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Andorra

General
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This small country is situated between France and Spain. Because of its elevation and proximity to the Pyrenees the climate is generally pleasant throughout the year.
Climate
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During the summer months the temperatures can rise to 30c but there is usually a cooling breeze. Lightening storms can occur during the summer months associated with torrential rain.
Sun Exposure and Dehydration
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Those from Northern Europe can develop significant sun exposure and so remember to use a wide brimmed hat when necessary. The altitude can also lead to significant tiredness and dehydration so take sufficient initial rest and drink plenty of fluids.
Safety & Security
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The level of crime throughout the country directed at tourists is very low. Nevertheless take care of your personal belongings at all times and use hotel safety boxes where possible.
Local Customs
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There are strict laws regarding the use of illegal drugs. Make sure you have sufficient supplies of any medication you required for your trip and that it is clearly marked. The European E111 form is not accepted in Andorra and so it is essential that you have sufficient travel insurance for your trip.
Winter Sports
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Andorra is one of the regions where many travel to partake of their winter sport facilities. Generally this is well controlled and one of the safer regions. Nevertheless, make certain your travel insurance is adequate for the activities you are planning to undertake.
Vaccination
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The only standard vaccine to consider for Andorra would be tetanus in line with many other developed countries of the world.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Thu, 12 Jul 2018 15:24:06 +0200

Andorra la Vella, Andorra, July 12, 2018 (AFP) - The tax haven of Andorra has long been a favourite destination for smokers looking to stock up on cheap cigarettes, but the enclave said Thursday that it would soon stop advertising the fact.   The government said it had signed up to the World Health Organization's (WHO) anti-tobacco convention, which aims to encourage people to quit smoking and combat contraband sales.   "The goal is to contribute to public health and pursue the fight against trafficking," government spokesman Jordi Cinca said at a press conference.

The tiny principality of Andorra, perched in the Pyrenees on the border between France and Spain, attracts millions of shoppers each year to duty-free stores, where prices of alcohol, cigarettes, electronics and clothes can be up to 20 percent cheaper than elsewhere in the EU.   High taxes on tobacco imposed by many countries to help people kick smoking make Andorra's cigarettes a particularly good deal.   The average pack costs just three euros ($3.50) compared with eight euros in France, which has said it will gradually raise the price to 10 euros a pack by November 2020.

Tobacco sales bring in some 110 million euros a year for Andorra, whose economy is otherwise based almost entirely on tourism.   It is also an enticing destination for smugglers, with French and Spanish border agents regularly seizing cartons from people trying to sneak them out, either by car or by hiking down the mountain trails which criss-cross the Pyrenees.   No date has been set for the advertising ban, which will come into effect three months after the ratification of the WHO accord is voted by parliament.
Date: Fri, 16 Mar 2018 02:41:51 +0100

Andorra la Vella, Andorra, March 16, 2018 (AFP) - The tiny principality of Andorra is witnessing a once in a generation phenomenon -- a widespread strike.   Around a third of civil servants across the mountainous micro-state have walked out to protest proposed reforms to their sector in what has been described as Andorra's first large-scale strike since 1933.

With no negotiation breakthrough in sight, picket lines are expected to be manned again on Friday with customs officers, police, teachers and prison staff among those taking part.   The first major strike in 85 years was sparked by plans from the government of Antoni Marti to reform civil servant contracts.   He has assured officials "will not do an hour more" work under the reforms and that 49 million euros would be allocated for the next 25 years to supplement civil servant salaries.   But government workers are unconvinced with unions warning the reforms could risk their 35 hour working week and pay.

Customs officers involved in the strike interrupted traffic on the Andorran-Spanish border this week, according to unions, while some 80 percent of teachers have walked out of classes.   Strikers have occupied the government's main administrative building and held noisy protests outside parliament calling for Marti's resignation.    "We have started collecting signatures to demand the resignation of the head of government and now nobody will stop us," Gabriel Ubach, spokesman for the public service union, told reporters.
Date: Mon 27 Sep 2017
Source: Contagion Live [edited]

A recent Dispatch article published in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)'s Emerging Infectious Diseases journal, offers insight into a large norovirus outbreak that sprung up in Spain in 2016 that had been linked with bottled spring water. The Public Health Agency of Catalonia (ASPCAT) reported a staggering 4136 cases of gastroenteritis from 11-25 Apr 2016. Of the 4136 cases, 6 individuals required hospitalization. The CDC defines a "case-patient" as an "exposed person who had vomiting or diarrhoea (3 or more loose stools within 24 hours)," as well as 2 or more of the following symptoms: nausea, stomach pain, or fever.

ASPCAT investigators traced back the outbreak to contaminated bottled spring water in office water coolers. The water came from a source in Andorra, a small independent principality located between Spain and France. Norovirus is a "very contagious virus," according to the CDC, and it is common for individuals to become infected by eating contaminated food. Although it is possible to be infected by consuming contaminated drinking water, this mode of transmission is "rare in developed countries," according to the article.

The investigators collected water samples from a total of 4 19-L water coolers in 2 different offices located in Barcelona, "from which affected persons had drunk; samples 1 and 2 came from 2 water coolers in one office, while samples 3 and 4 came from 2 water coolers in another office. Using "positively charged glass wool and polyethylene glycol precipitation for virus concentration," the investigators tested the samples.

"We detected high RNA levels for norovirus genotype I and II, around 103 and 104 genome copies/L, in 2 of the 4 water cooler samples concentrated by glass wool filtration and polyethylene glycol precipitation," according to the article. The investigators noted that a drawback of using molecular methods is that they are not able to differentiate between particles that are infectious and those that are not. Therefore, they "predicted the infectivity of norovirus in the concentrated samples by treating the samples with the nucleic acid intercalating dye PMA propidium monoazide and Triton X surfactant before RT-qPCR," which allowed them to "distinguish between virions with intact and altered capsids."

In those 2 water samples, they found high genome copy values -- 49 and 327 genome copies/L for norovirus genotype I and 33 and 660 genomes copies/L for norovirus genotype II. This was not an unexpected finding, due to the large number of infected individuals associated with the outbreak. Through "PMA/Triton treatment before RT-qPCR assays," the investigators found that the proportion of infected virions accounted for 0.3% to 5.6% of the total number of physical particles in the water samples, "which was enough to cause gastrointestinal illness."

The investigators also analyzed faecal samples collected from infected individuals who worked at the office in which the 1st 2 water samples were collected. They detected the following genotypes in those faecal samples: GI.2 and GII.17. In the faecal samples collected from the other office, they isolated the following genotypes: GII.4/Sydney/2012, GI.2, GII.17, and GII.2.

"We hypothesize that the spring water was contaminated by all 4 strains (GI.2, GII.2, GII.4, and GII.17) but levels of viral contamination for each genotype were not homogeneous in all bottled coolers," the investigators wrote. "We may have detected only the GII.4 genotype in water samples 1 and 2 because of a higher concentration of this specific genotype or because of bias caused by the sampling, concentration, and molecular detection procedures."

The investigators admit one limitation to their study: the small number of water samples collected and analyzed. They attribute this to the fact that on 15 Apr 2016, 4 days after the onset of the outbreak, the company that produced the drinking water recalled over 6150 containers of water "of suspected quality" as a precautionary measure. The recall prevented the investigators from collecting more samples to assess, according to the article.

Although the exact cause of the contamination has not yet been identified, the investigators posit that "the high number of affected persons from 381 offices that received water coolers, and the many different genotypes found in some patients' faecal specimens" suggest that the spring aquifer had been contaminated by "sewage pollution," and the Andorra Ministry of Health and Welfare banned further use of the spring.

The investigators suggest that assessing commercially-produced mineral waters for different harmful pathogens, such as norovirus would be beneficial. They note, however, that creating, enhancing, and managing such "virus surveillance systems" would be costly. Thus, the investigators suggest taking a "balanced approach to keep both the cost and the time required for the analyses within feasibility limits."  [Byline: Kristi Rosa]
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[The interesting article published in the September 2017 issue of Emerging Infectious Diseases is:
Blanco A, Guix S, Fuster N, et al: Norovirus in bottled water associated with gastroenteritis outbreak, Spain, 2016. Emerg Infect Dis. 2017; 23(9): 1531-34; https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/eid/article/23/9/16-1489_article. - ProMED Mod.LL]

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

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

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

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

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

No Profile is available at present

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[A HealthMap/ProMED-mail map can be accessed at:
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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)
*
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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Tunisia

General Information
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Tunisia is situated in Northern Africa and is a common tourist destination for Irish travellers. It is bordered by Algeria to the west and southwest, Libya to the south east and the Medite
ranean Sea to the east and north. It has a Mediterranean climate with mild rainy winters and hot dry summers. Costal temperatures are less extreme than the inland regions ranging from an average daily low in January of 70C to an average daily high in August of 320C. Rainfall throughout the country varies considerably from about 40" in the northwest down to only 4" in the southwest.
Safety & Security
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Most tourists will not have any significant difficulties in this regard but criminals have targeted tourists and business travellers for thefts, pickpocketing, and scams.
Care should be taken with wallets and other valuables kept in handbags or backpacks that can be easily opened from behind in crowded streets or marketplaces.
Harassment of unaccompanied females occurs rarely in hotels, but more frequently elsewhere.
Health Facilities
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The level of health care facilities in Tunisia will usually be found to be below that normally accepted at home in Ireland. In general the larger hotels will have English speaking doctors in attendance. Unfortunately the hospital/clinic backup for these practitioners is usually very limited.
Food & Water Facilities
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The World Health Organisation statistics suggest that close to 35% of all travellers to these regions will develop significant diarrhoea during their stay. In almost all cases this can be traced back to unwise eating and drinking habits by tourists not taking sufficient care. Most significantly, travellers should stay away from cold foods (especially lettuce) and also all undercooked shell fish (mainly prawns, oysters, mussels and shrimps).
Hotel tap water will frequently not be potable and should not be used for drinking or brushing teeth. Sealed mineral water should be used at all times.
Fruit juice drinks sold by street traders should always be avoided as frequently the drink will have been supplemented with straight tap water.
Malaria in Tunisia
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It is fortunate that this disease is not endemic in Tunisia and so travellers do not require to take prophylactic tablets. Nevertheless there are plenty of mosquitoes and sandflys during the hotter summer months and travellers will need to use insect repellents to protect against these uncomfortable bites. (see Protection against Insect Bites - Tropical Medical Bureau )
Jiggers & Chiggers
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These are uncomfortable parasitic diseases which usually occur on the feet and often present looking like an ingrown toenail. Travellers returning home with unexplained skin rashes should always attend for medical assessment.
Rabies
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This viral disease occurs throughout Africa and is evident in Tunisia. The disease can be transmitted by the bite (or lick or scratch) of any infected warm-blooded animal. Dogs will be the main risk animal but cats and monkeys can also transmit the disease. Any contact must be treated seriously and washed out immediately. An antiseptic should then be applied and further medical attention must always be sought.
Leishmaniasis
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This is a parasitic disease transmitted by the bite of an infected sandfly. The disease occurs in Tunisia mainly during the summer and autumn months. Sandflys are much smaller than mosquitoes and are mainly found hovering around your ankles usually first thing in the morning or during the cooler evening hours. In most cases the bites cause little harm but occasionally deep infection can occur with more serious consequences. Again, travellers should wear sensible clothing and use adequate insect repellent. A bite which is slow to heal needs to be medically checked.
Sunbathing
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One of the common health complaints associated with Tunisia relates to travellers becoming sun burnt while there on holidays. This is particularly the case with smaller children and toddlers. It is essential that travellers use high factor protection creams to lessen the risk of burning and to remember that skin cancer is commonly associated with burnt skin.
Anthrax from Leather Goods
************************************
This bacterial disease has been reported in Tunisia and travellers need to be aware that the disease can be transmitted through unprepared leather goods usually bought in the local market places. Even though this will be rare, any unusual sore should be medically checked after you return home.
Vaccinations for Tunisia
************************************
There are no essential vaccinations for Tunisia but travellers from Ireland are strongly recommended to have vaccination cover against
*
Poliomyelitis (childhood booster)
*
Typhoid (food & water borne disease)
*
Tetanus (childhood booster)
*
Hepatitis A (food & water borne disease)
Those spending longer periods in the country, or trekking, may need to consider vaccination cover
against
Rabies
and
Hepatitis B.
Summary
************************************
Be careful of the intense sun during the summer months. Care with food and water consumption will also be essential at all times.
Further Information
************************************
If you require any further information on staying healthy while overseas please contact either of the help lines at the numbers below.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Sun, 1 Dec 2019 17:56:57 +0100 (MET)

Ain Snoussi, Tunisia, Dec 1, 2019 (AFP) - At least 24 Tunisians were killed and 18 more injured Sunday when a bus plunged off a cliff into a ravine in the country's north, officials said.   The bus had set off from Tunis to the picturesque mountain town of Ain Draham, a popular autumn destination for Tunisians near the Algerian border, the tourism ministry said.   Twenty-four people were killed and 18 injured, the victims aged between 20 and 30, said the health ministry, releasing updated information on the tragedy.   Pictures and video footage shared online and posted on the websites of private radio stations showed the mangled remains of the bus with its seats scattered in the bed of a river.

Bodies, some in sports clothes and trainers, and personal belongings were strewn across the ground.   The bus with 43 people on board was travelling through the Ain Snoussi region when it plunged over the cliff, the interior ministry said.   The vehicle had "fallen into a ravine after crashing through an iron barrier," it said on its Facebook page.   The injured were transferred to nearby hospitals, the interior ministry said.   Forensic experts were deployed to investigate the crash, said AFP correspondents at the scene.   It was not immediately clear what caused the accident but Tunisian roads are known to be notoriously dangerous and run-down.

Tourism Minister Rene Trabelsi told a private radio station Mosaique FM that the "unfortunate accident took place in a difficult area" and just after the bus had taken a "sharp bend".  An civil defence official, speaking on state television, said there had previously been deadly accidents at the same spot.   Social network users bemoaned the tragedy, as Tunisian President Kaid Saied and Prime Minister Youssef Chahed arrived at the site of the accident.   "What a heavy toll," one of them said.   Another denounced the "roads of death" in Tunisia and wrote: "24 dead and no one from the government has declared a national catastrophe".

The World Health Organization in 2015 said Tunisia had the second worst traffic death rate per capita in North Africa, behind only war-torn Libya.   Experts blamed run-down roads, reckless driving and poor vehicle maintenance for a rise in accidents the following year.   The authorities recognise the scale of the problem but have said the country's security challenges, including jihadist attacks, have kept them from giving it more attention.
Date: Wed, 27 Nov 2019 20:35:51 +0100 (MET)
By Akim Rezgui

iles Kuriat, Tunisie, Nov 27, 2019 (AFP) - Between plastic chairs on a crowded Tunisian tourist beach, a sign indicates where another species shares the sand: a nest is buried below.   On this paradisaical island off the coast of Monastir -- a resort town south of the capital Tunis -- tourists co-exist with loggerhead turtles thanks to a novel initiative.   Since 2017, the Tunisian government and a local NGO have jointly run a turtle conservation programme under the noses of bathing-suited beach-goers, who are offered an environmental education along with their holiday.

The Kuriat islands are the westernmost permanent loggerhead turtle breeding site on the Mediterranean's south coast, and are in the process of being listed as a protected nature reserve.   But while the islands are an important turtle sanctuary, the white sand beaches and crystal waters of little Kuriat are irresistible to holidaymakers.   During turtle hatching season from July to October, day-trippers arrive daily in their hundreds, transported on pirate-themed boats for barbecues and swimming.   "I thought that this was just an island where I'd go to swim, eat and return," said holidaymaker Souad Khachnaoui.   "I'd never imagined that this site was so important for turtles, birds and other species."

Rather than ban visitors, the authorities work with local volunteers to brief arriving tourists on the local fauna, including the jellyfish-eating turtles, which can live for a century.   "Many people are stunned on arrival, they didn't think that we had these kinds of animals in our country," said Manel Ben Ismail, co-founder of the environmental NGO Notre Grand Bleu, which means "Our great blue (ocean)".   And if they are lucky, tourists can watch as volunteers help defenceless hatchling turtles -- measuring just five centimetres (two inches) across -- on their journey from the nest to the sea.   Loggerheads are classified as vulnerable by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. They do not become fertile until about 20 years old and breed only every two to three years.    Female loggerheads return to the same beach where they were born to lay their clutch of about 100 eggs. But it is a perilous life cycle and only one in a thousand juveniles lives to reproductive age.

The Kuriat islands -- the largest of which is a military zone and the smaller is not permanently settled -- offer young turtles slightly better survival odds.   Both are far from the light pollution of the mainland, which can disorientate hatchlings.    This year 42 nests were recorded on the islands. Layings have increased since monitoring started in 1997.   If managed correctly, tourism can be a boon for the islands as visitors learn about conservation, the government believes.   "We try to strike a balance between ecological activities and the economic activities of people on this site," said Ahmed Ben Hamida, head of the Kuriat Marine Protected Area for the government agency for coastal protection.
Date: Thu, 27 Jun 2019 14:23:48 +0200

Tunis, June 27, 2019 (AFP) - Two suicide bombers attacked security forces in the Tunisian capital on Thursday, killing a police officer and wounding at least eight people including several civilians, the interior ministry said.   One attack on the main street of Tunis wounded three civilians and two police personnel, the interior ministry initially said.   "Five (are) wounded -- three civilians and two police officers", Interior Ministry spokesman Sofiene Zaag told AFP, before later saying that a police officer had died of his wounds.

Body parts were strewn in the road around a police car on Habib Bourguiba avenue near the old city, according to an AFP correspondent.   "It was a suicide attack, which took place at 10:50 (0950 GMT)," Zaag said.   The second attack targeted a base of the national guard in the capital and wounded four security personnel, the ministry said.   "At 11:00 am (1000 GMT) an individual blew himself up outside the back door" of the base, wounding four security personnel, Zaag said.   Civil protection units and police rapidly deployed to Habib Bourguiba avenue, where the interior ministry is located.    People initially fled in panic, before some crowded around the scene of the attack, expressing anger against the authorities. Shops and offices were closed by police.

Tunisia, the cradle of the Arab Spring uprisings, has been hit by repeated Islamist attacks since the 2011 overthrow of longtime dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.   On October 29, 2018 an unemployed graduate blew herself up near police cars on Habib Bourguiba, killing herself and wounding 26 people, mostly police officers, according to the interior ministry.   The Tunisian authorities said the suicide bomber had sworn allegiance to IS.

The attack was the first to rock the Tunisian capital for over three and a half years.   In March 2015, jihadist gunmen killed 21 tourists and a policeman at the National Bardo Museum in Tunis.   And in June that year, 30 Britons were among 38 foreign holidaymakers killed in a gun and grenade attack on a beach resort near the Tunisian city of Sousse.
Date: Thu, 9 May 2019 17:43:55 +0200
By Caroline Nelly Perrot

Tunis, May 9, 2019 (AFP) - As holidaymakers flock to Tunisia once more following a series of attacks, the country's tourism minister has his sights set on diversifying the industry and taking visitors beyond the beach.   "Practically all the big tour operators here have returned," said Rene Trabelsi, six months into his ministerial post.   He credits "huge efforts" for making the country safe for visitors again, after attacks in 2015 targeting tourists.   Gunmen killed 21 foreign visitors and a Tunisian security guard at the capital's Bardo National Museum, followed by a shooting rampage at a Sousse beach resort which left 38 people dead -- mostly British tourists.

Britain, France and other countries have recently eased their travel warnings, deeming most of Tunisia now safe.   Two million holidaymakers have visited Tunisia so far this year, according to government figures touted by the tourism minister.   That marks a 24 percent jump on the same period last year, and a 7 percent increase compared to the 2010 industry reference point.   But despite tourists returning, revenue has so far failed to reach that of nearly a decade ago.

The indebted industry is heavily reliant upon cheap "all-inclusive" holidays and the government is trying to diversify the tourism sector, which accounts for around 7 percent of GDP.   "During the high season, Tunisia will be packed, but we're interested in the low season, from September to March," said Trabelsi, sitting behind his large desk in the capital Tunis.   The minister wants to attract tourists over the winter months who are also interested in activities away from the beach.   "We're negotiating with the tour operators" to offer charter flights after the summer, said Trabelsi who hopes visitors will sign up for golf, spa treatments and cultural activities.   "This year already, a lot of hotels which closed during winter after the crisis, want to stay open," he said.   An electronic music festival in southern Tunisia is due to take place in September, while a jazz festival is planned in Tabarka near the Algerian border.

- No 'right to fail' -
Whereas half the holidaymakers in 2010 were European, they now make up less than a third of visitors amid an increasing number of tourists from other North African countries and further afield.   The government aims to welcome nine million visitors this year, but Trabelsi said Tunisians still need to tackle "environmental terrorism" to avoid scaring tourists away.   "I'm using that word to shock and alert," said the minister, warning that poor environmental standards can put tourists off "like when there's an attack".

Following Tunisia's 2011 revolution, authorities failed to keep atop of waste management. Municipal councils were elected for the first time a year ago but the clean-up is far from complete.   "We also have a cultural problem," said Trabelsi. "If each person swept outside their front door, that would already be huge."   Trabelsi has for years been co-organiser of an annual Jewish pilgrimage to Djerba, where his father is president of the island's synagogue, and in the 1990s he set up his own travel agency.   But months into his first political post, he said he has no intention of staying in government long-term.   "I want to make a mark, and Tunisians expect a lot from me. I come from the private sector, I have a different religion, so I don't have the right to fail," Trabelsi said.   "But once my mission is accomplished, I'll return to my own affairs."
Date: Sun 16 Feb 2019
Source: Realites Online [in French, trans. ProMED Corr.SB, edited]
<https://www.realites.com.tn/2019/02/tunisie-1318-cas-de-leishmaniose-enregistres-a-gafsa>

As of Sat 15 Feb 209, the Metlaoui Regional Hospital in Gafsa governorate has hosted 1318 patients with leishmaniasis, following the proliferation of mosquitoes [actually leishmania is transmitted by sandflies] near the lakes and wastewater. According to Shems Fm, citing its correspondent in the region, the number of leishmaniasis cases has tripled compared to the year 2017.
============================
[We presume these cases are cutaneous leishmaniasis. Cutaneous leishmaniasis, CL, caused by _Leishmania major_ is a major public health problem in Tunisia. It occurs mainly in central and southwestern Tunisia (semi-arid and arid areas), with thousands of cases. There are foci with a permanent active transmission, so, from time to time, outbreaks occur, related to new agricultural projects or large population movements (introduction to a non-immune population).  In some villages, up to 60 percent of the population is infected.

For a detailed discussion of _Leishmania_ in Tunisia please see Alvar J, Valez ID, Bern C, et al. Leishmaniasis worldwide and global estimates of its incidence.
PLoS One. 2012; 7(5): e35671; <https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0035671> - ProMED Mod.EP]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of Gafsa, Tunisia:
<http://healthmap.org/promed/p/8782>]
More ...

World Travel News Headlines

Date: Mon, 9 Dec 2019 11:12:25 +0100 (MET)
By Clare BYRNE

Paris, Dec 9, 2019 (AFP) - France's transport chaos deepened Monday on the fifth day of a nationwide strike over pension reforms, ramping up tensions at the start of a crucial week in President Emmanuel Macron's battle with trade unions.   With only two of the Paris metro's 16 lines running as normal and suburban trains also heavily disrupted, many commuters slipped behind the wheel to try to get to work in torrential rain, causing major gridlock.

By 9 am, the tailbacks in the Paris area ran to 600 kilometres (370 miles), twice the normal level, the Sytadin monitoring website said.   Large queues formed at bus stops following an announcement that one out of two buses would be running but striking workers blocked seven out of 25 bus depots, leaving more travellers stranded.   With many having opted to work from home last week and only now returning to the workplace, this week will test public support for the strike.

A poll Sunday in the Journal du Dimanche newspaper showed 53 percent of the French supporting the strike or expressing sympathy for their demands, up six points in a week.   Unions have called a second day of mass protests for Tuesday, a day before the government unveils the full details of its plans for a single points-based pension scheme that does away with dozens of more advantageous plans enjoyed by train drivers, sailors, lawyers and other professions.

- 'A monstrosity' -
Critics argue that the shake-up will require people in both the public and private sector to work longer for a smaller retirement payout.   Teachers are expected to walk out again for the second time in a week Tuesday, leading to widespread school closures.

Firefighters, electricity workers and "yellow vest" anti-government demonstrators have also joined railway workers in the streets in recent days.   The government's pensions envoy Jean-Paul Delevoye, who drafted the reforms, and Health Minister Agnes Buzyn will meet with trade unions on Monday to try to negotiate an end to the deadlock.   But the unions have sounded an uncompromising note.   "I will not negotiate over the implementation of what I describe as a monstrosity which endangers tomorrow's pensioners," said Yves Veyrier, the head of the militant Force Ouvriere union.

The strike has squeezed retailers in the run-up to Christmas, raising the prospect of another bleak year-end after the unrest caused by the yellow vests in late 2018.   The first day of the stoppage already caused an average 30 percent drop in sales, according to the Alliance of Commerce, which represents 27,000 supermarkets and clothing and shoe stores with almost 200,000 workers.   A hotel association said reservations in the larger Paris region dropped by 30 to 40 percent on the first day of the strike.    Regional and international trains, including the Eurostar to London and Thalys to Brussels, have also been hobbled by the unrest, and several flights were cancelled on the first days of the strike.

- Fairer system for all? -
Over 800,000 people took to the streets when the strike was launched on December 5, many accusing Macron of trying to weaken France's generous social safety net.   The president, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe and senior cabinet ministers met late Sunday to discuss the changes, which they argue will ensure a fairer and more sustainable system for all.   "If we do not carry out a far-reaching, serious and progressive reform today, someone else will do a really brutal one tomorrow," Philippe told Le Journal du Dimanche.

The strike has drawn comparisons with late 1995 when three weeks of strikes forced the then centre-right government to withdraw its pension reforms.   Adrien Quatennens, a lawmaker from the far-left France Unbowed party, acknowledged on LCI radio that the strike was hard on businesses and commuters, but said: "It's better to endure a few weeks of hassle than... years of hardship" in retirement.
Date: Mon, 9 Dec 2019 10:20:33 +0100 (MET)
By Neil SANDS, with Holly Robertson in Sydney

Wellington, Dec 9, 2019 (AFP) - Five people were killed, 18 were injured and several more were left stranded after an island volcano popular with tourists erupted unexpectedly in New Zealand on Monday.   Police said some 50 people were visiting White Island when it exploded suddenly in the early afternoon -- hurling ash and rock high into the air.   Two dozen people made it off the island, five of whom have since died. The rest are being treated for injuries, including severe burns.

Nothing is yet known about a group -- now estimated to number in the double digits -- who are still trapped on the island.   "We're unsure of the exact numbers on there and we're unsure of their wellbeing," said deputy commissioner John Tims.   As night fell, he said volcanic activity made a rescue attempt too dangerous.   "The island is unstable, there's a danger of further eruptions, it is physically unsafe for us to return to the island"   "I've got to consider the safety of our people and emergency services staff."   The eruption occurred at 2:11pm (0111 GMT), thrusting a thick plume of white ash 3.6 kilometres (12,000 feet) into the sky.   Seconds before, live camera feeds showed a group of more than a half dozen people walking on the crater floor. Then the images went black.

A "considerable number" of those caught up in the disaster are believed to be Australian, according to officials in Canberra.   As many as 30 people are also believed to be cruise passengers on a day trip from the vessel Ovation of the Seas, Kevin O'Sullivan, chief executive officer of industry body the New Zealand Cruise Association told AFP.   The ship's operator Royal Caribbean -- who had billed the trip to White Island as "an unforgettable guided tour of New Zealand's most active volcano" -- said "a number of our guests were touring the island" but did not confirm that number.   The ship has a capacity of around 4,000 people and set sail from Sydney last week on a 12 day voyage.

- Scene of terror -
Tourist Michael Schade, made it off the island just in time and was able to capture footage of the devastation.   His videos showed groups of startled tourists clustered by the shoreline, waiting to be evacuated as the ground around them smouldered, the sky filled with white debris. An ash-caked helicopter lies damaged nearby.   As his ship hurtled away, the caldera became virtually invisible, shrouded by a thick bank of ash.   Volcanic Air said they had landed a helicopter on the island shortly before the eruption carrying four visitors and one pilot. All were now accounted for.   "It had landed on the island. What happened after that we don't know, but we know that all five made it back to Whakatane on one of the tourist boats," a company spokesman told AFP.

Guillaume Calmelet, the co-director of Skydive Tauranga, saw the eruption from above as he took a customer on a tandem skydive from a plane 12,000 feet above the Bay of Plenty.   "As soon as the parachute opened there was this huge cloud that was really different to whatever we've seen before," he told AFP. "I could see it coming out in freefall, so probably about 30 seconds for the whole cloud to form, if that. It was pretty quick."   The country's National Emergency Management Agency described the eruption as "moderate", although the plume of ash was clearly visible from the mainland and from satellites flying overhead.    "We have seen a steady decline in activity since the eruption. There remains significant uncertainty as to future changes but currently, there are no signs of escalation."

White Island -- - also known as Whakaari -- is about 50 kilometres (30 miles) offshore in the picturesque Bay of Plenty and is popular with adventurous tourists willing to don hard hats and gas masks.   It is New Zealand's most active volcano cone and about 70 percent of it is underwater, according to government-backed agency GeoNet.   Around 10,000 people visit the volcano every year. It has erupted frequently over the last half-century, most recently in 2016.

In August of that year the New Zealand Defence Force airlifted a 2.4-tonne shipping container onto the island to serve as an emergency shelter in case of an eruption.   "Sudden, unheralded eruptions from volcanoes such as White Island can be expected at any time," said University of Auckland volcanologist Shane Cronin.   "The hazards expected from such events are the violent ejection of hot blocks and ash, and formation of 'hurricane-like' currents of wet ash and coarse particles that radiate from the explosion vent."   "These can be deadly in terms of causing impact trauma, burns and respiratory problems. The eruptions are short-lived, but once one occurs, there are high chances for further, generally smaller ones as the system re-equilibrates."
Date: Mon, 9 Dec 2019 09:54:20 +0100 (MET)

Rome, Dec 9, 2019 (AFP) - A 4.5 magnitude earthquake hit the central Italian region of Mugello on Monday, sending panicked residents into the streets but causing minimal damage to buildings.   The quake, centred some 31 km (19 miles) northeast of Florence in Tuscany, hit at 4:37 am (0330 GMT), after a series of smaller quakes, according to the national institute for geophysics and vulcanology (INGV).

Residents fled their buildings in the rain,  congregating outside or in their cars to await authorities.    "The quake went on for awhile, especially the first one, things fell down at a supermarket but for the moment we haven't seen any damage to people or things," said Filippo Carla' Campa, mayor of the town of Vicchio.   A resident of Barberino del Mugello said his neighbours were panicking getting out of the building.    "Paintings fell off the walls, bookcases fell over," he told Rai 24.    In Barberino del Mugello, the 17th century church suffered a crack in one side, television images showed.

Schools were closed in the region and some trains through Florence were cancelled or delayed.    Italy is frequently struck by seismic activity, often devastating. Most recently, a series of strong quakes hit central Italy in late 2016 and early 2017, killing 300 people.   In 1919, the area was hit by an earthquake that killed 100 people.
Date: Mon, 9 Dec 2019 03:52:15 +0100 (MET)

Mount Hutt, New Zealand, Dec 9, 2019 (AFP) - Almost 1,000 tourists were stranded in New Zealand's South Island Monday after wild storms cut highways, washed away bridges and flooded the rugged landscape.   Meteorologists said up to 400 millimetres (16 inches) of rain was dumped on the South Island over 24 hours by a severe weather system that unleashed gale-force winds and 230,000 lightning strikes.   The main highway through the island was closed after the Rangitata river burst its banks. Townships near the popular Franz Josef glacier were isolated when landslips blocked road access.

With New Zealand entering its peak tourist season, some 970 travellers at Franz Josef were left facing the prospect of taking an expensive helicopter ride to get out or hunkering down until Friday, when the road is expected to be cleared.   "Between the community, the hotels and motels and our welfare centre we've managed to billet out most people overnight," Civil Defence spokesman Stephen Doran told TVNZ.   "We'd just ask people to stay put at the moment. We want to keep the work site clear so we can get supplies in there... and try to get the road into some sort of shape."

Another landslip on the island's west coast will take an estimated six weeks to clear.   The worst of the weather hit over the weekend and it is forecast to deteriorate again later in the week, leaving authorities scrambling during a brief respite to complete as much repair work as possible.
Date: Sun, 8 Dec 2019 17:30:45 +0100 (MET)

Kigali, Dec 8, 2019 (AFP) - Rwanda on Sunday started a voluntary Ebola vaccination programme at its border with the Democratic Republic of Congo in a bid to prevent the spread of the deadly virus from its neighbour.   All countries in high-risk areas, even if not hit by Ebola, had been advised by the WHO to use a new vaccine developed by US group Johnson & Johnson, the country's health minister, Diane Gashumba, told journalists.   The idea was "to protect those with high chances of getting in contact with people living in areas where Ebola has been reported to be active", she said.

The vaccine, Ad26-ZEBOV-GP, is an experimental drug produced by US pharmaceuticals giant, Johnson & Johnson. It was used for the first time in mid-November in Goma in DR Congo, on the other side of the border.    So far, there have no confirmed cases of Ebola in Rwanda.   The epicentre of the outbreak in DR Congo, which has killed more than 2,200 people since August 2018, is located 350 kilometres (217 miles) north of Goma, in the Beni-Butembo region.   That region sits on the DR Congo border with Uganda.   More than 250,000 people in DR Congo have already been vaccinated using another product, rVSV-ZEBOV, made by US drug company, Merck Shape and Dohme.

- Ebola in Goma -
People working in the health sector, at border crossings, police officers, and business executives who frequently travel between the two countries are being given priority in the vaccination campaign.   But all residents in the border districts can ask to be vaccinated if they wish.    The first volunteers expressed relief at the measure.    "We lived in a life of worry because of what was going on in DR Congo," Joel Ntwari Murihe, one of the first Rwandans to be vaccinated, told AFP.   "It caused a lot of border disruptions as we were restricted to buying or selling with DR Congo residents who live in Goma.    "The vaccine is an assurance to the safety for our lives and our children's lives."

The head of DR Congo's anti-Ebola efforts, Jean-Jacques Muyembe, and the WHO's representative in Rwanda, Kasonde Mwinga, were present at the campaign launch.    In August, Rwanda briefly closed its border with DR Congo and ordered its citizens not to visit the country when the first Ebola cases were recorded in Goma.   The city, which is the regional capital of the Congolese province of North Kivu, sits on the border with Rwanda.    The border has since been reopened, but strict medical checks are being enforced.
Date: Sun, 8 Dec 2019 14:43:06 +0100 (MET)

Kuala Lumpur, Dec 8, 2019 (AFP) - Malaysia has reported its first polio case in 27 years, health authorities said Sunday, announcing a three-month-old baby had been diagnosed on Borneo island.   The Malaysian health ministry's director-general, Noor Hisham Abdullah, said the baby from Tuaran in eastern Sabah state had been admitted into intensive care after experiencing fever and muscle weakness.   "The patient is currently undergoing treatment in an isolation ward and is in a stable condition but needs respiratory support," Noor Hisham said, adding that the infant was diagnosed on Friday.

Polio is a highly infectious viral disease which has no cure and can only be prevented with several doses of oral and injectable vaccines. It affects the nervous system and spinal cord and can be fatal in rare cases.   Over the past three decades the world has made great strides in the battle against polio. The World Health Organization said only 33 cases were reported worldwide last year.   Malaysia was declared polio free in 2000. The last case in the country occurred in 1992.

The diagnosis comes after the Philippines, which shares a close sea border with Sabah, was hit in September by its first polio case in nearly two decades.   Noor Hisham said test results showed that the Malaysian child was infected with a strain that shared genetic links to the virus detected in the Philippines.   Public health expert  T. Jayabalan told AFP that he was not surprised by the polio outbreak because immunisation was not mandatory in Malaysia.   "This first case probably is the tip of the iceberg. There is a very high possibility of a rising trend," he warned.   Jayabalan said there was a small group of people who refuse vaccination on account of misinformation.

In recent years, Malaysia had recorded a number of deaths among children from diphtheria, a vaccine-preventable disease, because they did not receive immunisation.   Noor Hisham said investigations found that 23 children under the age of 15 who lived close to the infected baby had also not received the polio vaccine.   "This is a frustrating situation because the spread of the disease... can only be stopped with polio immunisation."   Vaccination activities and monitoring will be carried out to try and contain the spread of the disease, he added.
Date: Sun, 8 Dec 2019 05:56:06 +0100 (MET)

Sydney, Dec 8, 2019 (AFP) - Smoke haze from bushfires raging in Australia spread to the capital Sunday, as firefighters raced to contain more than 140 blazes ahead of a heatwave forecast early this week.   Australia is experiencing a horrific start to its fire season, which scientists say began earlier and is more extreme this year due to a prolonged drought and the effects of climate change.

Residents of Canberra in the country's southeast woke up to see the capital shrouded in haze Sunday, joining those in Sydney who have endured weeks of toxic air pollution caused by bushfire smoke.   Officials said favourable weather conditions had given them a chance to bring several blazes under control before the forecast return of strong winds and high temperatures Tuesday.   Among those is a "mega fire" burning across 250,000 hectares within an hour's drive of Sydney, Australia's largest city, where ash from the fires has occasionally fallen.

Firefighters are now bracing for Tuesday, when temperatures are expected to reach above 40 Celsius in parts of New South Wales state -- worst-hit by the bushfires -- and gusting westerly winds are likely to fan the flames.   "Today (fire) crews will be doing what they can to consolidate and strengthen containment lines, which in some areas will include backburning," NSW Rural Fire Service spokesman Greg Allan told AFP.   But the state's Bureau of Meteorology warned that the massive fires are "in some cases just too big to put out at the moment".   "They're pumping out vast amounts of smoke which is filling the air, turning the sky orange & even appearing like significant rain on our radars," the department tweeted.

Nearly 50 reinforcements from the United States and Canada have been flown in to support fatigued firefighters in recent days, with the international contingent tasked with providing logistical assistance.   In neighbouring Queensland, the focus was also on managing fatigue among frontline firefighters -- who in both states are almost all volunteers -- as weather there provided a brief reprieve from weeks of battling blazes.   "We're just looking to wind down and recover and prepare for the next round, whenever that may be," a Queensland Fire and Emergency Service spokesman told AFP.

Since the crisis began in September, six people have been killed, more than 700 homes destroyed and an estimated two million hectares (almost five million acres) scorched.   Though the human toll has been far lower than the deadliest fire season in 2009 -- when almost 200 people died -- the scale of this year's devastation has been widely described as unprecedented, as Australians grapple with the impacts of a changing climate.   Official data shows 2019 is on track to be one of the hottest and driest years on record in Australia.
Date: Sat, 7 Dec 2019 15:58:56 +0100 (MET)

Kampala, Dec 7, 2019 (AFP) - Twelve people have been swept to their deaths by floods in western Uganda, the Red Cross said on Saturday, as the East African country is battered by torrential rain.   "We have recovered 12 bodies from the water and one person has been rushed to hospital with serious injuries," said Diana Tumuhimbise, Red Cross branch manager in the Bundibugyo district.   "The rain started last night and continued until 9:00 am (0600 GMT)," she told AFP on Saturday.   "Several houses have been swept away, roads have been blocked and some washed away completely."

The Red Cross has launched a search and rescue operation with the police, military and community members in 12 affected areas but it is not yet clear how many people are missing.    Rain is hampering communication in the remote location, on the border with DR Congo and separated from the rest of Uganda by the Rwenzori mountains.   At least 20 people have been killed as a result of floods and mudslides in the last week in Uganda.

The extreme weather has been blamed on the Indian Ocean Dipole -- a climate system defined by the difference in sea surface temperature between western and eastern areas of the ocean.   At the moment, the ocean around East Africa is far warmer than usual, resulting in higher evaporation and moist air flowing inwards over the continent as rain: the hallmarks of a "positive" dipole.   Scientists warn that as ocean temperatures rise because of climate change, Indian Ocean dipoles will become more frequent and severe.
Date: 8 Dec 2019
Source: The Star [edited]

A polio case has been confirmed in the country, the 1st in Malaysia in 27 years.  The Health Ministry confirmed that a 3-month-old Malaysian boy from Tuaran, Sabah had been admitted into a hospital's Intensive Care Unit after experiencing fever and weakness of limbs. Health director-general Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah said the last polio case in Malaysia occurred in 1992, and in 2000, the country was declared as being polio-free.

In the recent case, the child was confirmed to be infected with the vaccine-derived poliovirus type 1 (VDPV1) on [6 Dec 2019] this year.  "The patient is currently undergoing treatment in an isolation ward and is in stable condition but needs respiratory support," he said in a statement Sunday [8 Dec 2019]. He added that the VDPV1 is classified as a circulating vaccine-derived poliovirus (cVDPV) type 1.

"The cVDPV originates from a poliovirus that has been weakened by the orally-administered polio vaccine. Those who have been vaccinated will be protected from infection. The weakened virus has been excreted from the body through the faeces. However, in unsanitary environments, the virus can infect others who have not been immunised against polio and will thus spread in communities whose polio immunisation rates are less than 95%. The longer the virus spreads in the community, it will undergo genetic mutation until it once again becomes an active virus," he said.

Dr Noor Hisham said test results showed that the virus has genetic links to the polio virus that was detected in a recent outbreak in the Philippines. The Philippines in September this year [2019] declared an outbreak of polio, caused by VDPV1.

He added that up until [5 Dec 2019], investigations at the vicinity of the polio-infected child's residence found that 23 out of 199 people aged between 2 months to 15 years have not received the polio vaccine.  "This is a frustrating situation because the circulation of a cVDPV can only end with a polio immunisation. "After explaining the importance of polio immunisation, the parents of the children have agreed to have them vaccinated," he said.

He added that surveillance for acute flaccid paralysis (AFP) -- a clinical syndrome which is characterised by weakness of the muscles of respiration and swallowing -- will be conducted in the area. "As of [5 Dec 2019], as many as 646 people have been checked, and symptoms of AFP have not been detected. "To ensure that the polio virus does not continue to spread in Malaysia and infect those who are not immunised, vaccination activities will be continued in the area of this case and will be expanded to other risk areas," he said.

He urged members of the public to immediately seek treatment if they have AFP symptoms or to inform the Health Ministry if they know of other cases.  "The success in eradicating the disease previously was due to prevention efforts through the polio vaccination, which was introduced in the National Immunisation Programme in 1972. The programme was made even more effective when the vaccine was changed from being administered orally to being administered through injection," he said.

Polio, or poliomyelitis, is a potentially deadly infectious disease caused by the poliovirus and can cause paralysis by invading a person's brain and spinal cord. The disease has no cure and can only be prevented through vaccination.  [Byline: Clarissa Chung]
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[As the media report states, this is the 1st case of polio reported from Malaysia since 1992, 27 years ago. According to the genetic profile of the isolated cVDPV1, it is related to the cVDPV1 identified in the Philippines. It is not mentioned whether this is related to the cVDPV1 identified from environmental samples in the Manila metropolitan region or whether it is related to the paralytic case confirmed with VDPV1 in the Mindinao region (see below for details).

It is curious that cVDPV1 seems to be affecting mostly countries in Eastern Asia (Myanmar, Malaysia) and Western Pacific (Papua New Guinea and Indonesia) this year (2019). Since 2015, the countries reporting cVDPV1 associated AFP cases include Philippines, Myanmar, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Laos, Madagascar and Ukraine  (<http://polioeradication.org/polio-today/polio-now/this-week/circulating-vaccine-derived-poliovirus/>).

This now brings the total number of cVDPV associated acute flaccid paralysis (AFP) cases in the past 2 years to 24.

Tuaran, Sabah state is located on the northwest coast of Borneo island (<https://www.mapsofworld.com/malaysia/malaysia-political-map.html>). Of interest is that Basilan island, where the VDPV1 case has been reported, is one of the southernmost islands of the Philippines.

The HealthMap/ProMED map of Malaysia:
Date: Tue 3 Dec 2019
Source: Liberian Observer [edited]

A report reaching the Daily Observer from the Nimba County Health Team said that Lassa fever is becoming alarming, with 9 cases confirmed, out of which 3 persons have died.

The county health surveillance officer, Isaac Cole, told reporters in Nimba that 3 districts, including Sanniquellie Mahn, Saclepea, and Tappita have been declared as the "epicenters" of the deadly disease.

Of the 3 districts, Cole said Sanniquellie Mahn is the worst-affected area, where over 30 cases of suspected Lassa cases were registered and 9 confirmed, and from where the 3 deaths are recorded.

He has meanwhile warned locals to avoid rodents (rats) by thoroughly cleaning their surroundings to stop the flow of rats in their homes. The county health team is therefore calling on residents to report any suspected case, particularly people who may have developed prolonged fever, to any of the nearest health facilities. Residents are also advised not to bury the dead (suspected Lassa fever patients) without referencing trained medical practitioners.

"Protect your food from rats, and also avoid touching them at all times should you encounter one," he added.

Lassa fever, also known as Lassa hemorrhagic fever (LHF), is a type of viral hemorrhagic fever caused by the Lassa virus. Many of those infected by the virus do not show symptoms early on. When symptoms do occur, they typically include fever, weakness, headaches, vomiting, and muscle pains.  [Byline: Ishmael F. Menkor]
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[The occurrence of Lassa fever cases in Liberia is continuing with the confirmation of 9 new cases. The previous ProMED-mail post reported that according to MoH data, a total of 92 suspected cases between 1 Jan-25 Aug 2019, including 21 deaths, have been reported. Of these, 25 cases have been confirmed by RT-PCR (Nimba (9), Bong (10), Grand Bassa (5), and Grand Kru (1)), while 9 remain suspected cases, the release recorded. The case-fatality rate among confirmed cases in that report was stated as 36% (9 deaths out of 25 confirmed cases). Males are mostly affected by the disease (56%) of confirmed cases as compared to females.

Occurrence of Lassa fever cases in areas outside the usual "Lassa fever belt" is of concern, and the Ministry of Health is wise to increase public information and advise citizens about measures that should be taken to avoid infection with the virus. Occurrence of Lassa fever in Liberia is not new, and cases have occurred there sporadically for several years. Between 1 Jan and 27 Jun 2018, 20 cases were laboratory confirmed (see archive no. http://promedmail.org/post/20180711.5898495). Apparently, all those Lassa fever virus infections were acquired by contact with infected rodents or their excretions. Lassa fever virus can be acquired from infected rodents or patients in the hospital. Transmission can occur in health facilities when personal protective equipment is not employed or barrier-nursing practices or biocontainment facilities in the laboratory are not adequate to protect staff from blood and secretions of infected patients.

As mentioned in previous posts, Lassa fever virus transmission to humans occurs when people are in contact with the reservoir rodent host, the multimammate mouse (_Mastomys natalensis_ and _M. erythroleucus_) and the African wood mouse (_Hylomycus pamfi_) or their excreta, as was likely the situation in many of these cases. Rodent control has to be undertaken at the village level with individual households employing the preventive measures listed above. This requires an extensive and continuous public education effort.

Images of the _Mastomys natalensis_ mouse, the rodent reservoir of Lassa fever virus, can be seen at <https://www.inaturalist.org/taxa/45326-Mastomys-natalensis> and of _M. erythroleucus_ and _Hylomycus pamfi_ at <http://punchng.com/nigerias-large-rat-population-threatens-lassa-fever-war/>. - ProMED Mod.TY]