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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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Gibraltar

United Kingdom and Gibraltar (England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland) US Consular Information Sheet
June 03, 2008
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is a highly developed constitutional monarc
y comprised of Great Britain (England, Scotland and Wales) and Northern Ireland.
Read the Department of State Background Notes on the United Kingdom for additional information.
Gibraltar is a United Kingdom Overseas Territory bordering Spain and located at the southernmost tip of Europe at the entrance to the Mediterranean Sea.
It is one of thirteen former British colonies that have elected to continue their political links with London.
Tourist facilities are widely available.

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:
A visa is not required for tourist or business visits to the UK of less than six months in duration.
Visitors wishing to remain longer than one month in Gibraltar should regularize their stay with Gibraltar immigration authorities.
Those planning to visit the UK for any purpose other than tourism or business, or who intend to stay longer than six months, should consult the website of the British Embassy in the United States at http://britainusa.com for information about current visa requirements.
Those who are required to obtain a visa and fail to do so may be denied entry and returned to their port of origin.
The British government is currently considering reducing the visa-free period from six months to 90 days.
Travelers should be alert to any changes in legislation.
The U.S. Embassy cannot intervene in UK visa matters.
In addition to the British Embassy web site at http://britainusa.com, those seeking current UK visa information may also contact UK consular offices via their premium rate telephone service at 1-900-656-5000 (cost $3/minute) or 1-212-796-5773 ($12 flat fee).
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:
The United Kingdom is politically stable, with a modern infrastructure, but shares with the rest of the world an increased threat of terrorist incidents of international origin, as well as the potential, though significantly diminished in recent years, for isolated violence related to the political situation in Northern Ireland (a part of the United Kingdom).
On July 7, 2005, a major terrorist attack occurred in London, as Islamic extremists detonated explosives on three underground trains and a bus in Central London, resulting in over 50 deaths and hundreds of injuries.
Following the attacks, the public transportation system was temporarily disrupted, but quickly returned to normal.
A similar but unsuccessful attack against London’s public transport system took place on July 21, 2005.
UK authorities have identified and arrested people involved in these attacks.
Similarly, those involved in terrorist incidents in London and Glasgow during the summer of 2007 were identified and arrested.
Like the US, the UK shares its national threat levels with the general public to keep everyone informed and explain the context for the various increased security measures that may be encountered. UK threat levels are determined by the UK Home Office and are posted on its web site at http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/security/current-threat-level/.
Information from the UK Security Service, commonly known as MI5, about the reasons for the increased threat level and actions the public can take is available on the MI5 web site at http://www.mi5.gov.uk/.
On August 10, 2006, the Government of the United Kingdom heightened security at all UK airports following a major counterterrorism operation in which individuals were arrested for plotting attacks against US-bound airlines.
As a result of this, increased restrictions concerning carry-on luggage were put in place and are strictly enforced.
American citizens are advised to check with the UK Department for Transport at http://www.dft.gov.uk/transportforyou/airtravel/airportsecurity/ regarding the latest security updates and carry-on luggage restrictions.
The British Home Secretary has urged UK citizens to be alert and vigilant by, for example, keeping an eye out for suspect packages or people acting suspiciously at subway (called the “Tube” or Underground) and train stations and airports and reporting anything suspicious to the appropriate authorities.
Americans are reminded to remain vigilant with regard to their personal security and to exercise caution.
For more information about UK public safety initiatives, consult the UK Civil Contingencies Secretariat web site at http://www.ukresilience.gov.uk.
The political situation in Northern Ireland has dramatically improved since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, the announcement by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) on July 28, 2005, that it would end its armed campaign, and the agreement to set up a power-sharing government on May 8, 2007.
The potential remains, however, for sporadic incidents of street violence and/or sectarian confrontation. American citizens traveling to Northern Ireland should therefore remain alert to their surroundings and should be aware that if they choose to visit potential flashpoints or attend parades sporadic violence remains a possibility. Tensions may be heightened during the summer marching season (April to August), particularly during the month of July around the July 12th public holiday.

The phone number for police/fire/ambulance emergency services - the equivalent of "911" in the U.S. - is “999” in the United Kingdom and “112” in Gibraltar.
This number should also be used for warnings about possible bombs or other immediate threats.
The UK Anti-Terrorist Hotline, at 0800 789 321, is for tip-offs and confidential information about possible terrorist activity.
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, Travel Alerts, as well as the Worldwide Caution can be found.
Recent communications from U.S. Embassy London to the local American citizen community, called Warden Messages, can be found on the U.S. Embassy's American Citizens' Services web site at http://london.usembassy.gov/cons_new/acs/index.html.
Up-to-date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S., or for callers outside the U.S. and Canada, a regular toll-line at 1-202-501-4444.
These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).
The Department of State urges American citizens to take responsibility for their own personal security while traveling overseas.
For general information about appropriate measures travelers can take to protect themselves in an overseas environment, see the Department of State’s pamphlet, A Safe Trip Abroad.
CRIME:
The United Kingdom and Gibraltar benefit from generally low crime rates and rates decreased slightly in 2007 in significant categories, including violent crime.
The crime situation in the UK is similar to the United States, with typical incidents including pick-pocketing; mugging; “snatch and grab” thefts of mobile phones, watches and jewelry; and theft of unattended bags, especially at airports and from cars parked at restaurants, hotels and resorts.
Pickpockets target tourists, especially at historic sites, restaurants, on buses, trains and the London Underground (the “Tube,” or subway).
Thieves often target unattended cars parked at tourist sites and roadside restaurants, looking for laptop computers and hand-held electronic equipment, especially global positioning satellite equipment.
Walking in isolated areas, including public parks, especially after dark, should also be avoided, as these provide advantageous venues for muggers and thieves.
At night or when there is little foot traffic, travelers should be especially careful using the underground pedestrian tunnels.
As a general rule, either walk the extra distance to use a surface crossing or wait until there are other adult pedestrians entering the tunnel.

In London, travelers should use only licensed “black taxi cabs,” or car services recommended by their hotel or tour operator.
Unlicensed taxis or private cars posing as taxis may offer low fares, but are often uninsured and may have unlicensed drivers.
In some instances, travelers have been robbed and raped while using these cars.
You can access 7,000 licensed “Black Cabs” using just one telephone number – 0871 871 8710. This taxi booking service combines all six of London’s radio taxi circuits, allowing you to telephone 24 hours a day if you need to “hail a cab.” Alternatively, to find a licensed minicab, text “HOME” to 60835 on your mobile phone to get the telephone number to two licensed minicab companies in the area. If you know in advance what time you will be leaving for home, you can pre-book your return journey.
The “Safe Travel at Night” partnership among the Metropolitan Police, Transport for London, and the Mayor of London maintains a website with additional information at http://www.cabwise.com/.
Travelers should not leave drinks unattended in bars and nightclubs.
There have been some instances of drinks being spiked with illegal substances, leading to incidents of robbery and rape.
Due to the circumstances described above, visitors should take steps to ensure the safety of their U.S. passports.
Visitors in England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, and Gibraltar are not expected to produce identity documents for police authorities and thus may secure their passports in hotel safes or residences.
Abundant ATMs that link to U.S. banking networks offer an optimal rate of exchange and they preclude the need to carry a passport to cash travelers’ checks.
Travelers should be aware that U.S. banks might charge a higher processing fee for withdrawals made overseas.
Common sense personal security measures utilized in the U.S. when using ATMs should also be followed in the UK.
ATM fraud in the UK is becoming more sophisticated, incorporating technologies to surreptitiously record customer ATM card and PIN information.
Travelers should avoid using ATMs that look in any way “temporary” in structure or location, or that are located in isolated areas.
Travelers should be aware that in busy public areas, thieves use distraction techniques, such as waiting until the PIN number has been entered and then pointing to money on the ground, or attempting to hand out a free newspaper.
When the ATM user is distracted, a colleague will quickly withdraw cash and leave.
If distracted in any way, travelers should press the cancel transaction button immediately and collect their card before speaking to the person who has distracted them.
If the person’s motives appear suspicious, travelers should not challenge them but remember the details and report the matter to Police as soon as possible.
In addition, travelers should not use the ATM if there is anything stuck to the machine or if it looks unusual in any way.
If the machine does not return the card, report the incident to the issuing bank immediately.

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 at the opening of the next business day.
The U.S. Embassy or Consulate only issues replacement passports during regular business hours.
If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, report it to local police.
The nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate will also be able to assist by helping you to find appropriate medical care, contacting family members or friends, and explaining 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.

Visit the “Victim Support” web site, maintained by an independent UK charity to helps people cope with the effects of crime: http://www.victimsupport.org.uk/
See our information for Victims of Crime.
MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:
While medical services are widely available, free care under the National Health System is allowed only to UK residents and certain EU nationals.
Tourists and short-term visitors will be charged for medical treatment in the UK.
Charges may be significantly higher than those assessed in the United States.
Hiking in higher elevations can be treacherous.
Several people die each year while hiking, particularly in Scotland, often due to sudden changes in weather.
Visitors, including experienced hikers, are encouraged to discuss intended routes with local residents familiar with the area, and to adhere closely to recommendations.
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.

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.
If your medical insurance policy does not provide overseas coverage, you may want to purchase a short-term policy for your trip.
The Department of State provides a list of travel insurance companies that can provide the additional insurance needed for the duration of one’s trip abroad in its online at medical insurance overseas.
Remember also that most medical care facilities and medical care providers in the UK do not accept insurance subscription as a primary source of payment.
Rather, the beneficiary is expected to pay for the service and then seek reimbursement from the insurance company.
This may require an upfront payment in the $10,000 to $20,000 range

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

UK penalties for driving under the influence of even minimal amounts of alcohol or drugs are stiff and often result in prison sentences.
In contrast to the United States and continental Europe, where traffic drives on the right side of the road, in the UK, it moves on the left.
The maximum speed limit on highways/motorways in the UK is 70MPH.
Motorways generally have a hard shoulder (breakdown lane) on the far left, defined by a solid white line.
It is illegal to stop or park on a hard shoulder unless it is an emergency.
In such cases, you should activate your hazard lights, get out of your vehicle and go onto an embankment for safety.
Emergency call boxes (orange telephone booths with “SOS” printed on them) may be found at half-mile intervals along the motorway.
White and blue poles placed every 100 yards along the motorway point in the direction of the nearest call box.
Emergency call boxes dial directly to a motorway center.
It is best to use these phones rather than a personal cell phone, because motorway center personnel will immediately know the location of a call received from an emergency call box.
Roadside towing services may cost approximately £125.
However, membership fees of automotive associations such as the RAC or AA (Automobile Association) often include free roadside towing service.
Visitors uncomfortable with, or intimidated by, the prospect of driving on the left-hand side of the road may wish to avail themselves of extensive bus, rail and air transport networks that are comparatively inexpensive.
Roads in the UK are generally excellent, but are narrow and often congested in urban areas.
If you plan to drive while in the UK, you may wish to obtain a copy of the Highway Code, available at http://www.highwaycode.gov.uk.
Travelers intending to rent cars in the UK should make sure that they are adequately insured.
U.S. auto insurance is not always valid outside the U.S., and travelers may wish to purchase supplemental insurance, which is generally available from most major rental agents.
The city of London imposes a congestion charge of £8 (eight pounds sterling, or approximately U.S. $16.00) on all cars entering much of central London Monday through Friday from 7:00 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.
Information on the congestion charge can be found at http://www.cclondon.com.
Public transport in the United Kingdom is excellent and extensive.
However, poor track conditions may have contributed to train derailments resulting in some fatalities.
Repairs are underway and the overall safety record is excellent.
Information on disruptions to London transportation services can be found at http://www.tfl.gov.uk and information about the status of National Rail Services can be found at http://www.nationalrail.co.uk.
Many U.S. pedestrians are injured, some fatally, every year in the United Kingdom, because they forget that oncoming traffic approaches from the opposite direction than in the United States.
Extra care and alertness should be taken when crossing streets; remember to look both ways before stepping into the street.
Driving in Gibraltar is on the right-hand side of the road, as in the U.S. and Continental Europe.
Persons traveling overland between Gibraltar and Spain may experience long delays in clearing Spanish border controls.
Please refer to our Road Safety Overseas page for more information.
For specific information concerning United Kingdom driving permits, vehicle inspection, road tax and mandatory insurance, refer to the United Kingdom’s Department of Environment and Transport web site at http://www.dft.gov.uk, the Driving Standards Agency web site at http://www.dsa.gov.uk or consult the U.S. Embassy in London’s web site at http://london.usembassy.gov/.

AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT:
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of the United Kingdom’s Civil Aviation Authority as being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for oversight of the UK’s air carrier operations.
For further information, travelers may visit the FAA's web site at http://www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa.

SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:
The legal drinking age in the UK is generally lower than in the U.S. and social drinking in pubs is often seen as a routine aspect of life in Britain. Parents, organizers of school trips, and young travelers should be aware of the impact that this environment may have when combined with the sense of adventure that comes with being abroad.
Please see our Students Abroad web site as well Studying Abroad to help students plan a safe and enjoyable adventure.
The UK has strict gun-control laws, and importing firearms is extremely complicated. Travelers should consider leaving all firearms in the United States.
Restrictions exist on the type and number of weapons that may be possessed by an individual.
All handguns, i.e. pistols and revolvers, are prohibited with very few exceptions.
Licensing of firearms in the UK is controlled by the Police.
Applicants for a license must be prepared to show 'good reason' why they require each weapon.
Applicants must also provide a copy of their U.S. gun license, a letter of good conduct from their local U.S. police station and a letter detailing any previous training, hunting or shooting experience. Background checks will also be carried out.
Additional information on applying for a firearm certificate and/or shotgun certificate can be found on the Metropolitan Police Firearms Enquiry Teams web site at http://www.met.police.uk/firearms-enquiries/index.htm.
A number of Americans are lured to the UK each year in the belief that they have won a lottery or have inherited from the estate from a long-lost relative.
Americans may also be contacted by persons they have “met” over the Internet who now need funds urgently to pay for hospital treatment, hotel bills, taxes or airline security fees.
Invariably, the person contacted is the victim of fraud.
Any unsolicited invitations to travel to the UK to collect winnings or an inheritance should be viewed with skepticism.
Also, there are no licenses or fees required when transiting a UK airport, nor is emergency medical treatment withheld pending payment of fees.
Please see our information on International Financial Scams. Please read 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 British law, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in the UK 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.
Many pocketknives and other blades, and mace or pepper spray canisters, although legal in the U.S., are illegal in the UK and will result in arrest and confiscation if detected.
A UK Metropolitan Police guide to items that are prohibited as offensive weapons is available at http://www.met.police.uk/youngpeople/guns.htm.
A UK Customs Guide, detailing what items visitors are prohibited from bringing into the UK, is available at http://customs.hmrc.gov.uk/channelsPortalWebApp/downloadFile?contentID=HMCE_CL_001734.
Air travelers to and from the United Kingdom should be aware that penalties against alcohol-related and other in-flight crimes (“air rage”) are stiff and are being enforced with prison sentences.
Please also see our information on customs regulations that pertain when returning to the US.

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

REGISTRATION / EMBASSY LOCATION:
Americans living or traveling in the United Kingdom are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department’s travel registration web site, and to obtain updated information on travel and security within the United Kingdom.
By registering, Americans make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in case of emergency, and to relay updated information on travel and security within the United Kingdom.
The Embassy and Consulates regularly send security and other information via email to Americans who have registered.
As noted above, recent communications from U.S. Embassy London to the local American citizen community, called Warden Messages, can be found on the embassy’s web site.
Americans without Internet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
The Consular Section also disseminates a newsletter every month.
Those wishing to subscribe to the monthly consular newsletter in London should send a request by email to SCSLondon@state.gov.
The U.S. Embassy is located at 24 Grosvenor Square, London W1A 1AE; telephone: in country 020-7499-9000; from the U.S. 011-44-20-7499-9000 (24 hours); Consular Section fax: in country 020-7495-5012; from the U.S. 011-44-20-7495-5012, and on the Internet at http://london.usembassy.gov.
The U.S. Consulate General in Edinburgh, Scotland, is located at 3 Regent Terrace, Edinburgh EH7 5BW; Telephone: in country 0131-556-8315, from the U.S. 011-44-131-556-8315.
After hours: in country 01224-857097, from the U.S. 011-44-1224-857097.
Fax: in country 0131-557-6023; from the U.S. 011-44-131-557-6023.
Information on the Consulate General is included on the Embassy’s web site at http://london.usembassy.gov/scotland.
The U.S. Consulate General in Belfast, Northern Ireland, is located at Danesfort House, 228 Stranmillis Road, Belfast BT9 5GR; Telephone: in country 028-9038-6100; from the U.S. 011-44-28-9038-6100.
Fax:
in country 028-9068-1301; from the U.S. 011-44-28-9068-1301.
Information on the Consulate General is included on the Embassy’s web site at: http://london.usembassy.gov/nireland.
There is no U.S. consular representation in Gibraltar.
Passport questions should be directed to the U.S. Embassy in Madrid, located at Serrano 75, Madrid, Spain, tel (34)(91) 587-2200, and fax (34)(91) 587-2303.
The web site is http://madrid.usembassy.gov.
All other inquiries should be directed to the U.S. Embassy in London.
* * *
This replaces the Consular Information Sheet dated December 12, 2007, to update the sections on Entry Requirements, Safety and Security, Crime, Victims of Crime, Medical Facilities, Medical Insurance, Traffic Safety and Road Conditions, and Special Circumstances.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Thu 24 Aug 2017
Source: Gibraltar Chronicle [edited]
<http://chronicle.gi/2017/08/tiger-mosquito-found-in-gibraltar-but-no-cause-for-concern-officials-say/>

An aggressive species of mosquito known to transmit viral diseases has been detected in Gibraltar, but public health officials insist there is no cause for alarm. Public Health Gibraltar and the Environmental Agency confirmed that the mosquito of the species _Aedes albopictus_, also known as the tiger mosquito, has been found in Gibraltar.

Last June [2017] after 9 months of intensive surveillance, officials said no tiger mosquito had been found in Gibraltar. But this has now changed after the 1st tiger mosquito was found in the urban dome   stic environment within Gibraltar. "This finding alone does not however materially alter any health risks in Gibraltar and there is no immediate cause for public concern," the government said in a statement. Public Health Gibraltar was first alerted in January 2016 to the discovery of the mosquito in Malaga and Algeciras [in Andalusia, Spain]. Since then, together with the Environmental Agency, it began working with international experts to mount surveillance in Gibraltar.

World Health Organization experts visited Gibraltar and gave advice on setting traps and monitoring locations, but no tiger mosquito had been detected until now. The tiger mosquito is not native to Gibraltar and has not been previously found here. It is common in other countries where it transmits viral diseases like Zika, dengue, and chikungunya. It is a domestic species, breeds in water in urban areas -- water butts, blocked drains, rainwater gullies -- and is able to reach high abundance around residential areas.

It is also a day-time mosquito, that aggressively bites humans. "Health risks to the public only arise if the virus causing these diseases is also present, which is not the case in Gibraltar," the government said.  "The virus can, however, be imported by travellers returning from an overseas country and if this happens, there is a risk of spread, but only if the mosquito bites within a small window period of about a week after the fever starts."

Public Health Gibraltar has been raising awareness of travel risk amongst travellers through its publication A Factsheet for Travellers and recommends the following precautions:
- before travelling to affected areas, consult your doctor or seek advice from a travel clinic, especially if you have an immune disorder or severe chronic illness;
- if you are pregnant or are considering pregnancy, consider postponing non-essential travel;
- when staying in a mosquito-prone area, wear mosquito repellents and take mosquito bite prevention measures;
- if you have symptoms within 3 weeks of return from an affected country, contact your doctor;
- if you have been diagnosed with any of the diseases Zika, dengue, or chikungunya, take strict mosquito bite prevention measures for 10 days after the fever starts.
========================== 
[The appearance of _Aedes albopictus_ in Gibraltar is not surprising. A map of the distribution of this species as of April this year (2017) shows it present around the Mediterranean Basin and up to Gibraltar on the west (<https://ecdc.europa.eu/en/publications-data/aedes-albopictus-current-known-distribution-europe-april-2017>).

Now it has been found in Gibraltar. The concerns are real about transmission of dengue, chikungunya, and Zika viruses should populations of _Ae. albopictus_ become established. In 2015 there were a few locally acquired cases of dengue in the south of France. This also happened on a larger scale in Emilia Romagna, Italy, when a viraemic man introduced chikungunya virus into Italy and sparked an outbreak.

One hopes that mosquito surveillance will continue in Gibraltar, perhaps be intensified, and help guide vector control efforts. - ProMED Mod.TY]

[A HealthMap/ProMED-mail map can be accessed at: <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/517>.]
Date: Wed, 1 Jun 2011 01:46:48 +0200 (METDST)

GIBRALTAR, June 1, 2011 (AFP) - A fuel tank exploded and caught fire near a cruise ship in the British territory of Gibraltar Tuesday, injuring at least 15 people, most of them on the vessel, local officials and the ship's owners said. The blast was probably caused by a spark from welding operations, Chief Minister Peter Caruana told Radio Gibraltar. But police were not ruling out any possibility including that of an attack, he added. Flames several metres high could be seen coming out of the tank with dense black smoke billowing across the port as firefighters directed jets of water at the blaze from tugboats. The fire continued late into the night, with Radio Gibraltar reporting more explosions were heard. The tank was close to the giant cruise ship, Independence of the Seas, which had arrived in Gibraltar Tuesday morning. The ship made an emergency departure immediately after the blast Tuesday afternoon.

The Gibraltar government and the ship's owners, Royal Caribbean International, both said 12 people on the ship had been hurt. Gibraltar officials said one of the passengers had suffered a fractured arm. Two Spanish welders working on the tank were injured, including one who was in critical condition in a burns unit at a hospital in the southern Spanish city of Seville, Radio Gibraltar said. A police officer was also slightly injured in the rescue attempt, police said. "The lid of the tank was blown off by the blast," a police spokesman said. The statement from Royal Caribbean International said: "Immediately after the explosion, the ship retracted the gangway and moved a safe distance from the dock. "Twelve guests sustained minor injuries and have received medical treatment onboard." The boat was on a two-week cruise, having left the southern English port of Southampton on Saturday, the company added.

Air services to Gibraltar were suspended and offices in the port area evacuated. The police spokesman said the possibility of adjacent tanks overheating and exploding could not be ruled out. Caruana described it as a serious incident but said there was "no cause for concern". "Once it was established that there were welding operations going on, on top of the very tank at the time it exploded, (that) makes that a frontrunner for a likely explanation, but all possibilities are being kept open," he told Radio Gibraltar. "The police are obviously keeping their minds open to the possibility of maybe a security incident. It's looking unlikely but all possibilities are being looked into if only to be excluded."

"The plan is to allow it to carry on burning itself off," he said later Tuesday, but warned that the wind was due to change during the night, which could bring the smoke over land. Spanish tugs from a private company were helping the local fire services, he added. One witness said he was in his office nearby when he heard three loud explosions. "We started running out and saw one of the main tanks set alight. My concern was the poor people who were working there," he told Radio Gibraltar. The public was being advised to keep away from the area and keep windows closed due to the smoke. Gibraltar is a 6.5-square-kilometre (2.6-square-mile) British territory of around 30,000 people off the tip of southern Spain. Madrid ceded it to London in 1713 under the Treaty of Utrecht, but it has long fuelled tensions between the two countries.
Date: Tue, 10 Aug 2010 20:08:15 +0200 (METDST)

GIBRALTAR, Aug 10, 2010 (AFP) - Gibraltar on Tuesday condemned as "illegal" a proposal by the neighbouring Spanish town of La Linea to impose a tax on cars entering or leaving the tiny British territory by road.   The decision comes amid thorny relations between Madrid and London over the disputed British possession off the tip of southern Spain.

La Linea mayor Alejandro Sanchez on Monday announced the "congestion charge" of no more than five euros (6.5 dollars) on cars crossing into and out of Gibraltar, saying the measure will be imposed in October once it is passed by the town council.   He said lorries carrying debris and other materials used in Gibraltar to reclaim land from the sea will pay more, but the exact amount has not yet been determined.   Sanchez, a member of Spain's conservative opposition Popular Party, said the tax is needed partly to compensate the municipality for austerity measures imposed by the socialist government in Madrid.   La Linea residents would be exempt, but it was not clear if Gibraltarians would also have to pay.

The Gibraltar government reacted angrily and said it has contacted the Spanish authorities over the decision.   "The confused statements by the mayor of La Linea in respect of the proposed toll describe a litany of illegalities under EU Law and probably also under Spanish law," it said in a statement.   "The mayor of La Linea is clearly engaged in a political manoeuvre with his central government, which is unlikely to allow the proposal.

"The mayor's proposals are wholly unacceptable both legally and politically and in the unlikely event that these measures should be introduced, the (Gibraltar) government will take appropriate steps."   Spain ceded Gibraltar to Britain in 1713 under the Treaty of Utrecht but has retained first claim on the tiny peninsula should Britain renounce sovereignty.

"The Rock" has long fuelled tensions between Spain and Britain, with Madrid arguing the 6.5-square-kilometre (2.6-square-mile) territory that is home to roughly 30,000 people should be returned to Spanish sovereignty.   But its people overwhelmingly rejected an Anglo-Spanish proposal for co-sovereignty in a referendum in 2002.   In recent months British and Spanish naval and police boats have engaged in a series of cat and mouse games in the waters off Gibraltar, which lies at the strategic western entrance to the Mediterranean.
Date: Thu 23 Oct 2008
Source: Panorama.gi [edited]
---------------------------------
During the last 10 weeks, Gibraltar has experienced an outbreak of measles. "We have so far been notified of over 250 cases and notifications are still coming in at around 4-6 cases per day," said the Gibraltar Health Authority [GHA], who believe that the actual numbers are greater as many people with mild attacks have chosen not to report them. While the majority of infections in the outbreak have been mild, some have been severe and a few patients including babies have needed intensive care.  Measles is an unpleasant disease with fever, sore throat, streaming eyes, diarrhoea, and rash. Most people recover within a week or so, but complications like fits, bacterial infection, or pneumonia can develop. Long-term complications can also arise in very young children.

Says the GHA: It is important that all persons with symptoms suggestive of measles should report the illness to their doctor to enable complications to be detected at an early stage. In addition to medical advice, persons with the illness should follow general hygiene practices such as limiting contact with other people, carefully discarding soiled tissues, and washing their hands. Anyone who has had measles infection is immune for life and cannot get measles again. There is no basis for the rumour that some people have had measles twice. It is possible that infection with rubella (German measles, a different disease) may have caused the confusion. Vaccination with the MMR [measles, mumps, and rubella] vaccine is the only way to prevent measles infection.

[So far], the 250 cases have been in persons who are unvaccinated or partly vaccinated (one dose only). Not a single case has occurred in a person who has had a full course of MMR vaccine. MMR vaccine has been available free to children [from] Gibraltar's health service since 1989, although the boosters were only introduced in 2002. It is also a very safe and effective vaccine, with an impressive track record," they say. Gibraltar Health Authority adds that it is continuing to advise all parents of children who have not had the MMR vaccine to immunise their children. There had been some difficulties in obtaining vaccine recently due to an international shortage, but fresh supplies have now been received. The course consists of 2 injections, approximately 3 months apart. Please note that BOTH the doses are needed for adequate immunity. They add: If your child has received only one dose, either now or in the past, he or she could still be at risk. Arrangements have been made to offer additional  vaccination to all unimmunised children as follows: During October and November [2008], the Child Welfare Clinics (primary care centre) will be open on Mondays (2:00 pm to 4:00 pm), Wednesdays (9:00 am to 11:00 am) and Fridays (9:00 am to 11:00 am) for immunisations. Appointments are not necessary.
-------------------------------
[The Rock of Gibraltar is located at the entrance of the Mediterranean. Gibraltar is connected to Spain by a sandy isthmus, by a ferry to Morocco, and by flights to London. By virtue of its geographical position and political status Gibraltar is vulnerable to introduction of infectious disease from diverse sources. No information has been provided regarding the source of the measles virus responsible for this outbreak. In this respect it will be relevant to determine the genotype of the measles virus involved (see comment in ProMED-mail "Measles - Gibraltar 20080814.2529"). The outbreak has escalated from the 17 cases reported on 14 Aug 2008 to the current 250 cases. Despite the availability of free MMR vaccination it is clear that there is an appreciable number of unimmunised individuals in the community who remain susceptible to measles virus infection. It is encouraging that efforts are underway to expand vaccine coverage.


and the HealthMap/ProMED-mail interactive map at <http://healthmap.org/promed?g=2411586&amp;v=36.133,-5.35,7>. - ProMed Mod.CP]
Date: Wed, 16 Apr 2008 14:56:40 +0200 (METDST) GIBRALTAR, April 16, 2008 (AFP) - Animal rights groups have expressed outrage over a plan by Gibraltar's government to cull its famous Barbary Apes, which are posing a hazard as they roam the town in search of food. The government of the tiny British territory off Spain's southern coast plans to cull 25 of the simians, whose population has exploded to around 200. The mischievous primates climb over cars and pull out antennas, open rubbish bags and rifle through handbags left unattended in the popular tourist destination. Officially, the management of the apes is the responsibility of the Gibraltar Ornithological and Natural History Society (GONHS), on contract from the government. But the society said it has not approved the cull. "Our policy is that culling can be a population management solution but only in extreme cases when there is no other more suitable option," GONHS general secretary Dr. John Cortes said on Tuesday. "We would only ever recommend a cull after very careful assessment of the situation from a veterinary and a genetic point of view." However, Environment Minister Ernest Britto said a licence has been issued for the cull and two of the apes have already been given lethal injections. Helen Thirlway, the head of Britain's International Primate Protection League, said the government was failing to manage the apes "in a responsible manner." "There have been many advances and pilot studies in recent years on different methods of controlling free-roaming monkeys," she was quoted as saying in the local media Wednesday. "We are more than happy to work with the government of Gibraltar and with GONHS to help them develop more efficient, alternative solutions, but this needless slaughter has to stop." According to legend, if the apes disappear, Britain will lose control of Gibraltar. When wartime British prime minister Winston Churchill heard their population was low, British consuls in North Africa -- from where the apes originally came -- were tasked with sending new young simians to the Rock. At one time, the apes were looked after by the British army stationed in Gibraltar, which selected a place up the Rock where they were fed daily to keep them from loitering downtown. Spain ceded Gibraltar to Britain in 1713, but has retained a constitutional claim should Britain renounce sovereignty. The vast majority of the 30,000 people want to retain their links with Britain.
More ...

Afghanistan

Afghanistal US Consular Information Sheet March 03, 2009


COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:


Afghanistan has made significant progress since the Taliban were deposed in 2001, but still faces daunting challenges, including de

eating terrorists and insurgents, recovering from over three decades of civil strife, dealing with years of severe drought and rebuilding a shattered physical, economic and political infrastructure. Coalition and NATO forces under ISAF work in partnership with Afghan security forces to combat Taliban and al-Qa’ida elements who seek to terrorize the population and challenge the government. Violence in 2008 reached unprecedented levels, as both ISAF/Afghan forces and the Taliban initiated more battles than ever before. President Hamid Karzai was sworn in as President of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan on December 7, 2004 and the Afghan Parliament was subsequently convened in late 2005. The government is working to develop a more effective police force, a more robust legal system, and sub-national institutions that work in partnership with traditional and local leaders to meet the needs of the population. The U.S. works closely with the international community to provide coordinated support for these efforts. An Afghanistan-hosted Peace Jirga with Pakistan resulted in a commitment to cooperate in combating terrorism, facilitate the return of Afghan refugees, and support regional economic activity. Read the Department of State Background Notes on Afghanistan for additional information.


ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:


 A passport and valid visa are required to enter and exit Afghanistan. Afghan entry visas are not available at Kabul International Airport or any other ports of entry in Afghanistan. American citizens who arrive without a visa are subject to confiscation of their passport and face heavy fines and difficulties in retrieving their passport and obtaining a visa, as well as possible deportation from the country. Americans arriving in the country via military air usually have considerable difficulties if they choose to depart Afghanistan on commercial air, because their passports are not stamped to show that they entered the country legally. Those coming on military air should move quickly after arrival to legalize their status if there is any chance they will depart the country on anything other than military air. Visit the Embassy of Afghanistan web site at http://www.embassyofafghanistan.org for the most current visa information. The Consular office of the Embassy of Afghanistan is located at 2233 Wisconsin Avenue NW, Suite 216, Washington, DC 20007, phone number 202-298-9125. 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:


The latest Travel Warning for Afghanistan emphasizes that the security situation remains critical for American citizens. The Taliban and associated insurgent groups, al-Qaida network terrorist organizations, and narco-traffickers oppose the strengthening of a democratic government. These groups aim to weaken or bring down the Government of Afghanistan and to drive Westerners out of the country. They do not hesitate to use violence, including targeting civilians. Terrorist activities may include, but are not limited to bombings -- including improvised explosive devices and car bombs -- assassinations, carjackings, rocket attacks, assaults and kidnappings. There were over 120 suicide attacks in 2008. There is an ongoing threat to attack and kidnap U.S. citizens and Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) workers throughout the country. In 2008,, more than 30 NGO workers were killed (six foreigners) and at least 78 NGO staff members (seven foreigners) were abducted. Over 25 other foreign civilians, including journalists, were kidnapped. Kabul continues to experience suicide bombings against Afghan government personnel and installations, Afghan and coalition military assets, and international civilians. Riots -- sometimes violent -- have occurred in response to various political or other issues. Crime, including violent crime, remains a significant problem. Official Americans' use of the Kabul-Jalalabad, Kabul-Kandahar highways and other roads throughout the country is often restricted or completely curtailed because of security concerns. Insurgents continue to use roadside and car bombs to conduct attacks and abductions along major highways. Millions of unexploded land mines and other ordinance present a constant danger. The country faces a difficult period in the near term, and American citizens could be targeted or placed at risk by unpredictable local events. Americans should not come to Afghanistan unless they have made arrangements in advance to address security concerns. The absence of records for ownership of property, differing laws from various regimes and the chaos that comes from decades of civil strife have left property issues in great disorder. Afghan-Americans returning to Afghanistan to recover property, or Americans coming to the country to engage in business, have become involved in complicated real estate disputes and have faced threats of retaliatory action, including kidnapping for ransom and death. Large parts of Afghanistan are extremely isolated, with few roads, mostly in poor condition, irregular cell phone signals, and none of the basic physical infrastructure found in Kabul or the larger cities. Americans traveling in these areas who find themselves in trouble may not even have a way to communicate their difficulties to the outside world. For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs’ web site, 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:


 A large portion of the Afghan population is unemployed, and many among the unemployed have moved to urban areas. Basic services are rudimentary or non-existent. These factors may directly contribute to crime and lawlessness. Diplomats and international relief workers have reported incidents of robberies and household burglaries as well as kidnappings and assault. Any American citizen who enters Afghanistan should remain vigilant for possible banditry, including violent attacks.


INFORMATION FOR VICTIMS OF CRIME:


The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and to the U.S. Embassy in Kabul. If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the U.S. Embassy in Kabul for assistance. The Embassy 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 provide a list of attorneys if needed. The local equivalent to the "911" emergency line in Afghanistan is: 119 Please see our information on Victims of Crime, including possible victim compensation programs in the United States.


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 Afghanistan’s laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. During the last several years, there have been incidents involving the arrest and/or detention of U.S. citizens. Arrested Americans have faced periods of detention—sometimes in difficult conditions—while awaiting trial. Penalties for possession or use of, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Afghanistan are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines. Another sensitive activity is proselytizing. Although the Afghan Constitution allows the free exercise of religion, proselytizing is often viewed as contrary to the beliefs of Islam and considered harmful to society. Proselytizing may lead to arrest and/or deportation. 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.


SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:


Because of the poor infrastructure in Afghanistan, access to banking facilities is limited and unreliable. Afghanistan's economy operates on a "cash-only" basis for most transactions. Credit card transactions are not available. International bank transfers are limited. Some ATM machines exist at Standard Charter Bank and Afghan International Bank (AIB) in the Wazir Akbar Khan neighborhood of Kabul, but some travelers have complained of difficulties using them. International communications are difficult. Local telephone networks do not operate reliably. Most people rely on satellite or cellular telephone communications even to make local calls. Cellular phone service is available locally in Kabul and some other cities, but can be unreliable. Injured or distressed foreigners could face long delays before being able to communicate their needs to family or colleagues outside of Afghanistan. Internet access through local service providers is limited. In addition to being subject to all Afghan laws, U.S. citizens who are also citizens of Afghanistan may also be subject to other laws that impose special obligations on Afghan citizens. U.S. citizens who are also Afghan nationals do not require visas for entry into Afghanistan. The Embassy of Afghanistan issues a letter confirming your nationality for entry into Afghanistan. However, you may wish to obtain a visa as some Afghan-Americans have experienced difficulties at land border crossings because they do not have a visa in their passport. For additional information on dual nationality in general, see the Consular Affairs home page for our dual nationality flyer. U.S. citizens are encouraged to carry a copy of their U.S. passport with them at all times, so that, if questioned by local officials, proof of identity and U.S. citizenship is readily available. As stated in the Travel Warning, consular assistance for American citizens in Afghanistan is limited. Islam provides the foundation of Afghanistan's customs, laws and practices. Foreign visitors -- men and women -- are expected to remain sensitive to the Islamic culture and not dress in a revealing or provocative manner, including the wearing of sleeveless shirts and blouses, halter-tops and shorts. Women in particular, especially when traveling outside of Kabul, may want to ensure that their tops have long sleeves and cover their collarbone and waistband, and that their pants/skirts cover their ankles. Almost all women in Afghanistan cover their hair in public; American women visitors should carry scarves for this purpose. Afghan customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation into or export from Afghanistan of items such as firearms, alcoholic beverages, religious materials, antiquities, medications, and printed materials. American travelers have faced fines and/or confiscation of items considered antiquities upon exiting Afghanistan. It is advisable to contact the Embassy of Afghanistan in Washington for specific information regarding customs requirements. Travelers en route to Afghanistan may transit countries that have restrictions on firearms, including antique or display models. If you plan to take firearms or ammunition to another country, you should contact officials at that country's embassy and those that you will be transiting to learn about their regulations and fully comply with those regulations before traveling. Please consult http://www.customs.gov for information on importing firearms into the United States. Please see our Customs Information sheet.


MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:


Well-equipped medical facilities are few and far between throughout Afghanistan. European and American medicines are available in limited quantities and may be expensive or difficult to locate. There is a shortage of basic medical supplies. Basic medicines manufactured in Iran, Pakistan, and India are available, but their reliability can be questionable. Several western-style private clinics have opened in Kabul: the DK-German Medical Diagnostic Center (www.medical-kabul.com), Acomet Family Hospital (www.afghancomet.com), and CURE International Hospital (ph. 079-883-830) offer a variety of basic and routine-type care; Americans seeking treatment should request American or Western health practitioners. Afghan public hospitals should be avoided. Individuals without government licenses or even medical degrees often operate private clinics; there is no public agency that monitors their operations. Travelers will not be able to find Western-trained medical personnel in most parts of the country outside of Kabul, although there are some international aid groups temporarily providing basic medical assistance in various cities and villages. For any medical treatment, payment is required in advance. Commercial medical evacuation capability from Afghanistan is limited and could take days to arrange. Even medevac companies that claim to service the world may not agree to come to Afghanistan. Those with medevac insurance should confirm with the insurance provider that it will be able to provide medevac assistance to this country. There have been outbreaks of Avian Influenza in poultry in Afghanistan, to include the areas of Nangahar, Laghman, and Wardak provinces, and in the city of Kabul, however, there have been no reported cases of the H5N1 virus in humans. Updates on the Avian Influenza situation in Afghanistan are published on the Embassy’s web site at http://kabul.usembassy.gov/information_for_travelers.html. For additional information on Avian Influenza, please refer to the Department of State's Avian Influenza Fact Sheet available at http://travel.state.gov/travel/tips/health/health_1181.html Tuberculosis is an increasingly serious health concern in Afghanistan. For further information, please consult the CDC's Travel Notice on TB. http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/yellowBookCh4-TB.aspx| The U.S. Department of State is unaware of any HIV/AIDS entry restrictions for visitors to or foreign residents of Afghanistan. However, if one has questions, please inquire directly with the Embassy of Afghanistan at http://www.embassyofafghanistan.org before you travel. Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC’s web site. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad, consult the World Health Organization’s (WHO) web site. Further health information for travelers is available from the WHO.


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 Afghanistan is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance. All drivers face the potential danger of encountering improvised-explosive devices and land mines that may have been planted on or near roadways. An estimated 5-7 million landmines and large quantities of unexploded ordinance exist throughout the countryside and alongside roads, posing a danger to travelers. Robbery and kidnappings are also prevalent on highways outside of Kabul. The transportation system in Afghanistan is marginal, although the international community is constructing modern highways and provincial roads. Vehicles are poorly maintained, often overloaded, and traffic laws are not enforced. Vehicular traffic is chaotic and must contend with numerous pedestrians, bicyclists and animals. Many urban streets have large potholes and are not well lit. Rural roads are not paved. 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 Afghanistan, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed Afghanistan’s Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards. For more information, travelers may visit the FAA’s internet website at http://www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa. U.S. Government personnel are not authorized to travel on Ariana Afghan Airlines or any other airline falling under the oversight of the Government of Afghanistan’s Civil Aviation Authority, owing to safety concerns; however, U.S. Government personnel are permitted to travel on international flights operated by airlines from countries whose civil aviation authorities meet international aviation safety standards for the oversight of their air carrier operations under the FAA’s International Aviation Safety Assessment (IASA) program.


CHILDREN'S ISSUES:


 For information see our Office of Children’s Issues web pages on intercountry adoption and international parental child abduction. R


EGISTRATION / EMBASSY LOCATION:


Americans living or traveling in Afghanistan are encouraged to register with the U.S. Embassy through the State Department’s travel registration web site and to obtain updated information on travel and security within Afghanistan. Americans without internet access may register directly with the U.S. Embassy. 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 Kabul on Great Massoud (Airport) Road, local phone number 0700-108-001 or 0700-108-002, and for emergencies after hours 0700-201-908. The web site is http://kabul.usembassy.gov/ * * * * * This replaces the Country Specific Information dated June 16, 2008 to update sections on Country Description, Entry/Exit Requirements, Safety and Security, Information for Victims of Crime, Criminal Penalties, Special Circumstances, and Medical Facilities and Health Information.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Mon, 24 Feb 2020 09:00:05 +0100 (MET)

Kabul, Feb 24, 2020 (AFP) - Afghanistan has detected its first novel coronavirus case, the country's health minister said Monday, a day after Kabul announced it would suspend air and ground travel to Iran, where 12 people have died from the outbreak.   "I announce the first positive coronavirus (case) in Herat," health minister Firozuddin Feroz told a press conference, calling on citizens to avoid travel to the western province which borders Iran.
Date: Sat 15 Feb 2020 2:34:10 PM AFT
Source: MENAFN, Afghanistan Times News report [edited]

At least 35 people including women and children have died in the past few weeks due to pneumonia outbreak in Badakhshan Province in the north-western mountainous area, the provincial health department confirmed.

Dr Noor Khawari, head of the provincial public health department, said [Sat 15 Feb 2020] that the people had died in the Wakhan district, a remote area surrounded by high and impassable mountains.

He said that 15 of the dead were children, calling malnutrition and cold weather as the main reasons for the fatalities. A medical team had been dispatched to Wakhan to prevent further outbreak of the disease, according to Dr Khawari.

The provincial council had earlier said that at least 10 people had lost their lives since an unknown disease had broken out in the Yomgan district [Badakhshan Province].

The report caused panic and concerns among the residents as coronavirus [infection, COVID-19] in China that borders Badakhshan takes the lives of people every day.

But the ministry of public health denied outbreak of any unknown disease in Badakhshan, saying that the recent deaths happened only due to pneumonia and pertussis (whooping cough) as well as malnutrition. Badakhshan is one of the provinces where seasonal diseases like pneumonia and whooping cough break out during winter. The diseases claim the lives of people in the remote areas behind high mountains as the roads connecting them to the provincial capital are blocked by heavy snowfalls.

The provincial health department has deployed medical teams to the borders with China and Tajikistan to examine those entering from the neighbouring states and to prevent coronavirus [infection, COVID-9].
===========================
[We are told in the news report above that at least 35 people, including 15 children, died in the past few weeks due to a "pneumonia" outbreak in Wakhan district, a remote area surrounded by high and impassable mountains, with a population of about 14 000 residents. Wakhan is a narrow strip about 350 km (220 mi) long and 13-65 km (8-40 mi) wide that extends from Badakhshan Province in Afghanistan in the west to Xinjiang Autonomous Region in China in the east, separating the Pamir Mountains and Tajikistan to the north and the Karakoram Mountains and Pakistan to the south  (<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wakhan_Corridor>).

A trade route through this valley has been used by travellers since antiquity
(<https://caravanistan.com/afghanistan/wakhan-corridor/>).

A map of this region can be found at

The local residents are concerned that the novel coronavirus infection, COVID-19, may be the cause of the outbreak of pneumonia in Wakhan district. There are about 70 500 total cases of COVID-19 in China, mainly concentrated in Hubei Province in Central China.

Although Xinjiang in Western China has reportedly 75 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 1 death (assessed 16 Feb 2020 at 9:43 PM EST) (<https://gisanddata.maps.arcgis.com/apps/opsdashboard/index.html#/bda7594740fd40299423467b48e9ecf6>), spread of COVID-19 to this very remote region in Afghanistan, that is easily cut off from the rest of the world especially in winter, seems unlikely. Also, 43% of deaths (15/35) occurred in children, which would be unusual for COVID-19. However, we are not told the clinical presentation of the illness, nor how a diagnosis of "pneumonia" was made in this undeveloped region. Other diagnoses, such as influenza, are also possible. More information from knowledgeable sources would be appreciated. - ProMED Mod.ML]

[Maps of Afghanistan:
Date: Wed 11 Dec 2019
Source: MENA FN [edited]

Officials in the Ministry of Public Health has said that 2 fresh positive cases of polio have been registered in southern Uruzgan [Oruzgan] and northern Baghlan provinces.

According to health officials, the families of the polio-affected children live in Dand-e-Ghori [Dahana-i-Ghori] and Khas Uruzgan districts, [respectively], and the areas were out of the government's control and deprived of medical facilities.

Dr. Abdul Qayum Khplwak, head of the medical institute for the southern part of Afghanistan, said that one of the 2 children has been deprived of polio vaccination in Khas Uruzgan district of the province. He said that despite tremendous efforts towards fighting polio, there are great obstacles against the implementation of the process.

"Until every child receives polio vaccination, our efforts would not reach a complete goal," he said, adding that "the fresh case in Uruzgan shows that southern provinces are facing serious polio threats."

Meanwhile, a local medical in charge for polio affairs in Baghlan, Marjan Rasikh, has put the age of the polio-affected child at 4 years old, saying that the case has marked the initial positive polio in the province.

Over 24 positive polio cases have been recorded from the beginning of 2019: more than 8 cases in Uruzgan, 5 in Helmand, 4 in Kandahar, 2 in Paktia, and 3 other cases in Badghis, Nangarhar, and Kunar provinces.

To prevent the positive cases of polio, the health officials said that anti-polio vaccination should be implemented across the country.
===================
[The addition of these 2 newly confirmed cases will increase the total number of cases reported from Afghanistan with dates of onset during 2019 to 24. There was a newly confirmed case from Kandahar reported in last week's GPEI (Global Polio Eradication Initiative) report with date of onset 10 Nov 2019.

Again, the common denominator in the occurrence of WPV1 (wild poliovirus type 1)-associated AFP (acute flaccid paralysis) cases (presumed to be WPV cases) and in cVDPV (circulating vaccine-derived poliovirus)-associated cases is the presence of a significant susceptible population, or, in other words, areas with suboptimal vaccination coverages.

A map of Afghanistan showing provinces can be found at
The HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of Afghanistan can be found at
Date: Mon 2 Dec 2019
Source: China.org.cn, Xinhua News Agency report [edited]

One fresh polio case had been detected in Afghanistan's southern Kandahar province, a local newspaper reported on [Mon 2 Dec 2019].

"With this new case, the total number of polio cases in 2019 reaches 22 in the country. The latest polio case has been reported from Kandahar city, capital of Kandahar province which permanently paralyzed an 18-month-old child," Daily Afghanistan-e-Ma reported.

The paper added that polio is a crippling and potentially fatal infectious disease.

"Most of the Afghan children affected by poliovirus this year [2019] are living in areas where kids do not have access to health facilities and regular anti-polio vaccination campaign. However, this time a child has been affected in a large city where anti-polio vaccination had been conducted repeatedly this year," the report said.

There is no cure for polio and the polio vaccine is the only safe and effective way to protect children.

The ongoing conflicts have been hindering the efforts to stamp out the infectious disease in the mountainous country.
===================
[The addition of 3 newly confirmed cases of polio (all 3 due to WPV1, as per End Polio Pakistan <https://www.endpolio.com.pk/polioin-pakistan/polio-cases-in-provinces>) in Pakistan and one newly confirmed case of polio in Afghanistan brings the total number of WPV1 associated cases with date of onset in 2019 to 116 (94 in Pakistan and 22 in Afghanistan). The key question here is whether Afghanistan and Pakistan, with all the challenges in vaccinating the susceptible populations due to a variety of anti-vaccination impediments, will be able to interrupt transmission of the WPV1 in both countries simultaneously.

Maps of Afghanistan:
and <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/137>. - ProMED Mod.MPP]
Date: Sun 1 Sep 2019
Source: MENAFN - Afghanistan Times [edited]

Two new polio cases have surfaced separately in capital city of Tirinkot and Chora district of southern Uruzgan [Oruzgan] province, a statement from the relevant ministry said [Sun 1 Sep 2019].

A 30-month-old child and another 6-month-old infant were permanently paralyzed as a result of the polio virus.

According to a statement issued by the Ministry of Public Health (MoPH), the total number of polio cases in 2019 reached 15 with the 2 new cases, saying all of these cases had been reported from inaccessible areas.

"Of the 15 polio cases this year [2019], 14 have been reported from the southern region of Afghanistan,' the statement said, adding "7 positive cases came from [Oruzgan], 5 from Helmand, and 2 other from Kandahar."

Only 1 out of 12 polio cases was reported from eastern Kunar province while the rest happened in the southern zone.

"Access to health services is the right of every citizen of the country," said Dr Ferozuddin Feroz, the Minister of Public Health. "We are deeply concerned about the increasing polio cases and the number of children who still don't have consistent and proper access to vaccination," he added.

He said the virus could spread further in the country and more children would be affected and paralyzed by polio virus.

He called upon people to 'work together and protect innocent children against polio and facilitate a safe and secure environment for our frontline workers in order to enable them administer vaccine drops to children in every nook and cranny of the country."

Polio is a crippling and potentially fatal infectious disease. There is no cure and the vaccine is the only safe and effective way to protect children.

The polio vaccine is safe and harmless for new-born children whether they are sick or not. It is very important that new-borns and sick children get the vaccine because they may have lower immunity which makes them more susceptible to the virus.

Polio vaccination has also been strongly endorsed by national and global Islamic scholars.
========================
[As I mentioned in the moderator comment of the last post (Poliomyelitis update (71): global (Pakistan, Congo DR) http://promedmail.org/post/20190901.6651501), "While there have been no newly confirmed cases reported from Afghanistan this week nor have there been positive environmental samples reported from either Pakistan or Afghanistan, it doesn't mean the virus is not still circulating, just that there aren't new confirmations." Unfortunately there were cases under investigation.

As correctly stated in the media report above, the addition of these 2 newly confirmed cases brings the number of confirmed WPV1 cases reported by Afghanistan during 2019 to date to 15.

Oruzgan is located in the central part of Afghanistan, sharing southern and southwestern borders with Kandahar and Helmand provinces where other polio cases have been reported this year (2019) as well (<http://www.lib.utexas.edu/maps/middle_east_and_asia/afghanistan_admin-2009.jpg>).

HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of Afghanistan:
More ...

Guyana

Guyana US Consular Information Sheet
June 09, 2008
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
Guyana is a developing nation on the north coast of South America. Tourist facilities are not developed, except for hotels in the capital city of Georgetown and a limi
ed number of eco-resorts. The vast majority of Guyanese nationals live along the coast, leaving the interior largely unpopulated and undeveloped. Travel in the interior of Guyana can be difficult; many interior regions can only be reached by plane or boat and the limited roads are often impassable in the rainy seasons. Read the Department of State Background Notes on Guyana for additional information.

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS: A valid U.S. passport is required for U.S. citizens to enter and depart Guyana. On arrival, Guyanese Immigration normally grants U.S. visitors a stay of up to 3 months. U.S.-Guyanese dual nationals may be granted an indefinite stay. Extensions of stay may be obtained from the Ministry of Home Affairs at 60 Brickdam Street, Georgetown. The Central Office of Immigration located on Camp Street, Georgetown, must note the extension in the visitor's passport. Travelers for purposes other than tourism should check with the Ministry of Home Affairs for information about requirements for work permits and extended stays. U.S.-Guyanese dual nationals departing Guyana for the United States using a Guyanese passport must present to Guyanese authorities a U.S. Certificate of Naturalization or other document establishing that they may legally enter the United States. For further information about entry, exit and customs requirements, travelers may consult the Embassy of Guyana at 2490 Tracy Place NW, Washington, DC 20008, telephone (202) 265-6900, the Consulate General in New York, or honorary consuls in California, Florida, Ohio, and Texas. Visit the Embassy of Guyana web site at www.guyana.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: Driving in Guyana can be particularly dangerous, with a significant number of accidents and road fatalities occurring. See the section below on “Traffic Safety and Road Conditions” for additional information. In the past, demonstrations and protests occasionally occurred in Georgetown; however, these are increasingly rare. Past demonstrations have not been directed at U.S. citizens and violence against Americans in general is not common. Visitors should nevertheless remain alert and take prudent personal security measures to deal with the unexpected while in Guyana. It is advisable to avoid areas where crowds have congregated and to maintain a low profile when moving about Georgetown and other Guyanese cities. Most major eco-tourist resorts and hotels in Guyana do not have written emergency plans in place, and many of them have safety deficiencies, including a lack of easily identifiable lifeguards or no lifeguards at all. Many of these resorts also do not have adequately stocked first aid supplies. For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs web site, where the current Travel Warnings and Public Announcements, including 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 United States 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: Serious crime, including murder and home invasion, continues to be a major problem; the murder rate in Guyana is three times higher than the murder rate in the United States. In early 2008, an attack in the Georgetown suburb of Lusignan and in the Essequibo River town of Bartica by heavily armed gangs resulted in the deaths of more than 20 persons, mostly innocent Guyanese civilians. An investigation into these attacks is continuing, but most of the perpetrators are still at large. In addition, there have been several instances of random shootings at night at police headquarters or police stations in Georgetown. U.S. citizens are encouraged to maintain a high level of vigilance, consider security issues when planning activities throughout Guyana, minimize movement when possible, and avoid traveling at night, when possible.

Armed robberies continue to rise, especially in major business and shopping districts. Hotel room strong-arm break-ins are also increasing, so travelers should use caution when opening their hotel room doors and should safeguard valuables left in hotel rooms. Criminals may act brazenly, and police officers themselves have been the victims of assaults and shootings. Vehicle occupants should keep their doors locked and be aware of their surroundings at all times. Robbery and theft occur with some frequency in Georgetown and New Amsterdam. U.S. citizens should avoid stopping in or traveling through the village of Buxton, which lies along the road between Georgetown and New Amsterdam, and Agricola, which is located on the East Bank highway. The Department of State recommends that Embassy staff using the public golf course at Lusignan, next to Buxton, do so in groups and only during daylight hours. Pickpocketing, purse snatching by thieves on bicycles, assault, and theft can occur in all areas of Georgetown. The areas adjacent to the sea wall and the National Park in Georgetown, although frequented by joggers, dogwalkers, and families are generally considered safe during daylight hours, have been the scenes of crimes in the past. Travelers should exercise extra care when visiting these areas after dusk. Pickpockets and thieves also frequent Stabroek and Bourda, the two major markets, and great care should be taken to safeguard personal property when shopping in these markets. U.S. passports and permanent residency cards are prized by thieves as they may be used for smuggling and identity theft. There have been numerous incidents of piracy in recent months in and around the waters of Guyana. Mariners are advised to be vigilant and take appropriate precautions. Travelers should avoid walking alone around Georgetown, even in the main areas and especially at night. Although bandits have been known to attack taxis, they are generally safe and remain the safest means of getting about town and to and from the airport for visitors. Only taxis from reputable companies should be used. Exercise constant vigilance. Do not dress ostentatiously, as there have also been reports of gold chains or other jewelry being snatched off of pedestrians. The response of local law-enforcement authorities to the increase in violent crime has been largely ineffectual; the police are cooperative but lack the resources to respond effectively to serious criminal incidents. Nevertheless, Americans who are victims of crime are encouraged to contact the police as well as the American Citizens Services Unit of the U.S. Embassy's Consular Section.

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 in finding appropriate medical care, contact family members or friends and explain how funds may be transferred. Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime are 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 care is available for minor medical conditions. Emergency care and hospitalization for major medical illnesses or surgery are limited, due to a lack of appropriately trained specialists, below standard in-hospital care, and poor sanitation. Ambulance service is limited to transportation without any medical care and is frequently not available for emergencies. An MRI (linked to the United States for interpretation) has been installed and is operational, but results may take up to 4 days. Visitors are advised to bring prescription medicine sufficient for their length of stay and should be aware that Guyana's humid climate may affect some medicines. Some prescription medicines (mainly generic rather than name-brand) are available. Special attention should be paid to HIV/AIDS in Guyana. In addition to infection rates as high as 45% in high-risk populations such as commercial sex workers and mobile populations such as miners or loggers, data from the World Health Organization estimate that 1.6% of the general population is infected with HIV; this is among the highest prevalence rates in Latin America and the Caribbean. 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 Guyana is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
In 2007, road fatalities increased more than 40% from the previous year. The rate of traffic accident fatalities in Guyana is 70% higher than in the United States. The Traffic Division of Guyana's National Police Force is responsible for road safety but is ill-trained and ill-equipped. Driving in Guyana is hazardous because of very poor road surfaces; farm animals sleeping or wandering on the roads; pedestrians walking on the road; and poor driving habits, including speeding, reckless driving, tailgating, cell phone use, quick stops without signaling, failure to dim headlights, and weaving in and out of traffic. Traffic lights installed in Georgetown are often ignored or simply flash, posing a risk to drivers and pedestrians. Visitors should exercise caution at all times while driving and avoid driving at night, when possible. The Department of State recommends that Embassy staff travel in groups of two or more vehicles when traveling outside Georgetown at night.
Travelers are advised to use caution traveling to and from Cheddi Jagan International Airport, especially at night. The Embassy requires its staff to use official vehicles when traveling this route between dusk and dawn due to a combination of most of the aforementioned characteristics of driving in Guyana.
Penalties for drivers involved in an accident resulting in injury or death are severe, including life imprisonment. If involved in an accident, call 911 for police and 913 for an ambulance. Please note that police may be slow to respond and an ambulance may not be available.
Drivers use the left side of the road in Guyana. Seatbelt use is required by law and is enforced; failure to use a seatbelt can result in a fine. There presently are no laws in Guyana concerning use of child car seats, but the use of age-appropriate seats is strongly recommended for child passengers. Both drivers and passengers on motorcycles must wear protective helmets that meet certain specifications.
Mini-buses (small 12- to 15-passenger vans) ply various routes both within and between cities. Mini-bus drivers have come under severe criticism from the government, press, and private citizens for speeding, aggressive and reckless driving, overloading of vehicles, poor vehicle maintenance and repair, and offensive remarks directed at passengers, but little change in their driving behavior has been noted. Mini-buses have been involved in the majority of fatal vehicular accidents in recent years.
Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information. Visit the web site of the country’s national tourist office and national authority responsible for road safety.

AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of Guyana’s Civil Aviation Authority as not being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for the oversight of Guyana’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:
Air Travel: Flights on all airlines can be delayed, rerouted, or canceled without notice. Air travel within Guyana generally depends on demand. Flights that are not full may be canceled or passengers may be expected to pay for the empty seats. Travelers to the United States from Guyana have found narcotics planted in their luggage, both in bags registered under their names and in items they were carrying for others. Travelers should not carry any items they did not purchase and pack themselves and should take care that no additional bags are registered in their names. Travelers should hand carry medications, valuables, and perishable items.
Flooding: The coastal plain, which occupies about 5% of the country's area, is home to more than 90% of its inhabitants. The plain extends from the Corentyne River in the east to the Venezuelan border in the northwest. This coastal plain was created through the polder system, a technique that dams and then drains a water-covered area. The polder system consists of a front dam (the sea wall along the east coast) and a back dam (the freshwater conservancy) that is approximately 5 to 6 kilometers inland from the sea wall. The system is in a fragile state due to a chronic lack of maintenance. In addition, a dozen major drainage canals run from the base of the dam to the Atlantic Ocean across the polder itself. These main canals are, in turn, fed by literally thousands of lateral canals that run along both sides of almost every street and road. Seasonal rains (December-January and May-July), combined with the lack of maintenance and improper new construction, led to significant flooding in Greater Georgetown and along the East Coast in January 2005 and in the Mahaica-Mahaicony Abrary area, Canals 1 and 2, on the West Coast Demerara and the Pomeroon River catchment area in January 2006.
Drinking Water: An inadequate garbage removal system has resulted in illegal residential and commercial dumping on the roadside and into the drainage system. Decaying animal carcasses are periodically discovered in the intake canals for the Georgetown water supply. The water supply system throughout the country should be considered contaminated and travelers should treat or boil water before consumption, or purchase bottled water.
Changing Currency and Credit Card Use: Travelers should have enough cash or travelers checks to meet their expenses. With few exceptions, credit cards and ATM cards should not be used to withdraw cash from an overseas account, due to a high risk of stolen PIN data. Although credit cards are accepted at certain institutions in Georgetown, travelers should be careful when using them and check their receipts and statements to ensure that additional unauthorized purchases have not been made to their card. American citizens are advised to exchange currency only with banks, hotels, and licensed money exchange houses (“cambios”). Many foreigners who opt to exchange money on the streets, lured by promises of higher exchange rates, become victims of fraud or receive counterfeit currency. Foreigners have been mugged after completing bank transactions. There is no legal recourse unless the police are successful in apprehending the perpetrator; even then there is no guarantee that the money will be recovered.
Firearms: Guyanese customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation into or export from Guyana of items such as firearms. If you plan to take your firearms or ammunition to or through Guyana, you should contact officials at the Embassy of Guyana to learn about its regulations and fully comply with those regulations before traveling. You may consult http://www.customs.gov for information on importing firearms into the United States.
Wildlife: Many plants and animals common in Guyana are globally threatened or endangered species protected by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES at www.cites.org). The Guyanese Ministry of Agriculture will grant an export permit for taking an exotic bird out of the country only to those persons who have been legally residing in Guyana for more than one year. There have been several U.S. citizens arrested for attempting to leave Guyana carrying birds without having obtained an export permit. Americans who have legally resided in Guyana for more than a year and who would like to take back to the United States any birds or animals, including pets, that are listed in CITES Appendices I, II, and III, must also have an appropriate U.S. import permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). This is a U.S. regulation that applies regardless of distinctions among the three CITES Appendices. Individuals can obtain fact sheets and permit applications from the USFWS Office of Management Authority, Branch of Permits, 4401 N. Fairfax Drive, Arlington, VA 22203, telephone (703) 358-2104, fax (703) 358-2281, http://www.fws.gov/permits/.

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 Guyanese laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested, or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Guyana are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines. Possession of unlicensed guns can result in fines and imprisonment. Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime in Guyana and also prosecutable in the United States.

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 Guyana 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 Guyana. 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 100 Young and Duke Streets, telephone 011-592-225-4900 through 225-4909, fax 011-592-225-8497, web site http://georgetown.usembassy.gov/. Hours of operation are Monday-Friday, 7:30 am to 4:00 pm, except local and U.S. holidays. For emergencies after hours, on weekends and on holidays, U.S. citizens are requested to call the U.S. Embassy duty officer at 011-592-623-1992.
* * *
This replaces the Country Specific Information dated November 21, 2007, to reflect changes to Safety and Security, Crime, and Wildlife.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Tue 16 Apr 2019
Source: Kaieteur News Online [edited]

The mystery illness, which was erroneously assumed to be H1N1 (swine flu) and as leptospirosis in 2 cases, affecting employees working in the Guyana Manganese Inc. tunnel in Matthew's Ridge, Region One, Barima-Waini has finally been determined to be histoplasmosis, an infection by a fungus found in the droppings of birds, bats and rats in humid areas. [Histoplasmosis is caused by a fungus _Histoplasma capsulatum_ that lives in soil enriched by bird or bat, not rat, droppings. - ProMED Mod.ML]

This was confirmed when the Ministry of Public Health held a press conference yesterday [15 Apr 2019] in its Mental Health Unit Boardroom to provide an update on the recent outbreak and related issues.

Samples were collected from all patients, and initially some testing was done at the National Public Health Reference Laboratory (NPHRL). Further samples were sent to the Caribbean Public Health Agency Laboratory (CARPHA) in Trinidad for confirmation.

The results initially were negative for influenza A and B inclusive of H1N1, chikungunya, Zika and dengue. All patients underwent malaria tests in Matthews Ridge, and they were also negative.

Chief Medical Officer (CMO) Dr. Shamdeo Persaud provided a detailed update.

Relating the developments sequentially, the CMO said that the 1st 4 cases were reported on 28 Mar [2019]; one died while receiving care at Pakera District Hospital in Region One. The following day, 4 more were brought in to Pakera District Hospital complaining of similar symptoms (fever, headaches, joint pains, mild shortness of breath). Subsequently, the 7 Chinese workers were transferred to the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation (GPHC).

An additional 6 employees, including one Guyanese, were attended to at the Port Kaituma Hospital but later transferred to the GPHC. One of the 6 persons visited the hospital on his own. He was evaluated but not admitted.

Once the cases were reported, several teams visited the site from the regional level. The teams included the Regional Health Officer and the Regional Environmental Health Officer, along with some supporting medical staff.

"In the initial stage, we weren't sure what we were dealing with, but since it was a febrile illness with respiratory symptoms, we took all the necessary precautions to restrict access to both the site and the hospital where the patients were being kept. The additional staffers that were sent to the region set up a temporary facility at the community centre in Matthews Ridge where they were seeing the regular patients," the CMO recounted. "Following the transfer of the patients on 3 Apr [2019], they cleaned up the Pakera District Hospital and closed down the temporary sites. Work resumed as normal at the hospital for Maternal Child Health and other services."

"Two persons are dead; one died at Pakera District Hospital and one at GPHC. Of those admitted at the GPHC, 2 were discharged. An additional person was discharged from Pakera District Hospital. Ten workers were transferred to China on Mon 9 Apr [2019]. 16 Chinese workers were under care and treatment. Following the transfer, 2 more were admitted to Pakera Hospital bringing it to a total of 18."

Blood, sputum and urine samples were collected from those that were under care, while tissue samples were collected during the post mortem from the 2 deceased. Testing for these samples was done locally at the National Public Health Reference Laboratory (NPHRL), and confirmation was done at Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) in Trinidad.

"All tests were negative for influenza A & B, dengue, chikungunya and Zika. Even though [it was] reported we had 2 positive for leptospirosis, according to the NPHRL, those were later found negative through confirmation from CARPHA. On the weekend of 7 Apr [2019], a team was flown in to Matthews Ridge. The team included officers from the Environmental Protection Agency and Occupational Safety and Health, and they did an evaluation of the work site and looked at some of the risk factors relating to the environment. A community meeting was also held with residents," Dr. Persaud said.

It was disclosed that from 8-10 Apr [2019], 2 consultants from the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO) along with the Chief Medical Officer and a team from the Ministry of Public Health visited the area. A team of 9 officers from the Centre for Disease Control (CDC), China was also part of the visiting team. "During the visit, the team met with the hospital staff. We reviewed their procedures for infectious disease control and prevention, and we met with company officials. Interviews were conducted with the persons who were working in the mine." A total of 23 Chinese workers were interviewed. They were working in the 4 different tunnels.

The CMO continued: "On 10 Apr [2019], we received word from CARPHA that 5 samples were tested for histoplasmosis; 4 were positive. The Chinese CDC tested an additional 6 persons, and 5 were positive for histoplasmosis.  One person tested showed weak positive hantavirus, but this may have been because of a past exposure to that germ. "Currently, we are monitoring persons at Matthews Ridge. During the last 2 days, 2 persons developed fever, and they were admitted to Pakera District Hospital and are under close observation and treatment for hantavirus, which is a fungal infection. [Hantavirus infection is a viral, not fungal infection. - Mod.ML] We also took samples from them, and they are presently being processed for shipment to CARPHA."

Meanwhile, the absence of safety gear for workers was highlighted. Interviews were done with employees who had not developed any illness. And this revealed the shortcomings. Officials were told that the safety gear was in the country but was not on site. They had not cleared customs at the wharf at that time. However, that claim was never confirmed. Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Consultant Gwyneth King said, "Our information to date is that the workers were not wearing [any] personal safety gear. That is to say that they were not wearing respirators, so they were exposed to breathing in the fungus. If you have to do a job like that, you need to wear personal safety gear; otherwise, you could expose yourself."

King said that officials will be working within the confines of the Occupational Safety and Health Act to see what action, if any, can be taken against the company for this major inadequacy. However, they are only now going through their findings and preparing the report.
=====================
[As I assumed in my ProMED moderator comments in the last ProMED-mail post on this outbreak, the cause of the acute respiratory illness in workers in manganese mine tunnels in Guyana is apparently histoplasmosis.

We were initially told (ProMED-mail post (Undiagnosed resp. illness - Guyana: (Barima-Waini) manganese mine, fatal, RFI http://promedmail.org/post/20190401.6396933) that workers at a manganese mining company in Guyana, owned by a subsidiary of Chinese company Bosai Minerals Group Guyana Company Limited, developed what was said to be an influenza-like illness with "respiratory discomfort, rash, and high-grade fever." More than a dozen miners were affected, and 2 of the workers died. Post-mortem examinations on the 2 dead miners initially were said to have "revealed that they died from haemorrhagic pneumonia as a result of leptospirosis;" we now learn the diagnosis of leptospirosis was erroneous.

Initially, we were told that all infected persons were exposed to one common area, without evidence of person-to-person transmission (that is, presumably there were no secondary cases), but we were not told what that common area was. We were subsequently told the common area is the "Matthews Ridge tunnel site."

Manganese mines are usually open pits, which are subject to flooding that could lead to exposure to leptospirosis if there is also rat infestation. However, tunnels could be infested with bats and their guano, which would place mine workers at risk for histoplasmosis, a fungal pulmonary infection that follows unprotected inhalation of large inocula of _Histoplasma capsulatum_ spores. The fungus lives in soil fertilized by bird or bat droppings. Contaminated soil can remain potentially infectious for years. Microconidia spores become airborne when the contaminated soil is disturbed, for example, by digging in contaminated soil. Most infected individuals remain asymptomatic. Symptomatic illness is primarily caused by an intense exposure, and the severity of disease is related to the number of spores inhaled.

ProMED-mail previously reported on a histoplasmosis outbreak in tunnel workers in the Dominican Republic (see "See Also's" below).

Symptoms of histoplasmosis usually include non-specific flu-like symptoms (fever, chills, muscle aches, dry cough, and chest discomfort); potentially fatal adult respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) may occur when larger inocula are inhaled (<http://journal.publications.chestnet.org/article.aspx?articleid=1047573> and <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7244706?dopt=Abstract>). The pulmonary infection can disseminate throughout the body, and immunocompromised individuals may develop a severe form of histoplasmosis called progressive disseminated disease.

Histoplasmosis cannot be transmitted from person to person or from animals to people. The diagnosis can be made by culture of the organism from sputum or tissues, by serology, or by tests for antigen in urine and serum specimens. For treatment guidelines, see Clinical Practice Guidelines for the Management of Patients with Histoplasmosis: 2007 Update by the Infectious Diseases Society of America. Clin Infect Dis 2007; 45(7): 807-25. Available at <http://cid.oxfordjournals.org/content/45/7/807.full>. - ProMED Mod.ML]

[HealthMap/ProMED map available at:
Date: Sat 6 Apr 2019
Source: Outbreak News Today [edited]

Health officials in Guyana have reported a leptospirosis outbreak among Guyana Manganese Inc. (GMI) workers on [Fri 5 Apr 2019].  According to authorities, 2 Chinese nationals have been treated and released, while another mining employee, who was also tested positive for leptospirosis, is in "critical but stable condition".

One individual died from complications associated with leptospirosis on [Wed 3 Apr 2019] night while undergoing treatment at the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation (GPHC). Chief Medical Officer (CMO) Dr. Shamdeo Persaud said that "all precautionary measures are still in place at the Matthews Ridge tunnel site and immediate surroundings and essential medical supplies are in stock to treat employees of the mining firm and residents of the area.

Since last week's outbreak, the area has been deemed a 'Red Zone' by Ministry of Public Health (MOPH) authorities and "no one is allowed to enter the site," Dr. Persaud reminded on [Thu 4 Apr 2019].
Date: Mon 1 Apr 2019
Source: DPI Guyana [edited]

Public health officials have ruled out swine flu (H1N1), Zika, Chikungunya, dengue, and influenza A and B as possible causes of the recent spate of illnesses and death in Matthew's Ridge. Thus far, there has been no evidence of person-to-person transmission of infection. It is noted that only persons who were directly exposed to one common area became ill.

As of Sunday, 31 Mar [2019], a response team comprising the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Surveillance, EH, doctors, and nurses were dispatched to region 1 to support the efforts taken in theregion to address the illnesses. The fortified health response focuses on providing uninterrupted health services to the residents of Matthew's Ridge, as well as on conducting health assessments of all persons working in the mining area.

The decision was taken to transfer all the patients with the acute respiratory illness, rash, and fever to our tertiary institution, the Georgetown Public Hospital (GPHC), where critical care can be provided should the need arise. While the specialists continue to work on the 7 patients admitted on Saturday [30 Mar 2019], results have shown that 2 patients tested positive for leptospirosis, which is known to be spread by direct contact with rat urine or faeces. Further tests are being conducted locally, and samples will be sent overseas with support from PAHO and CARPHA to get further tests done to rule out other possible infections.

The Public Health Ministry is taking all necessary precautions to ensure staff and members of the community at Matthew's Ridge are kept safe.

The mining company has been instructed to halt further exploration until the ministry and a team from the Occupational Health and Safety department of the Ministry of Social Protection can advise further. The Ministry of Public Health, along with partners, will continue to monitor the situation closely until resolution.
========================
[Leptospirosis is a bacterial disease that affects humans and animals. It is caused by bacteria of the genus _Leptospira_. In humans, it can cause a wide range of symptoms, some of which may be mistaken for other diseases. Some infected persons, however, may have no symptoms at all.

Without treatment, leptospirosis can lead to kidney damage, meningitis (inflammation of the membrane around the brain and spinal cord), liver failure, respiratory distress, and even death  (<https://www.cdc.gov/leptospirosis/index.html>).

Leptospirosis occurs worldwide but is most common in temperate or tropical climates. It is an occupational hazard for many people who work outdoors or with animals, such as farmers, mine workers, sewer workers, slaughterhouse workers, veterinarians and animal caretakers, fish workers, dairy farmers, and military personnel. The disease has also been associated with swimming, wading, kayaking, and rafting in contaminated lakes and rivers. As such, it is a recreational hazard for campers or those who participate in outdoor sports. The risk is likely greater for those who participate in these activities in tropical or temperate climates.

According to the above report, appropriate public health measures are being taken to contain the above "outbreak" and confirm any new cases as early as possible. - ProMED Mod.UBA]

[We were told in the initial ProMED-mail post (Undiagnosed resp. illness - Guyana: (Barima-Waini) manganese mine, fatal, RFI http://promedmail.org/post/20190401.6396933) that 8 individuals working at a manganese mining company in Guyana, owned by a subsidiary of Chinese company Bosai Minerals Group Guyana Company Limited, developed what was said to be an influenza-like illness with "respiratory discomfort, rash, and high-grade fever." One of the individuals died.

A subsequent update from Guyana Department of Public Information (above) says that swine flu (H1N1), Zika, chikungunya, dengue, and influenza A and B have been ruled out as possible causes of this outbreak, although 2 patients tested positive for leptospirosis, without specifying what tests were done to make that determination. All infected persons are said to have been exposed to one common area, without evidence of person-to-person transmission (that is, presumably there are no secondary cases), but we are not told what that common area is.

Leptospirosis is an infection transmitted to humans by exposure to soil or fresh water contaminated with the urine of wild and domestic animals (including dogs, cattle, swine, and especially rodents) that are chronically infected with pathogenic _Leptospira_. The Bosai mine is an open pit mine, the usual way manganese is mined (<https://demerarawaves.com/2017/01/27/manganese-mining-in-north-west-district-to-create-hundreds-of-jobs-improved-infrastructure/>). Open pit mines are subject to flooding, which could lead to exposure to leptospirosis if there is also rat infestation.

The clinical presentation of leptospirosis is frequently nonspecific, with fever, headache, and myalgias. Patients often have a dry cough, which is usually mild and without any sequelae, that accompanies the other symptoms. Severe leptospirosis, known as Weil's disease, is characterized by liver damage (causing jaundice), renal failure, and bleeding. Meningoencephalitis and myocarditis may also be present. However, pulmonary involvement, which manifests itself as pulmonary hemorrhage, can be severe, with massive hemoptysis, respiratory insufficiency, and death (<https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3519021/>). The diagnosis of leptospirosis can be made by PCR assays during the acute illness and ELISA (enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay) for the detection of _Leptospira_-specific IgM antibodies. The microscopic agglutination test (MAT), which detects antibodies to specific serovars using several reference strains, confirms the diagnosis.

Another disease transmitted by rodents is hantavirus infection. Infected rodents shed the virus in feces, urine, and saliva. Dr. Jan Clement in previous ProMED-mail posts (e.g., Leptospirosis - South Africa (02): (WC) fatal, prisoners, rat infestation, comment http://promedmail.org/post/20151004.3690652) has pointed out the need to consider hantavirus infection in the differential diagnosis of rodent-borne diseases such as leptospirosis. ProMED-mail moderator TY [ProMED Mod.TY] has indicated the presence of hantaviruses in this region of northeastern South America. See ProMED-mail post Hantavirus update 2010 - Americas (40): Chile, French Guiana http://promedmail.org/post/20101224.4542. - ProMED Mod.ML]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map:
Barima-Waini region, Guyana: <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/3849>]
Date: Sun 31 Mar 2019
Source: Kaieteur News [edited]

One of several afflicted manganese workers is now dead, after exhibiting symptoms of a viral influenza, yesterday [30 Mar 2019]. The other 7, who are also Chinese nationals, are currently being treated at the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation (GPHC).

A team of medical personnel was deployed to Matthews Ridge [Barima-Waini region] yesterday, from the Mabaruma Hospital after the members received these reports.

The 7 men were airlifted to Eugene F Correia International Airport, Ogle, and transported to GPHC for treatment.

A medical practitioner on the team informed this publication that the team has been extremely cautious, both, in its transport of the patients and with the level of care they're currently receiving.

This publication was informed that 2 floors of the Male Medical Ward of GPHC were cleared and restricted yesterday, to quarantine the victims of the undetermined illness.

The 7 workers had initially been taken to Pakera Hospital, Matthews Ridge, for treatment.

The medical personnel at the hospital have been running a battery of tests. Further testing is expected to be done to ascertain the exact nature of the illness. One doctor involved has dismissed speculation that swine flu [influenza A(H1N1)] is the cause of the symptoms.

The workers were reportedly stationed at a manganese mine owned by Guyana Manganese Inc. (GMI), a subsidiary of Chinese company, Bosai Minerals Group Guyana Company Limited, when they began showing signs of respiratory discomfort, rash, and [high grade fever].

Just [Fri 29 Mar 2019], Ministers of Natural Resources and Public Affairs, Raphael Trotman, and Dawn Hastings-Williams, visited the mine to inspect it, since operations there are expected to restart soon.

To date, 113 Guyanese and 23 expatriates have already been employed with GMI.

According to health officials, they are up on the alert for measles and immunisable diseases.
===================
[According to the report above, the clinical presentation of the cases includes high grade fever with a rash and respiratory symptoms. The report mentions 8 workers who developed symptoms but does not provide information on epidemiological factors such as whether the workers lived in close proximity prior to developing symptoms, any travel history or new arrivals to the mine, or any co-morbid conditions. Detection of the responsible pathogen or toxin is necessary to provide appropriate treatment and to protect the other workers. Any further information in this regard will be highly appreciated. - ProMED Mod.UBA]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of Guyana:
Date: Wed 13 Sep 2017
Source: Stabroek News [edited]

Residents of Wakapoa, in Region Two (Pomeroon-Supenaam), suspect that there is a typhoid outbreak in the community, where the absence of medical professionals and drugs at the community health centre has become the norm. At least 8 people from the village have been reported as having typhoid.

A resident sought to highlight the plight of those in her village in a recent Facebook post by calling on those in authority to look into the matter. "Hello my friends, with a feeling of anxiety and frustration I reach out to you this evening to ask if anyone can refer me to the relevant authorities for help for the folks of Wakapoa. Presently, there seems to be an outbreak of typhoid in my community! With 6 people from my family already sick and in need of treatment!! There's no doctor or medex at our health centre and it is apparent we do not have any treatment here right now... 4 members in my family [are] presently at Suddie Hospital talking treatment... But it is very expensive to travel to that hospital and the required tests are also expensive," she wrote, while asking for assistance to notify the Public Health Minister and other organizations that could help the community.
======================
[Typhoid fever, so-called enteric fever caused by _Salmonella enterica_ serotype Typhi, often has a totally different presentation from that of the commoner kinds of salmonellosis. Epidemiologically, usually spread by contaminated food or water, typhoid is not a zoonosis like the more common types of salmonellosis. Clinically, vomiting and diarrhoea are typically absent; indeed, constipation is frequently reported. As it is a systemic illness, blood cultures are at least as likely to be positive as stool in enteric fever, particularly early in the course of the infection, and bone marrow cultures may be the most sensitive.

The symptoms of classical typhoid fever typically include fever, anorexia, lethargy, malaise, dull continuous headache, non-productive cough, vague abdominal pain, and constipation. Despite the frequently high fever, the pulse is often only slightly elevated. During the 2nd week of the illness, there is protracted fever and mental dullness, classically called coma vigil. Diarrhoea may develop but usually does not. Many patients develop hepatosplenomegaly [both liver and spleen enlarged]. After the 1st week or so, many cases develop a maculopapular rash on the upper abdomen. These lesions ("rose spots") are about 2 cm [0.78 in] in diameter and blanch on pressure. They persist for 2-4 days and may come and go. Mild and atypical infections are common.

The word typhoid (as in typhus-like) reflects the similarity of the louse-borne rickettsial disease epidemic typhus and that of typhoid fever; in fact, in some areas, typhoid fever is still referred to as abdominal typhus.

Pomeroon-Supenaam (Region 2) is a region in Guyana, bordering the Atlantic Ocean to the north, the region of Essequibo Islands-West Demerara to the east, the region of Cuyuni-Mazaruni to the south and the region of Barima-Waini to the west. Pomeroon-Supenaam contains the towns of Anna Regina, Charity, Pickersgill, Spring Garden and Suddie. It can be seen on a map of the country at <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pomeroon-Supenaam>. - ProMED Mod.LL]

[A HealthMap/ProMED-mail map can be accessed at:
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Slovakia

Slovak Republic US Consular Information Sheet
July 09, 2008
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
The Slovak Republic is a rapidly developing European nation. Tourist facilities are not as developed as those found in Western Europe, particularly outside th
major cities, and some goods and services taken for granted in other European countries are occasionally unavailable.
Read the Department of State Background Notes on the Slovak Republic for additional information.

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS: A passport is required. A visa is not required for stays for tourism or business up to 90 days within six months of the date of first entry into the Slovak Republic/Schengen zone. That period begins when you enter any of the Schengen countries: Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain and Sweden.
All foreigners seeking entry into the Slovak Republic must carry proof of a medical insurance policy contracted for payment of all costs for hospitalization and medical treatment in the Slovak Republic.
Border police have the right to request evidence of finances sufficient to pay for the proposed stay in the Slovak Republic in the amount of $50 per person per day.
Current information can be found on the Slovak Embassy’s web site at http://www.slovakembassy-us.org.

All persons in Slovakia over the age of 15 must carry official identification at all times. American citizens staying overnight in Slovakia must register with the local Border and Aliens Police within three working days.
Persons staying hotels are registered automatically.
Visit the Slovak Ministry of the Interior’s web site at http://www.minv.sk for the most current information.

NOTE: On December 21, 2007, Slovakia became a member of a group of countries collectively known as “Schengen countries” or the “Schengen zone.” Americans may enter and remain within the entire Schengen zone without a visa for no more than 90 days in any six-month period. If an American has just spent 60 days in another Schengen country, for example, he or she would be permitted to enter Slovakia only for the remaining 30 days. It is not possible to extend a tourist stay beyond 90 days in the Schengen zone. Once an American has used his/her 90 days, he/she cannot reenter Slovakia until he/she has spent at least three months outside the Schengen zone.

Although European Union regulations require that non-EU visitors obtain a stamp in their passport upon initial entry to a Schengen country, many borders are not staffed with officers carrying out this function. If an American citizen wishes to ensure that his or her entry is properly documented, it may be necessary to request a stamp at an official point of entry. Under local law, travelers without a stamp in their passport may be questioned and asked to document the length of their stay in Schengen countries, and could face possible fines or other repercussions if unable to do so.

Persons wishing to remain in Slovakia longer than 90 days or arriving for purposes other than tourism or business travel may apply for temporary residency and/or work permits shortly after arrival in Slovakia.
However, it is strongly recommended that such persons review the requirements and begin preparing their applications prior to travel, as many documents required of U.S. citizens are more easily obtained in the United States.
For example, U.S. citizens must submit a certificate not older than 90 days showing the result of a fingerprint records check by the FBI.
As authorities in Slovakia cannot take fingerprints for this purpose, it is extremely difficult to obtain this certificate after arrival in Slovakia.
In addition, Slovakia requires all documents (birth certificates, etc) intended for official use in Slovakia to be authenticated (e.g. to have an apostille). See our section on Judicial Assistance for more 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:
Taking photographs of security/military installations (for example, military bases, government buildings, nuclear power plants, etc.) is prohibited. Violation of this law may result in confiscation of the camera, film or memory card, a reprimand or fine, or even expulsion from the country. Serious cases may be reported to and handled by local and/or military police.

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

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

CRIME:
The Slovak Republic has a medium rate of crime. Police forces suffer from a lack of manpower resources and equipment. Local police are not likely to speak English. Western visitors, especially short-term visitors such as tourists and students, are the primary foreign targets of street crime. The majority of street crime is non-violent and ranges from pickpocketing (particularly in the summer) and purse and cellular telephone snatchings to mugging, armed robbery, shooting, drugging and robbing of unsuspecting victims at nightspots and bars. Most reported thefts occur at crowded tourist sites (such as Bratislava’s Old Town area) or on public buses or trains. Thieves in the Slovak Republic often work in groups or pairs. In most cases, one thief distracts the victim, another performs the robbery, and a third person hands off the stolen item to a nearby accomplice. Groups of street children are known to divert tourists’ attention so that a member of their group can pickpocket the tourists while they are distracted. Do not leave personal items in unattended vehicles, even if locked.
Reports of racially motivated incidents against foreigners and minorities, particularly perpetrated by groups with a history of targeting persons of Roma, African, or Asian descent, have occurred in the Slovak Republic. In addition to incidents of assault, persons of Roma, African, or Asian heritage may be subject to various types of harassment, such as verbal abuse.

Both indigenous and foreign organized crime groups are well-established in the Slovak Republic. They do not target U.S. or other foreign individuals and tend to co-exist peacefully in the tourist district so as not to scare away tourist dollars. Though not common, violent incidents sometimes do occur outside of Old Town Bratislava.

INFORMATION FOR VICTIMS OF CRIME: The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate for assistance.
The Embassy or Consulate staff can, for example, assist you to find appropriate medical care, to contact family members or friends and explain how funds could be transferred.
Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed.
The local equivalent to the 911 emergency line in Slovakia is 155.
See our information on Victims of Crime.
MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:
Medical facilities are available in the Slovak Republic, although the quality and availability varies within the country. Ambulances are only a means of transportation to the hospital; they may not have life support stabilization equipment on board. Only a limited number of doctors speak English.
Doctors and hospitals expect cash payment for health services unless the patient can present an insurance number from the Slovak National Insurance Company. Serious medical problems requiring hospitalization and/or medical evacuation to the United States can cost tens of thousands of dollars or more.

Medical prescriptions issued in the U.S. are not valid in the Slovak Republic. If needed, a local doctor must issue a prescription. Medicines are generally available locally, if not under the American name the doctor can be consulted for a substitute. The Ministry of Health of Slovak Republic administers the use of medicines and medicine brought to the Slovak Republic for personal use may become subject to comparison against the list of those authorized for use in the Slovak Republic.

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

Roads in the Slovak Republic typically are safe and well maintained. Four-lane highways exist in and around Bratislava. However, most roads outside of built-up areas are two lanes only, and aggressive drivers attempting to pass at unsafe speeds pose a serious hazard. Due to poor lighting and narrow, winding roads, nighttime driving outside of built-up areas is not recommended.

From November through March there is often heavy snowfall, which is not adequately cleared from many rural roads. Roads in the mountainous northern part of the country are particularly prone to hazardous conditions during winter months. Winter tires are recommended and chains are necessary in certain mountainous areas.

In the Slovak Republic, vehicles travel on the right side of the road. Headlights must be used at all times (day and night) from October 15 until March 15. The maximum legal speed on highways is 130 kilometers per hour (78 mph). On smaller roads the maximum speed in 90 kph (54 mph). The limit in towns is 60 kph (36 mph). Use of cellular phones while driving is strictly prohibited. Safety reflection vests and first aid kits are compulsory equipment of each vehicle.

Drivers must yield the right of way to all vehicles with flashing blue lights (police, ambulances, fire trucks, motorcades). Vehicles with yellow or orange lights usually mean that traffic must slow down. Drivers must always be cautious, however, as many slowly moving vehicles, such as agricultural vehicles, are not well marked.

Driving under the influence of alcohol is strictly prohibited. The blood alcohol tolerance level is zero percent.
Penalties for drivers involved in car accidents involving injury of death are decided by a court of law. Penalties for minor offenses are not generally large, but foreigners are sometimes targeted for additional sums. Anyone suspecting this has occurred should ask for a written receipt and note the name and number of the traffic officer imposing the fine.

Gasoline is readily available, although many gas stations are closed on Sunday, especially in rural areas. Gas stations typically do not offer repair service; private mechanics must be found. Most gas stations accept credit cards, but mechanics less frequently accept them, so travelers should expect to pay for these services in cash.

A highway user decal must be purchased for travel on most major roads outside of Bratislava. The decal is valid for the calendar year in which it is purchased, and is available at gas stations, post offices and some newspaper kiosks. The cost is 1100 Sk (Slovak crowns) for all vehicles up to 3.5 tons. A short-term decal valid for 30 days may be purchased for 300 Sk and for 7 days for 150Sk.

Taxi companies provide generally reliable, safe, and economical services. Avoid independent cabs that do not prominently display a company name. Visitors should be alert to the potential for substantial overcharging by taxis, particularly in areas frequented by tourists. Radio-dispatched taxis are often much more reliable.

Buses, trolleys, and trams are mechanically safe, but there have been reports of thefts on city transportation and of harassment by the transport police. On public transportation it is obligatory to have a time-ticket validated after entering the vehicle (valid for 10, 30, or 60 minutes), or a prepaid zone ticket (valid for 24,.48,. or 68-hours, and 1 month, 3 months or 1 year). Children from 6 to 15 years of age pay reduced fares. Passengers who are traveling without a valid ticket will be fined by the ticker inspector. The ticket inspector has to have an identification card and must provide a ticket for the fine. More information is provided in English at www.imhd.sk.

Inter-city travel is widely available by bus, train, or taxi and is generally safe (inquire about taxi fares in advance). There are regular international trains and buses which are mechanically safe. However, there is a danger of theft, even from locked compartments, particularly on international night trains serving Warsaw, Prague and Budapest. Taxi drivers with special permits may provide international taxi service.

A motorcycle driver’s license and helmet are required. Small motorcycles are not allowed on highways. All traffic regulations apply.

Tourists coming to the Slovak Republic are required to have an International Drivers’ Permit. A U.S. driver’s license alone is not sufficient to drive in Slovakia. The U.S. driver’s license must be accompanied by an International Driver’s Permit, obtainable in the United States from the American Automobile Association and the American Automobile Touring Alliance.

A Slovak Driver’s License can be applied for at the Dopravny Inspektorat in the district of the applicant’s place of residence in the Slovak Republic. Completion of the regular driving course and a written examination (in Slovak) are required for issuance of a Slovak driver’s license. For specific information concerning Slovak driver’s permit, vehicle inspection, road tax and mandatory insurance, contact the Slovak Embassy in Washington, DC.

Please refer to our Road Safety page for information.

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

SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:
Slovak customs authorities enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation into or export from the Slovak Republic of items such as firearms, antiquities, medications, business equipment, etc. It is advisable to contact the Embassy of the Slovak Republic in Washington, D.C, or one of the Slovak consulates in the United States for specific information regarding customs requirements.

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 Slovak laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Slovakia are strict and convicted offenders can expect jail sentences and heavy fines.
Engaging in illicit sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime, prosecutable in the United States.
Please see our information on Criminal Penalties.

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

REGISTRATION/EMBASSY AND CONSULATE LOCATIONS:
Americans living in the Slovak Republic are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy of Consulate through the State Department’s travel registration web site so that they can obtain updated information on travel and security within the Slovak Republic.
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 in Bratislava is located at Hviezdoslavovo namestie 4, Bratislava telephone (421) (2)5443 0861; (421) (2) 5443 3338, fax (421) (2) 5441 8861; mailing address: U.S. Embassy, P.O. Box 309, 814 99 Bratislava, Slovak Republic; e-mail: consul@usembassy.gov; web site:http://slovakia.usembassy.gov
* * * *
This replaces the Country Specific Information for Slovakia dated December 17, 2007 without substantive changes.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Thu 2 Jun 2016
Source: The Slovak Spectator [edited]
<http://spectator.sme.sk/c/20179834/number-of-people-infected-with-tick-borne-encephalitis-rises.html>

The number of people suffering from tick-borne encephalitis in Košice increased again on 1 Jun [2016]. So far 27 infected patients have been hospitalised at the Infectology and Travel Medicine Department (KICM) of the Louis Pasteur University Hospital (UNLP) while another 5 are being monitored by doctors at outpatient departments. "This number is not necessarily definitive, as the incubation period of the disease (between 7-14 days - ed. note) has not expired yet," said Ladislava Šustova¡, the hospital's spokesperson, as cited by the SITA newswire.

Some patients have been released from the hospital already while doctors have not recorded any complications in treatment so far. Local tick-borne encephalitis broke out in Košice last weekend [28-29 May 2016]. Consumption of cheese produced from unpasteurized sheep's milk is said to have caused the infection. Symptoms of this infectious viral disease come in 2 stages: "The 1st presents as a mild flu, including a loss of appetite and intestinal problems," explained Šustova.

"After 3 or 4 days these problems fade and the so-called asymptomatic phase occurs, which can last up to 20 days. Then a 2nd phase sets in abruptly, featuring high fever, persistent headaches, vomiting, sensitivity to light, a stiff neck, and other symptoms characteristic of the involvement of the central nervous system." One of the most serious complications of the disease is meningitis. KICM records 6 cases of tick-borne encephalitis on average per year.

"Such a mass outbreak of tick-borne encephalitis has not been recorded at this hospital for the past 5 years," said Šustová. In total, Slovak doctors diagnosed 88 cases of tick-borne encephalitis in Slovakia last year [2015], 17 of which were found to be contracted via food. So far this year [2016], except for the local epidemic in Košice, 8 people have contracted the disease, none of them via food, Martina Merková from the Public Health Authority (ÚVZ) told the TASR newswire.
=======================
[Central and Eastern Europe countries are endemic for the European subtype of tick-borne encephalitis (TBE) virus and cases occur yearly there. Although castor bean ticks, _Ixodes ricinus_, are the main vectors that transmit TBE virus to people, individuals can become infected by consumption of unpasteurized milk and milk products coming from infected animals -- goats in the situation above.

Presumably, the public will be warned of this risk and advised of measures to avoid tick bites and be vaccinated as people become more active out of doors with the onset of warmer weather. The Standing Commission on Vaccination Recommendations at the Robert Koch Institute recommends vaccination against TBE for people who live or work in areas at risk of TBE and who are at risk of tick bites, and for people in endemic areas for other reasons if they are at risk of tick exposure. - ProMed Mod.TY]

[Maps of Slovakia can be seen at <http://www.ezilon.com/maps/images/europe/Slovakian-political-map.gif> and <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/53556>. - ProMed Sr.Tech.Ed.MJ]
   Date: Tue 14 Oct 2014
Source: Czech News Agency [edited]

Sanitary authorities registered dozens of cases of hepatitis A in southern Slovakia over the past few weeks, and due to the local epidemic, they ordered the suspension of activity at some schools and vaccination in the afflicted localities, the health authority in Nitra said today, 14 Oct 2014.

The hepatitis mainly spread in the Zlate Moravce and Levice districts, afflicting all age groups, the office said. In Zlate Moravce, most of the cases were confirmed with the local Romas and the people living in very poor sanitary conditions. As many as 14 infected persons lived at the same address in the village of caradice, without water and toilets.

"The number of ill is rising," the head of the teaching hospital in Nitra, Jozef Valocky, is quoted as saying. So far, at least 50 people have contracted hepatitis. In the afflicted localities, the sanitary officers have ordered the vaccination of about 1000 people as well as preventative vaccination of the children living in poor sanitary conditions.
====================
[Hepatitis A is a liver infection caused by the hepatitis A virus. The virus is spread by faecal-oral transmission. Hepatitis A is closely associated with inadequate sanitation and poor personal hygiene. Unlike hepatitis B and C, hepatitis A infection does not cause chronic liver disease and is rarely fatal, but it can cause debilitating symptoms. Hepatitis A occurs sporadically and in epidemics worldwide, with a tendency for cyclic recurrences. Waterborne outbreaks are usually associated with sewage contaminated- or inadequately treated water.

Casual contact among people does not spread the virus. In developing countries (where sanitary conditions are poor), most children experience infection in early childhood. As a consequence of poor sanitary conditions and hygienic practices, most children (up to 90 percent) have been infected with the hepatitis A virus before the age of 10. Those infected in childhood do not experience any noticeable symptoms. Consequently, epidemics are uncommon because older children and adults are generally immune. Symptomatic disease rates in these areas are low, and outbreaks are generally rare, although one seems to have occurred here. - ProMed Mod.LL]

[A HealthMap/ProMED-mail map can be accessed at:
Date: Sat 10 Nov 2012
Source: NOVINY.SK [in Slovak, trans., edited]

Farm in Staskovce quarantined because of anthrax
------------------------------------------------
In the past few days 4 oxen have died on a farm in the village of Staskovce, Stropkov [district, Presov region]. The diagnosis has been confirmed in one of the animals.

The animals died over a short period of some 3-4 hours and the event took everyone by surprise. The farmers claim that they have seen nothing like this in the previous 20 years. And they take pride in the quality of livestock -- cattle, pigs, horses -- that they produce.

The veterinarians are on the farm and the affected herd has been quarantined in the farm stables. The affected animals had appeared to be healthy and the owner was taken by surprise.

Anthrax had been seen previously in the district of Svidnik 2 years ago.
----------------------------------------
communicated by:
Sabine Zentis
Castleview Pedigree English Longhorns
Gut Laach
52385 Nideggen
Germany
=====================
[This report is abstracted from a TV news report and if you go to the site you can hear the full report in Slovak.

In July 2010, 3 farms in Svidnik, Presov region, were reported with outbreaks and 9 animals were affected (see <http://www.oie.int/wahis_2/public%5C..%5Ctemp%5Creports/en_fup_0000010361_20110314_165943.pdf>). From the OIE reports and map they would appear to have been adjoining farms. These 2010 outbreaks were the first since 1995 in Slovakia, which is regarded as essentially free. But they had a human case in 2003, not otherwise explained, which suggests that the their freedom was conditional, that is, there were some unreported background cases. This could hint at the farmer having bought contaminated hay grown in one of those disturbed fields and the hay got soil contaminated -- this can happen if it rains during haymaking and mud gets included in the hay.

These outbreaks out of the blue usually are a result of earth moving activities on the farm, which resulted in an old anthrax grave being disturbed or of a waste-pit at a now closed tannery, which is much the same thing epidemiologically. However a new risk has shown itself latterly of contaminated imported bone meals. If this were the case there will be essentially simultaneous outbreaks on other dairy farms in the area from the same bone meal shipment.

Let us hope that the Slovak veterinarians are investigating this outbreak to discover the source of the infection.

Date: Tue, 18 Sep 2012 15:08:54 +0200 (METDST)

Bratislava, Slovakia, Sept 18, 2012 (AFP) - Slovakia banned alcohol from the Czech Republic Tuesday amid a wave of poisoning from methanol-tainted bootleg spirits that has claimed 21 Czech lives and put four Slovaks in hospital. "As a neighbouring country, which imports a quarter of Czech-made alcohol, we decided to ban the import and sale of Czech alcohol, effective as of 5 pm (1500 GMT) today," Agriculture Minister Lubomir Jahnatek told journalists.  "This is a precautionary measure after we learned that grocery chains were planning a big sale on Czech alcohol for tomorrow," he added. So far Slovakia, a nation of 5.4 million, has not recorded any bootleg-related deaths. Four people were hospitalised on Sunday after drinking a bottle of Czech-made plum brandy ordered over the Internet, but were reported to be in good condition.

The Slovaks had bought the liquor for a 50th birthday party via the Internet and received it in plastic bottles, local media reported. Poland banned the sale of all Czech-made alcohol except for beer and wine on Sunday after five deaths were recorded in the past two weeks, though they were not necessarily linked. On Friday, the Czech health ministry imposed a blanket ban on sales of spirits with over 20 percent alcohol content for the first time in the history of the nation of 10.5 million, which has the world's second highest adult alcohol intake after Moldova.

The ban could last for months, Health Minister Leos Heger said. A health ministry analysis showed most of those affected had drunk one of two types of tainted liquor -- vodka or a local rum dubbed "tuzemak". The Czech Association of Spirits Producers and Importers meanwhile said it estimated the bootleg liquor sold on the black market "made up 20 percent of total Czech alcohol consumption." Czech police were still looking Tuesday for the primary source of the poisonings but 23 suspected bootleggers and their distributors had faced charges as of Tuesday.
Date: Wed, 11 Jul 2012 21:56:23 +0200 (METDST)

BRATISLAVA, July 11, 2012 (AFP) - An 18-year-old Belgian boy scout was killed by a lightning while hiking in the High Tatra mountains in northern Slovakia on Wednesday, local media reported. "A group of Belgian boy scouts were hiking in the High Tatra mountains when a lightning struck one of them" on the summit of Slavkovsky Stit, 2,452 metres (8,045 feet) above sea level, the TASR news agency said. "The scouts called the emergency and started resuscitating him but neither they nor the emergency team that arrived by helicopter succeeded and the boy died," it added.
More ...

World Travel News Headlines

Date: Sun 23 Feb 2020
Source: Q Costa Rica News [edited]
<https://qcostarica.com/costa-rica-is-the-first-country-in-america-where-very-resistant-antibiotic-bacteria-for-meningitis-is-isolated/>

A 50-year-old man and a senior became the 1st 2 people in Costa Rica -- and in the Americas -- found to be infected with the bacteria most resistant to antibiotics used in the treatment of meningitis and meningococcal septicaemia that cause serious brain damage and even death. The Centro Nacional de Referencia en Bacteriolog­a (CNRB) -- National Center of Reference in Bacteriology, of the Instituto Costarricense de Investigacian y Enseaanza en Nutricin y Salud (Inciensa) -- Costa Rican Institute for Research and Education in Nutrition and Health (Incense), issued an alert, in early February [2020], after documenting the circulation of _Neisseria meningitidis_ (_N. meningitidis_) serogroup Y, resistant to penicillin and not sensitive to cefotaxime [and ceftriaxone?], two 3rd generation antibiotics, reports La Nation.
====================
[Invasive meningococcal disease (meningococcaemia and meningitis) is a life-threatening infection caused by _Neisseria meningitidis_ that evolves rapidly, often even when appropriate treatment has been started promptly. Because antimicrobial treatment for invasive meningococcal disease with a 3rd-generation cephalosporin (cefotaxime and ceftriaxone) is the widely accepted standard recommendation (<https://academic.oup.com/cid/article/39/9/1267/402080>), resistance of _N. meningitidis_ to cefotaxime and ceftriaxone is very worrisome.

The news report above says that 2 patients in Costa Rica were infected with _N. meningitidis_ serogroup Y resistant to penicillin and 2 3rd generation cephalosporins, one of which was cefotaxime. The other 3rd generation cephalosporin is not specified, but is perhaps ceftriaxone, the other 3rd generation cephalosporin usually used to treat this disease. We are also not told in the news report above if the 2 patients were epidemiologically linked, nor are we told the extent (that is, MICs [minimum inhibitory concentration] of penicillin or cefotaxime), the mechanisms of resistance, or resistance to any of the other antimicrobial drugs used to prevent or treat this disease.

More information would be appreciated from knowledgeable sources. Reduced susceptibility of _N. meningitidis_ to penicillin has been reported in the past in many countries, including the US (<https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1169190/>), usually due to decreased affinity of target penicillin-binding proteins for penicillin and less commonly to beta-lactamase production (<https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC89938/>, <https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/3134848-relative-penicillin-g-resistance-in-neisseria-meningitidis-and-reduced-affinity-of-penicillin-binding-protein-3/>, and <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC162989/pdf/392577.pdf>).

Meningococcal isolates with reduced susceptibility to penicillin G usually were reported susceptible to 3rd-generation cephalosporins (cefotaxime and ceftriaxone). For example, despite the decrease in susceptibility to penicillin G in 33% of 2888 isolates of _N. meningitidis_, all isolates were susceptible to ceftriaxone in Brazil from 2009 to 2016 (<https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29717974-surveillance-of-antimicrobial-resistance-in-neisseria-meningitidis-strains-isolated-from-invasive-cases-in-brazil-from-2009-to-2016/>). Similar data have been reported for the US (<https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1169190/>).

However, one previous study reported 8 clinical isolates _N. meningitidis_ in Delhi, India in 2006 that were resistant to ceftriaxone and cefotaxime, with most also resistant to penicillin, ciprofloxacin, and chloramphenicol (<https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1698303/>). All of the isolates were identified as serogroup A _N. meningitidis_, but no further details concerning these isolates were given in this report (<https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1865813/>).

Resistance to other antimicrobial agents that may be used for therapy of meningococcal infections or for prophylaxis of case contacts has been reported in several countries. This includes resistance to chloramphenicol, fluoroquinolones, and rifampin. Horizontal exchange of genes that encode resistance for penicillin, rifampin, and the fluoroquinolones from other _Neisseria_ species that share a common ecological niche with _N. meningitidis_ in the nasopharynx has been proposed as one possible mechanism of acquisition of meningococcal antibiotic resistance (<http://jac.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/content/full/49/3/545>). - ProMED Mod.ML]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of Costa Rica: <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/17>]
Date: Tue 25 Feb 2020
From: Anne Laudisoit, PhD [edited]
<laudisoit@ecohealthalliance.org>

A suspect plague outbreak cluster has been noted in the the Godjoka health area as of 19 Feb 2020. The chief medical officer of the Rethy Health zone, the head nurse and the laboratory team from the Rethy General reference hospital investigated the outbreak site. The Godjoka village is located in the Linga health zone, Djugu territory, Ituri province, in the Congo DR (N 02.01'47.9'' and E030.44'56.6'', 1940m) in the plague endemic area.
 
There have been 6 suspected cases of plague, including 5 deaths and 1 recovering patient. The index case is a young boy who died on 19 Feb 2020. His mother, the neighbour and her child all died on 21 Feb 2020 and were buried the night of 24 Feb 2020, under pressure from the villagers. Finally the traditional healer ["tradipraticien"] who took care of the mother (who was the 2nd case) died in turn on 25 Feb 2020, and samples were taken that same day. The rapid diagnostic test was positive for plague.  Because of their rapidly fatal course, pneumonic plague is suspected for one or more of the 5 fatal cases. 

The only survivor has been under treatment at the Godjoka Health center since 22 Feb; he is the 20 year-old brother of the index case. The test on the sputum of this patient was negative.
-------------------------------------
Francoise Ngave Nyisi, Rethy General Reference Hospital, DR Congo
Mandro Michel, Provincial Division of Health, Bunia, DR Congo
Adroba Pascal, Provincial Division of Health, Bunia, DR Congo
Laudisoit Anne, Ecohealth Alliance, New York, USA
=====================
[ProMED thanks Dr Laudisoit and her hardworking Congolese colleagues for this important report.  Thus far the diagnosis of plague rests on the single positive diagnostic test obtained from the traditional healer, as it appears that the first 4 fatal cases were buried before diagnostic tests could be obtained. Following this logic, It is possible that the sole survivor thus far has the bubonic form of the disease, and thus a negative sputum result.  We seek and hope to obtain further information on all of these cases, including age, nature and duration of symptoms, presence or absence of buboes, etc.

This putative plague cluster is in a known historic plague-endemic region, where there were 31 cases and 8 deaths between Jan - Oct 2019, as previously reported by ProMED (Plague - Congo DR (02): (IT) fatal http://promedmail.org/post/20191016.6731137).  The Ituri district, of course, has also been affected by the still smouldering North Kivu-Ituri Ebola outbreak that began in July 2018.  This district has also been, and continues to be, a region of great civil unrest, with multiple armed insurgency groups operating near and across the Ugandan border.

The following background information on plague by Mod.LL is copied from our most recent ProMED post on plague [see below under See Also]:

"The bacterium that causes plague is _Yersinia pestis_. Most cases of plague are due to bubonic plague following the bite of an infected rodent flea causing a swollen and very tender lymph gland. The swollen gland is called a "bubo." Bubonic plague should be suspected when a person develops a swollen gland, fever, chills, headache, and extreme exhaustion, and has a history of possible exposure to infected rodents, rabbits, or fleas. A person usually becomes ill with bubonic plague 2-6 days after being bitten. At this point in the illness, there is no risk of person-to-person spread, so if this was indeed a case of bubonic plague, no isolation or quarantine is necessary.

When bubonic plague is left untreated, plague bacteria invade the bloodstream. As the plague bacteria multiply in the bloodstream, they spread rapidly throughout the body and cause a severe and often fatal condition. Infection of the lungs with the plague bacterium causes the pneumonic form of plague, a severe respiratory illness. The infected person may experience high fever, chills, cough, and breathing difficulty and may expel bloody sputum. If plague patients are not given specific antimicrobial therapy, the disease can progress rapidly to death. At this stage, as appears to have happened in this case, person-to-person spread can occur, causing other cases of "primary" plague pneumonia. - ProMED Mod.LL]

[A ProMED/HealthMap of DR Congo is available at: DR Congo:
Date: Thu, 27 Feb 2020 09:14:05 +0100 (MET)
By Anuj Chopra and Haitham El-Tabei

Riyadh, Feb 27, 2020 (AFP) - Saudi Arabia on Thursday suspended visas for visits to Islam's holiest sites for the "umrah" pilgrimage, an unprecedented move triggered by coronavirus fears that raises questions over the annual hajj.   The kingdom, which hosts millions of pilgrims every year in the cities of Mecca and Medina, also suspended visas for tourists from countries with reported infections as fears of a pandemic deepen.

Saudi Arabia, which so far has reported no cases of the virus but has expressed alarm over its spread in neighbouring countries, said the suspensions were temporary. It provided no timeframe for when they will be lifted.   "The kingdom's government has decided to take the following precautions: suspending entry to the kingdom for the purpose of umrah and visit to the Prophet's mosque temporarily," the foreign ministry said in a statement.   "Suspending entry into the kingdom with tourist visas for those coming from countries, in which the spread of the new coronavirus (COVID-19) is a danger."

The move comes as Gulf countries implement a raft of measures, including flight suspensions and school closures, to curb the spread of the disease from people returning from pilgrimages to Iran.  Even as the number of fresh coronavirus cases declines at the epicentre of the disease in China, there has been a sudden increase across the Middle East.

Since its outbreak, the United Arab Emirates has reported 13 coronavirus cases, Kuwait has recorded 43, Bahrain has 33 and Oman is at four cases.   Iran has emerged as a major hotspot in the region, with 19 fatalities from 139 infections -- the highest death toll outside China, where COVID-19 originated.   While no cases have been reported in Saudi Arabia, one citizen is reported to be infected in Kuwait along with four Saudi women in Bahrain -- all of whom had returned from Iran.

- 'Unprecedented' move -
The umrah, which refers to the Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca that can be undertaken at any time of year, attracts millions of devout Muslims from all over the globe each year.    There was no clarity over how the move would affect the annual hajj pilgrimage due to start in late July.   Some 2.5 million faithful travelled to Saudi Arabia from across the world to take part in last year's hajj -- one of the five pillars of Islam.

The event is a key rite of passage for Muslims and a massive logistical challenge for Saudi authorities, with colossal crowds cramming into relatively small holy sites.   "This move by Saudi Arabia is unprecedented," Ghanem Nuseibeh, founder of London-based risk consultancy Cornerstone Global Associates, told AFP.   "The concern for Saudi authorities would be Ramadan, which starts at the end of April, and hajj afterwards, should the coronavirus become a pandemic."

The holy fasting month of Ramadan is considered a favourable period by Muslim pilgrims to perform the Umrah.   Saudi Arabia's custodianship of Mecca and Medina -- Islam's two holiest sites -- is seen as the kingdom's most powerful source of political legitimacy.     But a series of deadly disasters over the years has prompted criticism of the Sunni kingdom's management of the pilgrimage.

In September 2015, a stampede killed up to 2,300 worshippers -- including hundreds of Iranians -- in the worst disaster ever to strike the pilgrimage.   The pilgrimage forms a crucial source of revenue for the government, which hopes to welcome 30 million pilgrims annually to the kingdom by 2030.   De facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's Vision 2030 reform plan seeks to shift the economy of Saudi Arabia -- the world's top crude exporter -- away from oil dependency towards other sources of revenue, including religious tourism.
Date: Thu, 27 Feb 2020 05:04:04 +0100 (MET)

Kuala Lumpur, Feb 27, 2020 (AFP) - Badminton's German Open will not go ahead next week and the Polish Open has been postponed, officials said as two more Olympic qualifying events fell victim to the coronavirus.   It hasn't yet been decided whether the German Open, originally scheduled for March 3-8, will be postponed or cancelled entirely, the Badminton World Federation said late Wednesday.   New dates are being sought for the Polish Open, which was meant to take place on March 26-29, but it will not now fall in the qualifying period for the Tokyo Olympics.

Both events were in the same month as the All England Open, one of the biggest events in the badminton calendar, although that tournament is currently still set to go ahead.   "The BWF is continuing to monitor all official updates on COVID-19 with no change to the intention to stage other HSBC BWF World Tour or BWF-sanctioned tournaments," said a statement.   This week the Vietnam International Challenge, which also carried rankings points for the Olympics, was shifted from late March to early June.

The loss of qualifying tournaments will pose a problem for many players including two-time Olympic champion Lin Dan, who needs a rapid rise up the rankings to win a place on the Chinese team.   Many of China's players are currently in Britain and have been cleared to play during what is a "critical period" of Olympic qualifying, the Chinese Badminton Association said last weekend.   China have been the dominant force in badminton at recent Olympics, sweeping all five titles at London 2012 and winning the men's singles and doubles gold medals four years ago in Rio.
Date: Thu, 27 Feb 2020 09:58:42 +0100 (MET)

Tallinn, Feb 27, 2020 (AFP) - Estonia reported its first coronavirus case on Thursday, a day after the man returned to the Baltic nation of just 1.3 million people from his homeland Iran.    "The person, a permanent resident of Estonia who is not a citizen, arrived in Estonia on Wednesday evening," Social Affairs Minister Tanel Kiik told public broadcaster ERR.   He said the Iranian citizen is currently hospitalised.

Local media said the man arrived in Tallinn by bus from the Latvian capital Riga.   "For now, there are no plans of putting cities in quarantine following this one case," Kiik said.    "The patient is isolated, there is no risk of the disease spreading, now we have to identify all the people the patient was in contact with."   Iran has announced a total of 19 deaths and more than 130 infections, including the country's deputy health minister.   Iran's coronavirus death toll is the highest after that of China, where more than 2,700 people have died from the disease.
Date: Wed, 26 Feb 2020 19:27:33 +0100 (MET)

Vynnyky, Ukraine, Feb 26, 2020 (AFP) - Ukrainian authorities began the task of destroying 37,000 bottles of illicit adulterated vodka on Wednesday, a national "record" in a country where consumption of illegal alcohol regularly poisons and even kills.    Minister of Justice Denys Malyuska launched the operation in the city of Vynnyky in the central Lviv region where the bottles, holding 14 tonnes of alcohol, have been stored since their seizure in 2014.   "It is difficult to say what is in there but consumption is strictly not recommended," said the minister.    "This adulterated alcohol poses a huge threat to people's health and their lives."    In front of the media, the contents of several bottles were poured into plastic tanks or blue dye was added, to rule out any illegal re-sale of the beverage.

The procedure should last about a week, after which the liquid will be poured into the sewers at a secret location, according to the minister.   "This is the first time this procedure has been used so that everyone can see that the alcohol that has been seized is really destroyed," said Maliouska.   The minister said that in the past there had been "complaints" from the business community that because of corruption within the police, the illicit alcohol had often turned up in shops after being seized.   Cases of poisoning from adulterated drinks are a regular occurence in Ukraine, where the consumption of alcohol, especially spirits, remains high. And they are often fatal.

In 2016, 73 people died from a total of 150 people who were poisoned by adulterated alcohol.    The following year, six poisoning cases killed three people and, according to Ukrainian media, ten poisonings recorded by the authorities in 2018 led to nine deaths.   The tax department of the Lviv region told AFP on Wednesday that the most adulterated alcohol was vodka, which is then sold in shops in small towns or cafes located along the roads.
Date: Thu, 27 Feb 2020 07:21:09 +0100 (MET)

Copenhagen, Feb 27, 2020 (AFP) - Denmark reported its first coronavirus case Thursday, a man who had returned from a skiing holiday in northern Italy which has become a hotspot for the disease.   "The man who came back from a skiing trip with his wife and son on February 24 has been suffering since then from a cough and a temperature," Denmark's public health agency said in a statement.   "The man tested positive, but the results of his wife and son are negative," it said.   The man is relatively well and has returned to his home, where he remains in isolation with his family, it added.   According to public TV station TV2, the man is one of its employees.   Italy has reported 400 coronavirus cases, mostly in the north, and 12 deaths.
Date: Wed, 26 Feb 2020 23:18:10 +0100 (MET)

Bucharest, Feb 26, 2020 (AFP) - Romania reported its first confirmed case of the novel coronavirus on Wednesday -- a man who was in contact with an Italian who visited the country last week.    "The patient, who is in good health and is showing no symptoms, will be transferred to Bucharest's hospital of infectious diseases," Health Minister Victor Costache told a press conference.

Seven other people who live at the same address as the man in the south-eastern Gorj county have all tested negative but will be quarantined for 14 days as a precaution, emergency department official Raed Arafat said.   The Italian believed to be the source of Romania's first diagnosis tested positive for the deadly virus upon returning to Italy after a four-day visit to Gorj.

New cases have been emerging across Europe, many linked to the continent's coronavirus hotspot in northern Italy.    Several governments have advised against travel to Italy, which has now recorded 400 cases and 12 deaths.   The COVID-19 outbreak has killed over 2,700 people and infected more than 80,000 in 34 countries, although the vast majority of cases remain in China, according to the World Health Organization.
Date: Wed, 26 Feb 2020 21:33:56 +0100 (MET)

Oslo, Feb 26, 2020 (AFP) - Norwegian health authorities on Wednesday announced the first case of coronavirus in the Nordic nation in someone who returned from China last week, but said the patient was not "in danger".   "The person is not ill, they are in good health and do not present any symptoms," Line Vold, an official at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, told reporters. "We think it is very unlikely that they have infected" others.   Routine tests had given a "weekly positive result" and detected traces of the new coronavirus, the institute said.
Date: Wed, 26 Feb 2020 20:03:47 +0100 (MET)

Tbilisi, Feb 26, 2020 (AFP) - Georgia on Wednesday announced its first confirmed case of the novel coronavirus in the South Caucasus region.   "A Georgian national has tested positive for the novel coronavirus," Health Minister Ekaterine Tikaradze told a news conference, adding that the infected man has been placed in isolation in a Tbilisi hospital.   "Three different tests of the 50-year-old man's nasopharyngeal smear gave positive results, but he is doing well, he is clinically healthy," head of Georgia's national centre for disease control, Amiran Gamkrelidze told journalists.

The man had arrived in Georgia from Iran via Azerbaijan, Gamkrelidze said.   Tikaradze said Georgia would introduce a two-week ban on Iranian nationals entering Georgia, but flatly dismissed fears of a coronavirus epidemic in the ex-Soviet country "at this point".   On Sunday, Georgia's neighbour Armenia closed its border with Iran and suspended flights as fears over an outbreak of coronavirus in Iran sent neighbouring countries scrambling to contain the outbreak.