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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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Western Sahara

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

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

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

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Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone - US Consular Information Sheet
June 11, 2007
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION: Sierra Leone is a developing country in western Africa still recovering from a ten-year civil war that ended in 2002.
English is the official language, but Kri
, an English-based language, is widely used.
Tourist facilities in the capital, Freetown, are limited; elsewhere, they are rudimentary or nonexistent.
Read the Department of State Background Notes on Sierra Leone for additional information.

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:
A passport and visa are required.
Visitors are strongly encouraged to obtain visas in advance of travel to Sierra Leone.
Visitors to Sierra Leone are required to show International Certificates of Vaccination (yellow card) upon arrival at the airport with a record of vaccination against yellow fever. See our Foreign Entry Requirements brochure for more information on Sierra Leone and other countries.
The Embassy of Sierra Leone is located at 1701 19th Street NW, Washington, DC 20009; telephone (202) 939-9261.
The Embassy also maintains a website at www.embassyofsierraleone.org.
Information may also be obtained from the Sierra Leonean Mission to the United Nations, 245 East 49th St., New York, NY 10017; telephone (212) 688-1656 and from the website of the Sierra Leonean High Commission in London at http://www.slhc-uk.org.uk/.
Overseas, inquiries should be made at the nearest Sierra Leonean embassy or consulate.

See Entry and Exit Requirements for more information pertaining to dual nationality and the prevention of international child abduction.
Please refer to our Customs Information to learn more about customs regulations.

SAFETY AND SECURITY:
Security in Sierra Leone has improved significantly since the end of the civil war in 2002.
The United Nations Peacekeeping Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) withdrew in December 2005 and Sierra Leone resumed responsibilities for its own security. The Sierra Leonean police are working to improve their professionalism and capabilities, but fall short of American standards in response time, communications, and specialty skills.

Areas outside Freetown lack most basic services. Embassy employees are free to travel throughout Sierra Leone.
Travelers are urged to exercise caution, however, especially when traveling beyond the capital.
Road conditions are hazardous and serious vehicle accidents are common.
Emergency response to vehicular and other accidents ranges from slow to nonexistent.

There are occasional unauthorized, possibly armed, roadblocks outside Freetown, where travelers might be asked to pay a small amount of money to the personnel manning the roadblock.
Because many Sierra Leoneans do not speak English, especially outside of Freetown, it can be difficult for foreigners to communicate their identity.
Public demonstrations are rare but can turn violent.
U.S. citizens should are advised to avoid large crowds, political rallies, and street demonstrations, and maintain security awareness at all times.

For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department's Internet web site where the current Worldwide Caution Public Announcement, Travel Warnings and Public Announcements can be found.

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

The Department of State urges American citizens to take responsibility for their own personal security while traveling overseas.
For general information about appropriate measures travelers can take to protect themselves in an overseas environment, see the Department of State’s pamphlet A Safe Trip Abroad.
CRIME:
Entrenched poverty in Sierra Leone has led to criminality.
There has been an increase in homicide, armed robbery, and residential burglary.
Petty crime and pick pocketing of wallets, cell phones, and passports are very common.
Law enforcement authorities usually respond to crimes slowly, if at all.
Police investigative response are often incomplete and don’t provide support to victims.
Inefficiency is a serious problem at all levels within the government of Sierra Leone.
Americans traveling to or residing in Sierra Leone should maintain a heightened sense of awareness of their surroundings to help avoid becoming the victims of crime.

Business fraud is rampant and the perpetrators often target foreigners, including Americans.
Schemes previously associated with Nigeria are now prevalent throughout West Africa, including Sierra Leone, and pose a danger of grave financial loss.
Typically these scams begin with unsolicited communication (usually e-mails) from strangers who promise quick financial gain, often by transferring large sums of money or valuables out of the country, but then require a series of "advance fees" to be paid, such as fees for legal documents or taxes.
Of course, the final payoff does not exist; the purpose of the scam is simply to collect the advance fees.
A common variation is the scammer’s claim to be a refugee or émigré of a prominent West African family, or a relative of a present or former political leader who needs assistance in transferring large sums of cash.
Still other variations appear to be legitimate business deals that require advance payments on contracts.
Sometimes victims are convinced to provide bank account and credit card information and financial authorization that drains their accounts, incurs large debts against their credit, and takes their life savings.

The best way to avoid becoming a victim of advance-fee fraud is common sense – if a proposition looks too good to be true, it probably is.
You should carefully check and research any unsolicited business proposal before committing any funds, providing any goods or services, or undertaking any travel.
It is virtually impossible to recover money lost through these scams. Please see the Department of State’s brochures on Advance Fee Business Scams and on International Financial Scams for more information.

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:
Quality and comprehensive medical services are very limited in Freetown, and are almost nonexistent for all but most minor treatment outside of the capital.
Persons with unstable chronic medical conditions that require on-going medical treatment or medications are discouraged from traveling to Sierra Leone.
Medicines are in short supply and due to inadequate diagnostic equipment, lack of medical resources and limited medical specialty personnel, complex diagnosis and treatment are unavailable.
The quality of medications in Sierra Leone is inconsistent and counterfeit drugs remain a problem.
Local pharmacies are generally unreliable. In the event medications are needed, such as over-the-counter medication, antibiotics, allergy remedies, or malaria prophylaxis, travelers may contact U.S. Embassy Health Unit personnel to receive general information about reliable pharmacies.

Medical facilities in Sierra Leone are scarce and for the most part sub-standard; outside the capital, standards are even lower.
There is no ambulance service in Sierra Leone, trauma care is extremely limited, and local hospitals should only be used in the event of an extreme medical emergency.
Many primary health care workers, especially in rural areas, lack adequate professional training.
Instances of misdiagnosis, improper treatment, and the administration of improper drugs have been reported.
Life-threatening emergencies often require evacuation by air ambulance at the patient's expense.
For a list of hospitals, visit our website at http://freetown.usembassy.gov/ .

Gastrointestinal diseases and malaria pose serious risk to travelers in Sierra Leone.
For additional information on malaria, including protective measures, see the CDC Travelers’ Health web site at http://www.cdc.gov/malaria/.

Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC’s internet site at http://www.cdc.gov/travel.
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.

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

Most main roads in Freetown are narrow and paved but have potholes; extremely narrow unpaved side streets are generally navigable.
Most roads outside Freetown are unpaved and are generally passable with a 4-wheel drive vehicle.
However, certain stretches of mapped road are often impassable during the rainy season, which usually lasts from May to September.
During the rainy season, add several hours to travel time between Freetown and outlying areas.
There is a major road repair and resurfacing program going on throughout the country that is slowly improving the quality of roads.
Public transport (bus or group taxi) is erratic, unsafe, and not recommended.
U.S. government employees are prohibited from using public transportation except for taxis that operate in conjunction with an approved hotel and that are rented on a daily basis.

Many vehicles on the road in Sierra Leone are unsafe and accidents resulting from the poor condition of these vehicles, including multi-vehicle accidents, are common.
Many drivers on the road in Sierra Leone are inexperienced and often drive without proper license or training.
Serious accidents are common, especially outside of Freetown, where the relative lack of traffic allows for greater speeds.
The chance of being involved in an accident increases greatly when traveling at night, and Embassy officials are not authorized to travel outside of major cities after dark.

Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.

AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: As there is no direct commercial air service between the United States and Sierra Leone, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed Sierra Leone’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.

Passengers departing Freetown on certain airlines should expect to pay an airport tax of $40.00 (payable in U.S. Dollars).
Several regional airlines service Freetown’s Lungi International Airport; however, it is not uncommon for them to alter scheduled stops, cancel or postpone flights on short notice, and overbook flights.
Travelers may experience unexpected delays even after checking in and must be prepared to handle alternate ticketing and/or increased food and lodging expenses.
European carriers are typically more reliable.
American citizens departing Lungi Airport have reported incidents of attempted extortion by officials claiming that travel documents were not in order.
Luggage can often be lost or pilfered.

Lungi Airport is located across a large body of water from Freetown.
There are helicopter and ferry services in connection with most major flights to transport passengers to the capital; however, the ferry service has frequent delays.
It should be noted that the ferry terminal is located in East Freetown, which has a higher crime rate than other parts of the capital.
Embassy personnel use available helicopter services, which usually cost $50 each way, to transit from Freetown to the airport.


SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:
Sierra Leone is a cash economy; however, an anti-money laundering law passed in July 2005 prohibits importing more than $10,000 in cash except through a financial institution.
Travelers are advised not to use credit cards in Sierra Leone because very few facilities accept them and there is a serious risk that using a card will lead to the number being stolen for use in fraudulent transactions.
There are no ATMs connected to international networks.
Travelers' checks are not usually accepted as payment; however, travelers’ checks can be cashed at some banks including Sierra Leone Commercial Bank, Standard Chartered Bank and Rokel Commercial Bank.
The traveler must, however, have proof of identification and a signed receipt by the institution where the travelers’ checks were purchased.
Currency exchanges should be handled through a bank or established foreign exchange bureau.
Exchanging money with street vendors is dangerous because criminals may "mark" such people for future attack and there is the risk of receiving counterfeit currency.

Sierra Leone's customs authorities enforce strict regulations concerning the export of gems and precious minerals, such as diamonds and gold.
All mineral resources, including gold and diamonds, belong to the State and only the government of Sierra Leone can issue mining and export licenses.
The legal authority for the issuance of licenses is vested in the Ministry of Mines and Mineral Resources.
Failure to comply with relevant legislation can lead to serious criminal penalties.
For further information on mining activities in Sierra Leone, contact the Ministry of Mines and Mineral Resources:
The Director of Mines, Ministry of Mines and Mineral Resources, Fifth Floor, Youyi Building, Brookfields, Freetown, Sierra Leone; tel. (232-22) 240-420 or 240-176; fax (232-22) 240-574.

Corruption is a problem in Sierra Leone.
Travelers requesting service from government officials at any level may be asked for bribes.
You should report corrupt government officials to the Anti-Corruption Commission at one of the following locations:
The Sierra Leone Anti-Corruption Commission, 3 Gloucester Street, Freetown; 14a Lightfoot Boston Street, Freetown; 37 Kissy Town Road, Bo, Southern Province; Independence Square, Rogbaneh Road, Makeni; tel. (232- 22) 229-984 or 227-100 or 221-701; fax (232-22) 221-900; email: acc@sierratel.sl or info@anticorruption.sl;
and websites www.anticorruptionsl.org/anonymous.html and www.anticorruptionsl.org.

You must obtain official permission to photograph government buildings, airports, bridges, or official facilities including the Special Court for Sierra Leone and the American Embassy.
Areas where photography is prohibited may not be clearly marked or defined.
People sometimes do not want to be photographed for religious reasons or may want to be paid for posing.
Photographers should ask permission before taking someone’s picture.

U.S. citizens who are also Sierra Leonean nationals must provide proof of payment of taxes on revenues earned in Sierra Leone before being granted clearance to depart the country.
The Government of Sierra Leone now recognizes dual U.S.-Sierra Leonean citizenship; however; the U.S. Embassy may have difficulty assisting American citizens involved in legal or criminal proceedings if they entered the country on a Sierra Leonean passport.


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.
Sierra Leone’s judiciary is under-funded and overburdened, and offenders often must endure lengthy pre-trial or pre-hearing delays and detention.
Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses.
Persons violating Sierra Leone laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Sierra Leone 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.

Travelers should carefully check their passport to see the length of time they are permitted to remain in the country and the validity of their visa.
Travelers leaving the country with an expired visa may incur additional charges.
Any Sierra Leonean visa issues can be regulated at the immigration office at Rawdon Street in Freetown.

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

A significant number of American prospective adoptive parents have found that Sierra Leonean children offered for adoption are not orphans under U.S. immigration law, which has ultimately resulted in denials of U.S. immigrant visas for children they adopt in Sierra Leonean courts.
Please refer to the Sierra Leone adoption flyer for more information.

REGISTRATION / EMBASSY LOCATION:
Americans living or traveling in Sierra Leone are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department’s travel registration website and to obtain updated information on travel and security within Sierra Leone.
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 Leicester Square, Regent; tel. (232) (22) 515 000 or (232) (76) 515 000; fax (232) (22) 515 355.
The Embassy maintains a home page on the Internet at http://freetown.usembassy.gov/.
*

*

*
This replaces the consular information sheet dated October 31, 2006, to update sections on Entry/Exit Requirement; Crime; Medical Facilities and Health Information; Aviation Safety Oversight; Special Circumstances; Criminal Penalties; and Registration/Embassy Location.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Fri 24 Jan 2020
Source: SciTechDaily [abridged, edited]

Citation: Amman BR, Bird BH, Bakarr IA, et al. Isolation of Angola-like Marburg virus from Egyptian rousette bats from West Africa. Nat Commun. 2020; 11:510.  <https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-020-14327-8>

Scientists have detected Marburg virus in fruit bats in Sierra Leone, marking the 1st time the deadly virus has been found in West Africa. A total of 11 Egyptian rousette fruit bats tested positive for active Marburg virus infection. Research teams caught the bats separately in 3 health districts.

The presence of Marburg virus, a close relative to Ebola virus that also causes hemorrhagic disease in people, was detected in advance of any reported cases of human illness in Sierra Leone. However, the virus's presence in bats means people who live nearby could be at risk for becoming infected. No outbreaks have been reported to date.

The findings, based on PCR, antibody, and virus isolation data, were officially published today [24 Jan 2020] in the journal Nature Communications. Preliminary findings were announced earlier in December 2018 to ensure rapid notification to the citizens of Sierra Leone and the international health community.

The paper highlights the value of collaborating with government and key stakeholders across human, animal, and environmental sectors to engage at-risk communities about the discovery, address health concerns, and communicate risk-reduction strategies before recognized spillovers occur.

Marburg virus was detected by projects led by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the USAID-funded PREDICT project led by the One Health Institute at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine; Njala University, Sierra Leone; and the University of Makeni, Sierra Leone.

"Finding Marburg virus in bats in Sierra Leone before any known cases in people is a huge success, as public health officials and doctors can now include Marburg virus among the possible causes when diagnosing hemorrhagic fever cases in the region," said Tracey Goldstein, co-principal investigator and pathogen detection lead for the PREDICT project from the UC Davis One Health Institute.

To date, there have been 12 known outbreaks of Marburg virus, with the most recent in Uganda in 2017. The largest and deadliest outbreak occurred in Angola in 2005 when 227 people died. Five of the new strains identified among the Marburg-positive bats in Sierra Leone were genetically similar to the strain that caused the outbreak in Angola. This is the 1st time scientists have detected these Angolan-like strains in bats.

The virus-positive bats were all Egyptian rousette bats, the known reservoir for Marburg virus, which primarily feed on fruit. Infected bats shed the virus in their saliva, urine, and feces. Egyptian rousette bats are known to test-bite fruits, urinate, and defecate where they eat, potentially contaminating fruit or other food sources consumed by other animals or people, particularly children. These bats sometimes serve as a food source for local populations as well. People may be exposed to Marburg virus through bat bites as they catch the bats.

Following the announcement of the preliminary findings by the government of Sierra Leone, the PREDICT team worked with government partners, universities, and other key stakeholders to develop and implement evidence-based public health messaging across national, district, and local community levels in Sierra Leone.  "Over a year ago, we worked with our Sierra Leone government colleagues to inform people across the country as fast as possible of this new health risk and remind people not to harm or come in contact with bats," said Brian Bird from the UC Davis One Health Institute and global lead for Sierra Leone and Multi-Country Ebola operations for PREDICT-USAID. "I'm very proud of that work and our teams now that this full report is available."
----------------------------------------------
Communicated by:
ProMED-mail from HealthMap Alerts
<promed@promedmail.org>
and
Mary Marshall
===========================
[The initial report of this finding, prior to this publication, was posted by ProMED-mail (Marburg virus disease - Sierra Leone (02): bats, additional information http://promedmail.org/post/20181223.6221436) when the virus was detected for the 1st time in fruit bats in Sierra Leone.

According to the CDC (<https://www.cdc.gov/vhf/marburg/index.html>), Marburg virus was 1st recognized in 1967, when outbreaks of hemorrhagic fever occurred simultaneously in laboratories in Marburg and Frankfurt, Germany, and in Belgrade, Yugoslavia (now Serbia). A total of 31 people became ill, initially laboratory workers followed by several medical personnel and family members who had cared for them; 7 deaths were reported. The 1st people infected had been exposed to imported African green monkeys or their tissues while conducting research. One additional case was diagnosed retrospectively.

The reservoir host of Marburg virus is the African fruit bat, _Rousettus aegyptiacus_. Fruit bats infected with Marburg virus do not show obvious signs of illness. Primates (including humans) can become infected with Marburg virus, and may develop serious disease with high mortality.

Ebola virus is closely related to Marburg virus. "Ebola viral RNA fragments were found in an oral swab from a greater long-fingered bat (_Miniopterus inflatus_), captured in 2016 in Liberia's Sanniquellie-Mahn district, which borders Guinea. The bat, which lives in many parts of Africa, roosts in caves and feeds on insects. Scientists had previously found 2 other Ebola species in a related insect-eating bat, _M. schreibersii_. However, most other evidence has pointed to fruit bats as the carriers of Ebola Zaire, Epstein says [J Epstein, veterinary epidemiologist at EcoHealth Alliance in New York City and a member of the PREDICT consortium]. "What it really says to me is that this is a virus that has multiple hosts, and it might be regionally dependent as to which species carries it."

Supporting the variety of bat hosts for Ebola, the bat implicated in the initiation of the West African Ebola virus outbreak in December 2013 was _Mops condylurus_, long-tailed insect-eating bats, that were previously suspected in an outbreak of the Sudan strain of Ebola virus, which is related to the Zaire strain. - ProMED Mod.LK]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map:
Date: Thu 28 Nov 2019
Source: World Health Organization Disease Outbreak News [edited]

Sierra Leone health officials, supported by WHO, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and other partners, are responding to an outbreak of Lassa fever. On 20 Nov 2019, WHO was informed by the Netherlands' International Health Regulations (IHR) National Focal Point of one imported case of Lassa fever from Sierra Leone. The patient was a male doctor, a Dutch national who worked in a rural Masanga hospital in Tonkolili district, Northern province in Sierra Leone.

The probable route of transmission is believed to be through exposures during a surgical procedure he performed on 2 patients in Masanga hospital on 4 Nov 2019. Both patients died following surgical interventions; one died on 4 Nov [2019] and the 2nd on 19 Nov 2019. Both surgical patients are considered probable cases, and the patient who died on 4 Nov [2019] is believed to be the index case for this outbreak, likely the source of infection of the Dutch doctor.

The doctor's symptoms started on 11 Nov [2019], a week after performing the surgery, and included malaise and headache, followed by fever, diarrhoea, vomiting, and cough. While symptomatic, he attended a surgical training event in Freetown, Sierra Leone, on 11-12 Nov [2019]. This event was also attended by several international participants from the Netherlands and United Kingdom in addition to 35 local participants. On 19 Nov [2019], the symptomatic doctor was medically evacuated to the Netherlands after he did not respond to treatment with antimalarials and antibiotics. The evacuation was managed by a dedicated ambulance plane with 4 staff from a German organization. During the journey, the plane stopped in Morocco (Agadir Airport). As the illness was initially thought to be malaria or typhoid fever, personal protective equipment, other than gloves, were not used, and no specific containment procedures were used during the medical evacuation.

Laboratory specimens from the patient tested positive for Lassa fever by polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and sequencing at Erasmus University Medical Centre in Rotterdam on 20 Nov 2019.

The patient died on the night of 23 Nov 2019.

On 22 Nov 2019, WHO was informed of a 2nd laboratory-confirmed case of Lassa fever in another Dutch healthcare worker, who also worked in the Masanga hospital. Samples from this 2nd case were sent to the Erasmus University Medical Centre in Rotterdam and tested positive for Lassa fever by PCR. The 2nd case also participated in one of the surgical procedures performed by the medically evacuated Dutch doctor. The date of onset of symptoms of the 2nd case was 11 Nov [2019]. This case was subsequently medically evacuated in high containment isolation to the Netherlands and is currently under treatment. Isolation precautions have been implemented.

The Masanga hospital in Sierra Leone where the Dutch doctor worked is supported by several non-governmental organizations with international healthcare workers including staff from countries including Denmark, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom, alongside national healthcare workers.

Contact tracing and monitoring activities have been initiated in these countries as required.

Sierra Leone
An outbreak investigation and response is ongoing under leadership of the Ministry of Health (MoH), supported by CDC and WHO. As of 24 Nov 2019, in addition to the 2 Dutch cases, 2 further cases among national healthcare workers, one confirmed and another suspected, have been reported from Masanga hospital. Both healthcare workers were involved in the management of the 2 surgical patients operated by the Dutch doctor on 4 Nov [2019]. All high-risk contacts in Masanga hospital are being monitored.

The Netherlands
Several high- and low-risk contacts have been identified among personal contacts and healthcare workers. According to Dutch protocols, they will be monitored until 21 days after the last potential exposure. Five high-risk Dutch contacts who were in Sierra Leone have been repatriated through a dedicated flight and are now under monitoring. Dutch low-risk contacts in Sierra Leone have been advised to perform self-monitoring in situ.

Germany
The 4 medical evacuation flight staff (2 pilots and 2 healthcare workers) spent 8 flight hours in a confined space in the ambulance plane without any barrier between the cockpit and cabin. They have been assessed as moderate-risk contacts. According to German recommendations, they are being monitored for 21 days following the last potential exposure on 19 Nov (until 10 Dec 2019).

United Kingdom (UK)
UK authorities have identified 18 UK nationals as contacts of the 1st Dutch case. Of these 18, 8 are high-risk contacts and were exposed in Masanga hospital while working alongside the doctor or may have been exposed to the 2 patients he operated on 4 Nov [2019]. Of these 8 high-risk contacts, 7 returned to the UK and one went to Uganda. In addition, 13 UK nationals attended a surgical training event in Freetown, Sierra Leone, on 11-12 Nov [2019], which was also attended by the 1st Dutch case while already symptomatic. Of these 13 participants, 3 came from Masanga hospital and belong to the above group of 8 high-risk contacts. The remaining 10 participants were possibly exposed during the training and are considered low-risk contacts. Of these 18 contacts identified (8 high-risk and 10 low-risk contacts), 17 have returned to the UK and are under public health follow-up for 21 days; one high-risk contact went to Uganda. There were also several Dutch and 35 local participants who attended this event. UK authorities are in contact with the organizers, and the names of participants from Sierra Leone and the Netherlands have been shared with respective National IHR Focal Points.

Uganda
One contact, a UK national, who may have been exposed in Masanga hospital on 15 Nov [2019] and subsequently travelled to Uganda on 16 Nov [2019], is now being followed up by the Uganda authorities, and the UK authorities are providing support remotely though public health and consular channels.

The National IHR Focal Point of the Netherlands has also informed their counterpart in Morocco about the potential risk of exposure at the Agadir Airport. Morocco National IHR Focal Point confirmed that the investigation is conducted, and control measures have been implemented to ensure there was no transmission in Agadir.

Sierra Leone is endemic for Lassa fever. Previously, sporadic cases have been exported to Europe from endemic countries in Africa, such as Togo, Liberia and Nigeria. In 2018, a total of 23 confirmed Lassa fever cases with 14 deaths (case fatality rate 61%) were reported from 2 districts of Sierra Leone: Bo district (2 cases; 2 deaths) and Kenema district (21 cases; 12 deaths).

From 1 Jan-17 Nov 2019, of the 182 suspected cases, 10 cases with 6 deaths (case fatality ratio 60%) have been confirmed for Lassa virus infection. All confirmed cases during this period were reported from Kenema district, which has been reporting cases of Lassa fever every year.

Public health response
The International Health Regulations Focal Points and Health Authorities in Denmark, Germany, Morocco, the Netherlands, Sierra Leone, Uganda, and the UK have been collaborating to share information about this event, together with the WHO and US CDC. Contact tracing and monitoring activities for 21 days following the last potential exposure have been initiated in Sierra Leone, Germany, the Netherlands, Uganda, and the UK. Investigations are ongoing in Sierra Leone in Masanga hospital and surrounding areas in Tonkolili district with a deployment of a national rapid-response team, supported by US CDC and WHO.

WHO risk assessment
Lassa fever is an acute viral haemorrhagic fever illness that is transmitted to humans via contact with food or household items contaminated with rodent urine or faeces. Human-to-human infections and laboratory transmission can also occur through direct contact with the blood, urine, faeces, or other bodily secretions of a person with Lassa fever. The overall case fatality rate is 1%; it is 15% among patients hospitalized with severe illness.

Sierra Leone is endemic for Lassa fever, and sporadic cases have been exported to Europe from endemic countries in Africa, such as Togo, Liberia and Nigeria in recent years. However, in general, the secondary transmission of Lassa fever through human contacts is rare.

Data from recent imported cases show that secondary transmission of Lassa fever is rare when standard infection-control precautions are observed. Further, epidemiological investigations are ongoing: human-to-human transmission occurs in both community and healthcare settings, where the virus may spread by contaminated medical equipment. Healthcare workers are at risk if caring for Lassa fever patients in the absence of appropriate infection prevention and control measures. Considering the seasonal flare-ups of cases in humid zones between December and March, countries in West Africa that are endemic for Lassa fever are encouraged to strengthen their related surveillance systems.

WHO advice
Prevention of Lassa fever relies on community engagement and promoting hygienic conditions to discourage rodents from entering homes.  There is currently no approved vaccine. Early supportive care with rehydration and symptomatic treatment improves survival. Family members and healthcare workers should always be careful to avoid contact with blood and body fluids while caring for sick persons.

According to WHO guidance for viral haemorrhagic fever, healthcare staff should consistently implement standard precautions when caring for all patients to prevent infections acquired in a healthcare setting and strictly apply contact precautions, including isolation, when caring for suspected or confirmed Lassa fever patients or handling their clinical specimens or body fluids. Standard precautions are meant to reduce the risk of transmission of bloodborne and other pathogens from both recognized and unrecognized sources. Standard precautions are recommended in the care and treatment of all patients regardless of their perceived or confirmed infectious status. They represent the basic fundamental level of infection prevention and control and include hand hygiene, use of personal protective equipment to avoid direct contact with blood and body fluids, prevention of needle stick and injuries from other sharp instruments, and a set of environmental controls. Sterilization and environmental cleaning should also be particularly strengthened and undergo quality control assessments.

In order to avoid any direct contact with blood and body fluids and/or splashes onto facial mucosa (eyes, nose, mouth) when providing direct care for a patient with suspected or confirmed Lassa virus, personal protective equipment should include
1) clean non-sterile gloves,
2) a clean, non-sterile fluid-resistant gown, and
3) protection of facial mucosa against splashes (mask and eye protection, or a face shield).

Given the nonspecific presentation of viral haemorrhagic fevers, isolation of ill travellers and consistent implementation of standard precautions are key to preventing secondary transmission. When consistently applied, these measures can prevent secondary transmission even if travel history information is not obtained, not immediately available, or the diagnosis of a viral haemorrhagic fever is delayed.

WHO continues to advise all countries in the Lassa fever belt due to the need to enhance early detection and treatment of cases to reduce the case fatality rate as well as strengthen cross-border collaboration. WHO advises against any restrictions on travel or trade to or from Sierra Leone based on the current available information.
======================
[The above report provides the details and timelines related to the 2 confirmed cases of the Dutch physicians and the many suspected contacts. The 2 confirmed cases illustrate the difficulty in identifying Lassa fever cases when the infected individuals are early in the course of the disease so that barriers to transmission of the virus can be implemented. The 1st Dutch physician initially was thought to have malaria or typhoid fever, diseases more common in the area than Lassa fever. It will be interesting to learn if any of the contact individuals in the UK, Germany, or Uganda become infected. - ProMED Mod.TY]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of Sierra Leone:
Date: Sun, 24 Nov 2019 12:56:47 +0100 (MET)

The Hague, Nov 24, 2019 (AFP) - A Dutch doctor who contracted Lassa haemorrhagic fever in Sierra Leone after treating patients has died in hospital, while a second doctor is undergoing treatment, the top Dutch health official said Sunday.

The unnamed doctor was flown back to the Netherlands on Tuesday and had been treated at a special isolation ward at a hospital in Leiden near Schiphol airport.   "The patient... which has been treated in strict isolation, has died last night," Dutch Health Minister Bruno Bruins said.   "A second doctor also has Lassa fever and has been repatriated to the Netherlands. Both doctors were infected in Sierra Leone, most likely during medical treatment," the minister said.

The second patient has been admitted to a hospital in the central Dutch city of Utrecht in an isolation unit which was also used to treat a patient who contracted Ebola in 2014.   In a statement, the Sierra Leonean Health Ministry said the deceased Dutch doctor developed Lassa fever symptoms after performing a cesarean section on a pregnant woman at the Masanga Hospital in central Sierra Leone.

The doctor also helped with the evacuation of a second woman who suffered from a septic wound after an abortion.   Both the women died shortly afterwards.    "He developed signs of fever, headache, and general malaise... and was treated for typhoid, malaria and influenza but symptoms persisted."   He was then flown back to the Netherlands where he tested "positive for Lassa fever on the same day."   The second doctor helped in both the cases and tested positive for the disease. 

Dutch minister Bruins said the Netherlands "is in close contact with those involved in Sierra Leone" and that Dutch nurses who had been in contact with the two Sierra Leonean patients are being flown back.   Lassa fever -- named after the place in Nigeria where it was first discovered in 1969 -- is caused by a haemorrhagic virus which belongs to the same family as Marburg and Ebola, according to the Centres for Disease Control (CDC).    It is mainly spread by rodents and is endemic to parts of West Africa including Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia and Nigeria.
Date: 24 Nov 2019
Source: BBC [edited]

A Dutch doctor who was evacuated from Sierra Leone after contracting Lassa fever has died in hospital. The medic was flown home on Tuesday [19 Nov 2019] after being infected in the northern town of Masanga, an area not previously known to have been affected.  He reportedly developed symptoms of the viral haemorrhagic illness after operating on a pregnant woman.  A 2nd Dutch doctor who was also evacuated is being treated for the disease.

Described as a cousin of Ebola [a very distant one virologically - ProMED Mod.TY], Lassa fever is endemic in eastern Sierra Leone, but cases have also been reported in northern and southern parts of the country in the last 5 years. It is also endemic in neighbouring Liberia, Guinea and several other West African states.

The doctor died while being treated in "strict isolation" at a hospital in the city of Leiden, Dutch Health Minister Bruno Bruins was quoted by AFP news agency as saying.

The minister confirmed that a 2nd doctor was in an isolation ward in hospital in the central city of Utrecht after being infected with the virus.

The doctors, who have not been named, were linked to a medical charity and had been working at a hospital in Masanga. In a statement, Sierra Leone's Health Ministry said the deceased doctor showed symptoms of Lassa fever after performing a Caesarean section.  "He developed signs of fever, headache, and general malaise ... and was treated for typhoid, malaria, and influenza but symptoms persisted," it said. He was then airlifted to the Netherlands where he was diagnosed with the disease.

The doctor had also helped with the evacuation of a 2nd woman who suffered from a septic wound after an abortion, AFP reports. Both women died shortly afterwards.
======================
[Lassa fever virus is endemic in Sierra Leone, and cases occur there sporadically. It is unfortunate that these physicians became infected while attending to Lassa fever virus-infected patients. Nosocomial transmission of Lassa fever virus in healthcare facilities, especially hospitals, is not unusual.

It is curious that the BBC report says nothing about the other 5 Dutch nationals and the 3 British doctors who were evacuated also who were mentioned in the tweet. - ProMED Mod.TY]

[ProMED also acknowledges a reader who prefers to remain anonymous for submitting this information from a Dutch news media report.  - ProMED Mod.LM]

[HealthMap/ProMED map available at:
Date: Wed, 7 Aug 2019 21:56:59 +0200 (METDST)

Freetown, Aug 7, 2019 (AFP) - Seven people have died and more than 8,000 have been made homeless after torrential rain in Sierra Leone caused massive floods, officials said.   "We can confirm the death of seven people, with 8,000 people severely affected by the flooding in Freetown and other parts of the country since last Friday," John Vandy, director of the Disaster Management Office in the National Security Office told AFP on Wednesday.   "The majority of the flood victims are from slum communities and swampy areas," Vandy said.   The government is working with development partners to assess the damage and offer relief, with more heavy rain forecast.   The authorities have urged people to leave flood-prone areas in Freetown after reports of a minor mudslide in an area where more than 1,100 people died in a landslip in 2017.
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World Travel News Headlines

Date: Mon, 27 Jan 2020 01:07:04 +0100 (MET)

Wuhan, China, Jan 27, 2020 (AFP) - China's central government said on Monday that the nationwide total of confirmed infections from a deadly respiratory virus had risen to 2,744, with 769 new cases coming to light.   However, it said no new deaths were confirmed outside of Hubei province, which had earlier reported 24 new fatalities to bring the national total to 80 dead.
Date: Sun, 26 Jan 2020 22:16:28 +0100 (MET)

Beijing, Jan 26, 2020 (AFP) - Chinese authorities have ordered the extension of a public holiday in an effort to contain an epidemic that has killed 56 people and infected nearly 2,000 worldwide, state-run media reported.   A working group chaired by Premier Li Keqiang to tackle the outbreak decided on Sunday "to reduce population flows" by extending the Spring Festival holiday which had been scheduled to end on January 30, state news agency Xinhua said.   It was not immediately clear how long the extension is.

The group also ordered changes to "the starting dates of schools" and "people to work from home by working online."   "The meeting stressed that the country is at a crucial time in the prevention and control of the novel coronavirus outbreak, urging Party committees and governments at all levels to take more 'decisive, powerful and orderly, scientific and well-planned' measures to effective curb the spread," Xinhua reported.   In a bid to slow the spread of the respiratory virus, the government had previously locked down hard-hit Hubei, a province in central China that is at the outbreak's epicentre, in an unprecedented operation affecting tens of millions of people.

The previously unknown virus has caused global concern because of its similarity to the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) pathogen, which killed hundreds across mainland China and Hong Kong in 2002-2003.   Originating in Hubei's capital of Wuhan, the virus has spread throughout China and across the world -- with cases confirmed in around a dozen countries including as far away as the United States.   Several countries were making arrangements to evacuate their citizens from Wuhan, where an eery calm pervades as new restrictions prohibit most road traffic in the metropolis of 11 million.
Date: Sun, 26 Jan 2020 21:47:53 +0100 (MET)

Washington, Jan 26, 2020 (AFP) - US health authorities said Sunday there are now five confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the United States and more are expected.   Nancy Messonnier, head of the respiratory disease section at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said around 100 people in 26 states are being investigated for the virus, which originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan.

Of the confirmed cases, all five people had travelled to Wuhan, Messonier said during a conference call with reporters.   "Every case we have had in the United States is someone who has had direct contact in Wuhan," she said.   Messonier said there are two cases in California and one each in Arizona, Illinois and Washington state. Until now the toll was three.   While Chinese officials have launched an extraordinary emergency response, Messonier insisted that the health risk for Americans in general remains low "at this time."
Date: Sun, 26 Jan 2020 13:44:57 +0100 (MET)

Lagos, Jan 26, 2020 (AFP) - Nigerian health authorities have announced stepped-up emergency measures to tackle a rise in Lassa fever cases after 29 people died this month.   "As at 24th of January 2020, 195 confirmed cases and 29 deaths had been reported in 11 states," the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) said in a statement Saturday.   A national emergency operations centre had been activated to coordinate the response "to the increasing number of Lassa fever cases" across the country.

Endemic to Nigeria, Lassa fever belongs to the same family as the Ebola and Marburg viruses, but is much less deadly.   The virus is spread by contact with rat faeces or urine. It starts with fever and can, in worst case scenarios, lead to severe bleeding and organ failure.   Nigeria declared an outbreak of Lassa fever a year ago and around 170 people died from the virus in 2019.

The number of cases usually climbs in January due to weather conditions during the dry season.    Almost 90 percent of the recent confirmed cases have been in Edo, Ondo and Ebonyi states in southern Nigeria, but their have also been deaths in the north.

The NCDC said that compared to the same period last year the fatality rate had dropped from 23.4 percent to 14.8 percent.    It encouraged Nigerians to "practise good hygiene and take measures to protect themselves and their families".   Nigeria, Africa's most populous nation with a population of some 200 million, has five laboratories with the capability to diagnose Lassa fever.
Date: Sun, 26 Jan 2020 12:18:19 +0100 (MET)

Beijing, Jan 26, 2020 (AFP) - Two Chinese provinces and three cities have ordered citizens to wear face masks in public, to help control the spread of a deadly virus.   The measure is required in the provinces of Guangdong in the south and Jiangxi in the centre, plus the eastern city of Nanjing, Ma'anshan city in Anhui province, and Xinyang city in Henan, according to local authorities.   China's industry and information technology ministry has said it would "spare no effort in increasing supply" after demand for masks skyrocketed.
Date: Sun, 26 Jan 2020 04:03:51 +0100 (MET)

Hong Kong, Jan 26, 2020 (AFP) - Hong Kong's Disneyland announced it was shutting its doors on Sunday until further notice over the deadly virus outbreak in central China, a day after city authorities classified the crisis as an emergency.   "As a precautionary measure in line with prevention efforts taking place across Hong Kong, we are temporarily closing Hong Kong Disneyland park out of consideration for the health and safety of our guests and cast members," the park said in a statement.
Date: 26 Jan 2020
Source: MENAFN [edited]

Two more polio cases have surfaced from Landikotal tehsil in Khyber tribal district, after which the number of reported cases in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has reached 4 this year [2020].

According to the Emergency Operations Centre (EOC), a 2-year-old [male child] from Nekikhel and another child from Torwela have been diagnosed with polio. The samples of these 2 children were sent for laboratory tests in 2019, so these cases will be counted in the tally of 2019, which stands at 141 now.

The 2 cases in Landiktoal were reported 2 days after the emergence of 3 new polio cases in Qambar, Dadu and Sajawal districts of Sindh. Among them, 2 children contracted the crippling disease in 2019, but the cases were confirmed on Friday [24 Jan 2020].

On [21 Jan 2020], the 1st case of polio in Pakistan in 2020 surfaced in Lakki Marwat, the district with the highest number of cases in 2019.

The year 2019 was worse for Pakistan in polio eradication efforts, as 141 cases surfaced in Pakistan, including 96 cases in KP. Most cases in KP surfaced in Lakki Marwat, where 32 children were diagnosed with the crippling disease. In 2018, only 12 cases were reported, while in 2017, 8 cases were reported.

Currently, Pakistan and Afghanistan are the only 2 countries in the world which have not fully eradicated polio. The main cause behind the emergence of so many polio cases is refusal of parents to cooperate with the vaccination teams. According to media reports citing Health Ministry data, over a million parents refused to cooperate with vaccination teams in 2019. Most of the refusal cases were reported in April last year [2019] when rumours spread in Peshawar that many children had fainted after consuming vaccination drops. A total of 1 089 087 parents refused to give vaccination drops to their children in 2019.

The emergence of so many polio cases in Pakistan, particularly in KP, has brought the federal and provincial governments under pressure over their performance and strategy to control the spread of disease.

Experts believe that polio vaccination efforts cannot succeed completely until the refusing parents are convinced to cooperate with vaccination teams.
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[The End Polio Pakistan website has not added all of the media reported cases as yet, so it's a bit difficult to follow at times and know which cases were 2019 onset and which were 2020 onset. The above media report clearly states 2019 onset and puts the tally for 2019 as 141 cases, but the media reports from Friday's [24 Jan 2020] report is less clear (see Poliomyelitis update (10): global, Pakistan (BA, SD) http://promedmail.org/post/20200124.6911971).

A good map of Pakistan showing districts and provinces can be found at:
Date: Fri 24 Jan 2020
Source: SciTechDaily [abridged, edited]

Citation: Amman BR, Bird BH, Bakarr IA, et al. Isolation of Angola-like Marburg virus from Egyptian rousette bats from West Africa. Nat Commun. 2020; 11:510.  <https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-020-14327-8>

Scientists have detected Marburg virus in fruit bats in Sierra Leone, marking the 1st time the deadly virus has been found in West Africa. A total of 11 Egyptian rousette fruit bats tested positive for active Marburg virus infection. Research teams caught the bats separately in 3 health districts.

The presence of Marburg virus, a close relative to Ebola virus that also causes hemorrhagic disease in people, was detected in advance of any reported cases of human illness in Sierra Leone. However, the virus's presence in bats means people who live nearby could be at risk for becoming infected. No outbreaks have been reported to date.

The findings, based on PCR, antibody, and virus isolation data, were officially published today [24 Jan 2020] in the journal Nature Communications. Preliminary findings were announced earlier in December 2018 to ensure rapid notification to the citizens of Sierra Leone and the international health community.

The paper highlights the value of collaborating with government and key stakeholders across human, animal, and environmental sectors to engage at-risk communities about the discovery, address health concerns, and communicate risk-reduction strategies before recognized spillovers occur.

Marburg virus was detected by projects led by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the USAID-funded PREDICT project led by the One Health Institute at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine; Njala University, Sierra Leone; and the University of Makeni, Sierra Leone.

"Finding Marburg virus in bats in Sierra Leone before any known cases in people is a huge success, as public health officials and doctors can now include Marburg virus among the possible causes when diagnosing hemorrhagic fever cases in the region," said Tracey Goldstein, co-principal investigator and pathogen detection lead for the PREDICT project from the UC Davis One Health Institute.

To date, there have been 12 known outbreaks of Marburg virus, with the most recent in Uganda in 2017. The largest and deadliest outbreak occurred in Angola in 2005 when 227 people died. Five of the new strains identified among the Marburg-positive bats in Sierra Leone were genetically similar to the strain that caused the outbreak in Angola. This is the 1st time scientists have detected these Angolan-like strains in bats.

The virus-positive bats were all Egyptian rousette bats, the known reservoir for Marburg virus, which primarily feed on fruit. Infected bats shed the virus in their saliva, urine, and feces. Egyptian rousette bats are known to test-bite fruits, urinate, and defecate where they eat, potentially contaminating fruit or other food sources consumed by other animals or people, particularly children. These bats sometimes serve as a food source for local populations as well. People may be exposed to Marburg virus through bat bites as they catch the bats.

Following the announcement of the preliminary findings by the government of Sierra Leone, the PREDICT team worked with government partners, universities, and other key stakeholders to develop and implement evidence-based public health messaging across national, district, and local community levels in Sierra Leone.  "Over a year ago, we worked with our Sierra Leone government colleagues to inform people across the country as fast as possible of this new health risk and remind people not to harm or come in contact with bats," said Brian Bird from the UC Davis One Health Institute and global lead for Sierra Leone and Multi-Country Ebola operations for PREDICT-USAID. "I'm very proud of that work and our teams now that this full report is available."
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Communicated by:
ProMED-mail from HealthMap Alerts
<promed@promedmail.org>
and
Mary Marshall
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[The initial report of this finding, prior to this publication, was posted by ProMED-mail (Marburg virus disease - Sierra Leone (02): bats, additional information http://promedmail.org/post/20181223.6221436) when the virus was detected for the 1st time in fruit bats in Sierra Leone.

According to the CDC (<https://www.cdc.gov/vhf/marburg/index.html>), Marburg virus was 1st recognized in 1967, when outbreaks of hemorrhagic fever occurred simultaneously in laboratories in Marburg and Frankfurt, Germany, and in Belgrade, Yugoslavia (now Serbia). A total of 31 people became ill, initially laboratory workers followed by several medical personnel and family members who had cared for them; 7 deaths were reported. The 1st people infected had been exposed to imported African green monkeys or their tissues while conducting research. One additional case was diagnosed retrospectively.

The reservoir host of Marburg virus is the African fruit bat, _Rousettus aegyptiacus_. Fruit bats infected with Marburg virus do not show obvious signs of illness. Primates (including humans) can become infected with Marburg virus, and may develop serious disease with high mortality.

Ebola virus is closely related to Marburg virus. "Ebola viral RNA fragments were found in an oral swab from a greater long-fingered bat (_Miniopterus inflatus_), captured in 2016 in Liberia's Sanniquellie-Mahn district, which borders Guinea. The bat, which lives in many parts of Africa, roosts in caves and feeds on insects. Scientists had previously found 2 other Ebola species in a related insect-eating bat, _M. schreibersii_. However, most other evidence has pointed to fruit bats as the carriers of Ebola Zaire, Epstein says [J Epstein, veterinary epidemiologist at EcoHealth Alliance in New York City and a member of the PREDICT consortium]. "What it really says to me is that this is a virus that has multiple hosts, and it might be regionally dependent as to which species carries it."

Supporting the variety of bat hosts for Ebola, the bat implicated in the initiation of the West African Ebola virus outbreak in December 2013 was _Mops condylurus_, long-tailed insect-eating bats, that were previously suspected in an outbreak of the Sudan strain of Ebola virus, which is related to the Zaire strain. - ProMED Mod.LK]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map:
Date: Sat, 25 Jan 2020 11:49:16 +0100 (MET)
By Su Xinqi, Jerome TAYLOR

Hong Kong, Jan 25, 2020 (AFP) - Hong Kong on Saturday declared a new coronavirus outbreak as an "emergency" -- the city's highest warning tier -- as authorities ramped up measures to reduce the risk of further infections.   The announcement came as city leader Carrie Lam faced criticism in some quarters over her administration's response to the crisis.

Of the five people who have tested positive for the virus in Hong Kong so far, four arrived via a newly built high-speed train terminal which connects with the mainland.   That led to calls from some medical experts and politicians to limit, or even halt, arrivals from China, the epicentre of the outbreak with 41 people dead.

Lam held emergency meetings with health officials on Saturday morning after returning from Davos.   "Today I declare the lifting of the response level to emergency," she told reporters.   Schools and universities, which are currently on a Lunar New Year break, would remain closed until 17 February, Lam said.   All mainland arrivals to Hong Kong will now need to sign health declaration forms, she added, while public events including a new year gala and next month's marathon, would also be called off.    "We haven't seen serious and widespread infections (in Hong Kong), but we are taking this seriously and we hope to be ahead of the epidemic," Lam said.

- Tragic past -
Hong Kong has a recent experience of deadly viral outbreaks.    Nearly 300 people were killed by SARS in 2003, a tragedy that left a profound psychological impact on one of the most densely populated places on earth.   The city's ability to combat the crisis was hampered by moves in mainland China to cover up and play down the outbreak, leaving a lasting legacy of distrust among many Hong Kongers.   Animosity towards the mainland has intensified in recent years as Beijing tightens political control over the semi-autonomous territory.

The outbreak also comes at a sensitive time for Lam, who currently boasts record low approval ratings after seven months of pro-democracy protests.   "We must stand united so that we can prevent and control the disease," she said, in a nod to the political unrest.   The often violent protests have battered Hong Kong's reputation for stability and helped tip it into recession, with the recent virus outbreak compounding the city's economic woes.

Hospitals are already struggling with the winter flu season, but officials are isolating anyone with a history of travel to central China and those exhibiting respiratory tract infections that look similar to the virus.   So far some 300 people have been tested and monitored for the virus. Quarantine centres have been set up in remote holiday parks for anyone found to have come into close contact with people who tested positive.   On Saturday, officials announced a newly built but still-empty public housing block would be used for medical staff on the frontline who did not want to risk returning to their families.
Date: Sat, 25 Jan 2020 06:46:59 +0100 (MET)
By Mahmut Bozarslan and Fulya Ozerkan in Istanbu

Elazig, Turkey, Jan 25, 2020 (AFP) - A powerful earthquake has killed at least 20 people and injured more than 1,000 in eastern Turkey, as rescue teams searched through the rubble of collapsed buildings for survivors on Saturday.    At least 30 people were missing following the magnitude 6.8 quake on Friday night, which had its epicentre in the small lakeside town of Sivrice in the eastern province of Elazig.   "It was very scary, furniture fell on top of us. We rushed outside," 47-year-old Melahat Can, who lives in the provincial capital of Elazig, told AFP.   President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said all steps were being taken to aid people affected by the quake, which caused widespread fear.   "We stand by our people," Erdogan said on Twitter.

The Turkish government's disaster and emergency management agency (AFAD) said the quake hit Sivrice at around 8.55 pm (1755 GMT). Turkey lies on major faultlines and is prone to frequent earthquakes.    Turkish television showed images of people rushing outside in panic, as well as a fire on the roof of a building.   Interior, environment and health ministers, who were in the quake zone, said the casulties were in Elazig province and in the neighbouring province of Malatya, which lies to the southwest.

At least 20 people died and 1,015 others were wounded, according to AFAD.   "There is nobody trapped under the rubble in Malatya but in Elazig search and rescue efforts are currently under way to find 30 citizens," Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said on Friday.   Rescue teams were searching for survivors trapped in a five-storey collapsed building in a village some 30 kilometres from Elazig, according to AFP journalists at the scene. One person was pulled alive from the rubble.   Emergency staff and people waiting at the scene lit fires in the streets to stay warm in freezing temperatures.   Sports centres, schools and guest houses had been opened to accommodate quake victims in Malatya.

- 'Everybody is in the street' -
Sivrice -- a town with a population of about 4,000 people -- is situated south of Elazig city on the shores of Hazar lake -- one of the most popular tourist spots in the region and the source of the Tigris river.   The lake is home to a "Sunken City", with archaeological traces dating back 4,000 years in its waters.

The tremor was felt in several parts of eastern Turkey near the Iraqi and Syrian borders, the Turkish broadcaster NTV reported, adding that neighbouring cities had mobilised rescue teams for the quake area.   "Everybody is in the street, it was very powerful, very scary," said Zekeriya Gunes, 68, from Elazig city, after the quakes caused a building to collapse on her street.   "It lasted quite long, maybe 30 seconds," added Ferda, 39. "I panicked and was undecided whether to go out in this cold or remain inside."

The US Geological Survey assessed the magnitude as 6.7, slightly lower than AFAD, adding that it struck near the East Anatolian Fault in an area that has suffered no documented large ruptures since an earthquake in 1875.   "My wholehearted sympathy to President @RTErdogan and the Turkish people following the devastating earthquake that has hit Turkey. Our search and rescue teams stand ready to assist," Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis wrote on Twitter.   In Athens, the Greek premier's office said later that Mitsotakis had spoken by phone to Erdogan.   "The Turkish president... said Turkish teams had the situation under control for now and that it would be re-evaluated in the morning," his office added.

In 1999, a devastating 7.4 magnitude earthquake hit Izmit in western Turkey, leaving more than 17,000 people dead including about 1,000 in the country's largest city Istanbul.    In September last year, a 5.7-magnitude earthquake shook Istanbul, causing residents to flee buildings in the economic capital.   Experts have long warned a large quake could devastate the city of 15 million people, which has allowed widespread building without safety precautions.