been hospitalized in recent days with anthrax symptoms, 4 of whom tested positive for _Bacillus anthracis_ -- the bacterium that causes the infectious disease. According to the statement, the situation in the village in the Aqmola region is under the control of the authorities and all necessary measures are being taken to prevent the possible spread of the disease.

In 2016, in nearby Qaraghandy Oblast, 2 people died as a result of anthrax infections.

According to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), domestic and wild animals -- such as cattle, sheep, goats, antelope, and deer -- can become infected by inhaling or ingesting spores in contaminated soil, plants, or water. CDC says all types of anthrax infections can cause death if they are not treated with antibiotics.
========================
[Olginka is in north-central Kazajhstan; see:

There is a measure of rural poverty in northern half of Kazakhstan, with the result that sick and moribund animals get butchered and eaten. Fortunately, as this village is within 100 Km [about 62 mi] of the Kazakh capital the affected have had the advantage of hospital care and proper laboratory confirmation. The coincident 5th person may have just shown a fever when the medical authorities were looking for clinical cases or it may be a false negative.

Folk have a habit of self-treating with antibiotics and this would have reduced the number of circulating vegetative cells available to testing. My friend Benyamin Cherkasskyi, the Soviet anthrax expert, used to tell me that only some 30%-40% of cutaneous cases would test positive. You have to know to insert your needle in under the lesion to draw out the fluid there which will contain cells, blood, and toxins. - ProMED Mod.MHJ]

[HealthMap/ProMED map available at:
Date: Mon, 19 Aug 2019 03:45:54 +0200 (METDST)

Lomo del Pino, Spain, Aug 19, 2019 (AFP) - A raging wildfire on the Spanish holiday island of Gran Canaria forced the evacuation of some 5,000 people, authorities said Sunday, warning it could take days for the blaze to be brought under control.   The fire, which has spread to the mountainous Cruz de Tejeda region popular with tourists for its breathtaking views, is "extremely fierce" and "unstable", said Canary Islands president Angel Victor Torres in a statement.   No fatalities have been reported.

More than 600 firefighters and 14 aircraft battled to contain the flames, hampered by strong winds and high temperatures.   With the temperature set to rise Monday, authorities estimate it could take days before the blaze is brought under control.   "The next few hours will be very important because the weather forecast for the night is not good," Torres said.   The fire broke out days after another wildfire in the same region forced the evacuation of hundreds.

Gran Canaria is the second most populous of the Canary Islands in the Atlantic off the northwest coast of Africa.   The Canary Islands received 13.7 million foreign visitors last year, over half of them from Britain and Germany.   Spain is frequently plagued by huge forest fires because of its arid summer climate.
Date: Sun, 18 Aug 2019 23:01:00 +0200 (METDST)

Lisbon, Aug 18, 2019 (AFP) - Portuguese fuel tanker drivers whose strike has caused fuel shortages at the summer holiday season on Sunday ended their industrial action.   Drivers have been staging a strike since Monday to demand further wage increases in 2021 and 2022, prompting the government to declare an energy crisis.   "Since all the conditions are now in place to negotiate, we decided to end the strike," Pedro Pardal Henriques, spokesman for the National Union of Dangerous Goods Carriers (SNMMP), told reporters.

A meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, the union President Francisco Sao Bento said, adding that the union did not "rule out new strikes being called if Antram (the employers association) adopts an uncompromising attitude".   Police had launched an operation to escort fuel tankers with extra supplies and Portugal also mobilised about 500 members of the security forces to replace the strikers and drive the trucks.   Despite the shortages, Energy Minister Joao Pedro Matos Fernandes said about two-thirds of the country's 3,000 or so petrol stations had not run dry.
Date: Sun, 18 Aug 2019 11:47:26 +0200 (METDST)
By By Emal Haidary and Mushtaq Mojaddidi

Kabul, Aug 18, 2019 (AFP) - Joy and celebration turned into horror and carnage when a suicide bomber targeted a packed Afghan wedding hall, killing at least 63 people in the deadliest attack to rock Kabul in months, officials and witnesses said Sunday.   The massive blast, which took place late Saturday in west Kabul, came as Washington and the Taliban finalise a deal to reduce the US military presence in Afghanistan and hopefully build a roadmap to a ceasefire.   The groom recalled greeting smiling guests in the afternoon, before seeing their bodies being carried out hours later.

The attack "changed my happiness to sorrow", the young man, who gave his name as Mirwais, told local TV station Tolo News.   "My family, my bride are in shock, they cannot even speak. My bride keeps fainting," he said.   "I lost my brother, I lost my friends, I lost my relatives. I will never see happiness in my life again."   Interior ministry spokesman Nasrat Rahimi said at least 63 people had been killed and 182 injured.   "Among the wounded are women and children," Rahimi said. Earlier he stated a suicide bomber carried out the attack.

Afghan weddings are epic and vibrant affairs, with hundreds or often thousands of guests celebrating for hours inside industrial-scale wedding halls where the men are usually segregated from the women and children.   "The wedding guests were dancing and celebrating the party when the blast happened," recounted Munir Ahmad, 23, who was seriously injured and whose cousin was among the dead.   "Following the explosion, there was total chaos. Everyone was screaming and crying for their loved ones," he told AFP from his bed in a local hospital, where he is being treated for shrapnel wounds.

Images from inside the hall showed blood-stained bodies on the ground along with pieces of flesh and torn clothes, hats, sandals and bottles of mineral water. The huge blast ripped parts of the ceiling off.   The wedding was believed to be a Shia gathering. Shia Muslims are frequently targeted in Sunni-majority Afghanistan, particularly by the so-called Islamic State group, which is also active in Kabul but did not immediately issue any claim of responsibility.

Wedding guest Hameed Quresh told AFP the young couple were saying their vows when the bomb went off.    "We fainted following the blast, and we don't know who brought us to the hospital," sobbed Quresh, who lost one brother and was himself wounded.   Another guest told Tolo that some 1,200 people had been invited. With low security, weddings are seen as easy targets.   The attack sent a wave of grief through a city grimly accustomed to atrocities. President Ashraf Ghani called it "barbaric", while Afghanistan's chief executive Abdullah Abdullah described it as a "crime against humanity".

- Withdrawal deal expected -
The attack underscores both the inadequacy of Afghanistan's security forces and the scale of the problem they face. While the police and army claim they prevent most bombings from ever happening, the fact remains that insurgents pull off horrific attacks with chilling regularity.   On July 28, at least 20 people were killed when attackers targeted Ghani's running mate Amrullah Saleh as he campaigned in presidential elections.    The incident showed how even amid tight security and known threats, insurgents can conduct brazen attacks.   The issue also goes to the heart of a prospective deal between the US and the Taliban that would see Washington begin to withdraw its approximately 14,000 soldiers from Afghanistan.

The deal relies on the Taliban providing guarantees they will stop jihadist groups such as Al-Qaeda and IS from using Afghanistan as a safe haven. Saturday's attack suggests any such promise would be tough to keep.   The "Taliban cannot absolve themselves of blame, for they provide platform for terrorists," Ghani said.   Few believe such a deal will bring quick peace.

Many Afghans fear the Taliban could return, eroding hard-won rights for women in particular and leading to a spiralling civil war.   Meanwhile, in the northern province of Balkh, 11 members of the same family were killed when their car hit a roadside bomb, officials said. The provincial governor blamed the Taliban for planting the device.
Date: Sun, 18 Aug 2019 05:28:47 +0200 (METDST)
By Amélie BOTTOLLIER-DEPOIS

Paris, Aug 18, 2019 (AFP) - Seafood lovers who prize the mussel for its earthy taste and succulent flesh may be unaware of its growing potential in the fight against water pollution.   The mussel is the hoover of the sea, taking in phytoplankton for nourishment along with microplastics, pesticides and other pollutants -- which makes it an excellent gauge.

One day, it may also be pressed into service to cleanse water.   "It's a super-filter in the marine world, filtering up to 25 litres of water a day," says marine biologist Leila Meistertzheim.   "It's a real model of bioaccumulation of pollutants generally speaking."   As they pump and filter the water through their gills in order to feed and breathe, mussels store almost everything else that passes through -- which is why strict health rules apply for those destined for human consumption.

Like canaries in a coal mine, mussels have long been used as "bio-indicators" of the health of the seas, lakes and rivers they inhabit.   Little-known pollutants can turn up to join the usual suspects, with increasing attention paid to microplastics containing bisphenol A and phthalates, both thought to be endocrine disruptors.

Meistertzheim heads a study for France's Tara Ocean Foundation using mussels to gauge the health of the estuaries of the Thames, Elba and Seine rivers.   The mussels, placed in fish traps, are submerged in the waters for a month before researchers dissect them to determine what chemical substances lurk in their tissues.   The idea of deploying mussels across the oceans to absorb ubiquitous microplastics is just a dream for now, but for other pollutants, the bivalves are already at work.   "In some places, mussels are used, as well as oysters, to cleanse the sea of pesticides, for example," Meistertzheim notes.

- E. coli busters -
Richard Luthy, an environmental engineer from California's Stanford University, says that, in most cases, mussels harvested from contaminated waters should not be eaten.   But if the contaminant is E. coli, mussels can be thanked for the "removal and inactivation" of the faecal material, he says, calling the service a "public health benefit".   The mussels are edible because they "excrete the bacteria as faeces or mucus," he says.   Mussels living in waterways affected by eutrophication -- often marked by abundant algae -- are also fit for human consumption, researchers say.   The phenomenon is often the result of waste dumped into the waterway containing phosphates and nitrites, such as detergents, fertilisers and sewage.   The nutrients in these substances encourage the proliferation of algae, which in turn starves the water of oxygen, upsetting the ecosystem.

Mussels "recycle" these nutrients by feeding on the algae, says Eve Galimany, a researcher of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Milford Laboratory who has experimented with mussels in the Bronx River in New York.   The recycling principle is already at work in a pilot project titled Baltic Blue Growth in Sweden, Denmark and the Baltic countries which grows mussels to be fed to animals such as poultry, fish and pigs.   "Eutrophication... is the biggest problem of the Baltic Sea, the most urgent one," says project head Lena Tasse. Mussels "could be part of a solution".   Why feed them to animals if they are safe for humans? Because Baltic mussels are too small to be of interest to seafood lovers, says Tasse, adding: "Swedes like big mussels."

Meanwhile, the jury is still out on the effects of microplastics on human health.   A recent report by WWF said that humans ingest an average of five grammes of microplastics a week -- about the weight of a credit card.   A 2018 study published in the journal Environmental Pollution, based on samples from British coastlines and supermarkets, estimated that every 100 grammes (3.5 ounces) of mussels contained 70 tiny pieces of plastic.   Should we be worried? Meistertzheim thinks not.   "I eat them," she says. "A dish of mussels is not necessarily worse than organic hamburger meat wrapped in plastic."