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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: 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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Ghana

Ghana US Consular Information Sheet
23rd September 2008
DESCRIPTION:
Ghana is a developing country on the West Coast of Africa. The capital is Accra. Facilities for tourism are available in the population centers of the greater Accra regio
, Kumasi in the Ashanti region, and in the Cape Coast area of the Central region, but they are limited in the more remote areas of the country. Read the Department of State Background Notes on Ghana for additional information.
ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:
A passport and visa are required, as is evidence of a yellow fever vaccination. Travelers should obtain the latest information and details from the Embassy of Ghana, 3512 International Drive NW, Washington, DC
20008; telephone (202) 686-4520. Consular services are also available at the Ghana Permanent Mission to the UN at 19 East 47th Street, New York, NY
10017, telephone (212) 832-1300, and the Honorary Consulate of Ghana, 3434 Locke Lane, Houston, TX, telephone (713) 960-8806. Overseas, inquiries should be made at the nearest Ghanaian embassy or consulate. Visit the Embassy of Ghana web site at www.ghanaembassy.org for the most current visa information.
Information about dual nationality or the prevention of international child abduction can be found on our web site.
For further information about customs regulations, please read our Customs Information sheet.
SAFETY AND SECURITY:
Due to the potential for violence, U.S. citizens should avoid political rallies and street demonstrations and maintain security awareness at all times. There will be frequent political rallies across Ghana in the run-up to the presidential and parliamentary elections on December 7, 2008.

For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs’ web site at http://travel.state.gov, where the current Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts, as well as the Worldwide Caution, can be found.
Up-to-date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll-free in the U.S. and Canada, or for other callers, 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:
Pick-pocketing, purse snatching, and various types of scams are the most common forms of crime confronting visitors. U.S. travelers have reported these types of theft at crowded markets, beaches, parks, and tourist attractions. Incidences of violent crime, such as armed robbery, are on the rise, including reports of armed robberies in expatriate residential areas. Victims who resist attackers run a high risk of serious physical injury. Take security measures, such as traveling in groups and avoiding travel at night. Avoid travel in communal taxis. Travelers who limit their display of jewelry and handle their cash discreetly reduce their vulnerability to crime. Travelers are advised to carry limited amounts of cash and only photocopies of key documents.

Use of credit cards in Ghana should be avoided if possible, as a growing number of travelers have been victims of credit card fraud.

In recent years, U.S. citizens have reported substantial financial losses from questionable transactions involving gold and other precious metals. The Government of Ghana maintains strict regulations on these natural resources. All agents must be licensed and all transactions must be certified. (See Special Circumstances below).

Perpetrators of business fraud often target foreigners, including Americans. Such fraud schemes are now prevalent throughout West Africa, including Ghana.
Please refer to the Country Commercial Guide for Ghana at http://www.buyusa.gov/ghana/en/doing_business_in_ghana.html, for further information.

American citizens frequently consult the Embassy regarding questionable business offers sent by people in Ghana. These are scams and typically begin with an unsolicited communication (usually by e-mail) from an unknown individual who describes a situation that promises quick financial gain, often by assisting in the transfer of a large sum of money or valuables out of the country.
A series of “advance fees” must be paid in order to conclude the transaction, such as fees to open a bank account or to pay certain taxes.
In fact, the final payoff does not exist; the purpose of the scams is simply to collect money from the victim.
The Embassy has also received reports of fraudulent charities soliciting contributions through the Internet or direct mail. If you receive such business offers or charity requests, carefully check them out before you commit any funds, provide any goods or services, or undertake any travel. Check with the U.S. Embassy in Ghana at telephone (233-21) 741-100 for an assessment of the offer’s credibility.

Another type of fraud is committed by persons claiming to live in Ghana or who claim to be traveling to Ghana on business, and who profess friendship or romantic interest over the Internet. Once a relationship has been established, the correspondent typically asks the American to send money for living expenses, travel expenses, or visa costs. Sometimes a “hospital” or “doctor” telephones to say that the friend has suffered an “accident” and needs immediate financial assistance to cover medical bills. There are other variations of this scam, but the common goal is to fraudulently obtain as much money as possible from the victim.
Americans have reported losing thousands of dollars through such scams. The anonymity of the Internet means that the victim cannot be sure of the real name, age, marital status, nationality, or even gender of the correspondent. In most cases reported to the Embassy, the correspondent turned out to be a fictitious persona created to lure Americans into sending money.

Visitors to Ghana should also be wary of overly-friendly locals offering tours, discounted lodging or other services that seem too good to be true.
Tourists are often targeted by touts and scam artists.
Some Americans have been the victims of false criminal accusations and have found themselves separated from time, money and trust as they seek to resolve these difficult situations.

For additional information, please see the Department of State brochure International Financial Scams.

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.
Ghana maintains a specialized Domestic Violence Victim Support Unit (DOVVSU) within the Ghana Police Service to assist victims of domestic violence, especially women and children. In addition to its law enforcement responsibilities, the Unit can refer victims to medical providers and counselors, as well as to community support services. Further information is available by following the DOVVSU link at www.ghanapolice.org
The local equivalent to the “911” emergency line in Ghana is: 191
See our information on Victims of Crime.

MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:
Medical facilities in Ghana are limited, particularly outside Accra, the capital. Travelers should carry adequate supplies of any needed prescription medicines, along with copies of their prescriptions, the generic name of the drugs, and a supply of preferred over-the-counter medications. For information on avian influenza (bird flu), please refer to the Department of State's Avian Influenza Fact Sheet.
Documentation of Yellow fever vaccination is required upon arrival from all countries.
There are no HIV/AIDS entry restrictions for visitors to or foreign residents of Ghana.

Motor vehicle accidents, drownings and water-related accidents due to Ghana’s rough surf, muggings and other violent attacks, and the development of sexually transmitted diseases—including HIV—are
health and safety concerns that have been reported by U.S. citizens and can be at least partially mitigated by using common-sense safety precautions.

Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC’s web site at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/default.aspx.
For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization’s (WHO) web site at http://www.who.int/en.
Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith/en
MEDICAL INSURANCE:
The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation.
Please see our information on medical insurance overseas.

TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS:
While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States.
The information below concerning Ghana is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
Primary roads are generally paved and well maintained. However, some side roads within major cities and roads outside of major cities are in poor condition. The road from Accra to the central region tourist area of Cape Coast continues to be the site of many accidents. Travel in darkness, particularly outside the major cities, is extremely hazardous, due to poor street lighting and the unpredictable behavior of pedestrians, bicyclists and farm animals, particularly goats and sheep. Aggressive drivers, poorly maintained vehicles and overloaded vehicles pose serious threats to road safety.

The safety standards of the small private buses that transit roads and highways are uncertain. Travelers are encouraged to consider this when making travel arrangements.

Travelers are routinely stopped at police checkpoints throughout Ghana, and vehicles and passengers may be searched. Drivers must possess an international driver’s license (available from AAA and the American Automobile Touring Alliance). Foreign nationals should carry documentation of their status, such as a passport and visa.

Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information. Visit the website of Ghana’s national tourist office at http://www.touringghana.com/default.asp and the national authority responsible for road safety at http://www.mrt.gov.gh/
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT:
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of Ghana’s Civil Aviation Authority as not being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for the oversight of Ghana’s air carrier operations.
For more information, travelers may visit the FAA’s web site at http://www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa.

Service provided by a number of regional air carriers is reported to be unreliable. The airlines may alter scheduled stops, cancel or postpone flights on short notice, and regularly overbook flights. Travelers may experience unexpected delays even after checking in. Passengers should get the required seat reconfirmation stamped on the ticket, have enough emergency funds for food and lodging in case of unexpected delays, and arrive at the airport at least two hours before the scheduled departure time.

SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:
Effective July 1, 2007, the Government of Ghana redenominated the local currency, the cedi, introducing new banknotes (Ghana Cedi) and coins (Ghana Pesewa). 10,000 cedis = 1 Ghana Cedi = 100 Ghana Pesewas. The old cedi was taken out of circulation on December 31, 2007, and as of January 1, 2008, can be converted only at commercial banks or the Bank of Ghana. Travelers should be alert to persons who may try to defraud them with the old and new bills. The Government of Ghana established a web site in 2007, www.ghanacedi.gov.gh, to inform the public about the redenomination exercise. The web site includes a useful currency converter.

Visitors arriving or departing Ghana with more than $5,000 in cash are required to declare the amount at the border. Currency exchange is available at most banks and at licensed foreign exchange bureaus, but currency transactions with private citizens are illegal. The Government of Ghana also prohibits departing travelers from carrying more than 5,000,000 cedis (500 Ghana Cedis) out of the country. Ghanaian currency must either be spent or exchanged before departure, or it will be confiscated.

Strict customs regulations govern temporary importation into or export from Ghana of items such as gold, diamonds and precious natural resources. Only agents licensed by the Precious Metals and Mining Commission, telephone (233-21) 664-635 or 664-579, may handle import-export transactions of these natural resources. Any transaction without the commission’s endorsement is illegal and/or fraudulent. All transactions must be completed through the commission at the price set daily by the London exchange. Any transaction that discounts this price, or includes a previously negotiated price, is either illegal or fraudulent. Export of gold dust is rare as it encourages dangerous and environmentally destructive practices, and transactions involving the export of gold dust are probably fraudulent. Attempts to evade regulations are punishable by imprisonment. It is advisable to contact the Embassy of Ghana in Washington, DC, or one of the Ghanaian consulates in the United States, for specific information regarding customs requirements.

In rare instances, visitors arriving in Ghana with sophisticated electronic equipment (video cameras and laptop computers) may have to deposit 17.5 per cent of the item's value with the Customs and Excise office at the airport. To get the deposit refunded, visitors must apply to the Customs and Excise Office in central Accra 48 hours before departure.

Taking pictures near sensitive installations, including military sites and some government buildings, is prohibited. These sites are not always clearly marked and application of these restrictions is subject to interpretation. Permission may be obtained from Ghanaian security personnel. Permission should also be obtained before photographing anyone in uniform (e.g., police officers and military officers). In some cases, film and cameras have been confiscated. For security reasons, taking photographs of the U.S. Embassy is also prohibited.

It is strictly prohibited to wear any military apparel such as camouflage jackets or trousers, or any clothing or items that may appear military in nature.

Please see our Customs Information.

CRIMINAL PENALTIES:
While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law.
Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses.
Persons violating Ghana laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Ghana are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines.
Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime, prosecutable in the United States.
Please see our information on Criminal Penalties.

CHILDREN'S ISSUES:
For information see our Office of Children’s Issues web pages on intercountry adoption and international parental child abduction.
REGISTRATION / EMBASSY LOCATION:
Americans living or traveling in Ghana are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department’s travel registration web site so that they can obtain updated information on travel and security within Ghana. 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 No. 24 Fourth Circular Road, Cantonments, Accra; telephone (233-21)741-000. The public entrance to the Consular Section is No. 19 Fifth Link Road, Cantonments, Accra; telephone (233-21) 741-100; fax (233-21) 741-362 or 741-426; after-hours (233-21) 741-775.
*

*

*
This replaces the Country Specific Information for Ghana dated February 21, 2008, to update sections on safety and security, crime, information for victims of crime, and medical facilities and health information.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Thu 9 Jan 2020
Source: All Africa/Ghanaian Times [edited]

A total of 3 cases of poliomyelitis with 2 deaths have been recorded in the Bono, Bono East and Ahafo regions.

The 1st case reported, in the Bono Region, was a 24-month-old girl from Asiri in Goka, a subdistrict in the Jaman North District. The 2nd case was a 33-month-old girl resident in Sissala line in the Techiman West submunicipality in the Bono East Region, and the 3rd case was a 37-month-old boy from Kwasuso in the Asutifi South District of the Ahafo Region.

Poliomyelitis is highly infectious viral disease that mainly affects young children. The virus is transmitted from person to person, spread mainly through the faecal-oral route or less frequently by a common vehicle (via contaminated water or food) and multiplies in the intestine, from where it can invade the nervous system and cause paralysis.

According to the Bono Regional Health Directorate of the Ghana Health Service (GHS), the cases were detected in October and November last year [2019] with the latest one in January 2020.

The Deputy Regional Director of Public Health, Dr. John Ekow Ottoo, who briefed journalists here in Sunyani yesterday [8 Jan 2020], said the 3rd victim, in a critical and paralysed condition, was being treated.

According to Dr. Ottoo, initial symptoms of polio include fever, fatigue, headache, vomiting and stiffness in the neck and pain in the limbs, saying the disease had no cure but could only be prevented by immunisation.

The Deputy Public Health Director stressed the need for the general improvement of sanitation across the country, noting that the virus was in the system due to poor sanitary condition in the affected areas. He said the GHS had deployed staff and volunteers to the affected areas, including the various borders within the jurisdiction for the immunisation exercises.

Dr. Ottoo urged the public to cooperate with the GHS as the immunisation began on Wednesday [8 Jan 2020].  [Byline: Daniel Dzirasah]
====================
[According to the most recent GPEI (Global Polio Eradication Initiative) update, during 2019, Ghana reported 11 cases of cVDPV2 associated disease, with most recent date of onset recorded as 7 Nov 2019 (see Poliomyelitis update (03): global (WPV1 Afghan., Pak., cVDPV2 Zambia), Pakistan http://promedmail.org/post/20200110.6881006). While it is unclear if all 3 of the cases reported in the above media report are newly confirmed cases, this is the 1st report we've seen of a case with onset in January 2020.

More information on these cases would be greatly appreciated with clarification of the situation in Ghana.

A map of Ghana showing new regions after the referendum:

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail maps:
Date: Mon 17 Dec 2019
Source: Peace FM Online [edited]

There has been a surge in the number of polio cases across the country [Ghana] since July this year [2019], and this has been an issue of concern for both the Government and other health partners. Government and donor partners, are therefore, making frantic efforts at addressing the issue while the Ghana Health Service (GHS) and its partners have embarked on a number of measures to contain the situation. In some few years back, the country was nearly declared polio-free as it had chalked a lot of success in eradicating the disease, and so the current trend is disturbing phenomenon for most stakeholders in the health sector.

Briefing journalists on the status of the Polio disease in the country, Dr. Franklin Asiedu-Bekoe, Director, Diseases Control, GHS, "said the new virus started as a case from the environment seen in Tamale and later some cases was seen in humans". He said at now there have been 10 cases reported in humans while some viruses from the environment have been isolated.

Dr. Asiedu-Bekoe was speaking on the side-lines of the 2nd Ghana Field Epidemiology and Laboratory Trainings Programme (GFELTP) and Scientific Conference and Competency Graduation held in Accra where 58 health professionals involving Frontline, Intermediate and Advanced level trainees graduated after going through various levels of training.

He said following the Tamale outbreak, "as an intervention, we have had a number of vaccination exercises in several regions and districts. We have vaccinated the whole of Northern Region, Upper East and Greater Accra and we are going to do some vaccination in Oti and Bono Ahafo Regions come next week." He said hopefully, early next year [2020], the GHS would start a nationwide Polio vaccination campaign to cover the whole country, adding that a lot of work was also being done by the health partners to ensure that there was no complications or minimal effects with the current vaccines. "We are using both the oral and injectable polio vaccines in the country currently."

Explaining the seemingly upsurge in Polio cases, Dr. Asiedu-Bekoe said the world has been polio-free for most countries excerpt for Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan, but until recently, there had been surge of the disease in some African countries including Ghana, Cote d'Ivoire, and Togo. "Apparently, there was a gap that has arisen because some children who were supposed to be vaccinated were not. The thinking was that we thought the global immunity was huge enough to protect us against the disease. Unfortunately some of the children were prone, and they are those who have gotten the disease. And that is why we are going to do this nationwide vaccination campaign to protect all the children who were left out from an earlier planned vaccination exercise, so that the protection will be assured".

He said children from 9 months up to 4 years would be covered in the nationwide campaign while those under 5 would be involved in the oral polio vaccine. He explained that Ghana was now doing a multiple-prone approach to address the threat of Polio, which included "ensuring that our vaccination is intact".

There was also the surveillance system, which was being made very sensitive to be able to comb all the communities and health facilities to detect if the disease was present anywhere while the third approach was ensuring a clean environment.

According to Dr. Asiedu-Bekoe, keeping a clean environment was very important as Polio was a faecal-oral disease and so "we need to make sure that our environment is clean so that children will not go and pick the Polio virus from the soil and put them in their mouths.

"So these are the approach we are to use to make sure that the Polio menace does not get out of hands. But we are certain that we will actually be able to get Polio eradicated globally. He gave the assurance that the combined effort of government and other partners like UNICEF, WHO, Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Rotary Club were all on board in the fight against Polio.

Mr. Fred Osei Sarpong, Immunisation Focal Person, World Health Organisation, said with Polio cases being reported in Angola, Nigeria, Benin and other neighbouring countries, "Ghana isn't safe. The virus is in the sub-region that is why we have to make sure everyone is protected, that is why we will call on all caregivers to make sure they send their kids for vaccination. Once your child is protected you don't have a cause to worry". He said children without protection were going down with the disease so all parents should avail their children to ensure that they were all vaccinated and protected from the virus that was in circulation.
===================
[First, congratulations to Ghana and the FELTP Groups in Ghana for graduating 58 Health Professionals from their Field Epidemiology Training Program initiatives this year (2019).

According to the most recent Global update from the Global Polio Eradication Initiative / WHO data, there had been 9 cases of cVDPV2 associated disease, with a virus genetically related to the Jigawa Nigeria outbreak (Poliomyelitis update (99): global (WPV & cVDPV), Pakistan (KP), Afghanistan (BL) http://promedmail.org/post/20191212.6837355). The above media report mentions there were 10 cases. No further information was provided. More information from knowledgeable sources would be greatly appreciated including verification of this additional case and demographics including age and geographic location of case, and vaccination history as well as virus type.

HealthMap/ProMED map of Ghana: <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/53> - ProMED Mod.MPP]
Date: Fri, 18 Oct 2019 15:43:29 +0200 (METDST)

Accra, Oct 18, 2019 (AFP) - Floods caused by eight days of torrential downpours in north-eastern Ghana have left 28 people dead and displaced hundreds, officials said Friday.     "At the moment the death toll is 28. About 640 people in some six communities have been displaced and we are providing shelters for them," George Ayisi, spokesman for the National Disaster Management Organisation, told AFP.    "We've counted about 286 collapsed houses during this disaster and that is making life difficult for the people."

Relief items were being transported 800 kilometres (500 miles) by road from the capital Accra to the affected region on the border with Burkina Faso as meteorologists warned the rains could last into November.    "We have to just prepare for anything," Ayisi said.   So far this year 46 people have been killed in floods in the West African nation, the disaster relief agency said.   Flooding in northern and other parts of Ghana happens each year during the rainy season.    Last year, 34 people died in northern Ghana during flooding caused by heavy rains and waters spilling from a dam in Burkina Faso.
Date:   August 30th 2019
Received from HPSC (Ireland)
HPSC website: https://www.hpsc.ie/a-z/vaccinepreventable/polio/

HPSC has received an alert through IHR regarding a recent case of cVDPV2 in a 2 year old female in Ghana who presented with AFP. Hence the cVDPV2 outbreak originating in Jigawa state, Nigeria, continues to spread in West Africa.  Given cross-border population movements with Nigeria and across West Africa, subnational immunity and surveillance gaps, Ghana is considered at high-risk for further transmission of the isolated cVDPV2. In Ghana, the last wild poliovirus was reported in 2008 and this is the first ever cVDPV2 outbreak reported in the country.  [Authorities in] G

WHO’s International Travel and Health recommends that all travellers to polio-affected areas be fully vaccinated against polio. Residents (and visitors for more than 4 weeks) from infected areas should receive an additional dose of OPV or inactivated polio vaccine (IPV) within 4 weeks to 12 months of travel.

cVDPV2 outbreak originating in Jigawa state, Nigeria, continues to spread in West Africa.  In Ghana, cVDPV2 was isolated from an acute flaccid paralysis (AFP) case in Ando-Nyamanu, Chereponi district, Northern Region, bordering Togo.  The case is a two-year and eight-month old girl who had onset of paralysis on 27 July 2019. Stool samples were taken on 27 and 28 July 2019 and were sent to the National Polio Laboratory at Noguchi Memorial Institute for Medical Research for laboratory investigations. The sample tested positive for cVDPV2 as per result received on 17 August 2019.   The sequencing information of the AFP case revealed 25 nucleotide differences compared to the reference Sabin 2 and 6 nucleotides with the closest matching sequence of the AFP case from Kwara State of Nigeria in 2018. Earlier, a related cVDPV2 had been isolated from an environmental sample, collected on 11 June 2019, from Northern Region in Ghana.  Both isolated viruses are linked to an outbreak originating in Jigawa, Nigeria, in 2018.  This same strain has already spread within Nigeria, and internationally to the Republic of Niger, Benin and Cameroon.

On 25 August 2019, the Polio Laboratory reported the isolation of polio virus type 2 in an environmental surveillance (ES) site at Agbogbloshie in Accra, Greater Accra Region, from routine surveillance. This was confirmed as cVDPV2 on 26 August.

Public health response
The Ministry of Health has declared detection of this virus to be a national public health emergency, in line with temporary recommendations issued by the International Health Regulations Emergency Committee regarding the international spread of poliovirus. The Ministry of Health and its Partners are working tirelessly to contain the situation and to prevent the spread of the disease.

An emergency meeting with key stakeholders and partners of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) was held on the 19 August 2019, to discuss response measures in response to this, the Ministry of Health / Ghana Health Service has taken these immediate actions:

1. A national team made up of the Ghana Health Service and the WHO has been deployed to support the regional and district teams carry out detailed investigations and response measures
2. A full epidemiological and field investigation is ongoing, active surveillance is being strengthened, subnational population immunity levels are being analysed and outbreak response actions are being planned
3. Areas at risk are mapped conduction of reactive vaccination campaign in the affected and adjoining high risk districts and planned following approval from the Polio Advisory Group for monovalent Oral Polio Vaccine Type 2 (mOPV2)

WHO risk assessment
Given cross-border population movements with Nigeria and across West Africa, subnational immunity and surveillance gaps, Ghana is considered at high-risk for further transmission of the isolated cVDPV2.  As the current detected case is in a district sharing international land border with Togo where there is a very low population immunity against type 2 poliovirus (IPV coverage of 20% in 2018), there is an increased risk of further international spread of this outbreak. As this outbreak, originating in Jigawa Nigeria has already spread to Niger, Cameroon and Benin the risk of further international spread across West Africa associated with this virus, remains high.
WHO advice
It is important that all countries, in particular those with frequent travel and contacts with polio-affected countries and areas, strengthen surveillance for AFP cases in order to rapidly detect any new virus importation and to facilitate a rapid response. Countries, territories and areas should also maintain uniformly high routine immunization coverage at the district level to minimize the consequences of any new virus introduction.
As per the advice of an Emergency Committee convened under the International Health Regulations (2005), efforts to limit the international spread of poliovirus remains a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC).  Countries affected by poliovirus transmission is subject to Temporary Recommendations.  To comply with the Temporary Recommendations issued under the PHEIC, any country infected by poliovirus should declare the outbreak as a national public health emergency and consider vaccination of all international travellers.

Further Information:
Polio is a highly infectious disease and can cause permanent paralysis or death. The risk of paralytic polio due to exposure to cVDPV2 remains high due to the low population immunity against polio type-2 virus, after the global switch from trivalent oral poliovirus vaccine (tOPV) to bivalent OPV (bOPV). The national immunization coverage for Inactivated Poliovirus Vaccine (IPV) in Ghana was 55% for 2018 (WHO/UNICEF estimation). Poliovirus is a pathogen slated for global eradication. In July 2019, cVDPV2 has been confirmed in Ghana in an environmental sample and the last wild poliovirus was reported in 2008. Any detected Poliovirus subtype either in humans or the environment after the global synchronized withdrawal of tOPV in April 2016 is unusual and unexpected and remains to be of a huge cause of concern.  Poliovirus spreads easily and across large distances. There is evidence of genetic linkage of polio virus isolated from Ghana with polio viruses originating in, Nigeria which has already spread to Niger, Cameroon and Benin. The Chereponi district from where the case is reported also shares an international border with Togo that has low population immunity to type 2 Polio (IPV coverage was 20% for 2018). The risk of further spread to Togo cannot be ruled out.

WHO does not recommend any restriction on travel and/or trade to Ghana based on the information available for the current polio outbreak.
https://www.hpsc.ie/a-z/vaccinepreventable/polio/
Date: Tue, 30 Apr 2019 16:30:41 +0200
By Stacey KNOTT

Cape Coast, Ghana, April 30, 2019 (AFP) - Ghana on Tuesday rolled out the world's only proven malaria vaccine for infants as part of a landmark campaign against the deadly mosquito-borne disease, one week after Malawi became the first country to do so.   Malaria kills hundreds of thousands of people each year, mainly in Africa, and it is hoped a vaccine will bring down the toll.    Children are especially at risk, and babies were Ghana's first vaccine recipients Tuesday in the town of Cape Coast, 150 kilometres (90 miles) west of the capital Accra.   "I hope this will help us to be able to eliminate malaria, so Ghana can be a malaria-free country," said Justice Arthur, the doctor running the clinic.

The vaccines will be given to children between the ages of six months and two years, in a project run by Ghana's health ministry and the World Health Organization (WHO).   "I am really hopeful that the vaccine is going to help me and my family," said Abigail Aguanyi, a woman waiting to get her child, Blessing, vaccinated. Many of her family members had previously been stricken.   The vaccine, known by its lab initials RTS,S, has passed lengthy scientific trials which found it to be safe and effective at preventing about four in ten cases of malaria in infants -- the best ever recorded.   To achieve this level of partial protection, four successive doses must be administered on a strict timetable -- a challenge for rural Africa.

- 'Exciting' -
The rollout in Ghana, Malawi, and soon also Kenya, will seek to evaluate the vaccine's effectiveness as a complementary tool, augmenting -- but not replacing -- measures such as insecticide-treated bed nets and the use of sprays.   It will also test the feasibility of administering the four required doses in children in areas of the world with limited access to healthcare.   Data from the programme will inform a WHO policy on the broader use of RTS,S.   Malaria is spread to people by mosquitoes, which transfer the parasite while sucking blood from humans. RTS,S is effective against the Plasmodium falciparum parasite most prevalent in Africa.   In Ghana alone, there were 5.5 million confirmed cases of malaria last year, and many more suspected.

Worldwide, the WHO says malaria killed 435,000 people worldwide in 2017.    The number of cases climbed to 219 million in 2017, two million more than in 2016. Over 90 percent of cases occurred in Africa.   "This is an exciting and long-awaited step forward to fight malaria and its devastating effects on the most vulnerable," said WHO boss in Ghana, Owen Kaluwa.
More ...

Norway

Norway US Consular Information Sheet
November 10, 2008
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
Norway is a highly developed stable democracy with a modern economy.
The cost of living in Norway is high and tourist facilities are well developed and widely
available.
Read the Department of State Background Notes on Norway for additional information.

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:
Norway is a party to the Schengen agreement.
As such, U.S. citizens may enter Norway for up to 90 days for tourist or business purposes without a visa.
The passport should be valid for at least three months beyond the period of stay.
For further details about travel into and within Schengen countries, please see our fact sheet.

Contact the Royal Norwegian Embassy at 2720 34th Street NW, Washington, DC
20008-2714, Tel: 1-202-333-6000, web site: http://www.norway.org or the nearest Norwegian Consulate.
Consulates are located in Houston, Minneapolis, New York City, and San Francisco.
Information can also be obtained from the Norwegian Directorate of Immigration at http://www.udi.no.

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

SAFETY AND SECURITY:
Norway remains largely free of terrorist incidents.
However, like other countries in the Schengen area, Norway’s open borders with its European neighbors allow the possibility of terrorist groups entering/exiting the country with anonymity.
The U.S. government remains deeply concerned about the heightened threat of terrorist attacks against U.S. citizens and interests abroad.
In the post-9/11 environment, Norway shares with the rest of the world an increased threat of international Islamic terrorism. Norway was among a list of countries named as legitimate targets in al-Qa’ida audiotapes released as recently as, 2006.
Americans are reminded to remain vigilant with regard to their personal security and to exercise caution.

For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs’ web site at http://travel.state.gov where the current Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts, as well as the Worldwide Caution, can be found.

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

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

CRIME INFORMATION:
Norway has a relatively low crime rate.
Most crimes involve the theft of personal property.
Residential burglaries, auto theft, and vandalism to parked cars also occur.
Most high-end value vehicles, especially in Oslo, have visible alarm system indicators to discourage joy riders or thieves.
Persons who appear affluent or disoriented may become targets of pick-pockets and purse-snatchers, especially during the peak tourist season (May-September).
Thieves frequently target tourists in airports, train stations, and hotels, particularly lobby/reception and restaurant areas.
Often such thieves work in pairs and use distraction as a method to steal purses or briefcases.
While passports are frequently stolen in the course of these thefts, money, credit cards, and jewelry are the actual objects of interest.
In some cases stolen passports are recovered.
Violent crime, although rare, occurs and appears to be increasing.
Some thieves or burglars may have weapons.

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

Norway has a program to provide financial compensation to victims who suffer serious criminal injuries.
Claimants can obtain application forms from the Norwegian Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority at http://www.voldsoffererstatning.no/index.php?id=10.
Please contact the U.S. Embassy in Oslo for further information. For further information about possible U.S. compensation, see our information for Victims of Crime.

The national emergency telephone numbers in Norway, equivalent to the “911” emergency line, are: Police 112, Fire 110, Ambulance 113.

MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:
Medical facilities are widely available and of high quality, but may be limited outside the larger urban areas.
The remote and sparse populations in northern Norway, and the dependency on ferries to cross fjords of western Norway, may affect transportation and ready access to medical facilities.
The U.S. Embassy in Oslo maintains a list of emergency clinics in major cities.

The U.S. Department of State is unaware of any HIV/AIDS entry restrictions for visitors to or foreign residents of Norway.
Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC’s web site at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/default.aspx.
For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization’s (WHO) web site at http://www.who.int/en.
Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith/en
MEDICAL INSURANCE:
Healthcare in Norway is very expensive and healthcare providers sometimes require payment at time of service.
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 Norway is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.


Public transportation in Norway is generally safe, and the maintenance and condition of urban roads are generally good.
Rural road conditions are fair and the availability of roadside assistance is limited.
Most roadways beyond the city limits of Oslo and other major cities tend to be simple two-lane roads.
In mountainous areas of Norway, the roads also tend to be narrow and winding, with many tunnels.
The northerly latitude can also cause road conditions to vary greatly, depending on weather and time of year.
Many mountain roads are closed due to snow from late fall to late spring.
The use of winter tires is mandatory on all motor vehicles from November to April.

Norwegian law requires that drivers always use their vehicle headlights when driving.
Norwegian law also requires drivers to yield to vehicles coming from the right.
In some, but not all, instances, major roads with “right of way” are marked.
Seatbelts are mandatory for drivers and passengers.

Norway has some of the strictest laws in Europe concerning driving under the influence of alcohol; those laws prescribe heavy penalties for drivers convicted of having even a low blood alcohol level.
Frequent road checks with mandatory breathalyzer tests and the promise of stiff jail sentences encourage alcohol-free driving.
The maximum legal blood alcohol content level for driving a car in Norway is .02 per cent.

Automatic cameras placed by the police along roadways help to maintain speed limits, which are often lower than in other European countries.
Fines – and sometimes even jail time – are imposed for violations.


Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.
For specific information concerning Norwegian driver's permits, vehicle inspection, road tax and mandatory insurance, contact the Norwegian Tourist Board office at P.O. Box 4649, Grand Central Station, New York, New York 10163-4649 (tel.: 212-885-9700; fax: 212/885-9710) or visit their web site at http://www.norway.org/travel
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT:
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of Norway’s Civil Aviation Authority as being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for oversight of Norway’s air carrier operations.
For more information, travelers may visit the FAA’s web site at http://www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa
SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:
Please see our information on customs regulations.

CRIMINAL PENALTIES: While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law.
Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses.
Persons violating Norway’s laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Norway are strict and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines.
Engaging in illicit sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime, prosecutable in the United States.
Please see our information on Criminal Penalties.

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

REGISTRATION / EMBASSY LOCATION:
Americans living in or visiting Norway are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department’s travel registration web site, https://travelregistration.state.gov, and to obtain updated information on travel and security within Norway. 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 in Oslo near the Royal Palace at Henrik Ibsensgate 48; tel. 47/2244-8550 (24 hours), consular fax 47/2256-2751.
The Embassy’s web site is http://norway.usembassy.gov
*
*
*
*
*
This replaces the Consular Information Sheet dated April 23, 2008 to update the sections on Crime, Safety and Security, Information for Victims of Crime, and Medical Facilities and Health Information.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Tue 3 Sep 2019
Source: Food Safety News [edited]
-------------------------------------------------------------
More than 100 people have fallen ill in Norway from norovirus likely in a frozen seaweed salad from China. The 1st outbreak of norovirus suspected to be linked to the seaweed salad occurred in mid-June 2019 and the most recent was at the beginning of August 2019. The implicated product was also shipped to Denmark.

"It is suspected that seaweed from China was the cause of more than 100 cases of gastroenteritis from at least 11 eateries in different areas of Norway. Most of the outbreaks were in June and July 2019. Investigations are still ongoing. Norovirus was detected in patients from at least 2 of these eateries," Guri Aanderud, senior adviser in the seafood section at the Norwegian Food Safety Authority (Mattilsynet) told Food Safety News.

"We have no information regarding individual cases such as age, sex, place of residence, or hospitalization related to these outbreaks as norovirus is not notifiable in Norway. However, symptoms of norovirus are generally mild and self-limiting. All involved restaurants have received and served seaweed salad from two different lots in the relevant time period. Many of the people who reported illness have stated that they have eaten dishes containing seaweed salad."

On 22 Aug 2019, Goma Wakame Seaweed salad bags of 1000-gram imported into Norway by Ostlandske Formidling AS (Ofas) were withdrawn from the market due to suspected norovirus. Product was sold to the food service sector in Norway but distribution may have included several stores across the country. It was imported into Denmark by World Seafood and is produced by Dalian Kowa Foods Co. in China. Affected bags have item number 8032 and lot number 1904, which was manufactured on 14 Mar 2019, and lasts until 13 Mar 2021, and lot number 1811, which was made on 8 Nov 2018 and lasts until 7 Nov 2020.

Since withdrawing the product, no further outbreaks linked to seaweed salad have been reported.

The Norwegian Food Safety Authority took product samples that have not yet been fully analyzed and the Norwegian Institute of Public Health (FHI) has informed the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) via the Epidemic Intelligence Information System (EPIS).

Aanderud added it also knew of a Spanish RASFF [Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed] alert from 13 Aug 2019 related to a foodborne outbreak caused by norovirus GI and GII in frozen seaweed salad from China, via Germany. Countries part of this notice include Austria, Germany, Greece, Italy, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Spain, and the United Kingdom. The International Food Safety Authorities Network (INFOSAN) was mentioned in both RASFF notifications.

Adam Bradshaw, technical officer in the Department of Food Safety and Zoonoses at the World Health Organization, said INFOSAN was working with colleagues at the European Commission's RASFF because the frozen seaweed salad suspected to be responsible for the outbreak was distributed from China. He added it does not have the authority to disclose non-public information on behalf of countries involved in the outbreak when asked which countries had reported cases and how many.

"To better understand the potential international aspects of this event, we have been in contact with the INFOSAN emergency contact point in China to seek details as to whether the implicated frozen seaweed salad has been distributed from China to any other countries. Once further information is available, we will update all INFOSAN members through the INFOSAN community website," said Bradshaw.  [Byline: Joe Whitworth]
===========================
[It should be noted that the prototypic norovirus, Norwalk virus, was originally isolated in Norwalk, Ohio, the state where an outbreak popped up at the Republican National Convention in 2016. Norovirus infections and outbreaks are usually more common in cooler, winter months. About half of all cases occur from December through February in countries above the equator and June through August in countries below the equator. However, in places closer to the equator, norovirus may be less seasonal. This may be because of temperature or the timing of the rainy season, but may also be associated with the birth rate. Worldwide, norovirus is the leading cause of gastroenteritis outbreaks. New norovirus strains emerge about every 2 to 4 years. Often, but not always, these new strains lead to an increase in outbreaks worldwide. - ProMED Mod.LL]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail maps:
Date: Tue 11 Jun 2019
Source: Associated Press [edited]

Norwegian authorities said Tuesday [11 Jun 2019] they were trying to identify the source of water contamination that has sent dozens of people in southern Norway to the hospital. Since Thursday [6 Jun 2019], 55 people, including 13 children from Askoy, an island north of Bergen, have been hospitalized following the contamination. All have been discharged. Norwegian news agency NTB reported that in all, some 2000 people had fallen sick.

A one-year-old child on the island died last week [week of Mon 3 Jun 2019] of an infection in the digestive tract, but it was not clear whether it was linked to the contamination.

"None of the patients are critically ill," said Oeyvind Kommedal, a doctor with the Haukeland university hospital that carried out laboratory tests. "We have a good control of the situation." He said tests showed that the bacterium _Campylobacter_ has been found in 36 cases.

On Monday [10 Jun 2019], Baard Espeli, deputy mayor of the municipality of Askoy, also said that _E. coli_ was found in a reservoir that supplied part of the area's drinking water. Espeli said that reservoir has been closed, but it remains unclear how the bacteria contaminated it in the 1st place.

_Campylobacter_ is one of the main causes of diarrheal diseases and is considered the most common bacterial cause of human gastroenteritis. Infections are generally mild but can be fatal among very young children and the elderly.
========================
[It is not specifically stated that all the cases are on the island. The finding of _E. coli_ in the water reflects faecal contamination but not necessarily that _E. coli_ was a pathogen. The outbreak, as many from contaminated water, may be related to multiple pathogens.

Askoy is a municipality in Hordaland county, Norway. The island municipality is located in the Midhordland district of the county, sitting in a large group of islands immediately northwest of the city of Bergen. The administrative centre of the municipality is the urban village of Kleppesto on the south-eastern shore of the island of Askoy. Its location can be found on a map at <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ask%C3%B8y>. - ProMED Mod.LL]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map:
Hordaland county, Norway: <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/32342>]
Date: Mon 6 May 2019
Source: News in English (Norway) [edited]

A Norwegian woman in her 20s who was bitten by a dog while travelling in Southeast Asia 2 months ago died Monday night [6 May 2019]. Hospital officials confirm that the woman was infected with the deadly rabies virus.

She's the 1st person to have [died of] rabies on the Norwegian mainland since 1815. Rabies is extremely seldom on the Scandinavian peninsula.

The woman was originally from Hordaland but lived in the county of Sogn og Fjordane. She died at the hospital in Forde, where she'd been in intensive care since last week [week of 29 Apr 2019].

Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported that she was bitten by a dog while on a tour of Southeast Asia 2 months ago. The hospital wasn't alerted to her case until last [2 May 2019], when she was admitted after falling seriously ill. Test results confirmed the rabies virus on [Sat 4 May 2019].

There were several other Norwegians in her tour group from various places around the country. All of them have been alerted to her rabies infection and are being followed up by their local health care centres.
=======================
[This tragic event lacks detail. Reportedly, the victim was in a "tour group" to "South East Asia" (which country/ies?) including participants from various places in Norway.

Travellers must be aware of the rabies status in countries they are to visit. And a tourist, or, as a matter of fact, anybody getting bitten by a (stray?) dog in a rabies-endemic country, should immediately seek medical treatment, after thoroughly washing the bite wound.

Several worrying questions arise. Had the participants been informed, prior to travel, about health risks, rabies being just one of the potential hazards? Were medical care and advice sought following the bite? Were other co-travellers bitten as well?... - ProMED Mod.AS]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail maps:
Date: Mon 1 Apr 2019
Source: GIDEON (Global Infectious Disease Epidemiology Network) [edited]

re: ProMED-mail Tick-borne encephalitis - Norway: cattle
----------------------------------------------------------------------
Tick-borne encephalitis (TBE) is one of 8 zoonoses carried by ticks in Norway (the others are anaplasmosis, babesiosis, louping ill, Lyme borreliosis, relapsing fever, rickettsial spotted fever, and tularemia). As displayed in the following graphs, rates of human TBE are considerably lower than those of other tick-borne diseases in Norway, and below TBE rates reported by neighbouring countries. [1-3]

See graphs at

References
----------
1. Berger S. Infectious Diseases of Norway, 2019. 387 pages , 138 graphs, 858 references. Gideon e-books
2. Berger S. Tick-borne Encephalitis: Global Status, 2019. 89 pages , 49 graphs , 787 references. Gideon e-books
3. Gideon multi-graph tool,
-----------------------------------------------
Communicated by:
Prof Steve Berger
Geographic Medicine
Tel Aviv Medical Center
Israel
==========================
[ProMED-mail thanks Dr Berger for pointing out that TBE virus is not the only tick-borne zoonotic pathogen in Norway. The objective of the author's study, as they defined it, was narrowly focused on TBE in cattle. They chose to analyse unpasteurized cow milk for TBEV RNA and to study the presence of IgG antibodies to TBEV in the same animals. They found evidence for TBE virus infection in cattle in certain areas and pointed out potential risk of infection of humans who consume unpasteurized milk from positive herds. - ProMED Mod.TY]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map:
Date: Tue 15 Jan 2019
Source: Food Safety News [abridged, edited]

A traditional Norwegian fish dish has been recalled due to a link with a case of botulism. Torpet Fiskeoppdrettsanlegg AS recalled rakfisk due to suspicions that consumption can cause botulism. Rakfisk is a traditional Norwegian fish dish made from trout or char, salted and then fermented for up to a year before being eaten without cooking. The withdrawal applies to all varieties of the product that the company produced in 2018.

Rakfisk was sold via various market stalls in Trondelag, direct delivery from Torpet Fiskeoppdrettsanlegg AS, and via COOP stores in Alen, Brekken, Roros, and Os, according to the Norwegian Food Safety Authority (Mattilsynet). The one reported case is in a person who lives in Trondelag, in central Norway.

The Norwegian Institute of Public Health (Folkehelseinstituttet) said rakfisk from the company is the suspected source for the case of foodborne botulism. People who have rakfisk of this type in the refrigerator should throw the product out and not eat it. Those who have eaten it and have symptoms consistent with botulism should consult a doctor. The agency said toxins can develop under certain adverse conditions in the production of certain foods, such as rakfisk, cured meats, and canned items.

Previous botulism cases in Norway have been associated with rakfisk and home canned meats.

Botulism is a rare but life-threatening condition caused by toxins produced by _Clostridium botulinum_ bacteria. Onset of symptoms varies from a few hours to several days after exposure to the bacteria or toxins. Symptoms can include blurred or double vision, facial muscle weakness, difficulty swallowing, slurred speech and breathing difficulties.  [Byline: Joe Whitworth]
===================
[Given the vehicle, botulism type E is the likely culprit here.

The following was extracted from ProMED-mail Botulism, smoked fish - Finland ex Canada http://promedmail.org/post/20060721.2000: _Clostridium botulinum_ type E is naturally highly prevalent in aquatic environments and fish, leading to a high risk of contamination. The hot-smoking processes are usually too low to eliminate botulinum spores. Growth and toxin production from spores in vacuum-packed smoked fish products with anaerobic atmosphere and limited preservative factors is likely during extended storage at temperatures above 3 deg C (37.4 deg F). Therefore the most important factors controlling _C. botulinum_ growth and toxin production are efficient heat treatments, restricted shelf life, and continuous storage below 3 deg C (37.4 deg F). - ProMED Mod.LL]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of Norway:
More ...

Samoa

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

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

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Tue 4 Feb 2020
Source: Samoa News [abridged, edited]

While there are no new laboratory-confirmed measles cases for American Samoa as of 1 Feb [2020], health officials are awaiting results of one suspected case sent to the Hawaii state lab. This was the latest update provided by the health department and LBJ Medical Center during a cabinet briefing late on Sunday afternoon [2 Feb 2020] on the new coronavirus and measles outbreaks.

Based on data shared by the Samoa Ministry of Health, the department of health [DoH] informed cabinet members that numbers remain the same for measles cases in the independent state since the last briefing on 26 Jan [2020], with 5707 total cases and 83 deaths.

For American Samoa, DoH's Dr Saipale Fuimaono said that as of 2 Feb [2020], the total number of confirmed laboratory cases remain at 15, which is the same from the 26 Jan [2020] briefing. He added that there is one pending case, for which a sample was sent to the Hawaii laboratory for testing.

Data provided by LBJ shows that the suspected case is a female, 24, from Falenui, who was born in American Samoa with no travel history outside of the territory. The person has had the 1st MMR shot. She was seen at the hospital with a rash on her forehead accompanied by a fever and cough. She was treated and released the same day while swabs were taken and sent to Hawaii.

LBJ's Dr Annie Fuavai said if the results come back negative, the person will be given the 2nd MMR shot. As with previous suspected and confirmed cases, DoH carried out the usual contact tracing, checking on those who came in contact with the individual.

DoH also provided the latest update on its MMR overall coverage for both public and private schools as well as day-care centres. As of 1 Feb [2020], a total of 99.7% of children 12 years and older have been given the 1st MMR dose, leaving only 0.3% -- or 44 children -- needing shots.

For students 14 years and older who have received the 2 MMR shots, the percentage has reached 98.4%, leaving 1.6% -- or 208 [students] -- needing the 2nd MMR dose. Of those needing to complete the 2 MMR doses, 83 students are in public elementary schools and 72 attend private elementary schools. For high schools, 34 students in the public education system and 12 in private schools still need to get the 2nd MMR shot.

Education director Dr Ruth Matagi-Tofiga requested that DoH re-check their records for public schools, saying there may be cases of students who have already received both doses but are not properly recorded, as well as students who moved off island.

Governor Lolo Matalasi Moliga reiterated what he had said in previous briefings: ensure all students get their required immunization shots, especially the 44 who are required to get the 1st MMR dose. According to DoH, medical staff will carry out school visits again this week from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. to update immunization records. DoH this week also continues vaccinations at the same 5 sites as last week.

DoH data on border control for the Pago Pago International Airport shows that 15 passengers were denied entry between 27 Jan and 1 Feb [2020]. There was no explanation on whether the denied entries were passengers from Samoa or Hawaiian Airlines. At the conclusion of the briefing, Lolo said there are no changes to current policies implemented to address both the measles and coronavirus.  [byline: Fili Sagapolutele]
=====================
[This is good news, as the outbreak appears to be basically over, and the vaccination campaign is continuing. - ProMED Mod.LK]
Date: Thu 30 Jan 2020
Source: Kealaka'i [abridged, edited]

Measles continues to spread like wildfire through Samoa, with about 50 cases being reported per day, according to the official Government of Samoa Twitter. The number of dead, as of 14 Dec [2019] is 72, with more than 5200 people sick. Most of the dead are children. BYU-Hawaii professors said much of the problem comes from low vaccination rates, caused by fear and misinformation being spread throughout the Pacific.

Colby Weeks, assistant professor of science, added, "There are thousands of people who are horribly sick and going to the hospitals, putting a massive strain on the healthcare system. This is imminently avoidable because of the healthcare system. Headlines always say deaths, but there is a lot more going on than those individuals. Pick the easiest route and get vaccinated."

Line Kruse, a special instructor, explained the situation is occurring all across Oceania, but it is worst in Samoa. "There is an epidemic in Samoa. There have also been measles reported by the World Health Organization and UNICEF in New Zealand, Australia, Tonga, and Fiji.

"It has been declared a state of emergency in the Kingdom of Tonga, the Republic of the Fiji Islands, and Samoa. Samoa, however, is the only country in Oceania, as of this entire year [2019], that has this many reported deaths."

Akanoa shared the death toll is so high in Samoa because their vaccination rate is much lower than the other Pacific Islands. "This is due to a lack of understanding with parents about how important it is to vaccinate your children. There are still people out there who don't believe in vaccination. With this outbreak, we know it is the only solution."

According to one NPR article, the vaccination rate dropped from 58% in 2018 to 31% in 2019. The situation has become urgent, and unvaccinated homes are being marked with red flags as part of a mass door-to-door vaccination campaign by the government.

"People also rely heavily on their faith," shared Akanoa. "When things like this happen, they have this really great faith Heavenly Father will not let anything worse happen. When children started dying, they finally realize that maybe God wants them to do something about it."

Kruse said, "The government of Samoa has gone through several series of responses to the measles epidemic. They started to mandate vaccinations, but as of 5 and 6 Dec [2019], they have shut down the government. They have shut down roads. They have shut down public gatherings."

One purpose of the government shutdown, said Akanoa, is because "all the government workers in the public sector are going out to help with vaccinations and to assist families."

The biggest argument of anti-vaccination supporters in Oceania, or anti-vaxxers, according to Kruse, is that vaccinations made in India, which is where most Oceanic countries get their vaccinations, are lower quality than European-made vaccines.

"The anti-vaxxers are trying to create this false narrative that [vaccines] from India are bad for you, which is very Eurocentric and downright racist ... It is reckless because there are no scientific journals that validate any deaths attributed to manufacture vaccines from India," she explained.

One anti-vaxxer on Twitter wrote, "Talking with friends. Most are pro-vax, but none of them want to harm their children with this Indian vaccine. People are really going to be hiding their children in the attic to protect them from the government." He attached a screenshot of a text saying, "I'd rather infect my kids with measles than inject them with those cheap Indian vaccines."

The anti-vaccination sentiment came right on the heels of a tragic mix-up in vaccines in Samoa in 2018, said both Akanoa and Kruse. The vaccine, which is supposed to be mixed with water, was combined with muscle relaxer by 2 nurses in Samoa, explained Kruse. Two young children were killed.

"Parents were afraid to take their kids to get the vaccination," shared Akanoa. "[Parents] hear horror stories and freak out."

According to Kruse, another unfortunate side effect of disasters like this is that charlatans, or people who use deception to obtain money from people, begin to appear. One such man, Fritz Alai'asa, showed up during the measles epidemic.

"A man has come into Samoa and set up shop," she shared. "Kangen water is what he had said is going to cure them. 'Pay me 10 tala [WST 10 / USD 3.68]. Bring your family,' he says. So, the family comes, and hegets this Kangen water, this alkaline water, and he sprinkles it on them."  [Byline: Haeley van der Werf]
Date: Tue 7 Jan 2020
Source: Xinhuanet [abridged, edited]

Samoa's Ministry of Health confirmed on Tuesday [7 Jan 2020] 2 more deaths in the island nation's measles epidemic, bringing the death toll to 83 since the measles outbreak in mid-October [2019]. The Samoan Ministry of Health said that the 2 fatalities, an infant and [an] adult, died between 29 Dec last year [2019] and 5 Jan this year [2020].

A total of 5697 measles cases have been reported to the Disease Surveillance Team so far, with 30 new cases recorded during the same period. A total of 16 people with measles are currently hospitalized in the island nation, including 4 critically ill children.

Currently, there are no travel restrictions or vaccination requirement for those travelling to Samoa.

With the latest measles case, the reopening of day-care centres in Samoa has now been delayed until next week, but public schools will resume on Tuesday [7 Jan 2020] as planned. Death may occur in up to 5-10% of infected young children in developing countries.
Date: Thu, 5 Dec 2019 00:51:07 +0100 (MET)
By Neil SANDS

Wellington, Dec 4, 2019 (AFP) - Samoa entered a two-day lockdown Thursday as authorities launched an unprecedented mass vaccination campaign to contain a deadly measles outbreak that has devastated the Pacific island nation.   Officials ordered all businesses and non-essential government services to close, shut down inter-island ferry services and told private cars to keep off the roads.

Residents were advised to stay in their homes and display a red flag if they were not yet immunised as hundreds of vaccination teams fanned out across the nation of 200,000 in the early hours of the morning.   The operation, carried out under emergency powers invoked as the epidemic took hold last month, is a desperate bid to halt an inexorably rising death toll that reached 62 on Thursday, most of them young children.   "I've seen mass mobilisation campaigns before, but not over an entire country like this," UNICEF's Pacific island chief Sheldon Yett told AFP.   "That's what we're doing right now. This entire country is being vaccinated."

Immunisation rates in Samoa were about 30 percent before the outbreak and have risen to more than 55 percent since a compulsory mass vaccination campaign began a fortnight ago.   Yett said the aim of this week's two-day drive was to push the rate above 90 percent, which should help curb the current outbreak and stop future epidemics.   He said the normally busy streets of the capital Apia were almost deserted early Thursday.   "It's very, very quiet out here. I can just hear a few barking dogs. The streets are empty. There are no cars," he said.   "People are staying at home waiting for the vaccination campaign. The teams are getting their supplies together and getting ready to go out."   Even Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi's residence had a red flag fluttering outside it, with the leader saying his nephew had recently arrived from Australia and needed a measles shot.

Malielegaoi said he was angered by anecdotal reports that some parents were encouraging their children to hide from the vaccination teams to avoid the mandatory immunisation injection.    "The message is that we have vaccinated a lot of people and they are OK," he told reporters.   "The only cure for this is vaccination... having your children vaccinated is the only way."   Children are the most vulnerable to measles, which typically causes a rash and fever but can also lead to brain damage and death.

The latest figures show that 54 of the 62 dead were aged four or less and infants account for most of the 4,217 cases recorded since the outbreak began in mid-October.   There have also been measles epidemics in neighbouring Fiji and Tonga, but higher immunisation rates mean they have been more easily contained, with no fatalities.
Date: Tue, 3 Dec 2019 06:07:45 +0100 (MET)

Wellington, Dec 3, 2019 (AFP) - The World Health Organisation warned of a "slide back" in global efforts to eliminate measles Tuesday, as the death toll from an outbreak that has killed dozens of children in Samoa continued to climb.   A total of 55 people have died since the epidemic began in mid-October, 50 of them children aged four or under, officials in the Pacific nation said Tuesday.   Another 18 infants are critically ill in hospital and the crisis shows no sign of slowing, with 153 new cases in the past 24 hours, taking the national total to 3,881 in a population of 200,000.   Emergency measures including compulsory mass immunisations and school closures have so far done little to stop the virus spreading in a country that was particularly vulnerable to measles due to low vaccination rates of about 31 percent.

World Health Organisation (WHO) medical officer for the western Pacific, Jose Hagan, said it was a grim reminder of the danger posed by "probably the most infectious disease that we know of".   "Unfortunately the case (to) fatality rate of measles is much higher than people realise," he told Radio New Zealand.   "This is quite a severe disease and we just aren't used to seeing it, so it comes as quite a surprise when we see how fatal it can be."   He said the fatality rate in Samoa was less than two percent but had been known to reach five percent in developing countries.

Hagen said increased access to measles vaccines was estimated to have saved 21 million lives over the past 20 years.   "But we are starting to have a slide back and there are outbreaks happening all over the world in all WHO regions and it's leading to the virus being exported through international travel," he said.   Cases have skyrocketed in Europe, leading to Britain, Greece, the Czech Republic and Albania all losing their measles-free status in August.   The United States narrowly maintained its "measles eliminated" status a few months later, despite experiencing its worst outbreak since 1992.   The WHO has pointed to various reasons for declining immunisation rates including lack of access to healthcare and complacency about the need to vaccinate.

Another major factor, which has been cited by the WHO as a reason for the severity of the Samoa outbreak, is misinformation about immunisation from anti-vaccine campaigners.   Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi this week said vaccination was the only answer to the epidemic.   He has ordered the government to cease non-essential operations on Thursday and Friday so public servants can help a mandatory vaccination campaign that aims to give anti-measles jabs to everyone aged below 60.
More ...

Laos

Laos - US Consular Information Sheet
March 27, 2008
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION: The Lao People's Democratic Republic (Laos) is a poor, developing country ruled by an authoritarian, Communist, one-party government. Political power is centralized in the
Lao People's Revolutionary Party. Services and facilities for tourists are adequate in the capital, Vientiane, and the UNESCO World Heritage town of Luang Prabang, but are extremely limited in other parts of the country. Read the Department of State Background Notes on Laos for additional information.

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:
A passport and visa are required. The Lao Ministry of Foreign Affairs states that visas can be issued upon arrival in Laos to U.S. citizen tourists with two passport-size photographs and $35 at the following ports of entry: Wattay Airport, Vientiane; Friendship Bridge, Vientiane, Pakse and Luang Prabang Airports; Boten-Bohan and Vangtao-Chong Mek. Persons who obtain entry visas prior to their arrival in Laos may also enter at the following international entry points: Huaixay, Khammouane-Nakhonphanom, Savannakhet-Mukdahan, Daensayanh-Laobao, Namphao-Kaopae, and Namkan. Foreign tourists are generally admitted to Laos for 30 days. The Department of Immigration in Vientiane will extend 30-day tourist visas up to an additional 60 days for a fee of $2 per day. Foreigners who overstay their visas in Laos risk arrest and upon departure will be fined $10 for each day of overstay.
The Lao government requires payment of visa fees and fines in U.S. dollars. Thai baht and Lao kip may sometimes be accepted for the fees, but at unfavorable exchange rates.

Foreign tourists who wish to obtain a visa in advance may contact a Lao embassy or consulate. In the United States, visas and further information about Lao entry requirements can be obtained directly from the Embassy of the Lao People's Democratic Republic, 2222 S St. NW, Washington DC 20008, tel: 202-332-6416, fax: 202-332-4923.

Business visas can only be arranged in advance; a company or individual “sponsor” must contact the Lao Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) in Vientiane and request a visa for the traveler by offering a “guarantee.” Once this request is approved by the MFA, the approval will be communicated to the Lao Embassy in Washington, DC and the U.S. traveler may then apply for the business visa. This process normally takes 1-3 months. After the traveler’s arrival, these visas can usually be extended for one month.

U.S. citizens should not attempt to enter Laos without valid travel documents or outside of official ports of entry. Travelers should not cross the border between Laos and Thailand along the Mekong River except at official immigration check crossings. Unscrupulous travel agents have sold U.S.-citizen travelers false Lao visas, which have resulted in those travelers being denied entry into Laos. Persons attempting to enter Laos outside of official ports of entry risk arrest or other serious consequences.
Immigration offices at some of the less-used land border crossing points are not well marked. Travelers should make sure that they complete immigration and customs formalities when they enter Laos. Travelers who enter Laos without completing these formalities may be subject to fine, detention, imprisonment, and/or deportation.

In an effort to prevent international child abduction, many governments have initiated procedures at entry/exit points. These often include requiring documentary evidence of relationship, such as the child’s birth certificate, and permission for the child's travel from the parent(s) or legal guardian not present. Having such documentation on hand, even if not required, may facilitate entry/departure.

At Wattay Airport (Vientiane), Pakse Airport and the Luang Prabang Airport, there is an international airport departure tax of US$10. This tax may be included in the price of the airline ticket, depending on the carrier.
At the Friendship Bridge (Vientiane, Laos - Nong Khai, Thailand border crossing) there is an overtime fee after 4:00 pm weekdays and during weekends. Visit the web site of the Embassy of Laos in the Untied States at: http://www.laoembassy.com for the more visa information.

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

SAFETY AND SECURITY:
In recent years (2003-2005), there were periodic incidents of attacks on buses and other vehicles that killed 22 people; small bombings in public places; and other incidents of violence by anti-government forces. In 2007, the Embassy received reports from multiple sources of sporadic fighting between Lao Government forces and unidentified opponents in the area of Vang Vieng in northern Vientiane Province and in Bokeo Province. The Department of State recommends that U.S. citizens traveling or residing in Laos exercise caution in public places and be alert to their surroundings, since the locations of future violent incidents are unpredictable.
Travelers are advised to be cautious when traveling the roads of Laos and to check with local authorities, transport companies, other travelers, and/or the Embassy regarding any recent developments prior to travel. Road obstacles such as changes in surface conditions due to the weather occur frequently.

The Lao Government security forces often stop and check all transport on main roads. Travelers should comply with requests to stop at checkpoints and roadblocks.
U.S. citizens, especially those considering travel outside urban centers, are advised to contact relevant Lao government offices, such as Lao Immigration Police Headquarters in Vientiane, the Lao Tourist Police, local police and customs offices, or contact the U.S. Embassy for the most current security information. To avoid trouble with the authorities, U.S. citizens traveling outside of normal tourist areas or contemplating any unusual activity (including, but not limited to, engaging in business, extensive photography, or scientific research of any kind) should consider seeking advance permission from the Village Chief, District Head, Provincial Governor, or National Tourism Authority, as appropriate.

More than 100 casualties per year are caused by the large amount of unexploded ordnance (UXO) in Laos left over from the Indochina War. Savannakhet, Xieng Khouang, Saravane, Khammouane, Sekong, Champassak, Houaphan, Attapeu, and Luang Prabang Provinces and parts of Vientiane Province are severely contaminated by UXO. In addition, numerous mine fields are left over from the war, including mine fields along Route 7 (from Route 13 to the Vietnam border), Route 9 (Savannakhet to the Vietnam border), and Route 20 (Pakse to Saravane). While traveling in Laos, U.S. citizens should never pick up unknown metal objects and should avoid traveling off of well-used roads, tracks and paths.

U.S. citizens considering travel by air, road or river within Laos are advised to carefully evaluate the relative risks of the three modes of transport (see sections on Aviation Safety Oversight, Traffic Safety, and River Travel below). Travelers should also exercise caution if contemplating swimming in rivers in Laos. Currents can be deceptive and strong.

The whereabouts of three Hmong-American men who went missing in August 2007 after reportedly going on a business trip to Xieng Khouang Province remains unknown. The Government of Laos stated that the three departed Laos, but none of the three has contacted family members in the U.S. since they were last seen in 2007.

U.S. citizens are also advised to exercise caution in remote areas along the Lao border with Burma. Bandits, drug traffickers, and other people pursuing illegal activities operate in these border areas, as do armed insurgent groups opposed to the government of Burma.
Travelers should be aware that from 2004 to 2006, seven Lao- and Hmong-American citizens have been murdered in northern and northeastern Thailand near the border with Laos.
During the same period, a number of non-Americans with ties to Laos have also been murdered in this region of Thailand. In addition, in March 2006 a Hmong-American disappeared from his residence in Chiang Mai along with seven other individuals. In most of these cases, no arrests have been made.
If U.S. citizens, particularly Lao-Americans or Hmong-Americans, must travel to these areas, they should exercise caution and remain vigilant with regard to their personal security. It is also recommended that persons wishing to travel to border areas check first with the Thai Police and the U.S. Consulate General in Chiang Mai or the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok or the U.S. Embassy in Vientiane.
For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs’ web site at http://travel.state.gov, where the current Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts, as well as the Worldwide Caution, can be found.

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

The Department of State urges American citizens to take responsibility for their own personal security while traveling overseas.
For general information about appropriate measures travelers can take to protect themselves in an overseas environment, see the Department of State’s pamphlet A Safe Trip Abroad.
CRIME:
While Laos generally has a low rate of violent crime, it is not immune from crime. While in Laos, Americans should remain aware of their surroundings and exercise appropriate security precautions. With the introduction of methamphetamines and other illicit drugs, thefts and assaults in Vientiane have increased and some have turned violent.
Bag-snatching is increasingly frequent and sexual assaults have also occurred. Residential burglary is commonplace. Expatriates attempting to report burglaries in progress to the police often find that police telephones are not answered or they are informed that the police are not authorized to respond to criminal activity at night or that they have no transportation. U.S. citizens who move to Vientiane are encouraged to contact the U.S. Embassy for security advice.

Travelers in Vientiane should exercise caution, particularly after dark, at roadside restaurants and stalls near the banks of the Mekong River. Foreigners are often the victims of purse snatchings while sitting down to eat or while riding bicycles or motorcycles in this area. To help ensure the security of valuables and documents carried on their person, travelers may wish to carry them in bags that cannot be easily stolen. U.S. citizens traveling to Vang Vieng should be aware that some tourists have been robbed and assaulted while walking alone to the caves on the far side of the Nam Song River.
Camping at night anywhere except in authorized campgrounds in national parks is dangerous.
Many restaurants in popular tourist locations in the Vang Vieng area offer menu items, particularly “pizzas,” “shakes” or “teas” which may contain unknown substances or opiates. These products are often advertised as “happy” or “special” items. These unknown foods and drinks can be dangerous, causing illness and death.

INFORMATION FOR VICTIMS OF CRIME:
The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate for assistance. The Embassy/Consulate staff can, for example, assist you to find appropriate medical care, contact family members or friends and explain how funds could be transferred. Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed.
See our information on Victims of Crime.

MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:
Medical facilities and services in Laos are limited and do not meet Western standards. In Vientiane, U.S. citizens may wish to contact the Primary Care Center also known as the Centre medical de L’Ambassade de France (CMAF), which is supported by the French Embassy.
The CMAF is located on Khou Vieng Road across the street from the Green Park Hotel, Tel. +856-21-214-150, or +856-20-558-4617, email: cmafloa@gmail.com.
U.S. citizens in Laos often seek medical care in Thailand. The Friendship Bridge linking Vientiane, Laos, to Nong Khai, Thailand, is open daily 6:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. Officials generally will allow travelers to cross after hours in cases of medical emergency. AEK International Hospital (tel: 66-42-342-555) and North Eastern Wattana General Hospital, both in Udorn, Thailand (tel: 66-1-833-4262) have English-speaking staff accustomed to dealing with foreign patients. Nong Khai Wattana Hospital in Nong Khai, Thailand (tel: 66-1-833-4262) can handle most simple medical procedures. Ambulances for both AEK International Hospital and Nong Khai Wattana Hospital have permission to cross the Friendship Bridge to collect patients from Vientiane. In Vientiane, the Setthatirat Hospital ambulance (tel: 021-413-720) can take patients to Thailand. The Department of State assumes no responsibility for the professional ability or reputation of these hospitals.

Avian Influenza:
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the World Health Organization (WHO), and Lao authorities have confirmed the presence in Laos of the H5N1 strain of avian influenza, commonly known as “bird flu.” In 2007, two Lao nationals died after contracting the H4N1 virus. Travelers to Laos and other countries affected by the virus are cautioned to avoid poultry farms, contact with animals in live food markets, and any surfaces that appear to be contaminated with feces from poultry or other animals. In addition, the CDC and WHO recommend eating only fully cooked poultry and eggs. The Lao government’s avian influenza hotline may be reached by calling 166 from anywhere in Laos.
This hotline may be used to report suspected cases of avian influenza in animals or humans, or to obtain information on areas in Laos where avian influenza may have been recently detected.
Operators speak Lao and English.
For the most current information and links on avian influenza in Laos, see the State Department’s Avian Influenza Fact Sheet or visit the website of the U.S. Embassy in Laos.

There is a problem with counterfeit pharmaceuticals throughout Southeast Asia. American citizens should be aware of this problem and purchase pharmaceuticals only through the most reputable pharmacies with a physician’s prescription.

Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC’s web site at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/default.aspx.
For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization’s (WHO) web site at http://www.who.int/en.
Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith/en.

MEDICAL INSURANCE:
The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation. Please see our information on medical insurance overseas.

TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS: While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Laos is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.

The number of road accidents and fatalities in Laos has risen sharply in the last decade as the number of motor vehicles has increased. U.S. citizens involved in traffic accidents have been barred from leaving Laos before paying compensation for property damage or injuries, regardless of who was at fault.
A driver involved in a traffic accident should remain at the scene and attempt to contact the police or wait for them to arrive to prepare an accident report.
If renting a car or motorcycle, contact the rental company and its insurance agent.
If there is major damage, injury or death, contact the Consular Section or Embassy Duty Officer.

Traffic in Laos is chaotic and road conditions are very rough. Few roads have lane markings. Where lane markings, road signs, and stoplights do exist, they are widely ignored. Many drivers are unlicensed, inexperienced and uninsured. Driving under the influence of alcohol or illegal drugs is not uncommon, and penalties for such offenses may not be enforced. Theoretically, traffic moves on the right, but vehicles use all parts of the road. Motorcyclists pay little or no heed to cars. Motorcycles carry as many as five people, greatly impeding the drivers' ability to react to traffic. The evening hours are particularly dangerous. Road construction sites are poorly marked, appear with no advance warning, and can be difficult to see at night. Roads are poorly lit, many vehicles have no operating lights, few bicycles have reflectors, and trucks without reflectors commonly park on unlit roads.

Public transportation is unreliable and is limited after sunset. The most common form of public transport is three-wheeled, open-sided taxis called "tuk-tuks.” Automobile taxis or cars for hire are available at the airport, the Friendship Bridge, and most major hotels, and near the Morning Market in Vientiane. Tuk-tuks and taxis are frequently in poor repair, and drivers generally speak little or no English. Inter-city transport is provided by buses, pickups, and trucks, which are also often in poor repair.

Emergency services in Laos are either unreliable or non-existent. Lao road traffic regulations require any driver coming upon a road accident to assist in transporting injured persons to a hospital. Emergency telephone numbers in Vientiane are Fire: 190, Ambulance: 195 or 021-413-720, Traffic Police: 191, Tourist Police: 021-251-128 (only for incidents involving tourists). Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.

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

SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:
TRAVEL OF FOREIGNERS WITHIN LAOS:
The Lao tourist police have informed foreign tourists that a licensed Lao tour guide must accompany any group of more than 5 foreign tourists; however, this regulation does not appear to be strictly enforced.
The authorities may restrict travel in rural areas outside of popular tourist destinations. Restricted areas may not be marked or even widely known by local citizens. If traveling without a reputable tour guide who is aware of local conditions, travelers should consult with local authorities before entering remote areas away from obvious tourist destinations.
Lao citizens who wish to have a foreign citizen -- including a family member -- stay in their home must obtain prior approval from the village chief. The foreigner may be held responsible if the Lao host has not secured prior permission for the visit. American citizens are strongly advised to ensure that such permission has been sought and granted before accepting offers to stay in Lao homes.
Security personnel may at times place foreign visitors under surveillance. Hotel rooms, telephones and fax machines may be monitored, and personal possessions in hotel rooms may be searched. Taking photographs of anything that could be perceived as being of military or security interest may result in problems with the local authorities. See Section below on Photography and Other Restrictions.

RELATIONSHIPS WITH LAO CITIZENS:
Lao law prohibits sexual contact between foreign citizens and Lao nationals except when the two parties have been married in accordance with Lao Family Law. Any foreigner who enters into a sexual relationship with a Lao national risks being interrogated, detained, arrested, or fined. Lao police have confiscated passports and imposed fines of up to $5000 on foreigners who enter into disapproved sexual relationships. The Lao party to the relationship may also be jailed without trial. Foreigners are not permitted to invite Lao nationals of the opposite sex to their hotel rooms; police may raid hotel rooms without notice or consent.

Foreign citizens intending to marry Lao nationals are required by Lao law to obtain prior permission from the Lao Government. The formal application process can take as long as a year. American citizens may obtain information about these requirements from the U.S. Embassy in Vientiane. The Lao Government will not issue a marriage certificate unless the correct procedures are followed. Any attempt to circumvent Lao regulations may result in arrest, imprisonment, a fine of $500-$5000, and deportation. A foreigner who cohabits with or enters into a close relationship with a Lao national may be accused by Lao authorities of entering into an illegal marriage and be subject to these same penalties.
A foreign citizen who wishes to become engaged to a Lao national is required to obtain prior permission from the chief of the village where the Lao national resides. Failure to obtain prior permission can result in a fine of $500-$5000. Lao police may impose a large fine on a foreign citizen a few days after he or she holds an engagement ceremony with a Lao citizen based on the suspicion that the couple subsequently had sexual relations out of wedlock.

MARRIAGE:
A Lao Prime Ministerial decree requires that marriages of Lao citizens abroad be registered with Lao embassies in order to be legal in Laos. If an American citizen marries a Lao citizen in the U.S. and then the couple comes to Laos, the American could be subject to penalties under the Lao law governing sexual relationships (above) if the marriage has not been registered beforehand with a Lao Embassy.

RELIGIOUS WORKERS:
Religious proselytizing or distributing religious material is strictly prohibited. Foreigners caught distributing religious material may be arrested or deported. The Government of Laos restricts the importation of religious texts and artifacts. While Lao law allows freedom of religion, the Government registers and controls all associations, including religious groups. Meetings, even in private homes, must be registered and those held outside of established locations may be broken up and the participants arrested.

RIVER TRAVEL:
River travel is common in Laos, but safety conditions do not conform to U.S. standards. In particular, travel by speedboat (local term “fast boat”) is dangerous and should be avoided, particularly during the dry season, which generally occurs from December through April. Travel on or across the Mekong River along the Thai border should be avoided at night. Lao militia forces have shot at boats on the Mekong after dark. Several people have drowned during the rainy season while inner-tubing or swimming in the Nam Song River near Vang Vieng.

PHOTOGRAPHY AND OTHER RESTRICTIONS:
Taking photographs of anything that could be perceived as being of military or security interest — including bridges, airfields, military installations, government buildings, or government vehicles — may result in problems with authorities, including detention or arrest and confiscation of the camera. Tourists should be cautious when traveling near military bases and strictly observe signs delineating the military base areas. Military personnel have detained and questioned foreigners who have unknowingly passed by unmarked military facilities.
Because of the prohibition on religious proselytizing, travelers should use caution when taking photographs or videotaping non-Buddhist religious services. If attending public services or religious gatherings, foreigners should ask permission from the local police and civil authorities to photograph or videotape. See section above on Religious Workers. Local police may suspect persons using any kind of very sophisticated still or video camera equipment of being professional photographers or possibly photojournalists which may lead to questioning, detention, arrest or deportation by the police.

FINANCIAL TRANSACTIONS:
There are network-connected ATMs in Vientiane, including those operated by the Foreign Commercial Bank of Laos, also know as the Banque Pour le Commerce Exterieur de Laos (BCEL). BCEL also has network-connected ATMS in Vang Vieng, and the Provincial capital cities, or “Muang”, of Luangnamtha, Oudomxay, Luangprabang, Khammouan, Savannakhet, and Champasak Provinces.
These machines are generally limited to withdrawals of the equivalent of about $100.00 in Lao kip only. Credit cards are accepted at major hotels and tourist-oriented businesses. Credit card cash advances and/or Western Union money transfers are available at banks in most provincial capitals and other tourist centers. While the government requires that prices be quoted in Lao kip, prices are often given in U.S. dollars or Thai baht, especially in tourist areas or at markets. The Lao Government requires payment in U.S. dollars for some taxes and fees, including visa fees and the airport departure tax.

CUSTOMS/CURRENCY REGULATIONS:
Lao customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation into or export from Laos of items such as firearms, religious materials, antiquities, foreign currency, cameras and other items. It is advisable to contact the Embassy of the Lao People's Democratic Republic in Washington for specific information regarding customs requirements. (Please also see section on “Religious Workers” above). There are prohibitions against importing or exporting more than $2500 (U.S. dollar equivalent) of currency without authorization. Contact the Lao Embassy or Lao customs authorities for more details. In many countries around the world, counterfeit and pirated goods are widely available. Transactions involving such products are illegal and bringing them back to the United States may result in forfeitures and/or fines.
Please see our Customs Information.

CRIMINAL PENALTIES:
While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating Lao laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Laos are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines. Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime, prosecutable in the United States. Please see our information on Criminal Penalties.

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

REGISTRATION/EMBASSY LOCATION:
Americans living or traveling in Laos are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department’s travel registration web site so that they can obtain updated information on travel and security within Laos. 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 on Rue Bartholonie (near Tat Dam), in Vientiane; from the U.S., mail may be addressed to U.S. Embassy Vientiane, Unit 8165, Box V, APO AP 96546; Telephone (856-21) 267-000, recorded emergency information for American citizens (856-21) 267-111; duty officer emergency cellular telephone (856-20) 550-2016; Embassy-wide fax number (856-21) 267-190; Consular Section e-mail: CONSLAO@state.gov, Embassy web site: http://laos.usembassy.gov/.
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This replaces the Country Specific Information for Laos dated September 5, 2007, to update sections on Entry/Exit Requirements, Safety and Security, Traffic Safety and Road Conditions, and Financial Transactions.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Thu, 21 Nov 2019 01:34:32 +0100 (MET)

Bangkok, Nov 21, 2019 (AFP) - A 6.1-magnitude earthquake hit north-western Laos near the Thai border early Thursday, the United States Geological Survey reported.    The shallow quake hit at 6:50 am local time (2350 Wednesday GMT), USGS said. 
Date: Thu, 31 Oct 2019 09:40:50 +0100 (MET)

Loei, Thailand, Oct 31, 2019 (AFP) - The once-mighty Mekong river has been reduced to a thin, grubby neck of water in stretches of northern Thailand -- record lows blamed on drought and a recently completed dam far upstream.   The $4.47 billion Thai-owned Xayaburi hydro-electric power plant went into operation this week in Laos after years of warnings over the potential impact on fish flow, sediment and water levels on a river which feeds tens of millions.

Along parts of Thailand's northeastern border at Loei, the kilometre-wide (3,300-foot) river has shrivelled to a few dozen metres, with boulders and bedrock encasing muddy pools of water.   From above, the encroaching banks of Laos and Thailand are now a thread of water apart, restricting fishing grounds to a slim channel.   Fishermen blame a combination of this year's weak monsoon and the Xayaburi dam, around 300 kilometres (185 miles) to the north.   "I don't want any more dam construction," said fisherman Sup Aunkaew, who tossed a meagre catch into his boat, adding that the fish spawning habits have been "confused" by the unseasonally low water levels.   "But we can't really oppose their plans if they want to do it."

Landlocked and impoverished Laos has set its sights on becoming "the battery of Asia", with 44 operating hydro plants and 46 more under construction many on key tributaries of the Mekong, according to monitor International Rivers.  The Mekong River Commission (MRC), a body governing regional water diplomacy, said the water levels from June to October are the lowest in nearly 30 years.   In Nong Khai, which faces the Laos' capital Vientiane, the water dropped to around one metre (3.2 feet) on Tuesday, several times shallower than average, the MCR said.   Measurements across the river "are significantly below the minimum levels for this time of year and are expected to decreases further", it said in a statement to AFP.   "The concern is for the upcoming dry season."

- 'Death of a thousand cuts' -
Experts say the dam-building frenzy in China and Laos has compounded the drought.   "These are causing the Mekong to die a death of a thousand cuts," said Brian Eyler, author of "The Last Days of the Mighty Mekong".   He said the lower part of the river is at a "crisis point" until rains come again next year.   The Mekong, which rises on the Tibetan plateau and courses through China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam -- sustains tens of millions of people along its banks through fishing and agriculture. 

The 1,285-megawatt Xayaburi dam was built by CKPower -- a subsidiary of the Thai builder and majority shareholder CH Karnchang -- which went ahead with construction despite protests in Thailand, which is buying most of the electricity.   As it began operations the company plastered Thai newspapers with advertising this week referring to the "greatness of the Mekong" and calling the dam "fish riendly".   It did not respond to several requests for comment but the company has trumpeted its commitment to clean, sustainable energy.   In July the dam operator denied tests on the mega-structure were responsible for the river drying up downstream in northeastern Thailand.
Date: Tue, 20 Aug 2019 05:21:07 +0200 (METDST)

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

Traffic accidents in Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Myanmar are common, with safety regulations often flouted and law enforcement low.    The monsoon season from June to October also drenches rural roads with heavy rains creating slippery conditions.   Tourism to communist-run Laos has grown in recent years, and visitors from China increased by 13 percent in the first half of 2019 compared to the year before, according to the state-backed Vientiane Times.
Date: Sat, 28 Jul 2018 13:48:53 +0200

Attapeu , Laos, July 28, 2018 (AFP) - Rescuers battled thick mud and flood waters across a swathe of remote southern Laos to find survivors of a deadly dam burst that submerged entire villages, as an official suggested faulty construction may have led to the disaster.   The exact number of dead and missing from Monday's dam collapse remains a mystery because of the complexity of the rescue operation in an inaccessible area and the secretive reflexes of Laos's Communist authorities in the face of an unprecedented crisis.

"The search is very complicated, many areas cannot be accessed by cars or boats. Also we have limited modern equipment to bring to the field," deputy secretary of Attapeu province committee Meenaporn Chaichompoo told reporters Friday.   The head of the rescue mission Kumriang Authakaison said Saturday that eight people are confirmed dead, down from 27 reported by officials earlier this week. He added that 123 were confirmed missing.    But conflicting information swirled about how many remain unaccounted for after Chaichompoo said Friday "we can't find 1,126 people", without elaborating. 

Makeshift shelters are packed with thousands of people who fled their homes in panic with just a few hours' notice of the impending disaster, now spending their days on plastic mats waiting for news of missing neighbours.    All karaoke bars and entertainment venues were ordered tone down loud music and celebrations in the province as the nation mourned the calamity, the most devastating to hit Laos's contentious hydropower sector.

A stretch of land dozens of kilometres long and wide was submerged when the Xe-Namnoy dam collapsed after heavy rains.    Slowly retreating floodwaters have cut off access to villages and covered much of the area with thick, sticky mud.      "This is one of the worst (disasters) I've ever seen. Especially because we're not a very strong country in terms of rescue operations," a volunteer rescue worker told AFP, requesting anonymity as he was not authorised to speak to media.

- Poor construction? -
Days into the treacherous search for survivors, questions are being raised about the quality of the construction of the $1.2 billion dam, a joint venture between South Korean, Laotian and Thai firms.    Operators said it burst after heavy rains in a country regularly battered by monsoons.

But Laos Minister of Energy and Mines Khammany Inthirath said poor design may have contributed to the accident, according to state media and Radio Free Asia.   "It might be construction technique that led to the collapse after it was affected by the rain," he told RFA in an interview broadcast Friday.    One of the Korean firms involved in the project, SK Engineering & Construction, said it was investigating the cause of the dam break and would donate $10 million in relief aid.   The accident has kicked up criticism of Laos' ambitious dam-building scheme as it bids to become a major power exporter, billing itself the "battery of Asia" with more than 50 projects set to o online by 2020.     The majority of energy generated in the tiny, landlocked country is sold to its neighbours, mostly to Thailand where much of it is sucked up in the sweaty, energy-hungry capital Bangkok.

Villagers have complained of being relocated -- sometimes repeatedly -- while river waters crucial for fishing and farming have been diverted, destroying livelihoods in one of Asia's poorest countries.    Downstream countries like Cambodia and Vietnam also fret that their waterways and fishing stocks could be damaged by the hydopower boom in Laos.    The accident has prompted fears over the safety of other dams in the country.   "Most of the dams are built by foreign companies and Laos authorities don't have expert knowledge and management to check for weaknesses or problems, that's our worry," villager Si Wonghajak told AFP.
Date: Thu, 26 Jul 2018 13:09:09 +0200

Attapeu , Laos, July 26, 2018 (AFP) - The torrent of water unleashed in a deadly Laos dam collapse has drained into Cambodia, forcing thousands to evacuate, as rescuers on Thursday battled monsoon rains to find scores of Laotians still missing after entire villages were washed away.   Twenty-seven people have been confirmed dead, with 131 still missing, after the Xe-Namnoy dam collapsed on Monday in a remote southern corner of Laos, leaving villagers with little time to escape.   It is an unprecedented accident to strike the hydropower industry in Laos, where the Communist government has dammed large sections of its myriad waterways to generate electricity that is mostly sold to its neighbours.

The search and rescue effort entered a third day Thursday, with China, Vietnam and Thailand sending in specialists, while villagers picked through their wrecked, mud-caked homes for possessions as the flood waters receded.   Carcasses of livestock floated in the knee-deep waters in a devastated village visited by AFP, as heavy rain pounded the area.   Thousands of villagers downstream in Cambodia have also been forced to flee as the water once held back by the dam flowed south.   "Water is still rising, so more people will be evacuated," Men Kong, a government spokesman in Cambodia's Stung Streng province, told AFP.   Cambodian soldiers ferried villagers and motorbikes from flooded zones on wooden boats, while supplies were handed out to some who found refuge on dry land.

In Laos, Chinese rescuers in life jackets and helmets joined local soldiers searching for the missing Thursday, according to an AFP reporter at the scene, while community volunteers pitched in with private boats to return to villages still submerged.   Residents recalled their terror as water rushed through their homes.   Tran Van Bien, 47, from Ban Mai village close to the ruined dam said he was told to evacuate just two hours before the dam burst on Monday evening, running to a neighbour's house with his family as his home quickly filled with water.   "We were on the roof of that house the whole night, cold and scared. At 4:00 am a wooden boat passed and we decided to send my wife and my kid out," he told AFP from a nearby town where he eventually found dry land.   "My wife tied our child to her body, saying if they died, they would die together rather than being alone."

- 'Insufficient warning' -
The $1.2 billion Xe-Namnoy dam, a joint venture between Laos, Thai and Korean companies, was still under construction in southern Attapeu province when it collapsed after heavy rains pounded the area earlier this week.   Two South Korean companies involved in the project's construction and operation said damage was reported a day before the auxiliary "Saddle D" dam collapsed.   However a timeline from operator Korea Western Power Co. obtained by AFP said 11 centimetres (four inches) of subsidence was spotted at the dam's centre as early as Friday.   The company told AFP it could not yet determine the cause of the collapse.   "It is too early to define whether it was a natural disaster or a manmade disaster," a spokesman told AFP Thursday.

Thailand issued new regulations for its hydro plant operators in Laos this week, ordering companies to report on dam conditions every week and communicate closely with residents.    "If a dam plans to release water they must coordinate with local officials to warn people and to prevent people from panic at least seven days (in advance)," Thailand's Energy and Mining Minister Khammany Inthirath announced Wednesday.   Southeastern Laos is frequently lashed by monsoon rains, and dam operators regularly release water from reservoirs in order to avoid overflow -- or collapse.   The 410 MW Xe-Namnoy project is one of more than 50 hydropower plans underway in Laos, which has billed itself as the "battery of Asia" in its ambitious bid to become a major power exporter in the region.

Laos has said it wants to double its power generation capacity to 28,000 MW by 2020 and has opened its doors to foreign investors -- mainly from China, Thailand and Vietnam -- to build dams across the country.   But the projects have come under fire from rights groups who say local communities are forcibly moved and lose key access to river waters for farming and fishing.   "This tragedy has compounded their suffering," International Rivers said in a statement Thursday.   "Communities were not given sufficient advanced warning to ensure their safety and that of their families. This event raises major questions about dam standards and dam safety in Laos."
More ...

World Travel News Headlines

Date: Thu, 13 Feb 2020 13:58:41 +0100 (MET)
By Suy SE

Sihanoukville, Cambodia, Feb 13, 2020 (AFP) - A US cruise ship blocked from several Asian ports over concerns that a passenger could have been infected with the new coronavirus docked at a Cambodian pier Thursday, as frustrated holidaymakers expressed hope their ordeal may soon be over.   The Westerdam was supposed to be taking its 1,455 passengers on a dream 14-day cruise around east Asia, beginning in Hong Kong on February 1 and disembarking on Saturday in Yokohama, Japan.   But the ship was turned away from Japan, Guam, the Philippines, Taiwan and Thailand over fears of the novel coronavirus epidemic that has killed more than 1,300 people in China.

Cruise operator Holland America has insisted there are no cases of the SARS-like virus on board and Cambodia announced Wednesday that the boat would be able to dock in Sihanoukville, on its southern coast.   By evening, the ship moved into the beach town's port, moving past the small fishing vessels that usually ply the waters.   As it slowly approached the pier, people onshore snapped selfies of themselves with the massive vessel.   The mood was equally buoyant on the boat.   "Thank you Cambodia! You believed in us when no one would!" tweeted passenger Lydia Miller around 7 pm (1200 GMT). "We promise to spend lots of money in your country."

Fellow cruiser Christina Kerby -- who has been posting light-hearted updates from the Westerdam -- tweeted she was "feeling rebellious tonight so I'm wearing sneakers in the dining room".   But all passengers would have to remain onboard until flights have been arranged, said provincial governor Kuoch Chamroeun.    "The arrangement of the planes to take them from (Sihanoukville) airport to Phnom Penh airport is underway," he said, explaining that three flights were scheduled Friday morning.    Buses were lined up by the pier ready to transfer passengers to Sihanoukville's airport. Holland America has said they would foot the bill to return all guests.

- 'Disease of fear' -
Before the ship docked, doctors conducted health checks for the passengers.    The samples of 20 on board who were sick were sent to the Pasteur Institute in Phnom Penh to test for the virus, said transport minister Sun Chanthol.    Cambodian premier Hun Sen is a staunch Chinese ally and has been vocal in his support of Beijing's handling of the epidemic, even going so far as to visit China last week in a show of solidarity.   "The permission to dock is to stop the disease of fear that is happenin
around the world," he told state-affiliated media website Fresh News on Wednesday.    "We must help them when they asked us for help," he added.   Neighbouring Thailand, which blocked the Westerdam from docking in its eastern seaboard port, on Thursday received two cruise liners in holiday resort town Phuket. 

Both Seabourne Ovation and Quantum of the Seas were allowed to dock, and passengers to alight for roughly 10 hours as part of the scheduled stop.    "They were all checked by their doctors on the ship, and we also examined them when they disembarked," Phuket governor Pakapong Tawipat told AFP.    He added that the passengers and the crew members "were not Chinese", and that Phuket was part of their regular routes, unlike the Westerdam.    Japan's premier Shinzo Abe expressed worries last week over a possible infection on the Westerdam, and said measures will be taken to "reject entries" for foreigners into the country.    Cambodia, which has one confirmed case of the virus, is the recipient of billions of dollars in soft loans, infrastructure, and investment from China.
Date: Thu, 13 Feb 2020 11:14:36 +0100 (MET)

Jakarta, Feb 13, 2020 (AFP) - Indonesia's Mount Merapi, one of the world's most active volcanoes, erupted Thursday as fiery red molten lava streamed down from the crater and it belched clouds of grey ash 2,000 metres (6,500 feet) into the sky.   Authorities did not raise the rumbling volcano's alert status after the early-morning eruption, but they advised commercial planes to take caution in the area.   But any activity at Merapi raises concern and local residents were ordered to stay outside a three-kilometre no-go zone around the rumbling crater near Indonesia's cultural capital Yogyakarta.    Volcanic ash rained down on a 10-square kilometre area, according to the Volcanology and Geological Hazard Mitigation Centre.

Mount Merapi's last major eruption in 2010 killed more than 300 people and forced the evacuation of some 280,000 residents.   It was Merapi's most powerful eruption since 1930, which killed around 1,300 people, while another explosion in 1994 took about 60 lives.   The Southeast Asian archipelago has more than 17,000 islands and islets -- and nearly 130 active volcanoes.   It sits on the Pacific "Ring of Fire", a vast zone of geological instability where the collision of tectonic plates causes frequent quakes and major volcanic activity.
Date: Thu, 13 Feb 2020 08:13:16 +0100 (MET)

Sydney, Feb 13, 2020 (AFP) - Australia on Thursday announced a ban on travellers from China would extend for at least a week beyond Saturday's planned deadline, as the death toll from the coronavirus soared.    Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the government would maintain "entry restriction on foreign nationals who have recently been in mainland China" for further week "to protect Australians from the risk of coronavirus".   A decision to extend the ban further will be taken week-to-week, he said.   The decision is a blow to Australian tourism operators who have seen business from Chinese visitors dry up, as well as for tens of thousands of Chinese students hoping to return to Australia for the new academic year.

China's official death toll and infection numbers from a new coronavirus spiked dramatically on Thursday after authorities changed their counting methods, fuelling concern the epidemic is far worse than being reported.   The virus has now officially killed more than 1,350 people in China and the World Health Organisation has warned the disease has not yet peaked.   "I just want to assure all Australians, that we are doing everything we can to keep Australians safe at this time, and to ensure that we are mitigating everything that is possible to address any of the threats," Morrison said.
Date: Thu, 13 Feb 2020 06:46:12 +0100 (MET)

Sydney, Feb 13, 2020 (AFP) - Dams near Sydney overflowed Thursday after days of torrential rain, as Australia braced for more storms expected to bring dangerous flash flooding to the country's east.   Recent downpours have brought relief to areas ravaged by bushfires and drought -- as well as chaos and destruction to towns and cities along the eastern seaboard.   On Thursday, Nepean Dam south of Sydney was at full capacity and spilling over, with video footage showing excess water cascading over the dam wall and downstream.   Two other dams in New South Wales, Tallowa and Brogo, were also overflowing and more dams could reach capacity in the coming days, a WaterNSW spokesman told AFP.

Sydney's dams have seen water levels spike dramatically -- the Nepean was just a third full less than a week ago -- though many inland areas are facing severe water shortages missed out on the flows.   A devastating months-long bushfire crisis that killed 33 people has effectively been ended by the downpours, with just one blaze yet to be brought under control in New South Wales.   Hundreds of people have been rescued from floodwaters in recent days.   Police said a man's body was discovered in a flooded river on Queensland's Sunshine Coast on Thursday, though the cause of his death was not immediately clear.

Wild weather is set to ramp up again from Friday, with the Bureau of Meteorology forecasting ex-Tropical Cyclone Uesi would bring "damaging to destructive winds" and heavy rainfall to remote tourist destination Lord Howe Island.   Senior meteorologist Grace Legge said storms were also expected for Queensland and New South Wales -- with areas still recovering from bushfires likely to be hit again.   "Any showers and thunderstorms that do develop are falling on already saturated catchments, so there is a risk with severe thunderstorms of flash flooding," she said.   Emergency services have warned residents in affected areas to be cautious in the dangerous conditions.
Date: Thu, 13 Feb 2020 06:24:23 +0100 (MET)

Vinh Phuc, Vietnam, Feb 13, 2020 (AFP) - Vietnam announced Thursday that a commune of 10,000 people will be placed under quarantine due to fears over the spread of the new coronavirus.    "As of February 13, 2020, we will urgently implement the task of isolation and quarantine of the epidemic area in Son Loi commune," said a health ministry statement.    "The timeline... is for 20 days".    There are 15 confirmed cases of the COVID-19 virus in Vietnam, five of them in Son Loi commune.
Date: Wed, 12 Feb 2020 21:09:17 +0100 (MET)

Geneva, Feb 12, 2020 (AFP) - The UN health agency on Wednesday said it was extending its global emergency designation for the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo but said the sharp decline in cases was "extremely positive".   The recent outbreak was first identified in August 2018 and has since killed more than 2,300 people in eastern DR Congo -- an area where several militia groups are operating.   "As long as there is a single case of Ebola in an area as insecure and unstable as eastern DRC, the potential remains for a much larger epidemic," WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters in Geneva.

The WHO, however, said it was downgrading the national and regional risk of the disease from very high to high, while it kept the global risk at low.    Tedros also voiced hope that the emergency could be lifted within the next three months on the advice of the WHO's Emergency Committee of international experts.   The World Health Organization last July declared it a "public health emergency of international concern" -- a designation that gives the WHO greater powers to restrict travel and boost funding.   Tedros, who will be travelling to DRC on Thursday to meet President Felix Tshisekedi, on Tuesday said only three cases had been reported in the past week.

But for the epidemic to be declared over, there have to be no new cases reported for 42 days -- double the incubation period.   The health emergency designation last year came a few days after a patient was diagnosed with the virus in the provincial capital Goma -- the first case in a major urban hub.   More than a month before that, the WHO reported that the virus had spread to Uganda for the first time.   The Ebola virus is passed on by contact with the blood, body fluids, secretions or organs of an infected or recently deceased person.   The death rate is typically high, ranging up to 90 percent in some outbreaks, according to the WHO.

This is the second worst outbreak of the disease since 2014 when it killed about 11,000 people -- mostly in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.   Efforts to contain the current outbreak have been hindered by attacks on health workers and conflicts in the east.   The WHO said in November it had moved 49 staff out of the Beni region in eastern DRC because of the insecurity.   The Beni region, straddling the North Kivu and Ituri provinces, has been repeatedly attacked by the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) rebel group, which activists say has massacred more than 300 people since October.
Date: Wed, 12 Feb 2020 11:48:53 +0100 (MET)

Tomohon, Indonesia, Feb 12, 2020 (AFP) - Bats, rats and snakes are still being sold at an Indonesian market known for its wildlife offerings, despite a government request to take them off the menu over fears of a link to the deadly coronavirus.   Vendors at the Tomohon Extreme Meat market on Sulawesi island say business is booming and curious tourists keep arriving to check out exotic fare that enrages animal rights activists.   But scientists are debating how the new virus, which has killed more than 1,100 people in China and spread to dozens of countries around the world, was transmitted to humans.

A wildlife market in Wuhan, the epicentre of the virus, is thought to be ground zero and there is suspicion it could have originated in bats.    The possible link wasn't on many radar screens at the Indonesian market, however.   Its grubby stalls feature a dizzying array of animals including giant snakes, rats impaled on sticks and charred dogs with their hair seared off by blowtorches -- a gory scene described by some critics as "like walking through hell".

Bat seller Stenly Timbuleng says he's still moving his fare for as much as 60,000 rupiah ($4.40) a kilogram to buyers in the area, where bats are a speciality in local cuisine.   "I'm selling between 40 and 60 kilograms every day," the 45-year-old told AFP.   "The virus hasn't affected sales. My customers still keep coming."   Restaurateur Lince Rengkuan -- who serves bats including their heads and wings stewed in coconut milk and spices -- says the secret is preparation.   "If you don't cook the bat well then of course it can be dangerous," she said.   "We cook it thoroughly and so far the number of customers hasn't gone down at all."

This despite a request from the local government and the health agency to take bats and other wildlife out of circulation -- a call that has been all but ignored.   "We're also urging people not to consume meat from animals suspected to be carriers of a fatal disease," said Ruddy Lengkong, head of the area's government trade and industry agency.   Indonesia has not yet reported a confirmed case of the virus.   In the capital Jakarta, vendors selling skinned snakes and cobra blood on a recent Saturday night didn't have any trouble finding takers.   "It's good for you, sir," said one vendor of his slithering fare.   "Cures and prevents all diseases."
Date: Mon, 10 Feb 2020 17:59:57 +0100 (MET)

Malé, Maldives, Feb 10, 2020 (AFP) - The Maldives' speaker of parliament on Monday apologised to a British tourist after footage of her arrest by several policemen triggered a social media storm.   Tourism is a major earner for the Maldives, a tropical island paradise in the Indian Ocean popular with honeymooners and celebrities.   Police said the bikini-clad woman, who was walking on a main road, was "inappropriately" dressed and allegedly unruly and drunk when she was detained after refusing to comply with requests to cover up on Thursday.   The Maldives previously confined tourists to resort islets separate from the local Muslim population, but in recent years has allowed foreigners to stay on inhabited islands.

Tourists can wear swimwear such as bikinis in the resorts but are subject to local dress codes elsewhere.   Videos shared on social media showed three men trying to detain the traveller, while a fourth person tried to cover her with a towel.   The woman was heard shouting "you're sexually assaulting me" during the incident.   The speaker, Mohamed Nasheed, told parliament he was extending an apology to the woman over the incident, which saw her detained by police for two hours before they released her.

The tourist has since left the nation of 340,000 Sunni Muslims, but Nasheed said he hoped tourism authorities would invite her to return to the luxury vacation spot.   Maldives Police Service Commissioner Mohamed Hameed said on Twitter after the footage was shared online that the incident "seems to be badly handled".   "I apologise to the tourist & the public for this. The challenge I have taken up is to professionalise the police service & we are working on that. This matter is being investigated."   A police statement on Friday called on tourists to respect "cultural sensitivities and local regulations".

The video of the incident also sparked anger among Maldivians. Some took to social media to criticise the tourist's behaviour after other videos showed her grabbing the sunglasses of a police officer.   Former foreign minister Dunya Maumoon criticised both the tourist and the police.   "She should have respected the religious and cultural norms of the country in terms of modest attire in a residential area," Maumoon said on Twitter.   "Condemn the man-handling by the Maldivian police. It could have been handled better and more professionally."
Date: Fri 7 Feb 2020
Source: Food Safety News [edited]

Almost 250 new infections have been recorded in a multi-country outbreak of salmonellosis linked to eggs from Poland. The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) and European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) reported that as of January 2020, 18 countries have reported 656 confirmed and 202 probable cases since February 2017. There are 385 historically confirmed and 413 historical probable cases going as far back as 2012, making it the largest European _Salmonella_ Enteritidis outbreak ever recorded. However, ECDC officials said the true extent of the outbreak was likely underestimated. Since the last update in November 2018, 248 new cases have been reported, of which 124 were confirmed, 36 probable, 42 historical-confirmed and 46 historical-probable infections.

Belgium, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Romania, Slovenia, Sweden and the UK have recorded 1656 infections since 2012. The UK has the most with 688 confirmed and probable cases, Netherlands has 280, Belgium has 202 and Czech Republic has 111. Information on hospitalization is available for 427 patients in 12 countries, and 136 needed hospital treatment among the confirmed and historical-confirmed cases. Two historical-confirmed deaths, a child and an elderly patient, were also reported.

In each year from 2016 to 2018, outbreak cases peaked in September, with large waves reported between late spring and early autumn. Such a large seasonal increase was not seen in 2019. Epidemiological, microbiological and food tracing investigations have linked cases before 2018 to eggs from laying hen farms of a Polish consortium. Despite control measures in 2016 and 2017, farms of the Polish consortium were positive in 2018 and 2019 with outbreak strains, suggesting persistent contamination, according to officials. Investigations on the laying hen production and feed supply chains did not find the possible origin of contamination.

One of the outbreak strains was found from 2017 to 2019 in primary production in Germany. This outbreak strain represents two-thirds of confirmed cases.

In September 2018, a cluster of 9 confirmed cases was associated with the consumption of an RTE raw liquid egg-white drink distributed by Dr. Zak's. _Salmonella_-positive samples of RTE liquid egg whites from 2 batches matched those from this outbreak cluster. Both batches were produced by a French company. One was produced with raw materials such as pasteurized white egg from a Spanish company. The other used raw materials from 13 German laying hen farms and 11 Dutch laying hen farms. An investigation of this outbreak showed positive batches were produced with eggs from Spain, the Netherlands and Germany, who all supplied _Salmonella_-free eggs to the French company.

On the same day as production of one of the contaminated batches, a different batch of liquid eggs was produced at the French company with eggs supplied by a Polish packing center from a Polish laying farm belonging to the Polish consortium. However, the possibility of cross-contamination was ruled out due to the different production line used with different equipment (tanks, filling machine) and because of heat treatment on packaged products.

Investigations in the UK identified 14 cases potentially part of the outbreak travelling to Cyprus and staying in the same place between end of May and end of June 2018. This site received eggs from a Polish laying farm through the Polish packing center and a Dutch wholesaler.

Measures taken in 2016 and 2017, including depopulation of positive flocks, were not enough to eliminate contamination in the Polish consortium. So, the laying hen farms of this group were still positive for outbreak strains in 2018 and 2019. Between August 2018 and December 2019, 7 of 13 sampled Polish laying hen farms belonging to the Polish consortium tested positive for _Salmonella_ Enteritidis. >From November 2019 to January 2020, all flocks belonging to the Polish group were tested in accordance with Regulation 2160/2003, but _Salmonella_ was not detected.

Polish authorities reported that all _Salmonella_ Enteritidis positive flocks belonging to the Polish consortium were depopulated, including flocks found positive in May 2019. From 2015 to 2019, 16 laying hen farms, 13 of which belonged to the Polish consortium, were positive for at least one of the 4 SNP addresses causing human infections. Four rearing farms belonging to the Polish company were positive for _Salmonella_ Enteritidis between January 2017 and July 2019.

ECDC officials said the outbreak was still ongoing, and more infections were expected. "Since no evidence has been provided that the source of contamination has been eliminated, it is expected that further infections will occur and that new cases will be reported in the coming months. Additional investigations are necessary to identify the source of contamination."  [Byline: Joe Whitworth]
==================
[Salmonellosis is often thought to be associated with cracked eggs or eggs dirty with fecal matter, a problem controlled by cleaning procedures implemented in the egg industry. It is clearly the case, however, that most of the salmonellosis outbreaks linked to eggs were associated with uncracked, disinfected grade A eggs, or foods containing such eggs. The undamaged eggs become contaminated during ovulation and thus were contaminated with the bacteria before the egg shell was formed. To avoid this, uncooked eggs should be used only as an ingredient, if pasteurized.

The continuing outbreak was summarized in this 2019 report: Pijnacker R, Dallman TJ, Tijsma ASL, et al. An international outbreak of _Salmonella enterica_ serotype Enteritidis linked to eggs from Poland: a microbiological and epidemiological study. Lancet Infect Dis. 2019;19(7):778-786.

Abstract
--------
Background: _Salmonella_ spp. are a major cause of food-borne outbreaks in Europe. We investigated a large multi-country outbreak of _Salmonella enterica_ serotype Enteritidis in the EU and European Economic Area (EEA).

Methods: A confirmed case was defined as a laboratory-confirmed infection with the outbreak strains of _S._ Enteritidis based on whole-genome sequencing (WGS), occurring between 1 May 2015 and 31 Oct 2018. A probable case was defined as laboratory-confirmed infection with _S._ Enteritidis with the multiple-locus variable-number tandem repeat analysis outbreak profile. Multi-country epidemiological, trace-back, trace-forward, and environmental investigations were done. We did a case-control study including confirmed and probable cases and controls randomly sampled from the population registry (frequency matched by age, sex, and postal code). Odds ratios (ORs) for exposure rates between cases and controls were calculated with unmatched univariable and multivariable logistic regression.

Findings: A total of 18 EU and EEA countries reported 838 confirmed and 371 probable cases; 509 (42%) cases were reported in 2016, after which the number of cases steadily increased. The case-control study results showed that cases more often ate in food establishments than did controls (OR, 3.4 [95% CI, 1.6-7.3]), but no specific food item was identified. Recipe-based food trace-back investigations among cases who ate in food establishments identified eggs from Poland as the vehicle of infection in October 2016. Phylogenetic analysis identified 2 strains of _S._ Enteritidis in human cases that were subsequently identified in _Salmonella_-positive eggs and primary production premises in Poland, confirming the source of the outbreak. After control measures were implemented, the number of cases decreased but increased again in March 2017, and the increase continued into 2018.

Interpretation: This outbreak highlights the public health value of multi-country sharing of epidemiological, trace-back, and microbiological data. The re-emergence of cases suggests that outbreak strains have continued to enter the food chain, although changes in strain population dynamics and fewer cases indicate that control measures had some effect. Routine use of WGS in _Salmonella_ surveillance and outbreak response promises to identify and stop outbreaks in the future. - ProMED Mod.LL]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map:
Date: Sun 9 Feb 2020
Source: San Francisco (CA) Chronicle [subscription required, edited]

Several cases of hepatitis A were confirmed in customers who ate in the same California restaurant, health officials said. The Long Beach Department of Health and Human Services announced [Fri 31 Jan 2020], that the patients ate at 555 East American Steakhouse on or around [24 Dec 2019], KABC-TV reports.

The department did not disclose how many cases were diagnosed. The source of the illness is still under investigation, officials said.

Hepatitis A can be transmitted through consumption of contaminated food or water. Symptoms can include fatigue, low appetite, stomach pain, dark urine, nausea, and jaundice. Most patients eventually recover completely, but some may require hospitalization or develop severe illness, health officials said.

The restaurant's management and staff are cooperating with health officials and there is no continuing risk to the public, officials said.

"We are notifying the public of the exposure so that people can immediately seek medical care if they begin to develop symptoms," Long Beach health officer Dr. Anissa Davis said in a statement. "Individuals who have been vaccinated for hepatitis A or have had the disease are protected," Davis said. "Those who are not immune to hepatitis A should consult their medical provider if they develop symptoms, and let their provider know they may have been exposed to hepatitis A."
======================
[This cluster (the number of cases is not stated) may be related to an HAV-contaminated food (such as shellfish) or an infected food service worker. If the former were the case, one might expect to see cases related to other restaurants. It would be interesting to know if the HAV strain is that from the still on-going multistate outbreak. This outbreak has been controlled in California and involved primarily homeless and substance abusing individuals and is related to poor sanitation rather than food/water vehicles. - ProMED Mod.LL]

[HealthMap/ProMED map available at:
California, United States: <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/204>]