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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: Mon, 12 Feb 2018 05:54:19 +0100

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[A HealthMap/ProMED-mail map can be accessed at:
Date: Thu, 19 Oct 2017 16:37:27 +0200
By Ricardo ARDUENGO, con Nelson DEL CASTILLO en San Juan y Leila MACOR en Miami

Utuado, Puerto Rico, Oct 19, 2017 (AFP) - It's been a month since Hurricane Maria ripped through Puerto Rico and Samuel de Jesus still can't drive out of his isolated, blacked-out town.   In fact, much of the US territory in the Caribbean is still a crippled mess four weeks after that fierce Category Four storm.

The bridge connecting Rio Abajo to the rest of the island was swept away when Maria slammed the island on September 20. For two weeks Rio Abajo, located in a mountainous region in central-western Puerto Rico, was cut off and forgotten, without power or phone service.   "We didn't know what to do. We were literally going crazy," said de Jesus, 35.   "Those were difficult, desperate days. We could not find a way out, and the hurricane caused extensive damage," he told AFP.

During the two long weeks following Maria, the 27 families living in Rio Abajo saw their supplies quickly deplete.   De Jesus, who has diabetes, needed to keep his insulin refrigerated. The storm blew away the island's already decrepit power grid, so people resorted to emergency generators.   "But I was running out of gasoline to run the generator," he said.   A helicopter now makes regular deliveries of food, water and medicine because with the bridge washed out, there is no other way in or out of town.

People can't wade across the river because it is contaminated with human waste after a pipe broke when the bridge went.   Some brave souls use a precarious ladder rigged to get across the water, but for most people it is too dangerous.   We need a bridge "to take out our vehicles and leave in case of emergency, or if there is a landslide," he said.   Where the bridge once stood, residents set up a system of ropes, pulleys and buckets to move supplies over the river, which has been contaminated with sewer water since the hurricane.   Over the remains of the bridge locals hung the single-star, red, white and blue flag of Puerto Rico and a sign that reads "the campsite of the forgotten."

- Desperate need for electricity -
Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello visited the surrounding municipality of Utuado on Wednesday to deliver supplies, but he did not stop in Rio Abajo.   "Utuado is certainly one of the most severely affected municipalities in all of Puerto Rico," Rossello said.   "Our commitment is to give it support and aid during the whole road to recovery."   Eighty-one percent of Puerto Rico remains blacked out one month after Maria struck. Clean water for drinking, cooking and bathing is scarce, too.

Puerto Ricans' main obstacle to getting back to some semblance of normality is the slowness of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority in getting the power grid back up and running.   The lack of power has paralyzed a key industry -- pharmaceutical production -- and most businesses including restaurants are closed or operating at great cost through the use of diesel powered generators.

This nightmare comes about a year after the US government established an external fiscal control board for the island after it declared bankruptcy because of 73 billion dollars in debt.   Economist Joaquin Villamil told AFP that damage from Hurricane Maria is estimated at 20 billion dollars -- four times that of Hurricane Georges in 1998, when measured in 2016 dollars.

Villamil said reconstruction money provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and from insurance companies will have a positive impact on the island's economy in the second half of fiscal 2018 and in fiscal 2019, but this boost will just be temporary.   "From an economic point of view there is not much net gain," said Villamil, who works for a consulting firm called Estudios Tecnicos.   He said the economy has been shrinking since 2006 and Maria will delay any prospect of recovery.   It will take at least until 2026 to get back to the GDP level of 2006, he added.

Making things worse, people are leaving the island for the mainland US. Forecasts are that the population now at 3.4 million will go down to 3.1 million or even less by 2026, said Villamil.   The government of Florida estimates that since October 3 -- the day a state of emergency to deal with an influx of Puerto Ricans was declared -- more than 36,000 people from the island have poured in.
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Tajikistan

Tajikistan - US Consular Information Sheet
December 9, 2008
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION: Tajikistan remains the poorest of the former Soviet republics in Central Asia.
It is a nominally constitutional, democratic, and secular republic, dominated b
President Emomali Rahmon who has been in power since 1992.
Tourist facilities are undeveloped and many goods and services usually available in other countries are unavailable.
Read the Department of State Background Notes on Tajikistan for additional information.

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:
A valid passport and visa are required to enter and exit Tajikistan, as well as for registration at hotels.
The visa should be valid for the entire period of stay in country, through departure, and travelers should ideally request visas which allow for changing travel dates.
Failure to produce a valid visa will require the traveler to leave the country immediately.
Travelers planning to arrive in Tajikistan from countries that have Tajik embassies or consulates must obtain Tajik visas abroad prior to their travel.
Tajikistan is represented by embassies and consulates in the following countries:
United States of America, United Kingdom, Austria, Germany, Belgium, Turkey, China, Afghanistan (Kabul, Mazori Sharif), Iran, Pakistan, India, Russian Federation, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Egypt, and United Arab Emirates (Dubai).
Travelers arriving in Tajikistan from countries in which there are no Tajik embassies or consulates must have Tajik visa support, in the form of a letter from the Tajik Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) confirming that a visa may be issued, in order to receive a Tajik visa at the Dushanbe International Airport upon arrival.
Travelers need to have two passport-size photos and a passport valid for at least six months longer than the duration of the planned stay in Tajikistan.
Visas issued at the Dushanbe airport are normally valid for only 45 days.
This “upon arrival” visa service does not apply to any other Tajik airports or land borders.

Travelers staying in Tajikistan three days or longer must, within three days of arrival in Tajikistan, obtain registration stamps at the MFA or the Department of Visas and Registration of the Ministry of Internal Affairs (OVIR), depending on whether the purpose of the visit to Tajikistan is for official or personal travel.
Immigration authorities may deny the departure of travelers who failed to register their visas until after they have paid a fine and obtained the registration stamps at the MFA or OVIR.

In order to receive visa support, an organization inviting a traveler to Tajikistan must submit a request to the MFA at least two weeks in advance of the planned travel date to Tajikistan.
Persons planning to arrive in Tajikistan at the invitation of a private Tajik resident (e.g., a friend or relative in Tajikistan) need to obtain a notification letter from OVIR.
According to OVIR, it may take up to 45 days to obtain the notification letter.
The MFA will issue Tajik visa support on the basis of the OVIR notification letter.
The inviting party will send a copy of visa support to the traveler.
The original MFA visa support will be sent to the Consular bureau at Dushanbe airport.
According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, persons traveling at the invitation of Tajik organizations or travel agencies, who are applying for visas at Tajik embassies or consulates abroad, will be able to obtain single-entry Tajik visas valid for 45 days upon direct submission of their visa request to the Tajik embassy or consulate (without a visa support letter).
With the issuance of visa support, travelers applying for visas at Tajik embassies or consulates abroad will be able to obtain multiple-entry visas valid for a maximum of three months.
Travelers who would like their visas extended need to apply for extension in advance through the MFA (official travelers) or OVIR (tourist or commercial travelers).
Entry into the Gorno-Badakhshan region, both from inside and outside of Tajikistan, requires special authorization in advance in addition to a valid Tajik visa.
Travelers can obtain this authorization at Tajik embassies and consulates abroad, or by applying to the MFA or OVIR once in Tajikistan.
Tajik authorities advise that sponsoring organizations in Tajikistan submit requests for travel authorization for the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region at least two weeks in advance of the planned travel.
The Tajik MFA or OVIR will list the names of the settlements and cities in Gorno-Badakhshan which the traveler plans on visiting in the travel authorization stamp.
The Gorno-Badakhshan travel authorization is not written on a Tajik visa sticker; it is a separate note put in a passport.

The government of Tajikistan requires visitors who remain in country for more than 90 days to present a medical certificate showing that they are HIV-free, or to submit to an HIV test in Tajikistan.
HIV is a growing health threat in Tajikistan.

Visit the Embassy of Tajikistan web site at http://www.tjus.org for the most current visa information.

Note: Departure options from Tajikistan may be limited in an emergency.
U.S. citizens, their family members, and their dependents can maximize departure options by obtaining extended visas for travel to countries with reliable connections to Tajikistan, including Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Russia.
Other destinations, notably Turkey, offer several flights a week and do not require American citizens to obtain visas in advance.
Please note, however, that in emergency situations, flights may be suspended.

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

SAFETY AND SECURITY:
Supporters of terrorist groups such as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), the Islamic Jihad Union (IJU), al-Qaida, and the Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement remain active in Central Asia, as do anti-Western, anti-Semitic extremist organizations such as Hizb’ut-Tahrir.
These groups have expressed anti-U.S. sentiments and may attempt to target U.S. Government or private interests in the region, including in Tajikistan.
Terrorist attacks involving the use of suicide bombers have previously taken place in neighboring Uzbekistan.
Taliban resurgence and successful operations in Afghanistan, including attacks in the north, could also affect the security situation in southern Tajikistan.

Minor explosions have occasionally occurred in Dushanbe in the last two years.
These explosions usually happen at night.
In June 2007, an individual threw a grenade at the Supreme Court building.
Witnesses and unofficial reports indicate that three guards were killed, although no official reports confirmed this.
In November 2007, a small explosive killed an individual outside the Kokhi Vahhdat conference center in the center of Dushanbe.
In both cases, no individual or organization claimed responsibility and authorities continue to investigate.
Also in November 2007, a small improvised explosive device destroyed the official car belonging to the Commander of the President’s National Guard.
Incursions along the Afghan border have resulted in shootings and kidnappings; however, most are believed to be related to narcotics trafficking.
None of these incidents have indicated the targeting of Americans or Westerners.

Criminal groups and terrorists do not distinguish between official and civilian targets.
Because of increased security at official U.S. facilities, terrorists are seeking softer civilian targets such as residential areas, clubs and restaurants, places of worship, hotels, outdoor recreation events, and other venues.
The limited number of facilities catering to Westerners presents a heightened risk.
American travelers should also avoid demonstrations and large crowds.
Demonstrations and mobs are rare in Tajikistan following the 1992-1997 civil war, and police reaction to such behavior is unpredictable.

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

Up-to-date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll-free in the United States and Canada or, for callers outside the United States 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 current crime rating for Dushanbe is high.
The primary concern is the inability of Tajikistan’s law enforcement entities to provide adequate and immediate assistance.
Lack of manpower, low salaries, and inadequate training all contribute to a lack of professionalism.
Tajikistan’s struggling economy and high unemployment have resulted in incidents of street crime, including pick pocketings, muggings and armed robberies.
Alcohol-related incidents such as bar fights and drunk driving are common.
Criminals are not deterred by the risk of confrontation and tend to operate in groups of two or more to decrease their chances of arrest.
When crimes do occur, they can be violent in nature.
Additionally, the lack of a free media, and the infrequent public outreach between the government and the public through the media, does not provide the average citizen current and accurate information to make informed decisions about safety.

Government statistics are typically inaccurate because many crimes are not reported to law enforcement organizations.
Often police refuse to open minor or routine cases that seem too difficult to resolve.
In 2007, the Ministry of Interior reported a number of arrests related to organized crime, although overall reported crimes saw a slight decrease.
The Ministry also reported a slight increase in firearm and drug-related offenses compared to previous years.

Crimes of opportunity can occur against anyone, and the Embassy reminds visitors to be careful and cautious in their own personal security, whether within the city limits of Dushanbe or in the more remote areas of the country.
Americans should be aware that danger increases after dark, and they are advised to use caution when traveling alone or on foot after dark.
The U.S. Embassy encourages visitors to travel in pairs and to notify colleagues of their whereabouts when not working, especially during evening hours.
Travelers are also encouraged to carry a copy of their passport (separate from their wallets) to speed up issuance of a new passport in case of theft.

In many countries around the world, counterfeit and pirated goods are widely available.
Transactions involving such products are illegal under local law.
In addition, bringing them back to the United States may result in forfeitures and/or fines.
More information on this serious problem is available at http://www.cybercrime.gov/18usc2320.htm.

INFORMATION FOR VICTIMS OF CRIME:
The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate for assistance.
The Embassy/Consulate staff can, for example, assist you to find appropriate medical care, 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 Tajikistan is: 01 - Fire, 02 - Police, 03 - Ambulance
See our information on Victims of Crime.

MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:
The quality of Tajikistan’s medical infrastructure is significantly below Western standards, with severe shortages of basic medical supplies, including disposable needles, anesthetics, and antibiotics.
Many trained medical personnel left the country during and following the civil war.
Elderly travelers and those with pre-existing health problems may be at particular risk due to inadequate medical facilities.

Significant disease outbreaks are possible due to population shifts and a decline in some immunization coverage among the general population.
There have been outbreaks of typhoid in the Dushanbe area and in the south, and the risk of contracting malaria, cholera, and water-borne illnesses is high.
Throughout Central Asia, rates of infection of various forms of hepatitis and tuberculosis (including drug-resistant strains) are on the rise.
Tuberculosis is an increasingly serious health concern in Tajikistan.
For further information, please consult the CDC’s Travel Notice on tuberculosis at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/yellowBookCh4-TB.aspx.
It is advised to drink only bottled or thoroughly boiled water while in Tajikistan.

The U.S. Department of State is unaware of any HIV/AIDS entry restrictions for visitors to or foreign residents of Tajikistan.
However, the government of Tajikistan does require visitors who remain in country for more than 90 days to present a medical certificate showing that they are HIV-free, or to submit to an HIV test in Tajikistan.
HIV is a growing health threat in Tajikistan.

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

Travel to, from, and within Tajikistan is difficult and unreliable.
Neighboring countries may unilaterally close borders and some borders are poorly delineated.
Armed police or military checkpoints can make road travel outside of Dushanbe more difficult.
Crossing the Tajik-Uzbek border, in particular, has been known to present difficulties for drivers operating vehicles with non-Tajik government-issued plates.
Road travel should be undertaken only in daylight hours and on routes known to the traveler or a reliable escort.
Those traveling to Gorno-Badakhshan by car should do so only during daylight hours.
The roads traverse mountainous terrain along the Afghan border that is difficult to navigate, even in daylight hours.
Public transportation vehicles in the city are often overcrowded and not always safe.
If you are driving, be vigilant because pedestrians often tend to cross the street at inappropriate places or walk along the highway without paying attention to vehicular traffic.
Bus services between major cities have been severely disrupted by border closures and should not be relied upon.
The State Traffic Inspectorate (GAI, or in Tajiki, BDA), which has checkpoints in many cities and at regular intervals along all highways outside the city, frequently stops vehicles for inspection of the vehicle and the driver’s documents.

During the winter months, the potential dangers when traveling outside of Dushanbe in the mountainous areas of the country are heightened.
Every year, accidents and casualties occur on Tajikistan’s mountain roads and passes, often when drivers ignore warnings not to travel over a closed mountain pass.
Avalanches are a common occurrence in Tajikistan’s mountains during the winter months.
The tunnel bypassing the Anzob Pass is still not complete and travel via this construction project is not advised in any season.
Please exercise caution and limit winter travel to Tajikistan’s mountain regions.

In certain parts of the country, including in the Vakhsh and Rasht valleys and along the Afghan-Tajik border, land mines and cluster munitions form an additional hazard.
If an area has land mine warning signs, or is marked off with red and white plastic tape, heed the warning and do not venture off the road.
In all cases, do not pick up or handle anything that looks like unexploded munitions.

Emergency phone numbers in Tajikistan:
police – 02, ambulance – 03, state traffic control (GAI) duty officer – 235-45-45.
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 Tajikistan, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed the Government of Tajikistan’s Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards.
For more information, travelers may visit the FAA’s internet website at http://www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa.

SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES: Tajikistan has a cash-only economy.
International banking services are limited, but ATM machines have been installed in several locations.
Cash is dispensed in both U.S. and local currency.
Few establishments in the country accept credit cards and none accepts traveler's checks.
Tajikistan's national currency is the Somoni, which is convertible.

Tajik customs authorities may subject all items that are imported into or exported from Tajikistan to a high level of scrutiny.
The Government of Tajikistan may enforce strict customs regulations against those who import and export goods.
The export of antiques and cultural valuables requires special permission.
There are also currency restrictions.
Travelers must fill out a Customs Declaration Form upon arrival in Tajikistan, have it stamped by Tajik customs officials at the port of entry and retain the form until departure to demonstrate that the travelers are not leaving Tajikistan with more money than they brought into the country.
Please contact the Embassy of the Republic of Tajikistan in the United States, 1005 New Hampshire Avenue NW, Washington, DC, 20037; telephone (202) 223-6090, fax:
(202) 223-6091, e-mail: tajikistan@verizon.net, web site: http://www.tjus.org for specific information about customs requirements.

The Republic of Tajikistan does not recognize dual citizenship with most countries, including the United States (one exception is with Russia, where dual citizenship is regulated by a special interstate agreement).
Dual nationals who attempt to leave Tajikistan on U.S. passports without valid Tajik visas in them are likely to have problems with immigration authorities upon departing Tajikistan.

Travelers to Tajikistan are subject to frequent document inspections by local police.
U.S. citizens are strongly encouraged to carry copies of their U.S. passports, Tajik visas, and visa registration at all times (including while traveling within Tajikistan) so that, if questioned by local officials, proof of identity,
U.S. citizenship, and valid visa status in Tajikistan are readily available.
Always check your visa and registration validity dates so that these documents can be renewed if necessary before they expire.
Taking photographs of anything that could be perceived as being of military or security interest, including many government buildings, may result in problems with the authorities.
In accordance with the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations and certain bilateral agreements, local authorities must grant a U.S. consular officer access to any U.S. citizen who is arrested.
U.S. citizens who are arrested or detained should ask to contact the U.S. Embassy immediately.

Tajikistan is an earthquake-prone country.
General information about natural disaster preparedness is available via the Internet from the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) at http://www.fema.gov/.

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

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

REGISTRATION / EMBASSY LOCATION:
Americans living or traveling in Tajikistan 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 Tajikistan.
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 109A Ismoili Somoni Avenue, Dushanbe, Tajikistan, Main Phone: 992-37-229-2000, Consular Direct Line: 992-37-229-23-00, consular e-mail dushanbeconsular@state.gov, embassy fax:
992-37-229-20-50, Duty Officer: 992-90-770-10-32, web site: http://dushanbe.usembassy.gov
* * *
This replaces the Country Specific Information for Tajikistan dated February 14, 2008, to update the sections on Entry/Exit Requirements, Crime, Aviation Safety Oversight and Registration/Embassy Location.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Mon, 6 Aug 2018 06:19:37 +0200
By Akbar Borisov, with Christopher Rickleton in Almaty

Dushanbe, Tajikistan, Aug 6, 2018 (AFP) - En route to mountainous Tajikistan's "roof of the world" lies a hastily-erected memorial to four bike tourists killed in an attack claimed by the Islamic State group late last month.     Roses and tulips lie scattered at the tribute -- featuring a plaque inscribed in English -- in the foreground of a scrubby mountain landscape.    "We express sincere condolences on behalf of all Tajik people and Tajikistan to the families and relatives of the died tourists in our country tragically and cruelly," the plaque reads.

It was here, approximately 100 kilometres south of Tajikistan's capital Dushanbe, that American tourists Lauren Geoghegan and Jay Austin, Dutch citizen Rene Wokke and Swiss citizen Markus Hummel were fatally wounded in an attack initially reported as a hit-and-run road accident.    The attack comes as a deep blow to Tajikistan, which has been trying to promote the authoritarian country as a tourism hotspot, simplifying visa bureaucracy and even declaring 2018 "the year of tourism."

Police said the gang that attacked the group of seven tourists, injuring two others, had also stabbed their victims, while a video released via IS' official media channel indicated the attackers were inspired by the Islamist group.   "It was a tragedy," 32-year-old account manager and biking enthusiast Pau Ros told AFP ahead of a seven-day cycle over Tajikistan's legendary Pamir Highway with girlfriend Mariona Miranda.   "This happens around the world now. But we are not going to change our lives because that is what these bad people would want," said Ros, who is a native of Barcelona.

- IS-linked? -
Authorities have played down video evidence that appears to show five men -- four of whom they say were killed resisting arrest -- swearing an oath of allegiance to IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.   On Friday Tajikistan's state prosecutor said the clip had been released "with the aim of deflecting suspicions from another terrorist organisation -- the Islamic Renaissance Party", a former opposition party banned by the government in 2015. 

The IRPT has refuted links to the attack, as has Iran, a country that Tajikistan has poor ties with and says provided training to a 33-year-old man called Hussein Abdusamadov, who was detained for allegedly leading the attack on the cyclists.   In a brief interview with AFP, the mother of Abdusamadov, who was shown sporting a black eye in his police photo, could not say if he had traveled to Iran but said he spoke Arabic and had worked in Russia, a migration destination for hundreds of thousands of Tajiks.   "We do not know when he came back to (Tajikistan). The police just came to our door and told us he had committed a crime," Gulchekhra Shodmonova told AFP.

Analysts have pointed to a number of reasons to doubt the official narrative linking IRPT and Iran to the attack -- chiefly a downturn in Tajikistan's relations with Iran, an intensified crackdown on the opposition since 2015 and the IS video evidence.     Mahmudjon Faizrahmon, a spokesman-in-exile for the party that has always described itself as peaceful opposition force said on Thursday that police brought his 62-year-old mother for questioning after he denied links between the party and the attack on Twitter.     In addition to Abdusamadov, Tajikistan's prosecutor says 10 people have been detained under suspicion of financing the crime and failing to supply information to police before the attack took place.

- 'Simply Cycling' -
At the US embassy in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, a simple bicycle donated by a local student provides a fitting flourish to a display honouring 29-year-old Geoghegan and Austin, whose blog Simplycycling.org was popular among other bike-the-world cyclists.   The pair whose photo stood on a table at the heart of the display described themselves as enthusiasts who fell in love with cycling in adulthood but were not above "hitching a ride when a stretch of road is dangerous or just awful."   It is uncertain how the attack from which only one tourist, a Frenchman, emerged unscathed, will affect one of the few sources of economic optimism in the poorest country to gain independence from the Soviet Union.    Tajikistan announced plans to create a "tourist police" earlier this week, but provided few details.    One representative of a Bed and Breakfast in Dushanbe told AFP that a Polish tourist who had planned on cycling the highway had flown home. 
Date: Mon, 30 Jul 2018 10:24:00 +0200

Dushanbe, Tajikistan, July 30, 2018 (AFP) - Four foreign tourists were killed in Tajikistan on Sunday by armed attackers in what was originally reported as a hit-and-run road accident, the interior minister said Monday.   "(The suspects) had knives and firearms," minister Ramazon Hamro Rahimzoda said of the attack that left tourists from the United States, Switzerland and the Netherlands dead and two others injured.
Date: Sun, 29 Jul 2018 20:22:04 +0200

Dushanbe, Tajikistan, July 29, 2018 (AFP) - Four tourists were killed and another three injured on a bike tour in southern Tajikistan on Sunday when a car hit them before fleeing the scene, authorities said.   The seven cyclists included two Americans, two Dutch nationals and three other foreigners, the interior ministry told AFP without specifying the nationalities of those who died.   However, the US embassy in Tajikistan said two of the fatalities were US citizens.

The hit-and-run accident took place in the district of Danghara, 150 kilometres (90 miles) south of the capital Dushanbe.    "Three foreigners were killed at the scene and another died in hospital," the interior ministry said, adding that three other tourists had also received medical treatment.

Authorities in the Central Asian nation announced later Sunday one arrest and the deaths of two other suspects during a special operation launched to find those responsible for the deadly hit-and-run incident.   "One person has been arrested, two others resisted arrest and have been killed," the interior ministry said, without giving further details about the suspects.   Tajikistan is the poorest of the ex-Soviet republics and has been ruled by the iron hand of President Emomali Rakhmon since 1992.
Date: Tue 7 Nov 2017
Source: UN OCHA, ReliefWeb, Int Fed of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) report [edited]

Measles outbreak DREF [Disaster Relief Emergency Fund] Operation MDRTJ025 Final Report
----------------------------------------------------------------------
A. Situation analysis
Description of the disaster
The measles epidemic in Tajikistan started in April 2017 in Rudaki district, and gradually spread to the capital city of Dushanbe and the surrounding districts, as well as Khatlon oblast. In mid-April 2017, 263 registered cases of measles were reported, out of which 157 were laboratory confirmed. By 1 May 2017, the number of notified and investigated cases rose from 263 to 345, with 246 patients (71 per cent) hospitalised. There were 2 child deaths registered over the course of the epidemic -- one in Khatlon oblast and one in the Districts of Republican Subordination).

The group most affected by the epidemic were children between 1 and 9 years of age. This also corresponded to the cohort born after the last national measles and rubella (MR) immunisation campaign conducted in 2009. Normally, the immunisation centre of the Ministry of Health and Social Protection (MoHSP) carries out immunisation on an annual basis for approx. 97 per cent of this cohort. The remaining 3 per cent -- including migrants, Roma and displaced people -- however, tends to remain non-immunised.

In response to the outbreak, the MoHSP decided to conduct a nationwide MR vaccination campaign targeting children aged 1-9 years, 15-26 May 2017, with the support of the Measles and Rubella Outbreak Response Initiative (MRI) Fund. The government of Tajikistan issued a decree on National Additional Immunisation Days in the country on 28 Apr 2017. The MoHSP issued an internal order on immunisation accordingly.
=====================
[The complete IFRC report is available at

Maps of Tajikistan can be seen at
Date: Mon, 30 Jan 2017 09:06:48 +0100

Dushanbe, Tajikistan, Jan 30, 2017 (AFP) - Authorities in Tajikistan said Monday that at least seven people were killed in a series of avalanches that hit the mountainous Central Asian country over the weekend.   Avalanches killed at least five people on a highway linking the capital Dushanbe with Khujand, Tajikistan's second largest city, the emergency services committee said.

Two more died in avalanches in the remote Pamir region in the country's east, the committee said.   Authorities said a rescue operation was ongoing and the casualty toll could continue to rise.    A spokesperson for the committee told AFP around 800 people had been evacuated Sunday following the avalanches.   Mountainous and poverty-struck Tajikistan is prone to natural disasters including avalanches, landslides and earthquakes.   In February 2015, a single avalanche claimed six lives in the east of the country.
More ...

Bahamas

The Bahamas Consular Information Sheet
July 14, 2005

COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
The Bahamas is a developed, English-speaking Caribbean nation composed of hundreds of islands covering a territory approximately the size of California.
To
rism and financial services comprise the two largest sectors of the economy. Independent from the United Kingdom since 1973, The Bahamas is a Commonwealth nation with a centuries-old democratic tradition.
The capital, Nassau, is located on New Providence Island.
Read the Department of State Background Notes on The Bahamas at http://travel.state.gov for additional information.

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:
On December 31, 2005, the U.S. Government will begin to phase in new passport requirements for U.S. citizens traveling in the Western Hemisphere.
By December 31, 2007, all U.S. citizens will be expected to depart and enter the United States on a valid passport or other authorized document establishing identity and U.S. citizenship.
The Department of State strongly encourages travelers to obtain passports well in advance of any planned travel.
Routine passport applications by mail take up to six weeks to be issued.
For further information, go to the State Department's Consular website: http://travel.state.gov/travel/cbpmc/cbpmc_2223.html.

U.S. citizens must present original proof of U.S. citizenship (valid U.S. passport or certified U.S. birth certificate with a government-issued photo ID) and a return ticket. A passport is recommended as it eases processing upon return to the United States.
Voter registration cards, Social Security cards, driver's licenses, affidavits, and other similar documents are not acceptable as proof of U.S. citizenship. U.S. citizens do not need to obtain visas for stays of up to one month. Travelers arriving via private watercraft are charged docking fees.
See our Foreign Entry Requirements brochure for information on entry to The Bahamas and other countries.
U.S. citizens may also contact The Embassy of The Bahamas at 2220 Massachusetts Ave., NW, Washington, DC 20008 (tel: 202-319-2660), its Consulates in Miami and New York, or by email at bahemb@aol.com.

For entry and exit requirements pertaining to dual nationality and the prevention of international child abduction, read our information at http://travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/cis/cis_1469.html.
For Customs Information see http://travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/cis/cis_1468.html.

SAFETY AND SECURITY:
The water sports and scooter rental industries in The Bahamas are not carefully regulated.
Visitors should rent equipment only from reputable operators, and should insist on sufficient training before using the equipment.
Every year, people are killed or injured by the improper use of scooters, jet-skis, and personal watercraft or by the careless or reckless operation of such equipment by others.
You should insist on seeing proof that operators have sufficient medical and liability insurance. Travelers should also invest in low-cost traveler's insurance that includes medical evacuations, as most American insurance companies do not cover this.

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

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

The Department of State urges American citizens to take responsibility for their own personal security while traveling overseas.
For general information about appropriate measures travelers can take to protect themselves in an overseas environment, see the Department of State's pamphlet A Safe Trip Abroad at http://travel.state.gov/travel/tips/safety/safety_1747.html.

CRIME:
While The Bahamas has a relatively low crime rate, visitors should exercise caution and good judgment. Although most criminal incidents take place in a part of Nassau not usually frequented by tourists (the "over-the-hill" area south of downtown), crime and violence has moved into more upscale tourist and residential areas.
Criminals also target restaurants and nightclubs frequented by tourists.
The most common approach for criminals is to offer victims a ride, either as a "personal favor" or by claiming to be a taxi, and then robbing and/or assaulting the passenger once they are in the car. Visitors should take care to ride only in licensed taxis, identifiable by their yellow license plates.

In the last year the U.S. Embassy has received several reports of sexual assaults, including against teen-age girls. Most assaults have been perpetrated against intoxicated young women, some of whom were reportedly drugged. To minimize the potential for sexual assault, the Embassy recommends that young women stay in groups, consume alcohol in moderation or not at all, ride only in licensed taxis, and not accept rides or drinks from strangers.
Travelers should avoid walking alone after dark or in isolated areas, and avoid placing themselves in situations where they are alone with strangers. Be cautious on deserted areas of beaches at all hours. Hotel guests should always lock their doors and should never leave valuables unattended, especially on beaches.
Visitors should store passport/identity documents, airline tickets, credit cards, and extra cash in hotel safes. Avoid wearing expensive jewelry, particularly Rolex watches, which criminals have specifically targeted. Use only clearly marked taxis with yellow license plates and make a note of the license plate number for your records.

The legal age in the Bahamas for consumption of alcoholic beverages is 18. Parents should be aware, however, that enforcement of the drinking age is weak.
It is easy for teenagers to obtain alcoholic beverages and underage drinking is prevalent.
Many of the arrests, accidents and violent crimes suffered by U.S. citizens in The Bahamas involve alcohol.

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

See our information on Victims of Crime at http://travel.state.gov/travel/tips/emergencies/emergencies_1748.html.

MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:
High quality medical care is generally available, but expensive, in Nassau and Freeport. Medical care is limited outside of Nassau and Freeport. Bahamian doctors and hospitals do not usually accept U.S. medical insurance policies and typically expect immediate cash payment for professional services. It is the patient's responsibility to seek reimbursement later from their insurance companies. Serious health problems requiring hospitalization and/or medical evacuation to the United States can cost thousands of dollars. Persons with serious or life-threatening conditions who wish to return to U.S. medical facilities for treatment normally must be airlifted.
There is a chronic shortage of blood at Princess Margaret Hospital in Nassau, where most emergency surgery is performed.
Travelers with rare blood types should know the names and locations of possible blood donors should the need arise.
The Lyford Cay Hospital has a hyperbaric chamber for treatment of decompression illness.
Ambulance service is available, but may not be able to respond quickly in the event of a major emergency or disaster.

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); fax 1-888-CDC-FAXX (1-888-232-3299), or via the CDC's Internet site at http://www.cdc.gov/travel.
For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization's (WHO) website at http://www.who.int/en.
Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith.

MEDICAL INSURANCE:
The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation.
Please see our information on medical insurance overseas at http://travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/cis/cis_1470.html.

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

Traffic in The Bahamas moves on the left side of the roadway. Roads in Nassau and Freeport are generally adequate, but traffic congestion in those cities is endemic.
Rural roads can be narrow, winding, and in poor repair.
Flooding frequently occurs on roads in low-lying areas throughout The Bahamas, including Nassau and Freeport.
Drivers should be alert for unmarked construction zones throughout The Bahamas.
Travel by moped or bicycle can be quite hazardous, especially in the heavy traffic conditions prevalent in Nassau and Freeport. Travelers should exercise appropriate caution when renting motorbikes. Accidents involving U.S. tourists on motorbikes have caused severe injuries and fatalities. Those who choose to ride a moped or bicycle should wear helmets and drive defensively.
Pedestrians need to remember that vehicular traffic comes from the right.
Pedestrians have been hit by cars after failing to check properly for oncoming traffic.

Emergency ambulance service is generally available and can be reached by dialing 911. Roadside assistance is also widely available through private towing services, listed in the phone book.

For specific information concerning driver's permits, vehicle inspection, road tax, and mandatory insurance in The Bahamas, please contact The Bahamas Tourist Board in New York at http://bahamas.com, (tel:
1-800-823-3136).

Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information at http://travel.state.gov/travel/tips/safety/safety_1179.html.
Visit the website 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 The Bahamas as being in compliance with ICAO international aviation safety standards for oversight of The Bahamas' air carrier operations.
For more information, travelers may visit the FAA's Internet web site at http://www.faa.gov/avr/iasa/index.cfm.

SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:
CUSTOMS:
The Bahamas customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation into or exportation from The Bahamas of firearms. It is advisable to contact the Embassy of The Commonwealth of The Bahamas in Washington or one of the Bahamian consulates in the U.S. for specific information regarding customs requirements. Tourists who arrive by private boat are required to declare firearms to Bahamian Customs and leave firearms on the boat while in The Bahamas. Please see our information on customs regulations at http://travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/cis/cis_1468.html.

BOATING/FISHING:
Boaters should be aware that long-line fishing in Bahamian waters is illegal. All long-line fishing gear is required to be stowed below deck while transiting through Bahamian waters. Fishermen should note that stiff penalties are imposed for catching crawfish (lobster) or other marine life out of season or in protected areas.

TIME-SHARES:
U.S. citizens should exercise caution when considering time-share investments and be aware of the aggressive tactics used by some time-share sales representatives. Bahamian law allows time-share purchasers five days to cancel the contract for full reimbursement. Disputes that arise after that period can be very time-consuming and expensive to resolve through the local legal system.
HURRICANES:
The Bahamas, like all countries in the Caribbean basin, is vulnerable to hurricanes. Hurricane season officially runs from June 1 to November 30, although hurricanes have been known to occur outside that time period. Visitors to The Bahamas during hurricane season are advised to monitor weather reports in order to be prepared for any potential threats. General information about disaster preparedness is available via the Internet from the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) at http://www.fema.gov.

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 The Bahamas' laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in The Bahamas are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines.
Engaging in illicit sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime, prosecutable in the United States.
For more information visit http://travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/cis/cis_1467.html.

CHILDREN'S ISSUES:
For information on international adoption of children and international parental child abduction, see the Office of Children's Issues website at http://www.travel.state.gov/family/family_1732.html.

REGISTRATION / EMBASSY LOCATION:
Americans living or traveling in The Bahamas are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy through the State Department's travel registration website, https://travelregistration.state.gov, and to obtain updated information on travel and security within The Bahamas.
Americans without Internet access may register directly with the U.S. Embassy.
By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy to contact them in case of emergency.
The U.S. Embassy is located next to McDonald's restaurant on Queen Street in downtown Nassau; telephone (242) 322-1181, after hours: (242) 328-2206.
Consular Section hours are 1:00 p.m. - 4:00 p.m. Monday-Thursday and 10:00-12:00 on Fridays. The Embassy is closed on local and U.S. holidays.
You may wish to visit the Embassy's website at http://bahamas.usembassy.gov/ or contact the Consular Section by e-mail at acsn@state.gov .

The U.S. Embassy is also responsible for consular services in the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCIS), a United Kingdom (British) overseas territory.
U.S. citizens may obtain updated information on travel and security in TCIS from the U.S. Embassy in Nassau or the Consular Information Sheet for the Turks and Caicos.
*

*

*
This replaces the Consular Information Sheet dated October 15, 2004, to update Sections on Country Description, Entry/Exit Requirements, Safety and Security, Crime, Traffic Safety and Road Conditions, Special Circumstances, and Registration/Embassy Location; to include a Section on Information For Victims of Crime; and to combine and update the Sections on Medical Facilities and Health Information.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Wed 25 Jul 2018
Source: Eyewitness News [edited]

Cases of reported conch poisoning are on the rise in the capital, according to Minister of Health Dr. Duane Sands. The health minister confirmed Tue 24 Jul 2018 that over 3 dozen persons have sought medical attention for conch poisoning since the Ministry of Health announced the new outbreak in New Providence nearly a month ago.

Luckily, there have been no reports of conch poisoning in the Family Islands. Dr. Sands confirmed that the outbreak has been isolated to New Providence. "We can now confirm 25 clinical cases with laboratory testing," he said. "There are an additional 15 clinical cases that meet the definition but are still awaiting finalization of their laboratory data, so there may be as many as 40 clinical cases that might have been presented to the hospital. There are some people who get conch poisoning but it's not severe enough for them to come to the hospital for treatment."

The health minister continued to issue warning to patrons and vendors. "I continue to say that this is a preventable problem, so to the vendors, you have to wash the conch in fresh water. To the patrons, it is a good idea to insist that [the conch] is washed in fresh water."

Conch poisoning occurs when raw conch meat is not thoroughly washed in fresh water. Bacteria that resides on the skin of conch is what leads to the treacherous poisoning. The most recent major outbreak of conch poisoning in the Bahamas dates back to the 1990s.  [Byline: Theo Sealy]
=====================
[The aetiology is _V. parahaemolyticus_, a bacterium in the same family as those that cause cholera. It lives in brackish saltwater and causes gastrointestinal illness in humans. Symptoms include watery diarrhoea, abdominal cramping, nausea, vomiting, and fever and chills. Usually these symptoms begin within 24 hours of exposure. Illness is usually self-limited and lasts approximately 3 days. Severe disease is rare and occurs more commonly in persons with weakened immune systems.

Infections with this organism, which can be normal microflora in seawater, have been associated with the consumption of raw, improperly cooked, or cooked and recontaminated fish and shellfish. A correlation exists between the probability of infection and warmer months of the year. Improper refrigeration of seafood contaminated with this organism will allow its proliferation, which increases the possibility of infection. ProMED-mail covered a large 2005 outbreak in Chile. It was impressive in its size (more than 10 000 cases), continued to spread despite early recognition, and involved clams and mussels rather than the classical oyster vehicle. - ProMED Mod.LL]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map:
New Providence Island, New Providence, Bahamas:
Date: 5 Jul 2018
Source: The Nassau Guardian [edited]

The Ministry of Health warned yesterday of a recent outbreak of conch poisoning. Health authorities yesterday [4 Jul 2018] confirmed 4 cases of conch poisoning stemming from Potter's Cay in the past 72 hours but said the outbreak of _Vibrio parahaemolyticus_ could easily be prevented by vendors washing their conch supplies in fresh water.

_V. parahaemolyticus_ is a bacterium found in brackish saltwater, which, when ingested, causes symptoms including abdominal cramps, vomiting, headache, diarrhea and fever. "This is a preventable illness that requires basic hygiene as it relates to conch preparation," said Minister of Health Dr. Duane Sands during a press conference at the Ministry of Health of Meeting Street. He continued, "I think there is no reason why we can't say we will ensure that every single vendor is reminded of the requirement to wash the conch with copious amounts of fresh, clean water. To those in the purchasing public, if your vendor does not have access to fresh tap water or distilled water, and is only washing the conch in seawater, until we get the all clear, don't buy from that vendor."

The 4 patients with confirmed cases of vibriosis are Bahamians. There were at least 6 more people exhibiting symptoms awaiting confirmation of conch poisoning.

Sands assured the public that health officials, who received reports of the cases yesterday morning [4 Jul 2018], have mobilized in conjunction with the Ministry of the Environment to take the necessary steps to protect the health of those affected and, through targeted interventions, prevent further cases. The minister also advised all conch vendors will be required to take a food-handling course and maintain fresh potable water at their stalls.

As it relates to the unconfirmed cases, Sands said those patients, who were admitted to the Emergency Room at Doctors Hospital and Princess Margaret Hospital in the past 24 hours with gastroenteritis, were awaiting lab results. "Bear in mind that gastroenteritis can occur for a number of reasons," he said, "And so, to ascribe a case of gastroenteritis to vibrio would require confirmatory testing."

Sands said one of the priorities of the ministry is to have the conversation with the public early and spread awareness. "The 2nd thing we would like to do and we have started to do is to ensure the environmental health teams speak directly with the vendors, but throughout New Providence [Bahamas] and anywhere else we may suspect a possibility of exposure," the minister said. "We learned back in the 1990s this is easily controlled if people practice very simple techniques of washing conch with fresh water, which minimizes, if not eliminates, the possibility of transmission. And so, we just redouble those efforts combined with public education."

Additionally, Sands advised conch purchasers to ask vendors and restaurants whether the conch has been washed in fresh water before purchasing and eating it. "If the answer is affirmative, then you ought to feel reasonably comfortable you can eat it," he said. "If the answer is no, then I wouldn't suggest you eat or purchase it." No vendor has been closed down as a result of the cases presented. Sands said that would be premature, noting that conch poisoning from _V. parahaemolyticus_ can be easily prevented.

Thousands of visitors frequent Potter's Cay and other venues to sample conch in the variety of ways it is prepared, such as conch salad, in which the conch is consumed raw with vegetables, pepper and lime. According to health officials, cooking the conch removes the chance of it being contaminated.

There were 223 cases of vibriosis in New Providence [Bahamas] in 2003. In 1991 and 1999, there were also outbreaks of conch poisoning with a combined 1100 cases, Sands said.

Regarding testing, Sands was asked whether the ministry has periodically tested random conch batches from vendors. "This is not an issue of the meat itself," he responded. "Vibrio is a bacteri[um] ordinarily living in sea water and is a part of the surface of the conch. The conch meat itself is not infected with _V. parahaemolyticus_, so you can wash it off. Testing the conch meat itself is not the issue."

Sands continued, "We have learned historically you can eliminate this problem by washing the conch in fresh water. If you are washing the conch with _Vibrio_-containing water, you are not going to solve the problem, even though the conch may appear clean on the surface." Sands said while this is a breaking matter and the ministry has a strategic plan, it has not gotten to the stage of testing batches of conch and the storage water, but "that does not mean that we won't get there."

Symptoms of conch poisoning from _V. parahaemolyticus_ can persist for 72 hours, and some patients may require hospitalization for treatment of dehydration. Those experiencing symptoms are asked to contact the ministry's surveillance unit at +1-242-502-4790 between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. EDT.  [Byline: Torrell Glinton]
====================
[There is now confirmation the agent involved in the conch poisoning situation is the bacterium _Vibrio parahaemolyticus_. I apologize for the error regarding identification of the agent. Laboratory confirmation is always appreciated. [ProMED would like to thank Mr. Ryan Burke for bringing the laboratory confirmation to our attenttion. - ProMED Mod.JH]

_V. parahaemolyticus_ is a bacterium in the same family as those that cause cholera. It lives in brackish saltwater and causes gastrointestinal illness in humans. Symptoms include watery diarrhea, abdominal cramping, nausea, vomiting, and fever and chills. Usually these symptoms begin within 24 hours of exposure. Illness is usually self-limited and lasts approximately 3 days. Severe disease is rare and occurs more commonly in persons with weakened immune systems <http://www.health.state.mn.us/divs/idepc/diseases/vibrio/basics.html>.

Additional information regarding _V. parahaemolyticus_ may be found on the CDC fact sheet <https://www.cdc.gov/vibrio/faq.html> - ProMED Mod.TG]

[Infections with this organism, which can be normal microflora in seawater, have been associated with the consumption of raw, improperly cooked, or cooked and recontaminated fish and shellfish. A correlation exists between the probability of infection and warmer months of the year. Improper refrigeration of seafood contaminated with this organism will allow its proliferation, which increases the possibility of infection. ProMED-mail covered a large 2005 outbreak in Chile. It was impressive in its size (more than 10 000 cases), continued spread despite early recognition, and the involvement of clams and mussels rather than the classical oyster vehicle. - ProMED Mod.LL]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map: <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/11584>]
Date: Thu 5 Jul 2018
Source: EW News [edited]

With 4 confirmed cases of conch poisoning in New Providence, [Bahamas], the Ministry of Health cautioned Bahamians against consuming the delicacy in the wake of this latest outbreak. Health Minister Dr. Duane Sands confirmed the 4 Bahamians suffering from the illness. The earliest case, he said, dates back to [Sat 30 Jun 2018].

Dr. Sands revealed that an additional 6 persons have been hospitalized with symptoms of conch poisoning. He said even though the number of cases is considered minimal, the ministry's warning is a proactive measure to prevent future cases. The ministry, he said, is expected to begin dialogue with local vendors to ensure they are utilizing proper cleaning methods in the preparation of conch dishes.

"Conch should be washed with fresh water, and not salt water, to ensure that all bacteria is removed from the conch meat," suggested Dr. Sands. He urged Bahamians to ask local vendors about the processes they employ during the preparation of conch dishes. "If they do not wash the conch in fresh water during the process of preparing it, then do not purchase the conch," he warned.

The early onset of conch poisoning is said to be accompanied by watery diarrhoea and extreme abdominal cramps. Some cases, the health minister said, are severe and can lead to dehydration and subsequent hospitalization.

The last major outbreak of conch poisoning dates back to the 1990s, according to Dr. Sands.  [Byline: Theo Sealy]
=========================
[The group of conchs that are sometimes referred to as "true conchs" are marine gastropod molluscs in the family Strombidae, specifically in the genus _Strombus_ and other closely related genera. For example, see _Lobatus gigas_, the queen conch, and _Laevistrombus canarium_, the dog conch (<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conch>).

In ciguatera poisoning, the poisonous ingredient is ciguatoxin. This is a poison made in small amounts by certain algae and algae-like organisms called dinoflagellates. Environmental conditions are right for other organisms, mollusks, or fish to ingest the algae and dinoflagellates. Smaller organisms may be ingested by larger organisms, thus transferring the toxic agent to the larger animal.

Ciguatera is a foodborne illness (food poisoning) caused by eating fish that is contaminated by ciguatera toxin. Ciguatera toxin, a heat-stable, lipid-soluble compound produced by dinoflagellates and concentrated in fish organs, can cause nausea, pain, and cardiac and neurological symptoms in humans when ingested.

Ciguatera toxin is harmless to fish but poisonous to humans. The toxin is odorless and tasteless, and cooking does not destroy the toxin. The toxin activates voltage-dependent sodium channels, causing symptoms in gastrointestinal, cardiac, and nerve tissues of humans and other mammals.

Symptoms in people generally begin 6-8 hr after eating the contaminated fish but can occur as early as 2 or as late as 24 hr after ingestion. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, muscle pain, numbness, tingling, abdominal pain, dizziness, and vertigo. There is no specific antitoxin available for ciguatera toxin.

Some investigators have suggested vomiting should be induced if the victim is awake and alert and has eaten ciguatera toxin-containing fish within the last 3-4 hr. Ipecac, a substance that causes vomiting, was suggested as the medication to use, but many investigators now think ipecac causes too much dehydration. Currently, some physicians recommend gastrointestinal decontamination with activated charcoal. Activated charcoal may absorb the toxin if administered 3-4 hr after ingestion.

Victims should maintain hydration. Intravenous fluids may be necessary for uncontrollable nausea and vomiting. Although there is no specific antidote available, supportive therapy and time usually is curative.

Portions of this comment were extracted from

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map:
New Providence Island, New Providence, Bahamas:
Date: Sun, 24 Aug 2014 17:44:32 +0200 (METDST)

WASHINGTON, Aug 24, 2014 (AFP) - Tropical storm Cristobal headed toward the Bahamas Sunday after leaving one person missing in the Dominican Republic, US weather forecasters said.   The storm, which was upgraded from a tropical depression, had maximum sustained winds of 45 miles (75 kilometres) an hour, the National Hurricane Center in Miami said.   It predicted heavy rainfall of four to eight inches -- "with isolated amounts of 12 inches possible" -- for the Turks and Caicos islands and south-eastern and central Bahamas, it said.

In the Dominican Republic, authorities said a man was swept away when he tried to cross a rain-swollen river in his van.   Flooding near rivers and in cities also damaged more than 800 homes and cut off 23 towns, the emergency centre said in its latest update. Some 4,105 people went to take refuge in the homes of family and friends, it added.   A hospital in the country's east, where the rains were heaviest, also experienced flooding on the ground floor and "patients were moving to dry places," the bulletin said.
Date: Mon, 4 Aug 2014 12:16:18 +0200 (METDST)

MIAMI, Aug 04, 2014 (AFP) - Tropical Storm Bertha picked up strength Monday and was forecast to become a hurricane as it moved north from the Bahamas, US monitors said.   The National Hurricane Center reported in its 0900 GMT bulletin that the centre of Bertha was located about 220 miles (350 kilometres) east of Great Abaco Island, in the northern Bahamas.

The storm was moving towards the north at around 16 miles (26 kilometres) per hour packing winds of nearly 70 miles (110 kilometres) per hour, with higher gusts.   "Additional strengthening is expected ... and Bertha is forecast to become a hurricane later today," the NHC said.   While the outer bands of Bertha might brush the US coast, it was not expected to make landfall.

On its forecast track, Bertha "will continue to move away from the Bahamas ... and pass about midway between the US east coast and Bermuda on Tuesday," the NHC said.   The NHC earlier said Bertha was expected to drop up to five inches (13 centimetres) of rain across eastern portions of the Dominican Republic, as well as the Turks and Caicos through Monday.

Dominican authorities on Sunday declared a red-alert emergency after heavy rains triggered by Bertha toppled trees and flooded the banks of many rivers in the mountainous nation. No injuries were immediately reported.
More ...

Costa Rica

Costa Rica - US Consular Information Sheet
June 05, 2008
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
Costa Rica is a middle-income, developing country with a strong democratic tradition.
Tourist facilities are extensive and generally adequate.
The capi
al is San Jose.
English is a second language for many Costa Ricans.
Read the Department of State Background Notes on Costa Rica for additional information.

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:
For entry into Costa Rica, U.S. citizens must present valid passports that will not expire for at least thirty days after arrival, and a roundtrip/outbound ticket.
Some U.S. airlines may not permit passengers to board flights to Costa Rica without such a ticket.
Passports should be in good condition; Costa Rican immigration will deny entry if the passport is damaged in any way.
Costa Rican authorities generally permit U.S. citizens to stay up to ninety days; to stay beyond the period granted, travelers must submit an application for an extension to the Office of Temporary Permits in the Costa Rican Department of Immigration.
Tourist visas are usually not extended except under special circumstances, and extension requests are evaluated on a case-by-case basis.
There is a departure tax for short-term visitors.
Tourists who stay over ninety days may experience a delay at the airport when departing.
Persons who overstayed previously may be denied entry to Costa Rica.
Persons traveling to Costa Rica from some countries in South America and Sub-Saharan Africa must provide evidence of a valid yellow fever vaccination prior to entry.
The South American countries include Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador and Venezuela.
See “SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES” for information on requirements to carry documentation within Costa Rica and on travel by dual national minors.


The most authoritative and up-to-date information on Costa Rican entry and exit requirements may be obtained from the Consular Section of the Embassy of Costa Rica at 2114 “S” Street NW, Washington, DC 20008, telephone (202) 234-2945/46 , fax (202) 265-4795 , e-mail consulate@costarica-embassy.org, web site http://www.costarica-embassy.org, or from the Costa Rican consulates in Atlanta, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New Orleans, New York, San Juan (Puerto Rico), San Francisco, and Tampa.
The Costa Rican immigration agency web site is http://www.migracion.go.cr.
It is advisable to contact the Embassy of Costa Rica in Washington or one of Costa Rica's consulates in the United States for specific information regarding customs requirements before shipping any items.
Visit the Embassy of Costa Rica web site at http://www.costarica-embassy.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:
There have been no recent acts of terrorism in Costa Rica.
Visitors to Costa Rica may experience the effects of civil disturbances such as work stoppages and strikes.
Although infrequent, these acts can create inconveniences for visitors.
On both the Caribbean and Pacific coasts, currents are swift and dangerous, and there are few lifeguards or signs warning of dangerous beaches.
Every year eight to twelve American citizens drown in Costa Rica due to riptides or sudden drop-offs while in shallow water.
Extreme caution is advised.

Adventure tourism is popular in Costa Rica, and many companies offer white-water rafting, bungee jumping, jungle canopy tours, deep sea diving, and other outdoor attractions.
Americans are urged to use caution in selecting adventure tourism companies.
The government of Costa Rica regulates and monitors the safety of adventure tourism companies; enforcement of safety laws is overseen by the Ministry of Health.
Registered tourism companies with operating permits must meet safety standards and have insurance coverage.
The safety regulations enforced in Costa Rica are not the same as safety regulations enforced in the United States.

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

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

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

CRIME:
Over one and a half million foreign tourists, the majority American, visit Costa Rica annually.
All are potential targets for criminals, primarily thieves looking for cash, jewelry, credit cards, electronic items and passports.
U.S. citizens are encouraged to exercise the same level of caution they would in major cities or tourist areas throughout the world.
Local law enforcement agencies have limited capabilities and do not act according to U.S. standards.
Travelers should minimize driving at night, especially outside urban areas.

Americans should avoid areas with high concentrations of bars and nightclubs, especially at night, and steer clear of deserted properties or undeveloped land.
For safety reasons, the Embassy does not place its official visitors in hotels in the San Jose city center, but instead puts them at the larger hotels in the outlying suburbs.
Americans should walk or exercise with a companion, bearing in mind that crowded tourist attractions and resort areas popular with foreign tourists are common venues for criminal activities.
Travelers should ignore any verbal harassment, and avoid carrying passports, large amounts of cash, jewelry or expensive photographic equipment.
Tourists are encouraged to carry photocopies of the passport data page and Costa Rican entry stamp on their persons, and leave the original passport in a hotel safe or other secure place.
Costa Rican immigration authorities conduct routine immigration checks at locations, such as bars in downtown San Jose and beach communities, frequented by illegal immigrants.
American citizens detained during one of these checks who have only a copy of the passport will be required to provide the original passport with appropriate stamps.



Travelers should purchase an adequate level of locally valid theft insurance when renting vehicles, park in secured lots whenever possible, and never leave valuables in the vehicle.
The U.S. Embassy receives several reports daily of valuables, identity documents, and other items stolen from locked vehicles, primarily rental cars.
Thefts from parked cars occur in downtown San Jose, at beaches, in the airport and bus station parking lots, and at national parks and other tourist attractions.
Travelers should use licensed taxis, which are red with medallions (yellow triangles containing numbers) painted on the side.
Licensed taxis at the airport are painted orange.
All licensed taxis should have working door handles, locks, seatbelts and meters (called "marias"); passengers are required to use seatbelts.
When traveling by bus, avoid putting bags or other personal belongings in the storage bins.
At all times have your belongings in your line of sight or in your possession.

Thieves usually work in groups of two to four.
A common scam has one person drop change in a crowded area, such as on a bus, and when the victim tries to assist, a wallet or other item is taken.
The most prevalent
scam involves the surreptitious puncturing of tires of rental cars, often near restaurants, tourist attractions, airports, or close to the car rental agencies themselves.
When the travelers pull over, "good Samaritans" quickly appear to change the tire - and just as quickly remove valuables from the car, sometimes brandishing weapons.
Drivers with flat tires are advised to drive, if at all possible, to the nearest service station or other public area, and change the tire themselves, watching valuables at all times.
In late 2006, the government of Costa Rica established a Tourist Police force, and units were established in popular tourist areas throughout the country.
The Tourist Police can assist with the reporting of a crime, which can be difficult for victims due to language barriers and the requirement that only investigative police can accept crime reports.

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

See our information on Victims of Crime.

MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:
Medical care in San Jose is adequate, but is limited in areas outside of San Jose.
Most prescription and over-the-counter medications are available throughout Costa Rica.
Doctors and hospitals often expect immediate cash payment for health services, and U.S. medical insurance is not always valid outside the United States.
A list of local doctors and medical facilities can be found at the website of the U.S. Embassy in San Jose, at http://sanjose.usembassy.gov.
An ambulance may be summoned by calling 911.
Most ambulances provide transportation but little or no medical assistance.
The best-equipped ambulances are called “unidad avanzada.”
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 Costa Rica is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.

Costa Rica has one of the highest vehicle accident rates in the world.
The fatality rate for pedestrians and those riding bicycles and motorcycles is disproportionately high.
Traffic laws and speed limits are often ignored, turns across one or two lanes of traffic are common, turn signals are rarely used, passing on dangerous stretches of highway is common, and pedestrians are not given the right of way.
Roads are often in poor condition, and large potholes with the potential to cause significant damage to vehicles are common.
Pedestrians, cyclists, and farm animals may use the main roads.
Traffic signs, even on major highways, are inadequate and few roads are lined.
Shoulders are narrow or consist of drainage ditches.
All of the above, in addition to poor visibility due to heavy fog or rain, makes driving at night especially treacherous.
Landslides are common in the rainy season.
All types of motor vehicles are appropriate for the main highways and principal roads in the major cities.
However, some roads to beaches and other rural locations are not paved, and many destinations are accessible only with high clearance, rugged suspension four-wheel drive vehicles.
Travelers are advised to call ahead to their hotels to ask about the current status of access roads.
Costa Rica has a 911 system for reporting emergencies.
In the event of a traffic accident, vehicles must/must be left where they are.
Both the Transito (Traffic Police) and the Insurance Investigator must make accident reports before the vehicles are moved.

Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.
Visit the website of Costa Rica’s national tourist office and national authority responsible for road safety at http://www.mopt.go.cr and www.visitecostarica.com.

AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT:
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of Costa Rica’s Civil Aviation Authority as being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for oversight of Costa Rica’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:
Land Ownership and Shoreline Property: U.S. citizens are urged to use caution when making real estate purchases, and consult reputable legal counsel and investigate thoroughly all aspects before entering into a contract.
Coastal land within fifty meters of the high tide line is open to the public and therefore closed to development, and construction on the next one hundred fifty meters inland is possible only with the approval of the local municipality.

Squatters: Organized squatter groups have invaded properties in various parts of the country.
These squatter groups, often supported by politically active persons and non-governmental organizations, take advantage of legal provisions that allow people without land to gain title to unused agricultural property.
Local courts may show considerable sympathy for the squatters.
Victims of squatters have reported threats, harassment, and violence.
Documentation Requirements: Visitors are required to carry appropriate documentation at all times.
However, due to the high incidence of passport theft, tourists are permitted and encouraged to carry photocopies of the datapage and entry stamp from the passport, leaving the passport in a hotel safe or other secure place.
However, as noted under CRIME, Costa Rican immigration authorities conduct routine checks for illegal immigrants, especially in bars located in downtown San Jose and in beach communities.
An American citizen detained during one of these checks and carrying only the copy of the passport will be required to produce the original passport.
Tourists should consider carrying their passports when traveling overnight or a considerable distance from their hotel.
Tourists who carry passports are urged to place them securely in an inside pocket.

Exit Procedures for Costa Rican Citizens: Costa Rican children may only depart the country upon presentation of an exit permit issued by immigration authorities.
This policy, designed to prevent international child abduction, applies to dual national U.S./Costa Rican citizens.
Parents of minors who obtained Costa Rican citizenship through a parent or through birth in Costa Rica are advised to consult with appropriate Costa Rican authorities prior to travel to Costa Rica, especially if one (or both) parent(s) is not accompanying the child.



Disaster Preparedness: Costa Rica is located in an earthquake and volcanic zone.
Serious flooding occurs annually on the Caribbean side near the port city of Limon, but flooding occurs in other parts of Costa Rica as well, depending on the time of year and rainfall.
General information about natural disaster preparedness is available via the Internet from the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) at http://www.fema.gov/.

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

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

REGISTRATION / EMBASSY LOCATION:
Americans living or traveling in Costa Rica 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 Costa Rica.
Americans without Internet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in case of emergency.
The U.S. Embassy is located in Pavas, San Jose, and may be reached at (506) 2519-2000; the extension for the Consular Section is 2453.
The Embassy is open Monday through Friday, and is closed on Costa Rican and U.S. holidays.
Those seeking information are strongly encouraged to utilize the embassy web site http://sanjose.usembassy.gov/, and can email consularsanjose@state.gov with any questions/concerns.
For emergencies arising outside normal business hours, U.S. citizens may call (506) 2220-3127 and ask for the duty officer.
*

*

*
This replaces the Country Specific Information for Costa Rica dated August 15, 2007, to update sections on Registration/Embassy Location and Special Circumstances.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Sun, 21 Jul 2019 00:04:32 +0200

San José, July 20, 2019 (AFP) - Alcohol tainted with potentially toxic levels of methanol has killed 19 people in Costa Rica, where authorities issued an alert against drinking some half-dozen brands.   The Ministry of Health issued the national warning Friday while also updating the death toll.   Of 34 people who have been poisoned, 14 men and five women, age 32 to 72, have died since the first week of June, the ministry said.   Authorities warned that it was not known how much alcohol had been adulterated, but have confiscated some 30,000 bottles and are carrying out a countrywide investigation.

The doctored alcohol contained between 30 to 50 percent methanol, according to Donald Corella, head of emergency services at Calderon Guardia Hospital in San Jose, who was quoted in the daily La Nacion.   He said six people who were treated at his hospital had died, while four others survived but suffered "very serious after-effects" ranging from irreversible total blindness to brain lesions that cause tremors similar to Parkinson's disease.   If ingested in large quantities, methanol can cause blindness, liver damage and death.   According to authorities, the majority of the 19 deaths occurred among homeless and alcoholic individuals.
Date: Wed, 26 Jun 2019 10:01:43 +0200

San José, June 26, 2019 (AFP) - A 6.2 magnitude earthquake hit the Panama-Costa Rica border around midnight on Tuesday, the US Geological Survey said, revising earlier warnings of "significant damage", as the tremor cut power supplies near the epicentre.   The quake struck at a depth of 26 kilometres (16 miles), about two kilometres from the nearest town of Progreso in Panama, USGS said, updating a previous alert that estimated the depth at 10 kilometres.

There were no immediate reports of casualties, and USGS said "the impact should be relatively localized", reversing an earlier advisory that "past events with this alert level have required a regional or national level response."   "Estimated economic losses are less than 1 percent of GDP of Panama," the website said.   According to the National Seismological Network (RSN) in Costa Rica, the quake struck at 0523 GMT Wednesday (11.23 pm Tuesday) with its epicentre located 11 kilometres east of the Panamanian border town of Puerto Armuelles.

The tremor was felt in Costa Rica's capital San Jose and in many parts of the Central American country, according to initial reports, but the national tsunami warning system said there was no risk of a tsunami.   Villagers in the south of Costa Rica fled their homes, fearing aftershocks. Two houses in the region were damaged by the quake, said Alexander Solis, president of the country's National Emergency Commission.

Costa Rica's President Carlos Alvarado said there were power cuts in several communities in the southwest of the country, near the epicentre.   In November 2017 a 6.5-magnitude quake on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica caused buildings to sway in San Jose and contributed to the deaths of two people who had heart attacks.   Further north, two months earlier a 7.1-magnitude earthquake killed more than 300 people in Mexico.
Date: Mon 20 Jan 2019
Source: Outbreak News Today [edited]
<http://outbreaknewstoday.com/costa-rica-health-officials-investigate-hepatitis-surge-puntarenas-28003/>

Health officials in Costa Rica continue to investigate the hepatitis A outbreak reported in the province of Puntarenas where 33 cases have been reported during the 1st 11 days of 2019, according to the [health ministry] (computer translated). Cases have been primarily reported in the following districts: Barranca (10), Oak (8), and Chacarita (7). Officials announced last week [week of 14 Jan 2019] that contaminated water has been ruled out by laboratory analysis and the epidemiologists now aim to confirm as a source of contamination the poor hygiene in the preparation of food products and the presence of faecal coliforms (faeces) in the food.

After confirmation of the cases, the Ministry of Health issued a health alert to intervene and activate the health protocols in the active surveillance of new cases, both in the health services and in the population close to the suspects. In addition, urgent actions are taken in health services, protection of water sources for consumption, and dissemination of prevention measures for the population. The Regional Directorates of the CCSS [Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social/Costa Rican Social Security Fund] and the Ministry of Health intensified health promotion and prevention activities, using all local means of communication to inform the population about the disease, existing cases, hygiene measures in preparation and handling of food, and personal hygiene measures for the prevention of Hepatitis A.

The Director of Health Surveillance, Dr Rodrigo Mara­n, vehemently calls the people of Barranca, Chacarita, and El Roble to take measures to prevent and avoid new cases: "Self-care and food safety are the more effective measures to combat hepatitis A. Self-care refers, in this case, to proper personal hygiene practices such as proper and regular hand washing," said Mara­n.
=====================
[The cases are not broken down in regard to age. In children, most cases of HAV infection are subclinical so it is likely that the cases reported were in adults. In the developing world, HAV is not reported much in adults as most children have been infected, and therefore immune to subsequent infection, by the age of 10. That outbreaks are occurring in the area suggests improvement in potable water so less children are infected and therefore still susceptible to HAV as adults. - ProMED Mod.LL]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of Costa Rica: <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/43112>]
Date: Wed, 5 Dec 2018 18:04:53 +0100

San José, Dec 5, 2018 (AFP) - A fingerprint test has confirmed the murder of a Venezuelan-born American tourist who had been missing for over a week, police said Wednesday.   The body found in the mountainous area of San Antonio de Escazu, southwest of the capital, where the tourist was staying, "is that of Carla Lucia Stefaniak, 36, who had been reported missing," the Judicial Investigation Agency (OIJ) said.   The body, exhibiting stab wounds and a severe blow to the head, was found on Monday near Stefaniak's hotel, OIJ chief Walter Espinoza said.   Her identity was confirmed after the US Federal Bureau of Investigation sent fingerprints that were compared to those of the body.

Nicaraguan national Bismarck Espinoza Martinez, 32, was arrested as a suspect in the homicide. He will be held in preventive detention for three months while the case is being investigated, prosecutors said.    "Words cannot express the devastation within her family and friends. We want the world to know that we will never forget Carla," the victim's family said on a dedicated Facebook page, "Finding Carla."    "We will never forget the joy she brought into our lives, how much she made us laugh. We will always be with her and we know she will always be with us."   Stefaniak's father, Carlos Caicedo, was able to view the body late Tuesday, when he identified it as his daughter's.   The murder was a fresh blow to Costa Rica's image as a tourist destination, after a Mexican tourist and one from Spain were killed in separate incidents in August.
Costa Rica - human Date: 15 Nov 2018
Source: Q Costa Rica [edited]
<http://qcostarica.com/biologist-infected-with-rabies-died/>

A 43 year old biologist infected with the rabies virus died on Wed 14 Nov 2018 the Ministry of Health has confirmed. His admission to the medical centre occurred 2 months after the biologist entered a cave during a family outing on 15 Aug 2018 in Copey de Dota and had contact with bats, suffering a bite on one of his arms. He began to manifest symptoms [numbness and paralysis, difficulties swallowing, and behavioural disorders] on 11 Oct 2018, when he finally decided to obtain medical help. The patient was admitted to the intensive care unit of San Juan de Dios Hospital in San Jose on 21 Oct 2018, where he remained on life support but died of cardiorespiratory failure according to Daniel Salas Peraza, director of health surveillance, in the Ministry of Health.

The rabies virus is typically transmitted through the bite of an infected host. The bite transmits infected saliva, passing the virus to a previously uninfected animal. In humans, rabies is fatal unless treated before severe symptoms occur. If untreated, the virus spreads through the central nervous system, reaching the brain and ultimately leading to death. All travellers should exercise caution when in close proximity to animals, including wild animals and strays. Street dogs are common in Costa Rica. For adventure travellers, particularly cavers who may find themselves in close proximity to infected bats, and long-term travellers, including expats, who may be spending extended periods of time in high-risk areas, vaccination may be recommended.

If travelling with children, tell them not to pet wild or domestic animals (especially when unsupervised). Children might not report scratches or bites, making them particularly vulnerable. If bitten by a potentially rabid animal, you should 1st wash the wound thoroughly with soap and water. You should then seek medical attention immediately. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): "The 1st symptoms of rabies may be very similar to those of the flu, including general weakness or discomfort, fever, or a headache." These symptoms can last for days, often accompanied by an itching sensation at the site of the bite. As the disease progresses, symptoms such as agitation, hallucinations, and delirium start to appear.
======================
[HealthMap/ProMED map of Costa Rica available at <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/17>]
More ...

World Travel News Headlines

Date: Tue, 20 Aug 2019 05:21:07 +0200 (METDST)

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

Traffic accidents in Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Myanmar are common, with safety regulations often flouted and law enforcement low.    The monsoon season from June to October also drenches rural roads with heavy rains creating slippery conditions.   Tourism to communist-run Laos has grown in recent years, and visitors from China increased by 13 percent in the first half of 2019 compared to the year before, according to the state-backed Vientiane Times.
Date: Mon, 19 Aug 2019 20:57:15 +0200 (METDST)

Bukavu, DR Congo, Aug 19, 2019 (AFP) - A child has died from Ebola in DR Congo's South Kivu, health authorities said Monday, the second person to succumb to the virus since the epidemic spread to the eastern province.   The announcement last week of the first confirmed cases in South Kivu revived concerns that the highly contagious disease could cross the porous borders of the central African country, where it has claimed more than 1,900 lives since August last year.   "A seven-year-old child died yesterday (Sunday) of Ebola" in South Kivu's Mwenga region, said Claude Bahizire, communication officer of South Kivu's provincial health division.

The first death in South Kivu was a woman in her twenties who evaded movement controls to travel from the North Kivu town of Beni, the epicentre of the outbreak, to South Kivu's capital Bukavu and then Mwenga.    She died on Wednesday, and her seven-month-old son has been diagnosed with the virus and is receiving treatment.   Bahizire said that "two other suspected cases, two women, have been detected and admitted to Bukavu's transit centre".   The two women "were in contact with the woman who died last week while she was staying in Bukavu on the way to Mwenga," he added.

The outbreak of the haemorrhagic virus began in North Kivu on August 1, 2018 and spread to Ituri province.   The health ministry also announced that "a new health zone had been assigned in North Kivu".   A confirmed case of Ebola has been recorded in North Kivu's Pinga region, in Walikale territory, a source said without providing further details.   According to the latest numbers published on Sunday, 1,934 people have since died, while 862 have been cured.

The latest outbreak is the second-deadliest on record after more than 11,000 people were killed in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia between 2014-2016.   Also on Monday, World Health Organization (WHO) chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus called on the nine countries that share a border with DR Congo to show solidarity to stop the spread of Ebola.   "We now have an Ebola vaccine that is more than 97 percent effective and treatments that are more than 90 per cent effective if used early enough," he said in Republic of Congo capital Brazzaville.
Date: Mon, 19 Aug 2019 19:48:07 +0200 (METDST)
By Alain JEAN-ROBERT

Paris, Aug 19, 2019 (AFP) - French construction workers wearing protective masks returned to the site of stricken Notre-Dame cathedral on Monday after a three-week pause due to the risk of lead contamination.   Labour Minister Muriel Penicaud was given a tour of the scorched monumet wearing a white protective suit while workers could again be seen surveying the structure which was left damaged and weakened in a massive fire in April.

Restoration of the cathedral has yet to begin with efforts focused entirely on securing the building. The culture ministry has warned it is still at risk of collapse.   Efforts to remove lead from the area around Notre-Dame began last week after alarm grew over the presence of the toxic metal.   Hundreds of tonnes of lead in the roof and steeple melted during the April 15 blaze that nearly destroyed the gothic masterpiece, with winds spreading the particles well beyond the church grounds.

Residents have accused the Paris authorities of underplaying the risk from the lead although the culture ministry insists safety is the top priority.   But prefect Michel Cadot, the government's top official for the Paris region, approved the resumption of the works after visiting the site.   "I saw that the different recommendations of the labour inspectors had been implemented," he said, adding the decontamination work would help keep contractors safe.   Securing the structure is required before the restoration work can start.    The culture ministry said that stones had fallen from the nave vault during a heatwave in July.   "It is only the urgency linked to the persistent risk of a collapse that justifies the rhythm of work undertaken" since the fire, it said in a statement Wednesday.

President Emmanuel Macron has set an ambitious target of five years for the restoration to be finished. But the ministry said the work would not even begin until next year.   Paris prosecutors said in June that a poorly stubbed-out cigarette or an electrical fault could have started the fire and opened an investigation into criminal negligence, without targeting any individual.

French investigative news site Mediapart published a report this week accusing the ministry of repeatedly ignoring warnings by labour inspectors about the dangers posed by the lead until work was finally suspended on July 25.   Critics have accused the city of failing to notify the public about the test results, while an environmental group has filed a lawsuit alleging that officials failed to sufficiently contain the contamination.   The ministry rejected Mediapart's allegations it had failed to pay attention to the risks encountered by workers on the site.
Date: Mon, 19 Aug 2019 13:26:06 +0200 (METDST)

Jalalabad, Afghanistan, Aug 19, 2019 (AFP) - Scores of people including children were wounded Monday after a series of explosions shook the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad, as the country's independence day was marred by bloodshed.

As many as 10 blasts were reported in and around the city in Nangarhar province, authorities said, and casualty numbers rose as the day wore on.   "The explosions were caused by IEDs in different parts of the city and as groups of people were celebrating independence day," the Nangarhar governor's spokesman Attaullah Khogyani said, referring to improvised explosive devices.   Jalalabad is the scene of frequent bomb attacks, and the surrounding terrain is home to both Taliban fighters and the Islamic State group's local affiliate.

At least 52 people were wounded, Khogyani said. Zaher Adel, a spokesman for a local hospital, said 66 wounded people had been brought in. An AFP correspondent saw children among the victims.   This year's August 19 celebrations mark 100 years of Afghan independence from British influence.   The day was supposed to be one of national pride and unity, but was overshadowed by an IS suicide attack Saturday on a crowded Kabul wedding hall that killed at least 63 people.

In Kabul, locals took to the streets to wave the black-red-and-green Afghan flag, but several public events to commemorate the date were scrapped as Kabul mourns and due to fears of a fresh attack.    "We postponed the celebrations to honour the victims, but we will definitely take revenge for our people," Afghan President Ahraf Ghani said.   "We will avenge the blood of our people, every drop of it."

Mayhem from Afghanistan's war continues to wreak havoc on Afghans every day, even though the US and the Taliban are in final negotiations for a deal that would see US troops begin to quit Afghanistan and could potentially lead to a reduction in violence.
Date: Wed 14 Aug 2019
Source: Universitat Hohenheim [in German, trans. Britta Lassmann, edited]

The University of Hohenheim and the Bundeswehr Institute of Microbiology [IMB] have detected spotted fever in a hyalomma tick, the 1st time such a tick is suspected to have caused disease in a human in Germany.

This tick feeds on humans and can transmit a form of spotted fever in Germany. What were still unanswered questions about the tropical giant tick hyalomma is now certainty. At the beginning of August [2019], it was suspected that for the 1st time, a human in Germany had contracted a disease with the typical symptoms of rickettsiosis from the bite of a hyalomma tick. Experts from the University of Hohenheim in Stuttgart and the IMB in Munich were able to detect the pathogen _Rickettsia aeschlimannii_ in the tick. The number of hyalomma ticks in Germany increased significantly in 2019 compared to the previous year [2018]. In nearly half of the hyalomma ticks, _R. aeschlimannii_ can be detected. The tick researchers continue to ask the population to send them suspicious ticks.

It was probably no coincidence that this 1st case was in a horse owner. Tropical ticks of the genus _Hyalomma_ feed on large mammals. For several years, these ticks have been on the rise in Germany. Now tick researchers report the 1st suspected case of spotted fever transmitted in Germany. "Not only do we now know for sure that the hyalomma tick is also targeting humans," says Prof Dr Med Ute Mackenstedt, a parasitologist at the University of Hohenheim, "but also that there is the urgent suspicion that the transmission of spotted fever by these ticks is actually possible here in Germany."

The case: At the end of July [2019], the horse owner from near Siegen was bitten by a hyalomma tick. He sent the tick to the tick researcher in Hohenheim. He then presented to the hospital only a few days later with severe symptoms. Spotted fever caused by the bacterium _R. aeschlimannii_ was suspected. The tick was sent by courier service to the IMB in Munich, where the pathogen was detected in the tick. Thereafter, the patient received targeted antibiotic therapy, and his symptoms rapidly improved.

"We are talking about a suspected case, because direct detection of the pathogen from the patient was not possible," explains PD Dr Med Gerhard Dobler, medical doctor at the IMB. "The treatment of the patient came 1st. But the preceding tick bite, the typical symptoms
and, above all, the proof of the pathogen in the tick suggest that the case was spotted fever. The fact that the patient responded to targeted antibiotic therapy further supports this."

_R. aeschlimannii_ causes a feverish infection with headache and muscle pain, extreme joint pain, and a burning sensation. Typical for the disease, however, is the rash that gave the disease its name. This classic sign shows mainly on the extremities. The incubation period is about one week.

"If spotted fever is suspected after a hyalomma bite, a swab should be taken from the bite site and sent for examination," advises PD Dobler. "If there are questions, you are welcome to contact us. Ideally, we would also like to examine the tick."

About half of the hyalomma ticks, the researchers say, are infected with rickettsia. Transmission takes place exclusively via tick bite. "The number of hyalomma ticks in Germany is significantly higher this year [2019] than in the previous year [2018]," reports Prof Dr Med Mackenstedt, referencing the publication in which the situation was presented in 2018. The Hohenheim parasitologist not only cooperates closely with the IMB in Munich, but also with the working group of Prof Dr Med Christina Strube at the Veterinary University (TiHo) Hannover. "Together they already have found 50 such ticks in Germany in 2019. Last year [2018] there were a total of 35." Last year, these ticks had survived the winter in Germany for the 1st time.

"Rickettsia are the only pathogens that we have been able to detect so far," explains PD Dr. Dobler. "We have not found the virus that causes the dangerous Crimean Congo hemorrhagic fever, nor the pathogens _Theileria equi_ and _Babesia caballi_, both of which can be transmitted from ticks to horses."

The research team continues to ask the population for support to further explore the spread and potential dangers. In case of a tick bite, it's best to remove the tick with a tick remover, TickCard, or tweezers. Then send the animal in a small, tightly closed container to:
University of Hohenheim
Prof. Dr. Ute Mackenstedt
Department of Parasitology
Emil-Wolff-Strasse 34
70599 Stuttgart

Background: Tick genus _Hyalomma_
_Hyalomma marginatum_ and _Hyalomma rufipes_ are native to the dry and semi-arid areas of Africa, Asia, and southern Europe. Until recently, they did not occur in central and northern Europe. Their striped legs are striking, and they are much larger than the native ixodes ticks.

The adult ticks feed on large animals. They are active hunters and move quickly towards their host. They cover a distance of up to 100 m [328 ft]. Humans can serve as hosts. In contrast, tick larvae and nymphs mainly infest birds and small mammals and can stay up to 28 days with their hosts. Migratory birds can introduce larvae and nymphs to Germany.

In Eurasia, both _Hyalomma_ species are considered transmitters of the Crimean Congo hemorrhagic fever virus and the Arabic hemorrhagic fever virus (Alkhumra virus). They also transmit the bacterium _Rickettsia aeschlimannii_, which causes a form of spotted fever.

Reference:
Chitimia-Dobler L, et al. Imported _Hyalomma_ ticks in Germany in 2018. Parasites & Vectors. 2019; 12 (134).

More information:
Picture and video material [in German]
Press release: Tropical ticks in Germany: University of Hohenheim asks to send conspicuous tick finds [in German]
Press release: Tropical ticks: New immigrant species winters in Germany for the 1st time [in German]
-----------------------------------
communicated by:
Roland Hubner
Superior Health Council
Brussels
Belgium
====================
[Given that the ticks were found last year (2018) and that they overwintered and were found again this year (2019), it is likely that this genus of tick is becoming established in Germany. Although the species of _Hyalomma_ that infected the man with _Rickettsia aeschlimannii_ was not determined, there is a clear association of this rickettsia with the 2 species of _Hyalomma_ that were tested. The published report cited above states, "35 ticks with an unusual appearance or behaviour were reported to us during summer-autumn 2018. For 17 of them, the description or photos implied that they belong to the hard tick genus _Hyalomma_. The remaining 18 ticks were sent to us and were identified as adult _Hyalomma marginatum_ (10 specimens) or adult _Hyalomma rufipes_ (8 specimens). All ticks tested negative for CCHF virus, _Coxiella burnetii_, _Coxiella_-like organisms, _Babesia_ spp. and _Theileria_ spp. The screening for rickettsiae gave positive results in 9 specimens. The _Rickettsia_ species in all cases was identified as _R. aeschlimannii_." Given that these ticks can be transported by birds migrating from Africa, continued surveillance in Germany for the rickettsia and the other pathogens that were not found currently is prudent. - ProMED Mod.TY]

The first human case of _R. aeschlimannii_ infection was identified in a patient who had fever, rash, and an eschar similar to _R. conori_ infection (Mediaterrian spotted fever) after travel in Morocco (1). _R. aeschlimannii_ infections in humans have been previously confirmed in South Africa, in Algeria, and in Tunisia (2). To our knowledge, the first human case of _R. aeschlimannii_ infection reported in Europe occurred in Greece and was reported in 2013 (3).

1. Raoult D, Fournier PE, Abboud P, Caron F. First documented human Rickettsia aeschlimannii infection. Emerg Infect Dis. 2002; 8: 748-9. doi: 10.3201/eid0807.010480
2. Demoncheaux JP, Socolovschi C, Davoust B, Haddad S, Raoult D, Parola P. First detection of _Rickettsia aeschlimanii_ in _Hyalomma dromedarii_ ticks in Tunisia. Ticks Tick Borne Dis. 2012; 3: 398-402.
3. Germanakis A, Chochlakis D, Angelakis E, Tselentis Y, Psaroulaki A. _Rickettsia aeschlimannii_ infection in a man, Greece. Emerg Infect Dis. 2013; 19: 1176-7.  - ProMED Mod. LL]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of Germany:
Date: Wed 19 Aug 2019, 12:48 PM
Source: Kazakh Telegraph Agency [edited]

A total of 4 anthrax cases have been confirmed in the Akmola region, reports the health care department. "Up to [now] 5 [suspected cases of] anthrax have been recorded; lab tests have confirmed 4. The cause of contamination was cow butchering without a veterinary certificate in a private yard," said the interlocutor.

"Epidemiological situation in the Akmola region and Nur-Sultan is stable," said the department. "The situation is being constantly monitored by the committee," said Ludmila Burabekova, chairfigure of the committee of quality control and goods safety. "Anti-epidemic and anti-epizootic arrangements have been organized in the area," she added.
*****************************
Date: Wed 19 Aug 2019, 12:04 PM GMT
Source: Radio Free Europe [edited]

A village near the Kazakh capital, Nur-Sultan, is under quarantine after lab tests confirmed anthrax infections in several people.

The Health Ministry said on [19 Aug 2019] that 5 residents of the village of Olginka, 100 km [about 62 mi] east of Nur-Sultan, have been hospitalized in recent days with anthrax symptoms, 4 of whom tested positive for _Bacillus anthracis_ -- the bacterium that causes the infectious disease. According to the statement, the situation in the village in the Aqmola region is under the control of the authorities and all necessary measures are being taken to prevent the possible spread of the disease.

In 2016, in nearby Qaraghandy Oblast, 2 people died as a result of anthrax infections.

According to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), domestic and wild animals -- such as cattle, sheep, goats, antelope, and deer -- can become infected by inhaling or ingesting spores in contaminated soil, plants, or water. CDC says all types of anthrax infections can cause death if they are not treated with antibiotics.
========================
[Olginka is in north-central Kazajhstan; see:

There is a measure of rural poverty in northern half of Kazakhstan, with the result that sick and moribund animals get butchered and eaten. Fortunately, as this village is within 100 Km [about 62 mi] of the Kazakh capital the affected have had the advantage of hospital care and proper laboratory confirmation. The coincident 5th person may have just shown a fever when the medical authorities were looking for clinical cases or it may be a false negative.

Folk have a habit of self-treating with antibiotics and this would have reduced the number of circulating vegetative cells available to testing. My friend Benyamin Cherkasskyi, the Soviet anthrax expert, used to tell me that only some 30%-40% of cutaneous cases would test positive. You have to know to insert your needle in under the lesion to draw out the fluid there which will contain cells, blood, and toxins. - ProMED Mod.MHJ]

[HealthMap/ProMED map available at:
Date: Mon, 19 Aug 2019 03:45:54 +0200 (METDST)

Lomo del Pino, Spain, Aug 19, 2019 (AFP) - A raging wildfire on the Spanish holiday island of Gran Canaria forced the evacuation of some 5,000 people, authorities said Sunday, warning it could take days for the blaze to be brought under control.   The fire, which has spread to the mountainous Cruz de Tejeda region popular with tourists for its breathtaking views, is "extremely fierce" and "unstable", said Canary Islands president Angel Victor Torres in a statement.   No fatalities have been reported.

More than 600 firefighters and 14 aircraft battled to contain the flames, hampered by strong winds and high temperatures.   With the temperature set to rise Monday, authorities estimate it could take days before the blaze is brought under control.   "The next few hours will be very important because the weather forecast for the night is not good," Torres said.   The fire broke out days after another wildfire in the same region forced the evacuation of hundreds.

Gran Canaria is the second most populous of the Canary Islands in the Atlantic off the northwest coast of Africa.   The Canary Islands received 13.7 million foreign visitors last year, over half of them from Britain and Germany.   Spain is frequently plagued by huge forest fires because of its arid summer climate.
Date: Sun, 18 Aug 2019 23:01:00 +0200 (METDST)

Lisbon, Aug 18, 2019 (AFP) - Portuguese fuel tanker drivers whose strike has caused fuel shortages at the summer holiday season on Sunday ended their industrial action.   Drivers have been staging a strike since Monday to demand further wage increases in 2021 and 2022, prompting the government to declare an energy crisis.   "Since all the conditions are now in place to negotiate, we decided to end the strike," Pedro Pardal Henriques, spokesman for the National Union of Dangerous Goods Carriers (SNMMP), told reporters.

A meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, the union President Francisco Sao Bento said, adding that the union did not "rule out new strikes being called if Antram (the employers association) adopts an uncompromising attitude".   Police had launched an operation to escort fuel tankers with extra supplies and Portugal also mobilised about 500 members of the security forces to replace the strikers and drive the trucks.   Despite the shortages, Energy Minister Joao Pedro Matos Fernandes said about two-thirds of the country's 3,000 or so petrol stations had not run dry.
Date: Sun, 18 Aug 2019 11:47:26 +0200 (METDST)
By By Emal Haidary and Mushtaq Mojaddidi

Kabul, Aug 18, 2019 (AFP) - Joy and celebration turned into horror and carnage when a suicide bomber targeted a packed Afghan wedding hall, killing at least 63 people in the deadliest attack to rock Kabul in months, officials and witnesses said Sunday.   The massive blast, which took place late Saturday in west Kabul, came as Washington and the Taliban finalise a deal to reduce the US military presence in Afghanistan and hopefully build a roadmap to a ceasefire.   The groom recalled greeting smiling guests in the afternoon, before seeing their bodies being carried out hours later.

The attack "changed my happiness to sorrow", the young man, who gave his name as Mirwais, told local TV station Tolo News.   "My family, my bride are in shock, they cannot even speak. My bride keeps fainting," he said.   "I lost my brother, I lost my friends, I lost my relatives. I will never see happiness in my life again."   Interior ministry spokesman Nasrat Rahimi said at least 63 people had been killed and 182 injured.   "Among the wounded are women and children," Rahimi said. Earlier he stated a suicide bomber carried out the attack.

Afghan weddings are epic and vibrant affairs, with hundreds or often thousands of guests celebrating for hours inside industrial-scale wedding halls where the men are usually segregated from the women and children.   "The wedding guests were dancing and celebrating the party when the blast happened," recounted Munir Ahmad, 23, who was seriously injured and whose cousin was among the dead.   "Following the explosion, there was total chaos. Everyone was screaming and crying for their loved ones," he told AFP from his bed in a local hospital, where he is being treated for shrapnel wounds.

Images from inside the hall showed blood-stained bodies on the ground along with pieces of flesh and torn clothes, hats, sandals and bottles of mineral water. The huge blast ripped parts of the ceiling off.   The wedding was believed to be a Shia gathering. Shia Muslims are frequently targeted in Sunni-majority Afghanistan, particularly by the so-called Islamic State group, which is also active in Kabul but did not immediately issue any claim of responsibility.

Wedding guest Hameed Quresh told AFP the young couple were saying their vows when the bomb went off.    "We fainted following the blast, and we don't know who brought us to the hospital," sobbed Quresh, who lost one brother and was himself wounded.   Another guest told Tolo that some 1,200 people had been invited. With low security, weddings are seen as easy targets.   The attack sent a wave of grief through a city grimly accustomed to atrocities. President Ashraf Ghani called it "barbaric", while Afghanistan's chief executive Abdullah Abdullah described it as a "crime against humanity".

- Withdrawal deal expected -
The attack underscores both the inadequacy of Afghanistan's security forces and the scale of the problem they face. While the police and army claim they prevent most bombings from ever happening, the fact remains that insurgents pull off horrific attacks with chilling regularity.   On July 28, at least 20 people were killed when attackers targeted Ghani's running mate Amrullah Saleh as he campaigned in presidential elections.    The incident showed how even amid tight security and known threats, insurgents can conduct brazen attacks.   The issue also goes to the heart of a prospective deal between the US and the Taliban that would see Washington begin to withdraw its approximately 14,000 soldiers from Afghanistan.

The deal relies on the Taliban providing guarantees they will stop jihadist groups such as Al-Qaeda and IS from using Afghanistan as a safe haven. Saturday's attack suggests any such promise would be tough to keep.   The "Taliban cannot absolve themselves of blame, for they provide platform for terrorists," Ghani said.   Few believe such a deal will bring quick peace.

Many Afghans fear the Taliban could return, eroding hard-won rights for women in particular and leading to a spiralling civil war.   Meanwhile, in the northern province of Balkh, 11 members of the same family were killed when their car hit a roadside bomb, officials said. The provincial governor blamed the Taliban for planting the device.
Date: Sun, 18 Aug 2019 05:28:47 +0200 (METDST)
By Amélie BOTTOLLIER-DEPOIS

Paris, Aug 18, 2019 (AFP) - Seafood lovers who prize the mussel for its earthy taste and succulent flesh may be unaware of its growing potential in the fight against water pollution.   The mussel is the hoover of the sea, taking in phytoplankton for nourishment along with microplastics, pesticides and other pollutants -- which makes it an excellent gauge.

One day, it may also be pressed into service to cleanse water.   "It's a super-filter in the marine world, filtering up to 25 litres of water a day," says marine biologist Leila Meistertzheim.   "It's a real model of bioaccumulation of pollutants generally speaking."   As they pump and filter the water through their gills in order to feed and breathe, mussels store almost everything else that passes through -- which is why strict health rules apply for those destined for human consumption.

Like canaries in a coal mine, mussels have long been used as "bio-indicators" of the health of the seas, lakes and rivers they inhabit.   Little-known pollutants can turn up to join the usual suspects, with increasing attention paid to microplastics containing bisphenol A and phthalates, both thought to be endocrine disruptors.

Meistertzheim heads a study for France's Tara Ocean Foundation using mussels to gauge the health of the estuaries of the Thames, Elba and Seine rivers.   The mussels, placed in fish traps, are submerged in the waters for a month before researchers dissect them to determine what chemical substances lurk in their tissues.   The idea of deploying mussels across the oceans to absorb ubiquitous microplastics is just a dream for now, but for other pollutants, the bivalves are already at work.   "In some places, mussels are used, as well as oysters, to cleanse the sea of pesticides, for example," Meistertzheim notes.

- E. coli busters -
Richard Luthy, an environmental engineer from California's Stanford University, says that, in most cases, mussels harvested from contaminated waters should not be eaten.   But if the contaminant is E. coli, mussels can be thanked for the "removal and inactivation" of the faecal material, he says, calling the service a "public health benefit".   The mussels are edible because they "excrete the bacteria as faeces or mucus," he says.   Mussels living in waterways affected by eutrophication -- often marked by abundant algae -- are also fit for human consumption, researchers say.   The phenomenon is often the result of waste dumped into the waterway containing phosphates and nitrites, such as detergents, fertilisers and sewage.   The nutrients in these substances encourage the proliferation of algae, which in turn starves the water of oxygen, upsetting the ecosystem.

Mussels "recycle" these nutrients by feeding on the algae, says Eve Galimany, a researcher of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Milford Laboratory who has experimented with mussels in the Bronx River in New York.   The recycling principle is already at work in a pilot project titled Baltic Blue Growth in Sweden, Denmark and the Baltic countries which grows mussels to be fed to animals such as poultry, fish and pigs.   "Eutrophication... is the biggest problem of the Baltic Sea, the most urgent one," says project head Lena Tasse. Mussels "could be part of a solution".   Why feed them to animals if they are safe for humans? Because Baltic mussels are too small to be of interest to seafood lovers, says Tasse, adding: "Swedes like big mussels."

Meanwhile, the jury is still out on the effects of microplastics on human health.   A recent report by WWF said that humans ingest an average of five grammes of microplastics a week -- about the weight of a credit card.   A 2018 study published in the journal Environmental Pollution, based on samples from British coastlines and supermarkets, estimated that every 100 grammes (3.5 ounces) of mussels contained 70 tiny pieces of plastic.   Should we be worried? Meistertzheim thinks not.   "I eat them," she says. "A dish of mussels is not necessarily worse than organic hamburger meat wrapped in plastic."