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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]
=====================
[The interesting article published in the September 2017 issue of Emerging Infectious Diseases is:
Blanco A, Guix S, Fuster N, et al: Norovirus in bottled water associated with gastroenteritis outbreak, Spain, 2016. Emerg Infect Dis. 2017; 23(9): 1531-34; https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/eid/article/23/9/16-1489_article. - ProMED Mod.LL]

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

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

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

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

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

No Profile is available at present

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No Profile is available at present

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

8 Aug 2019

Dengue-type1 outbreak was declared on the 27 Feb 2019 following a laboratory (NZLabPlus) confirmation of 7 dengue type 1 cases. From 28 Jan-4 Aug 2019, a cumulative number of 78 dengue cases have been reported (22 confirmed, and 56 probable-NS1Ag positives). Rarotonga and Aitutaki are the only islands affected and most of the cases have been from the main island of Rarotonga. Aitutaki has managed to contain its number of cases to 3. The last case was reported on 18 Apr 2019. A total of 42 cases have been hospitalised and given free mosquito nets to take and use at home. Apart from some severe cases, the hospitalisation was also an effort to contain and minimise the spread of the infection into the community. Unfortunately, some cases refused to be admitted but were given some health advice and mosquito precautionary measures. No deaths reported.

- Cook Islands. 17 Aug 2019. 78 dengue cases have been reported in Cook Islands since the outbreak began early in the year [2019]. The Cook Islands News reports the Ministry of Health saying 22 were confirmed cases while 56 have been deemed probable positives.

HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of Cook Islands:
- 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
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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.
======================
[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
----------------------------------------------------------------------
[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
-----------------
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
----------
_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
----------
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.
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Latvia

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

For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department’s web site at http://travel.state.gov, where the current Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts, as well as the Worldwide Caution can be found.
Up-to-date information on security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S., or, for callers outside the U.S. and Canada, a regular toll line at 1-202-501-4444. These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).
The Department of State urges American citizens to take responsibility for their own personal security while traveling overseas. For general information about appropriate measures travelers can take to protect themselves in an overseas environment, see the Department of State’s notice A Safe Trip Abroad.
CRIME: Crime in Riga is generally non-violent. The majority of non-violent crime tends toward acts of pickpocketing, identity theft, and personal scams. However, there have been instances of serious violent assaults and robberies. Street crime is a serious problem, particularly for tourists. In addition to pickpockets in all public areas, there are numerous scam artists targeting foreigners in the tourist pubs and restaurants. There have been a number of reports recently of foreign tourists being charged xorbitant prices for drinks in bars. Some have then been assaulted or forced to withdraw money from an ATM to pay the bill. You can avoid situations like this by ensuring that you check the price of drinks before ordering, pay for one round at a time and seek recommendations for bars from trustworthy sources. There have also been a few cases of tourists and residents being drugged in bars and restaurants and then taken outside or to their residences and robbed. In any public area, one should always be alert, particularly to being surrounded by two or more people at once. It is not uncommon for groups of pickpockets to attempt to overwhelm their victim. Gangs of professional pickpockets are specifically targeting foreigners, particularly those carrying backpacks. In addition, Riga has one of the highest rates of car theft in the world.
Internet crime is a growing concern in Latvia. Common fraudulent schemes involve both Internet auction sites and Internet job search sites. In the first scam, criminals offer valuable items for sale at low prices on Internet auctions and request that payments be sent by wire transfer to a bank in Latvia or through a fraudulent escrow site that they have created themselves. In this scheme, the money passes through a bank in Latvia and is quickly withdrawn by ATM or transferred to a bank in another country. It is very difficult in these cases to discover the identities of the account holders or recover the funds.
The second common scam involves identity theft through false job offers. In this scheme, a company claiming to be located in Latvia, but which has a non-existent address, offers the victim employment as a U.S. – based agent or freight forwarder. When the victim responds to the job offer, commonly posted on one of several popular Internet job sites, a Social Security Number and other identifying information needed for the identity theft is required under the guise of conducting a background check.

INFORMATION FOR VICTIMS OF CRIME: The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate for assistance. The Embassy or Consulate staff can, for example, assist you to find appropriate medical care, to contact family members or friends and explain how funds could be transferred. Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed. For more information, see Victims of Crime.
MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION: Medical care in Latvia is steadily improving, but remains limited in several important respects. There are a few private clinics with medical supplies and services, including disposable needles and basic modern diagnostics, which are nearly equal to Western Europe or U.S. standards. However, because of the lack of equipment and resources, most major invasive procedures or surgeries in Latvia are not recommended. Hospital services have shown good progress but are still not equal to Western standards. Elderly travelers and those with existing health problems may be at risk due to inadequate medical facilities. Most, but not all, antibiotics and prescription medications are available but as they are generally produced in Europe or Latvia, they often have different names and instructions are usually not printed in English. Diphtheria, hepatitis and tick-borne encephalitis are present. According to the World Health Organization, tuberculosis is a significant problem in Latvia, with 9% of all cases being multi-drug resistant. For further information, please consult the CDC’s Travel notice on TB at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/yellowBookCh4-TB.aspx. State ambulance service for emergencies is available by dialing 112 anywhere in Latvia. However, response time is poor in rural areas. Air ambulance service is available for medical evacuations. In general, private air ambulance services are very expensive and require advance payment before the patient is transported.
Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC’s web site at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/default.aspx. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization’s (WHO) web site at http://www.who.int/en. Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith
MEDICAL INSURANCE: The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation. Please see our information on medical insurance overseas.
TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS: While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Latvia is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
Foreign visitors to Latvia planning to operate a motor vehicle are required to obtain an International Driving Permit. These may be obtained through the American Automobile Association (AAA) or the American Automobile Touring Alliance for a small fee. A U.S. state driver’s license is not sufficient. These requirements apply to those operating rental cars as well, whether or not the rental company chooses to enforce the requirement as a condition of rental. Individuals driving without an International Driving Permit may have their vehicle confiscated by the police. Americans resident in Latvia for more than six months are required to apply for a Latvian driver’s license. Upon receipt of a Latvian driver’s license, American citizens are required to surrender their US driver’s license to the Latvian authorities. The licenses are then returned to their respective states of issuance. For more information, visit the Latvian Road and Traffic Safety Department at http://www.csdd.lv
Latvia has one of the highest rates of automobile accidents and fatalities in Europe. While recent reports show a decrease in the number of traffic accident fatalities, there are still a number of hazards to watch out for. Drivers should be alert for pedestrians and slow moving vehicles in traffic. Additionally, violation of traffic rules is common, and it is not unusual to be overtaken by other automobiles traveling at high speeds, even in crowed urban areas. Drivers do not always yield to pedestrians, even at marked intersections. During winter, most major roads are cleared of snow. However, drivers should be alert for fog, snow, and ice while driving. Driving while intoxicated is a very serous offense and carries heavy penalties. Local authorities use roadblocks and Breathalyzer tests as enforcement tools. Drivers and pedestrians should be alert to the possibility of drunk drivers and drunken pedestrians wandering on the road. Drivers must use their headlights at all times. Speed limits are usually 50 km/hr in the city and 90 km/hr on the highways. Public transportation is generally considered safe, but travelers are encouraged to select well-marked taxis. Emergency services are fair but improving (See section on Medical Facilities above); response time may be especially slow in traffic or in rural settings. Dial 112 for ambulance service.
Please refer to our Road Safety page for information. Visit the website of Latvia’s national tourist office at http://latviatourism.lv/info.php and the national authority responsible for road safety at http://www.csdd.lv/
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT:As there is no direct commercial air service to the United States by carriers registered in Latvia, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed Latvia’s Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards. For more information, travelers may visit the FAA’s web site at www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa
SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:
Banks and currency exchange counters may refuse to accept U.S. currency that is crumpled, torn, discolored or defaced (even small pen stokes, hand written numbers and letters are considered defacing). If such notes are accepted for exchange, an additional processing fee, based on the size of the transaction, may be charged. ATMs are widely available in Riga and in major towns. For security purposes, it is recommended that visitors use ATMs located inside major hotels or shopping malls, versus those located on the street, in high-volume tourist areas. Telephone connections with the United States are reliable. However, 1-800 numbers cannot be accessed from Latvia. Please check with your long distance carrier before departure to see if they offer service in Latvia. Local Internet cafés offer computer access, and fax machines are widely available.
Latvian customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation into or export from Latvia of items such as firearms, religious materials, antiquities, medications, business equipment, drugs, etc. It is advisable to contact the Embassy of Latvia in Washington or one of the Latvian consulates in the United States for specific information regarding customs requirements at http://www.latvia-usa.org.
Please see our information on Customs Information.
CRIMINAL PENALTIES: While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating Latvian laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Latvia are strict and convicted offenders can expect jail sentences and heavy fines. Engaging in illicit sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime, prosecutable in the United States.Please see our information on Criminal Penalties.
CHILDREN'S ISSUES: For information see our web pages on intercountry adoption and international parental child abduction.
REGISTRATION/EMBASSY AND CONSULATE LOCATIONS: Americans living or traveling in Latvia are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy of Consulate through the State Department’s travel registration website, https://travelregistration.state.gov/ibrs/ui/ and to obtain updated information on travel and security within Latvia. Americans without Internet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in case of emergency.

The U.S. Embassy is located at 7 Raina Blvd. Riga, LV-1510, and may be reached by dialing +371-703-6200. The fax number for the Consular American Citizen Services section is+371-781-4088. You can find the ACS section online at http://riga.usembassy.gov/
* * * * * *
This replaces the Consular Information Sheet dated March 12, 2008 with updated information on Entry Requirements.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

6th December, 2019
HSE Health Protection Surveillance Centre

There is a case of human rabies in Latvia. The case has been clinically and laboratory confirmed (immunofluorescence and PCR). The case is 55 years old female from city Daugavpils, located 35 km from Belarus and Lithuania borders. Symptoms appeared on November, 22, she died on November, 28. 
 
Possible exposures: 
• In May, 2018 she was bitten in both legs (ankles) by puppy travelling in India;
• She worked as volunteer in animal shelter in Daugavpils, in April this year she was bitten/scratched there by a dog, and the dog is healthy now;
• She fed stray cats and dogs in the courtyard of the house in Daugavpils, as well as in a country house outside the city near the forest. Information about bites or other possible exposures is not known.

In none of these cases the person received PEP. Now 61 contacts receive post-exposure treatment (vaccination), mostly as precautions: staff of two hospitals and medical emergency service, and close contacts, including household. In Latvia the last cases of rabies in wild animals were registered in 2010, in 2012 was registered the last case in domestic animals. In 2014, Latvia received the status of a country free of rabies. Latvia continues to implement wild animal’s vaccination progamme. Neighbour countries Belarus and Russian Federation is not rabies free and animals can cross the border.
 
A test report has been received on the results of the rabies virus genotype identification and sequencing reaction (EURL-Rabies Protocol, (AFSSA) P. Meyer, 2009). The rabies virus genotype 1 was detected in the sample. According to the GenBank database, the virus sequence has 99.17% identity to the RV2924 isolate of rabies virus from Nepal. Information and evidence obtained during an epidemiological investigation demonstrated that the human rabies case had a dog bites during her travel in India (Naggar and Manali, state Himachal Pradesh – close to Nepal), in May 2018. No post exposure treatment was received.

No cases of illegally exported pets as the potential source of infection were identified in the relation to this rabies case. According to the literature in rare cases a long (more than one year) incubation period of rabies is observed. Taking into account the epidemiological data and the result of the rabies virus sequencing, the Center for Disease Prevention and Control of Latvia believes that this human rabies case is not epidemiologically linked to Latvia.
Date: Thu, 7 Nov 2019 17:11:10 +0100 (MET)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

World Travel News Headlines

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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