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Afghanistan

Afghanistal US Consular Information Sheet March 03, 2009


COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:


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

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


ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:


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


SAFETY AND SECURITY:


The latest Travel Warning for Afghanistan emphasizes that the security situation remains critical for American citizens. The Taliban and associated insurgent groups, al-Qaida network terrorist organizations, and narco-traffickers oppose the strengthening of a democratic government. These groups aim to weaken or bring down the Government of Afghanistan and to drive Westerners out of the country. They do not hesitate to use violence, including targeting civilians. Terrorist activities may include, but are not limited to bombings -- including improvised explosive devices and car bombs -- assassinations, carjackings, rocket attacks, assaults and kidnappings. There were over 120 suicide attacks in 2008. There is an ongoing threat to attack and kidnap U.S. citizens and Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) workers throughout the country. In 2008,, more than 30 NGO workers were killed (six foreigners) and at least 78 NGO staff members (seven foreigners) were abducted. Over 25 other foreign civilians, including journalists, were kidnapped. Kabul continues to experience suicide bombings against Afghan government personnel and installations, Afghan and coalition military assets, and international civilians. Riots -- sometimes violent -- have occurred in response to various political or other issues. Crime, including violent crime, remains a significant problem. Official Americans' use of the Kabul-Jalalabad, Kabul-Kandahar highways and other roads throughout the country is often restricted or completely curtailed because of security concerns. Insurgents continue to use roadside and car bombs to conduct attacks and abductions along major highways. Millions of unexploded land mines and other ordinance present a constant danger. The country faces a difficult period in the near term, and American citizens could be targeted or placed at risk by unpredictable local events. Americans should not come to Afghanistan unless they have made arrangements in advance to address security concerns. The absence of records for ownership of property, differing laws from various regimes and the chaos that comes from decades of civil strife have left property issues in great disorder. Afghan-Americans returning to Afghanistan to recover property, or Americans coming to the country to engage in business, have become involved in complicated real estate disputes and have faced threats of retaliatory action, including kidnapping for ransom and death. Large parts of Afghanistan are extremely isolated, with few roads, mostly in poor condition, irregular cell phone signals, and none of the basic physical infrastructure found in Kabul or the larger cities. Americans traveling in these areas who find themselves in trouble may not even have a way to communicate their difficulties to the outside world. For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs’ web site, where the current Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts, as well as the Worldwide Caution, can be found. Up-to-date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll-free in the U.S. and Canada, or for callers outside the U.S. and Canada, a regular toll line at 1-202-501-4444. These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays). The Department of State urges American citizens to take responsibility for their own personal security while traveling overseas. For general information about appropriate measures travelers can take to protect themselves in an overseas environment, see the Department of State’s pamphlet A Safe Trip Abroad.


CRIME:


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


INFORMATION FOR VICTIMS OF CRIME:


The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and to the U.S. Embassy in Kabul. If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the U.S. Embassy in Kabul for assistance. The Embassy staff can, for example, assist you to find appropriate medical care, contact family members or friends and explain how funds could be transferred. Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to provide a list of attorneys if needed. The local equivalent to the "911" emergency line in Afghanistan is: 119 Please see our information on Victims of Crime, including possible victim compensation programs in the United States.


CRIMINAL PENALTIES:


While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating Afghanistan’s laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. During the last several years, there have been incidents involving the arrest and/or detention of U.S. citizens. Arrested Americans have faced periods of detention—sometimes in difficult conditions—while awaiting trial. Penalties for possession or use of, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Afghanistan are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines. Another sensitive activity is proselytizing. Although the Afghan Constitution allows the free exercise of religion, proselytizing is often viewed as contrary to the beliefs of Islam and considered harmful to society. Proselytizing may lead to arrest and/or deportation. Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime, prosecutable in the United States. Please see our information on Criminal Penalties.


SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:


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


MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:


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


MEDICAL INSURANCE:


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


SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS:


 While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Afghanistan is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance. All drivers face the potential danger of encountering improvised-explosive devices and land mines that may have been planted on or near roadways. An estimated 5-7 million landmines and large quantities of unexploded ordinance exist throughout the countryside and alongside roads, posing a danger to travelers. Robbery and kidnappings are also prevalent on highways outside of Kabul. The transportation system in Afghanistan is marginal, although the international community is constructing modern highways and provincial roads. Vehicles are poorly maintained, often overloaded, and traffic laws are not enforced. Vehicular traffic is chaotic and must contend with numerous pedestrians, bicyclists and animals. Many urban streets have large potholes and are not well lit. Rural roads are not paved. Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.


AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT:


As there is no direct commercial air service to the United States by carriers registered in Afghanistan, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed Afghanistan’s Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards. For more information, travelers may visit the FAA’s internet website at http://www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa. U.S. Government personnel are not authorized to travel on Ariana Afghan Airlines or any other airline falling under the oversight of the Government of Afghanistan’s Civil Aviation Authority, owing to safety concerns; however, U.S. Government personnel are permitted to travel on international flights operated by airlines from countries whose civil aviation authorities meet international aviation safety standards for the oversight of their air carrier operations under the FAA’s International Aviation Safety Assessment (IASA) program.


CHILDREN'S ISSUES:


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


EGISTRATION / EMBASSY LOCATION:


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

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Thu, 7 Mar 2019 10:54:44 +0100
By Mushtaq MOJADDIDI

Kabul, March 7, 2019 (AFP) - At least two blasts struck a large ceremony Thursday attended by Afghanistan chief executive Abdullah Abdullah and other leading government officials, killing one person and injuring 17 others.   The Kabul attack represents a major security breach and marks a resumption of violence in the capital after weeks of calm amid ongoing peace talks between the US and Taliban in Doha.   "Stay calm, the area of the blast is far from us," said former lower house speaker Mohammad Younus Qanooni during a live broadcast of the event.   But moments after the announcement, another explosion and gunfire could be heard that sent people running.   A second unidentified voice then addressed the screaming crowd, saying: "I request my countrymen to stay calm. The mortar attack is far from the gathering."

The blasts happened during a ceremony marking the 24th anniversary of the death of Shiite Hazara leader Abdul Ali Mazari that was attended by many of the country's political elite, including Abdullah and former President Hamid Karzai.   "Terrorists were firing Mortars at Abdul Ali Mazari remembrance ceremony, from inside a compound," deputy interior minister Khoshal Sadat said in English on Twitter, adding that police had arrested one person linked to the attack.    "One martyred, 17 wounded -- 3 children and one woman among them," tweeted Wahidullah Mayar, spokesman for the health ministry.    Foreign Minister Salahuddin Rabbani -- who was at the scene -- later added that "terrorists launched rocket attacks on commemoration ceremony", and said he had escaped safely.   It remained unclear whether rockets or mortar fire were being used, with officials using both terms.

- 'Unforgivable attack' -
No group has claimed responsibility for the blasts.   "This was the most horrid and unforgivable attack on civilians by a merciless enemy," tweeted presidential candidate and former national security adviser Mohammad Haneef Atmar.   He added that eight of his security guards were injured in the attack.     The incident comes as US and Taliban negotiations continue to hold peace talks in Qatar aimed at ending the nearly 18-year conflict. 

The last major attack in Kabul occurred in January when the Taliban-claimed responsibility for a car bomb that struck the heavily fortified Green Village foreign compound.    Heavy snowfall across large swathes of Afghanistan has led to a reduction in violence this winter, but warmer weather in the country's south will likely spark an increase in bloodshed with the arrival of the spring fighting season.   Analysts have warned that the Taliban are likely to ramp up attacks in the coming months as they seek to maintain momentum on the battlefield and leverage at the negotiating table.

On Wednesday at least 16 people were killed in a suicide attack on a construction company in eastern Afghanistan's Jalalabad city.    The hours-long attack began early Wednesday when two suicide bombers detonated explosives at the gate of the compound, allowing three others to enter the area where they went on a killing spree.   No group has claimed responsibility for the attack, but both the Islamic State group and the Taliban are active near the city, in Nangarhar province.   Afghanistan has been enmeshed in nearly constant conflict since the Soviet invasion of 1979, which was followed by civil war, the Taliban regime, and the US invasion in late 2001.
Date: Sat, 2 Mar 2019 18:38:14 +0100

Kandahar, Afghanistan, March 2, 2019 (AFP) - At least 20 people were killed by flash floods in southern Afghanistan's Kandahar province, the UN said Saturday, as heavy rains swept away homes and vehicles and potentially damaged thousands of houses.   The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said widespread flooding indudated Kandahar city and surrounding districts in the province, with 97mm of rain falling in affected areas in the last 30 hours.   "At least 10 people, including children, are still missing," said the UN agency in a statement.

"It is anticipated that up to 2,000 homes may have been damaged", with severe damage to infrastructure also being reported.   Kandahar's deputy governor Abdul Hanan Moneeb said the flooding was the worst in at least seven years, with many nomadic herders camped in the area swept away by the floodwaters along with their livestock.   The official added that 400 families have been rescued by the Afghan army since the flooding began late Friday night.   Rescue operations, however, were largely delayed due to heavy rainfall, Raziq Shirzai, the provincial commander of the Afghan air force, told AFP.

Disasters such as avalanches and flash floods often hit mountainous areas and river valleys of Afghanistan as snow melts in the spring and summer. It is made worse by deforestation.   Heavy snowfall across large swathes of Afghanistan this winter has raised fears of severe flooding as spring approaches, following years of devastating drought in the country.   Nearly 50 people have been killed as of February 12 due to flooding in Afghanistan so far this year, according to the UN.
Date: Mon 18 Feb 2019 3:33:02 PM AFT
Source: MENAFN/Afghan Times, AT News report [edited]

One new polio case is just confirmed in southern Kandahar province, days after nationwide campaign against the crippling disease kicked off on [Mon 18 Feb 2019].  A 60-month-old boy from Ghorak district is infected by the poliovirus. This is the 2nd case reported in 2019, highlighting the ongoing risks of polio and the need for continued immunization, health officials said.  "From today [18 Feb 2019], polio vaccination teams will visit 5.8 million children under 5 years old in 195 high-risk districts of 21 provinces of West, Central, and Southeast regions of Afghanistan," said a statement issued by Ministry of Public Health (MoPH).

The Minister of Public Health Ferozuddin Feroz urged Afghan people to take the situation seriously and called on people to open doors to vaccinators in the upcoming campaign.  "We already have 2 cases reported from Kandahar this year [2019]. While there is polio anywhere in this country, all children are at risk. Polio will continue to fight for survival. Immunization is the only way to put an end to this virus. We urge the people of Kandahar and across the country to step up, open your doors and get your children vaccinated. We don't want to see any more children paralyzed by polio, and we need to work together to stop polio once and for all."

Polio is incurable and can paralyze children for life. The only way to prevent polio virus is to vaccinate all children with 2 drops of polio vaccine every time it is offered. Children are better protected with every additional dose of the vaccination. Repeated vaccination helps to build strong immunity of your child and the whole community.

The vaccination campaign will take place from [18-22 Feb 2019]. Parents should ensure their children are home and available to be vaccinated. All children under 5 should receive the polio vaccine, including children who are asleep, visiting other homes and new-borns, even if they have been immunized in the past. Children who miss the vaccination should visit their local health centre as soon as possible, where the vaccine is available free of charge. The polio vaccine is safe, even for sick and new-born children. It is very important these children get the vaccine, because they have lower immunity which makes them more susceptible to the virus. Polio vaccination has also been strongly endorsed by national and global Islamic scholars, the statement added.

Every country in the world except Pakistan, Nigeria, and Afghanistan has ended polio, highlighting the fact that the strategy and vaccines work Twenty-one Afghan children were infected by polio in 2018.
======================
[Sadly, transmission of the WPV continues in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Since the beginning of 2019 there have now been 6 cases confirmed, 4 in Pakistan and 2 in Afghanistan. The vaccination history of this child isn't included in this media report, but most likely the child was inadequately vaccinated at 60 months (5 years) of age. - ProMED Mod.MPP]

[HealthMap/ProMED map of Afghanistan:
Date: Tue 29 Jan 2019
Source: Afghanistan Times [edited]

Afghanistan's 1st polio case in 2019 was reported in Kandahar province, where a 22-month-old girl from Spin Boldak district was infected by the poliovirus.

According to a statement the Minister of Public Health, Dr Ferozuddin Feroz said, 'this case indicates that the poliovirus is still transmitting in Kandahar and the South region. This child's life is now changed forever. It is really sad that she will never walk properly again, therefore I call upon all of you, our Muslim parents, caregivers, community elders, and health workers to work together to protect our innocent children against this disease and eradicate polio in our country.'

He said that polio is a crippling and potentially fatal infectious disease. There is no cure and the polio vaccine is the only safe and effective way to protect children. All children should be vaccinated against polio during each campaign, until they reach the age of 5. House-to-house vaccination is the only effective way to achieve polio eradication because it means every child has access to vaccination. This strategy has been implemented in all countries and has proven efficacy. However, if parents live in areas where there is no house-to-house campaign available, they should take their children to the local health facility for free polio vaccine.

The polio vaccine is safe, even for sick and new-born children. It is very important these children get the vaccine, because they have low immunity which makes them more susceptible to the virus.

Polio vaccination has also been strongly endorsed by national and global Islamic scholars, he added.

Currently, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Nigeria are the only 3 remaining polio-endemic countries in the world. There were 21 cases reported in Afghanistan in 2018. Of these, 15 cases were in the Southern region, while 6 cases were in the Eastern region. There is a polio vaccination campaign carried out in the Southern and Eastern regions of Afghanistan, parents should ensure their children are home and available to be vaccinated.
==========================
[The wording of the media report above suggests that the date of onset of paralysis of this case was in 2019, but it is possible onset was in late 2018. Clarification of the date of onset would be greatly appreciated.

Kandahar province is located in the Southwestern region of Afghanistan (see <https://www.researchgate.net/figure/Regions-of-Afghanistan_fig1_284510443> for a map of regions in Afghanistan and <http://www.afghana.com/GetLocal/Afghanistan/Provinces.htm> for a map of provinces in Afghanistan). It shares a border with Balochistan Pakistan.

In last week's global update, there was mention of 7 positive environmental samples in Afghanistan collected on 26 Dec 2018, that identified 3 of the 7 coming from Kandahar province, confirming that the WPV1 was actively circulating in the province (see Poliomyelitis update (08): global (Pakistan, Nigeria), WHO (Mozambique) http://promedmail.org/post/20190125.6277951). - ProMED Mod.MPP]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of Afghanistan:
Date: Thu 24 Jan 2019
Source: Tolo News [edited]

At least 90 British military personnel have been diagnosed with confirmed cases of Q fever after serving in Helmand, Afghanistan. According to a UK military news outlet, Forces Network, a consultant in infectious diseases and tropical medicine told to the Central London Country Court on [Tue 22 Jan 2019], that 90 confirmed cases of Q fever had been recorded among British soldiers who had served in Helmand.

Lieutenant Colonel Mark Bailey's testimony was heard in the case of a private with 2nd Battalion, the Mercian Regiment, who said his life has been ruined after he contracted the disease while in Helmand in 2011/2012. During his tour, his lawyers said [the private] was in contact with goats and sheep and "was often required to take cover and jump through ditches and crawl along the ground -- coming into contact with animal products and excrement." The soldier was medically discharged from the Army in 2014 because of his Q fever and chronic fatigue symptoms.

Humans can catch Q fever by breathing in dust from the secretions of infected farm animals such as sheep, cattle, and goats.

Bailey, who specializes in infectious diseases and tropical medicine, and a national expert in Q fever said he has 90 military and 10 civilian cases in his care after they were referred to him. He confirmed the 90 had served in Helmand and said the number of military cases "built up from 2008", Forces Network reported. Bailey told the court: "We have seen no new cases since 2014 from Afghanistan. Occasionally we get other military cases from other locations. Cyprus most recently."

Bailey said he had seen "one British soldier who very, very nearly died" as a result of Q fever and subsequent complications, but there have been no UK deaths in his group.
====================
[Q fever is due to _Coxiella burnetii_, an obligate intracellular rickettsia-like bacterial pathogen. It is highly resistant to drying and heat, which enables the bacteria to survive for long periods in the environment. Its survival is attributed to a small cell variant of the organism that is part of its biphasic developmental cycle. Q fever is a zoonosis. Domestic ungulates such as sheep, cattle, and goats serve as the reservoir of infection for humans. The organism is shed in urine, feces, milk, and especially birthing products; intermittent high-level shedding occurs at the time of parturition, with millions of bacteria being released per gram of placenta.

Humans usually become infected by inhaling aerosolized organisms. Acute symptoms of a flu-like illness usually develop within 2-3 weeks of exposure, although as many as half of humans infected with _C. burnetii_ do not show symptoms (<http://www.cdc.gov/qfever/symptoms/index.html>). Although most persons with acute Q fever infection recover, others may experience serious illness with complications that may include pneumonia, granulomatous hepatitis, endocarditis (especially in patients with previous cardiac valvulopathy), myocarditis, and central nervous system involvement. Pregnant women who are infected may be at risk for pre-term delivery or miscarriage.

The solider likely suffers from Q fever-associated chronic fatigue. The following related to post-Q fever fatigue syndrome is extracted from Melgar TA, Bauler TJ, Lutwick LI. Q fever in man: A one health paradigm disease. In, The Principles and Practice of Q Fever, Simoes JCC, Anastacio SF, da Silva GJ (eds), Nova Science Publishers, 2017, pp 1-24:

"Up to 20% of patients with acute Q fever report chronic fatigue more than a year later. Most of these cases meet the CDC criteria for chronic fatigue syndrome. Other symptoms include night sweats, nausea, headache, myalgia, enlarged lymph nodes, arthralgia, insomnia, depression, decreased concentration and short term memory impairment. The pathogenesis is not clear although there is evidence that genetic factors may play a role and _C. burnetii_ antigens and DNA can be found in patients' macrophages for up to 12 years and in one case 70 years after acute infection (1,2). Treatment is focused on chronic fatigue including exercise therapy and cognitive behavior therapy. There are no current recommendations for antimicrobial therapy for Q fever-associated chronic fatigue although case reports and one study demonstrated improvement with antimicrobials (3). A large placebo controlled randomized trial in the Netherlands (4,5) reported some non-sustained improvement was found with cognitive-behavioral therapy but not with long term doxycycline.

References
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1. Marmion BP, Sukocheva O, Storm PA, et al. Q fever: persistence of antigenic non-viable cell residues of _Coxiella burnetii_ in the host - implications for post Q fever infection fatigue syndrome and other chronic sequelae. QJM 2009; 102(10): 673-84; abstract available at <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19556396>.
2. Sukocheva OA, Marmion BP, Storm PA, et al. Long-term persistence after acute Q fever of non-infectious _Coxiella burnetii_ cell components, including antigens. QJM 2010; 103(11): 847-63; abstract available at <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20639288>.
3. Arashima Y, Kato K, Komiya T, et al. Improvement of chronic nonspecific symptoms by long-term minocycline treatment in Japanese patients with _Coxiella burnetii_ infection considered to have post-Q fever fatigue syndrome. Intern Med 2004; 43(1): 49-54; <https://www.jstage.jst.go.jp/article/internalmedicine/43/1/43_1_49/_article>.
4. Keijmel SP, Delsing CE, Bleigenberg G, et al. Effectiveness of long-term doxycycline treatment and cognitive-behavioral therapy on fatigue severity in patients with Q fever fatigue syndrome (Qure study): a randomized controlled trial. Clin Infect Did 2017; 64(8): 998-1005; <https://academic.oup.com/cid/article/64/8/998/3056564>.
5. Raijmakers RPH, Keijmel SP, Breukers EMC, et al. Long-term effect of cognitive behavioural therapy and doxycycline treatment for patients with Q fever fatigue syndrome: one-year follow-up of the Qure study. J Psychosom Res 2019; 116: 62-7; <https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0022399918308183>.

Helmand is one of the 34 provinces of Afghanistan, in the south of the country. It can be seen on a map at

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of Afghanistan:
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South Korea

General Information
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The land mass of Korea is currently divided into North and South since World War 11. The South is a democratic Republic and there are extensive tourist facilities available throughout
he main urban areas. The national tourism organisation (KNTO) operates an English language web site (http://www.knto.or.kr) which provides useful information for intending tourists.
Weather Profile
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South Korea has four distinct seasons throughout the year. The winters can be very cold while the summers hot and very humid. The rainfall is mainly concentrated during the summer season.
Overcoming Jet Lag
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ry to arrange your flights so that you arrive in plenty of time before the first match. Allow 48 hours if at all possible to get over the inevitable jet lag. Walk about on the flight, drink plenty of water and stay off the alcohol. Flight crews are understandably very sensitive nowadays about any disturbance and the last thing you will want is to be dumped off the flight to make your own way home. Sleep on the plane if possible though remember this may increase the risk of blood clots so move your legs about when awake. Talk to your doctor about taking aspirin if you are at higher than normal risk (older age group, over weight, on the contraceptive pill, varicose veins etc).
Arriving into Seoul
****************************************
The new Incheon international airport is an hour or two away from Seoul and there are no subways or rail systems connecting the airport to the city. However, buses and taxis are easily available. Customs facilities are good but careful so remember not to carry any parcels for another unless you are certain of the contents. A departure tax may be payable on leaving South Korea.
Personal Safety
****************************************
In Seoul, like any other major city, there is an increased risk of petty crime (pickpocketing, purse snatching etc) so take extra care of your belongings - especially in crowded places like markets, local buses and football matches! The Itaewon and other large markets are known risk areas for this type of activity. Use the hotel safe for your main valuables and carry little of importance while out and about.
Emergency Numbers
****************************************
In South Korea the emergency number for the main services is 112. The operators will usually speak good English. There is also a 24/7 service available through the Korean National Police where travellers can report crime etc. The number in Seoul is 313-0842 and in other regions 02-313-0842.
Medical Services
****************************************
Generally the level of health facilities throughout most of the main urban centres is excellent. However, treatment can be expensive and the medical providers will expect payment before treatment is started. Make sure your travel health insurance is adequate for your journey.
Road Safety
****************************************
The road infrastructure throughout most of South Korea is excellent. However, accidents do occur and if hiring a car ‘defensive’ driving is essential at all times while abroad. Safety belts are compulsory at all times for both front and rear seats. Any accident tends to lead to long delays as the paperwork is sorted out. The Koreans may at times drive their motorbikes and scooters on foot pavements so care should be taken at all times.
Customs Regulations
****************************************
The level of security at South Korean immigration is high so beware of the delays which may be incurred.
Food & Water Care
****************************************
While travelling it is essential that care is taken to protect your stomach against unnecessary risk. Generally tourists will be keen to try out the local cuisine but this can lead to days of illness. In most circumstances it is wise to stick to hot, freshly cooked food fruit you peel yourself. Bivalve shell fish (mussels, clams, oysters etc) are seldom cooked sufficiently to sterilise them completely and are best avoided. Undercooked fish (Sushi) or any meats should also be avoided.
Heat & Humidity
****************************************
The summer months in South Korea are hot and sticky. It will be important to have the right clothing (light weight loosely fitted cotton) and to drink plenty of water to replace what is lost through dehydration. Salt will also need to be replaced and providing there is no medical contraindication eating crisps, salted nuts etc is an excellent way to replenish your levels.
Avoiding Prickly Heat
****************************************
The term prickly heat is used in a variety of ways but the cause is generally the same. In a hot climate the body perspires to maintain the internal temperature at a correct level. In the perspiration there will be fluid and your personal salts. The fluid evaporates but the salt dries against the skin. It is your individual reaction to this salt that leads to the ‘prickly heat rash’. The reaction to these salts can be minimised by removing the salts from the skin surface as soon as possible. Change your clothes regularly, use plenty of talcum powder to absorb the perspiration and dry off well after showering.
Breathing the air
****************************************
Any of the airborne diseases are most commonly spread when folks crowd together. International football matches, market places, local transport and the cinema are times when exposure and infection are most likely. Carrying some simple cold remedies might be a wise precaution and avoid the crowds where possible!
Vaccines for your trip
****************************************
In most cases the only particular problem for those visiting either Japan or South Korea will be the risk of Hepatitis A (food and water spread). Of course Tetanus and various other food and water problems can occur but generally the risk is small providing a sensible approach is taken to act sensibly.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Wed, 21 Nov 2018 09:39:44 +0100

Seoul, Nov 21, 2018 (AFP) - Tens of thousands of workers launched a half-day strike across South Korea Wednesday, accusing the government of rolling back pro-labour policies in the face of deepening economic woes.   Some 40,000 of those who put down tools -- including some in the auto industry -- rallied in Seoul and 13 other cities, the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU), a major labour umbrella group, said.   An AFP journalist in the capital said a crowd of around 10,000 workers gathered outside the country's parliament wearing red headbands, chanting slogans and waving banners, as hundreds of riot police took positions nearby.   The KCTU estimated 160,000 affiliated workers would join the walkout nationwide.

A government move to introduce greater flexibility to the country's maximum 52-hour work week -- to adjust to fluctuations in demand -- has particularly angered workers.    They are also calling for liberal president Moon Jae-in's government to deliver on election promises to raise the minimum wage from 7,530 won (US$6.66) to 10,000 won (US$8.85) by 2020.    Earlier this month, Moon sacked his top two economic officials, as the world's 11th-largest economy struggles with slowing growth, rising unemployment and persistent income gaps.   These difficulties have hit the president's approval ratings, now at 52 percent -- a drop of 13 percentage points over five weeks, according to Gallup Korea.
Date: Sat, 6 Oct 2018 13:31:00 +0200

Seoul, Oct 6, 2018 (AFP) - Two people died and one person is missing in South Korea as powerful typhoon Kong-Rey hit the country on Saturday, the government said.    A 66-year-old man died while crossing a bridge in the city of Gwangju, south of Seoul, the national disaster management agency said without elaborating on the cause of the death.

Another man, aged 83, was found dead after being washed away by a river in a southern county of Yeongdeok, while a 76-year-old went missing after falling into a river in the southern port of Pohang.    The powerful typhoon dumped heavy rain across the country from Friday before moving away from the peninsula Saturday afternoon. 
Date: Sat, 8 Sep 2018 13:02:52 +0200

Seoul, Sept 8, 2018 (AFP) - South Korea reported its first case of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) in three years, health officials said on Saturday.   A 61-year-old businessman was diagnosed with the highly contagious viral respiratory illness, according to officials at the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC).   He returned to South Korea Friday from a business trip in Kuwait where he stayed for three weeks, the KCDC said a statement.

"Authorities have traced and separated 20 people who have come in close contact with the infected person," KCDC head Chung Eun-gyeong told journalists.   They include medical staff, flight attendants and passengers of the plane the man flew back to South Korea on, she said.    He was hospitalised with fever and phlegm and has been quarantined at a university hospital, she added.   It is the first case of MERS diagnosed in South Korea since 2015, when an outbreak killed 38 people and triggered widespread panic.
Date: Sat 8 Sep 2018
Source: Yonhap News (4th LD - update) [edited]

A patient in Seoul was diagnosed on Saturday [8 Sep 2018] with the 1st case of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) in South Korea since 2015. The 61-year-old man, whose personal information was withheld for privacy reasons, was diagnosed with the disease at about 4 p.m. Saturday [8 Sep 2018], the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) said. It is the 1st case of MERS diagnosed in South Korea since 2015, when an outbreak killed 38 people and triggered widespread panic.

According to the KCDC, the man took a business trip to Kuwait from [Thu 16 Aug 2018 to Thu 6 Sep 2018] and returned home via the United Arab Emirates on Friday [7 Sep 2018]. He visited a local hospital during his stay in Kuwait for diarrhea but showed the same symptom again on his way back home. He was rushed to the emergency room of Samsung Medical Center in southern Seoul upon his arrival at Incheon International Airport.

The Samsung hospital checked the patient in an isolated section of the emergency room and reported him to the health authorities as a suspected case of MERS for showing symptoms of fever, phlegm, and pneumonia. He was then moved to Seoul National University (SNU) Hospital in central Seoul and tested positive for the disease.

"The man currently is not in critical condition and does not have such symptoms as shortness of breath and a decrease in blood pressure, but we have to watch him closely, because his conditions may deteriorate in the next 1-2 weeks judging from our experiences from the previous outbreak," Kim Nam-jung, a doctor treating the patient at the SNU Hospital, said.

MERS is a viral respiratory disease with a fatality rate of 20-46 percent. It is caused by a novel coronavirus carried by camels and can be spread when someone is in close contact with a patient for a sustained period.

A total of 20 people, including flight attendants and medical staff, are under isolation at home for coming in close contact with the patient, but the number could rise in the future, the KCDC said.

The authorities believe there is a high chance that the patient was infected with the disease in Kuwait, because he stayed in Dubai for only a short time for a transfer. The government said it will try to find out if any Koreans were infected with the disease after being in close contact with him in Kuwait.

"We don't see that the patient was exposed much to regional society since he was isolated upon his arrival at the Samsung hospital," Jeong Eun-kyeong, director of the KCDC, said during a press briefing at the Central Government Complex in Seoul. "We'll do our best to investigate and manage people who contacted him in order to prevent any secondary infections."

As part of efforts to effectively control the new outbreak, the government raised the status of the KCDC to that of a vice-ministerial level organization. Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon instructed the Ministry of Health and Welfare to do all it can do to prevent the possible spread of the viral respiratory disease.

"We should prevent the possible spread of MERS by quickly and thoroughly conducting an epidemiological investigation," Lee told the health minister after being briefed on the new outbreak. Lee will preside over an emergency meeting of relevant ministers to discuss measures to prevent the disease's spread on Sunday [9 Sep 2018] afternoon, according to his office.
======================
[As a reminder, during the period of late May through early July 2015, there was a major outbreak of MERS-CoV in South Korea, with a total of 185 cases reported from South Korea and one additional case who travelled from South Korea to China, where he was diagnosed and treated. The index case was a business man who had travelled to the Middle East (multiple countries including Bahrain and Saudi Arabia). The index case did not give a history of travel to the Middle East when evaluated in the medical facilities he sought assistance. Unfortunately, he was a "superspreader," and a number of individuals he infected were also superspreaders. The situation of healthcare management and health facility-seeking behavior on the part of the population led to multiple hospitals involved in this outbreak and a total of 186 cases associated with this event. (I suggest a journey through the "see also" list below to see that outbreak as it unfolded.) Many lessons were learned from that outbreak that are reflected in the management of this current case as reported by the news media reports included above. A travel history of this current case was identified at the 1st encounter of this patient by the health sector, and the patient was evaluated in a secluded area of the emergency room (which was not the realities during the 2015 outbreak, as many patients roamed freely in emergency rooms when 1st seen by the health sector).

This current case gives a history of travel and work in Kuwait, with a short stopover in Dubai en route home. He also gives a history of being seen at a health facility in Kuwait with a diarrheal illness (diarrhea can be part of the presenting symptoms with a MERS-CoV infection), so it is possible he was already infected with the MERS-CoV leading to his medical visit in Kuwait. It is also possible that the diarrheal incident was not due to a MERS-CoV infection, and he may have been seen in a health facility where there was another patient with active MERS-CoV infection that had not been diagnosed. I suspect that over the next few days more information on this will become available and will be reflected in either direct Ministry of Health (MOH) press releases and/or a report from the MOH submitted to the WHO Emergencies, Preparedness and Response Disease Outbreak News.

According to the ECDC Risk Assessment of Fri 24 Aug 2018, Kuwait has reported 4 cases of MERS-CoV infection, and Dubai has not reported any cases since MERS-CoV was identified in September 2012 (see <https://ecdc.europa.eu/sites/portal/files/documents/RRA-Severe-respiratory-disease-associated-MERS-CoV-22nd%20update-29-aug-2018.pdf>). Of additional note is that Thailand reported a case of MERS-CoV infection ex Kuwait in 2016, suggesting that there is MERS-CoV transmission in Kuwait, albeit rarely reported through the years. Hence, it is highly likely transmission occurred during this patient's travel to and within Kuwait. - ProMED Mod.MPP]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail maps:
Date: Thu, 12 Apr 2018 06:40:28 +0200

Seoul, South Korea, April 12, 2018 (AFP) - One person died and a dozen tourists were injured in a hot air balloon crash on South Korea's popular resort island of Jeju Thursday morning, police said.   The balloon was carrying 12 passengers and a pilot -- who suffered a head injury and was later pronounced dead -- police said, adding they were investigating the cause of the crash.

Photos showed the deflated balloon draped over forest trees, with the basket lying on the ground.   "It appears that the hot air balloon somehow fell rapidly and crashed into the trees," South Korea's Yonhap news agency quoted an unnamed rescue worker as saying.

All 12 passengers suffered minor injuries and were being treated in hospital, police said, without giving their nationalities.   The island off the southern coast of the peninsula is a well-known holiday destination for South Koreans as well as a growing number of Chinese tourists.    More than 15 million people visited the island last year.
More ...

World Travel News Headlines

Date: Fri, 15 Mar 2019 19:08:37 +0100
By Joaquim Nhamirre

Maputo, March 15, 2019 (AFP) - Tropical cyclone Idai battered Mozambican coastal city Beira Friday, leaving half a million people virtually cut off after power lines crashed, airport shut and roads were swamped by flooding that killed 66 people nationwide.   "There is no communication with Beira. Houses and trees were destroyed and pylons downed," an official at the National Institute of Disaster Management (NIDM) told AFP.   Authorities had to close Beira international airport after the air traffic control tower, the navigation systems and the runways were damaged by the storm.   "Unfortunately there is extreme havoc," said the official.   "Some runway lights were damaged, the navigation system is damaged, the control tower antennas and the control tower itself are all damaged.    "The runway is full of obstacles and parked aircrafts are damaged."

Late on Wednesday, the national carrier LAM cancelled all flights to Beira and Quelimane, which is also on the coast, as well as to Chomoio, which is inland.    Power utility Electricidade de Mocambique said in a statement that the provinces of Manica, Sofala and parts of Inhambane have been without power since Thursday.   Officials did not report any confirmed deaths, but local Beira station STV reported a child had died in Manica province west of the city, apparently the victim of a falling roof.   "There was no tsunami-type storm but Beira and Chinde (400 kilometres, 250 miles northeast of Beira on the coast) were badly hit," added the NIDM official.

Another official, Pedro Armando Alberto Virgula, in Chinde, said a hospital, police station and seven schools there lost their roofs and four houses were destroyed.   Virgula added that efforts were under way to assess the damage caused after Idai made landfall late on Thursday.   Local officials said that this week's heavy rains claimed 66 lives, injured 111 people and displaced 17,000 people.   The World Food Programme (WFP) said it would move 20 tonnes of emergency food aid to the affected areas.   The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) had warned that the storm could pack winds of up to 190 kilometres per hour (118 miles per hour).

- 'Devastation' -
At least 126 people were killed by the downpour that has struck parts of Mozambique, Malawi and South Africa over the past week, officials said.   Heavy rains in neighbouring Malawi have affected almost a million people and claimed 56 lives, according to the latest government toll.   Authorities there have opened emergency relief camps where malaria and shortages of supplies have led to dire conditions, according to AFP correspondents.

Malawian President Peter Mutharika this week declared a natural disaster.   Mozambique's weather service has warned that heavy rain will continue to batter Beira and surrounding areas until Sunday.   The UN warned of damage to crops, "including about 168,000 hectares (415,000 acres) of crops already impacted by flooding in early March, which will undermine food security and nutrition".   Mozambique and Malawi, two of the poorest countries in the world, are prone to deadly flooding during the rainy season and chronic drought during the dry season.   In neighbouring Zimbabwe, weather services have warned that violent thunderstorms, lightning and strong winds will be experienced in the eastern regions of the country.
Date: Fri, 15 Mar 2019 19:00:39 +0100

Niamey, March 15, 2019 (AFP) - Health authorities in Niger said Friday they had found a fake version of a meningitis vaccine after the country had launched a campaign to innoculate millions of children against the disease.   In a statement, the health ministry asked doctors to be vigilant over a "counterfeit" version of a vaccine called Mencevax ACWY.   The fake drug is marked as having been manufactured in December 2016, with an end-date for use by November 2021, it said.   Niger launched a week-long campaign on March 5 to vaccinate six million children against meningitis, which killed nearly 200 people two years ago.   The country lies in the so-called "meningitis belt" stretching from Senegal in the west to Ethiopia in the east, where outbreaks of the disease are a regular occurrence. 

The vaccination programme is against meningitis A, one of the six groups of meningitis bacteria that can cause epidemics.   The ministry's spokesman told AFP the bogus drug had been discovered during a "routine inspection" of a privately-owned pharmacy in the capital Niamey.   An investigation is underway to try to ascertain how many of the fake vaccines have been used, the spokesman said.   Health workers administering meningitis jabs are being asked to take special care about their supply source, and the public are being urged to scrutinise vaccines clearly, even if they buy them in "licensed" pharmacies.   Fake drugs -- medications that are outright counterfeits or whose active ingredients have been diluted -- are a major problem in West Africa.

In the 2017 outbreak, and in an epidemic in 2015 in which nearly 500 people died, Niger sounded the alarm over purported vials of vaccine that just contained water.   Meningitis is transmitted between people through coughs and sneezes, close contact and cramped living conditions.   The illness causes acute inflammation of the outer layers of the brain and spinal cord, with the most common symptoms being fever, headache and neck stiffness.
Date: Fri, 15 Mar 2019 02:55:29 +0100
By Khaliun Bayartsogt

Bornuur, Mongolia, March 15, 2019 (AFP) - In the world's coldest capital, many burn coal and plastic just to survive temperatures as low as minus 40 degrees -- but warmth comes at a price: deadly pollution makes Ulaanbataar's air too toxic for children to breathe, leaving parents little choice but to evacuate them to the countryside.   This exodus is a stark warning of the future for urban areas in much of Asia, where scenes of citizens in anti-pollution masks against a backdrop of brown skies are becoming routine, rather than apocalyptic.   Ulaanbaatar is one of the most polluted cities on the planet, alongside New Delhi, Dhaka, Kabul, and Beijing. It regularly exceeds World Health Organisation recommendations for air quality even as experts warn of disastrous consequences, particularly for children, including stunted development, chronic illness, and in some cases death.

Erdene-Bat Naranchimeg watched helplessly as her daughter Amina battled illness virtually from birth, her immune system handicapped by the smog-choked air in Mongolia's capital.   "We would constantly be in and out of the hospital," Naranchimeg told AFP, adding that Amina contracted pneumonia twice at the age of two, requiring several rounds of antibiotics.   This is not a unique case in a city where winter temperatures plunge towards uninhabitable, particularly in the districts that rural workers moved to in search of a better life.   Here row upon row of the traditional tents -- known as gers -- are warmed by coal, or any other flammable material available. The resulting thick black smoke shoots out in plumes, blanketing surrounding areas in a film of smog that makes visibility so poor it can be hard to see even a few metres ahead.   Hospitals are packed and young children are vulnerable, common colds can quickly escalate into life-threatening illness.

- Birth defects -
The situation was so bad that doctors told Naranchimeg the only solution was to send her little girl to the clean air of the countryside.   Now aged five, Amina is thriving. She lives with her grandparents in Bornuur Sum, a village 135 kilometres away from the capital.   "She hasn't been sick since she started living here," said Naranchimeg, who makes the three-hour round trip to see Amina every week.   "It was very difficult in the first few months," she said. "We used to cry when we talked on the phone."   But like many parents in Ulaanbaatar, she felt the move was the only way to protect her child.

The levels of PM2.5 -- tiny and harmful particles -- in Ulaanbaatar reached 3,320 in January, 133 times what the World Health Organisation (WHO) considers safe.   The effects are terrible for adults but children are even more at risk, in part because they breathe faster, taking in more air and pollutants.   As they are smaller, children are also closer to the ground, where some pollutants concentrate, and their still-developing lungs, brains, and other key organs are more vulnerable to damage.   Effects to prolonged exposure range from persistent infections and asthma to slowed lung and brain development.   The risks apply in utero, too, because gases and fine particles can enter a mother's bloodstream and placenta, causing miscarriage, birth defects and low birth weights, which can also affect a child for the rest of their lives.   Researchers are now investigating whether pollution, like exposure to tobacco smoke, has health effects that could even be passed down to the next generation.

- 'Terribly afraid' -
Buyan-Ulzii Badamkhand and her husband need to stay in capital for work, but they have decided to send their two-year-old son Temuulen more than 1,000 kilometres away.   The 35-year-old mother-of-three struggled with the decision, even moving from one ger district to another in the hope her son's health would improve.   But successive bouts of illness, including bronchitis that lasted a whole year, finally convinced her to send Temuulen to his grandparents.   Hours after he arrived, she called her mother-in-law to discuss her son's medicines.   "But my mother-in-law asked me 'does he still need medicine? He isn't coughing anymore," she said.   "I tell myself that it doesn't matter that I miss him and who raises him, as long as he is healthy, I am content."   Respiratory problems are the most obvious effect of air pollution, but research suggests dirty air can also put children at greater risk for diabetes and cardiovascular disease later in life.   And the WHO links it to leukaemia and behavioural disorders.   When air pollution peaks in winter, Ulaanbaatar's playgrounds empty and those who are able to are increasingly travelling abroad to wait out the smog.

In desperation, Luvsangombo Chinchuluun, a civil society activist, borrowed money to take her granddaughter to Thailand for all of January.   "We can't let her play outside (in Ulaanbaatar) because of the air pollution, so we decided to leave," she said.   The persistent smog has caused tensions in the city, with those living in wealthier areas blaming the ger residents for the pollution and even calling for the tent districts to be cleared.   But the ger residents say coal is all they can afford.   "People come to the capital because they need sustainable income," said Dorjdagva Adiyasuren, a 54-year-old mother of six.   "It's not their fault," she added.    In a bid to tackle the problem, the local government banned domestic migration in 2017, and a ban on burning coal comes into force from May.   But it is unclear whether the moves will be enough to make a difference.   For Naranchimeg, the problems are serious enough to make her consider whether she wants more children.    She explained: "Now, I am terribly afraid of to give birth again. It is risky to carry a child and what will happen to the child after it is born in this amount of pollution?"
Date: Thu, 14 Mar 2019 18:17:56 +0100

Reykjavik, March 14, 2019 (AFP) - Iceland has blocked the millions of tourists who descend upon the volcanic island each year from visiting a canyon that has been overrun since it was featured in a Justin Bieber music video.   An influx of tourists and a humid winter have disrupted the Fjadrargljufur canyon's fragile ecosystem, so the Environment Agency of Iceland has closed the site to the public until June 1.   "During periods of thaw, the path is completely muddy and is practically unusable for hikers," agency advisor Daniel Freyr Jonsson told AFP on Thursday.   "Because the mud is so thick, visitors step over the fences and walk parallel to the path, which rapidly damages the plant life," he added.

Fjadrargljufur is a gorge about 100 meters (yards) deep and two kilometres (1.25 miles) long, with steep green walls and a winding riverbed. The canyon was created by progressive erosion from water melting from glaciers 9,000 years ago.   The canyon was little known to foreigners until the end of 2015, when Canadian singer Justin Bieber featured the site in his song "I'll Show You".   "Visits to the site have risen by 50 to 80 percent per year since 2016," said Daniel Freyr Jonsson, estimating that around 300,000 people visited the canyon in 2018.   A growing number of tourist sites in Iceland have been closed in a bid to
preserve them.

The popular Reykjadalur valley and its hot springs were temporarily closed in April 2018 and a hiking trail overlooking the Skogafoss waterfall is currently shut.   "The infrastructure is not set up to accomodate so many visitors," said Daniel Freyr Jonsson.    "Tourism in winter and spring, the most sensitive periods for wildlife in Iceland, (was previously) almost unheard of in Iceland."   Since 2010 and the eruption of the Eyjafjallajokull volcano -- which generated a lot of publicity for the island -- the number of visitors has grown by 25 percent per year on average.   Last year, a record 2.3 million people visited Iceland.
Date: Thu, 14 Mar 2019 16:50:58 +0100

Geneva, March 14, 2019 (AFP) - The deadly Ebola outbreak raging in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo should be over within six months, the head of the World Health Organization said Thursday.   Seven months since the outbreak erupted in DRC's violence-torn North Kivu province, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters there were clear signs the spread of the virus was "contracting".   "Our target is now to finish it in the next six months," he told reporters in Geneva, warning though that increased unrest in the affected area could reverse the progress being made.   "It's always good to plan beyond the horizon to prepare for any eventualities," he said, while voicing optimism that massive efforts to rein in the outbreak are working.

The ongoing Ebola outbreak, the 10th in DRC's history, emerged in North Kivu in August 2018 and then spread to neighbouring Ituri province.    It has claimed 584 lives out of nearly 1,000 believed to have been infected, WHO said.   Security in eastern DRC, a region rampant with rebel fighters, has dramatically complicated the response, with numerous attacks on Ebola treatment centres.   The Doctors Without Borders (MSF) medical charity has also sounded the alarm over increasingly "toxic" relations with local communities, whose resistance to Ebola response efforts have also fuelled the spread.   MSF pointed out that 40 percent of deaths from the extremely contagious virus are occurring in communities rather than in Ebola treatment centres.

- 'Contracting' -
"The Ebola response is failing to bring the epidemic under control," MSF chief Joanne Lieu told reporters in Geneva last week.   But Tedros denied Thursday that this was the case.   "That's not true," he said. "You cannot say it's failing when the outbreak is contracting. It's contracting."   He stressed that over the past seven months, the virus had been contained to North Kivu and Ituri.

"It hasn't spread to other parts of the country and it hasn't spread to neighbouring countries," he said, adding that transmission had been halted in a number of places, including in Beni and Mangina.   "So the cases are now shrinking in certain geographic areas," he said.   Tedros also stressed that the number of new cases had been cut in half since January, with an average of 25 new cases reported each week now compared to 50 at the beginning of the year.   He acknowledged though that violence, unrest and community resistance remained a challenge in Butembo especially, which along with Katwa is where the spread of the virus is now concentrated.   "I don't want to undermine the risk, because it may again (resurge) if the security situation continues to deteriorate," he said, acknowledging that there is still a chance Ebola could spread to other parts of DRC and neighbouring countries.
Date: Thu, 14 Mar 2019 03:42:36 +0100

Kuala Lumpur, March 14, 2019 (AFP) - Over 100 schools in Malaysia have been closed after the dumping of toxic waste into a river caused hundreds of people to fall ill, including many children, authorities said.   A lorry is believed to have dumped the waste in southern Johor state last week, sending hazardous fumes across a wide area and causing those affected to display symptoms of poisoning such as nausea and vomiting.

Over 500 people, many of them school pupils, have received medical treatment after inhaling the fumes, with over 160 admitted to hospital, according to official news agency Bernama.    It was unclear what type of poisonous gas had been emitted near the industrial town of Pasir Gudang.   Education Minister Maszlee Malik initially ordered the closure of 43 schools in the area Wednesday, but later announced that figure had more than doubled.

"The ministry of education has decided to close all 111 schools in the Pasir Gudang area immediately," he said in a statement.    "The education ministry is requesting that all parties take precautions."   Three men were arrested earlier this week over the toxic waste dumping. One is expected to be charged in court soon and could face up to five years in jail if found guilty of breaking environmental protection laws.
Date: Tue 12 Mar 2019
Source: Carmelo Portal [in Spanish, trans. Mod. TY, edited]

The departmental health director, Dr Jorge Mota, confirmed for Carmelo Portal the death in our city of a young 17 year old girl from [a] hantavirus [infection]. "In Colonia department, there are on average 3 cases per year. The evolution of the disease is in thirds. One-third of the [infected] people do not have notable symptoms; another third have serious symptoms, especially respiratory symptoms and ones in all the systems, but with adequate treatment, [the infected people] survive, sometimes with sequelae. There is another third that die. It is those few with the virus that die with an evolution so drastic, such as is the case of this girl, sadly," Dr Mota stated.

The department health director said that hantaviruses are not contagious person-to-person. "It is transmitted from an intermediate animal, the field mouse. Only 3% of these mice have [a] hantavirus. To become infected, one must be in contact with an [infected] mouse's secretions that have dried, are mixed with dust, and are in a closed space, away from sunlight and ventilation. A spa, a shed, or a wood pile [are examples of such a space]. The person had to have been moving around there and inhaled the dust," he explained.

Dr Mota spoke about the epidemiological surveillance that is carried out. "We tracked places where the person was, even those that could be identified 2 months before contracting the virus; sometimes we found the place, but sometimes not." As a preventive measure, Mota stated that in these cases, ventilate these closed spaces for at least half an hour. Wet down floors and shelves with water [with 10% bleach]. Use masks [and gloves].
==========================
[The report above does not mention the circumstances under which the infection might have been acquired nor which hantavirus was responsible for this or earlier cases in Uruguay. Hantaviruses that cause hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (with rodent hosts found in Uruguay) include Laguna Negra virus (_Calomys laucha_), Maciel virus (_Necromys benefactus_), Central Plata virus, Lechiguanas virus (_Oligoryzomys flavescens_, complex of rodents), and Anajatuba virus and Juquitiba virus (_Ologoryzomys fornesi_).

The rodent reservoir hosts shed the virus in its saliva, urine, and faeces, contaminating the environment in which they live and breed.

A HealthMap/ProMED-mail map showing the location of Uruguay in South America can be accessed at
<http://healthmap.org/promed/p/28995>.

A map of Colonia department in southern Uruguay is available at
<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Colonia_del_Sacramento>
and <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/27367>. - ProMED Mod.TY]
Date: Wed 13 Mar 2019
Source: Outbreak News Today [abridged, edited]

The number of measles deaths has topped 1100 in Madagascar. In an update on the measles epidemic in Madagascar, UN health officials report 6607 cases of measles, including 41 deaths, in the week ending 24 Feb [2019]. Cases are reported in children aged 1 to 14 years. Of 114 districts in all 22 regions, 104 are in the epidemic phase, officials report.
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[The number of cases and deaths from measles in Madagascar is horrifying, even more so since the disease is vaccine-preventable. There is no information on how the health sector in the country is responding, but clearly the clinics are overburdened during this devastating outbreak. - ProMED Mod.LK]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of Madagascar:
Date: Mon 11 Mar 2019
Source: Focus Taiwan [abridged, edited]

A Taipei resident in her 20s has been confirmed to be infected with measles and is suspected of having had contact with 247 people during the incubation period, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). The woman, who works at a restaurant in the ATT 4 Fun shopping centre in Taipei's Xinyi District might have been infected through coming into contact with foreign tourists in her workplace, said CDC deputy director-general Lo Yi-chun in a statement issued on Mon [11 Mar 2019].

To date, 247 people considered to have had contact with the patient, including her family, colleagues and health care personnel, have been traced. The contact tracing will continue until 27 Mar [2019]. The CDC alerted people who used the same bus and had been to the same places the patient visited to beware of possible exposure to the measles virus. It asked those who might have had contact with the woman to conduct self-health management for 18 days.

The reported new case has brought the total number of confirmed measles cases in Taiwan to 29 since the beginning of this year [2019], 16 contracted at home and 13 from abroad. Among the 16 indigenous cases, 8 have been linked to imported cases, the CDC said.

Lo reminded the public that measles is highly contagious and now is the peak transmission season. Outbreaks in some Asian countries have been growing, including the Philippines, Vietnam, Thailand, China, India and Indonesia, he said. As of 24 Feb [2019], the number of measles cases in Japan has risen to 258, the highest in the same period since 2009, Lo added.  [byline: Chang Ming-hsuan and Evelyn Kao]
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[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of Taiwan:
Date: Thu 14 March 2019
Source: South China Morning Post [abridged, edited]

Health authorities seek passengers on Cathay Pacific Hong Kong-Tokyo flight [1 Mar 2019] after a man [said to be a Cathay Pacific flight attendant] contracted measles, a contagious disease. The man tested positive for the immunoglobulin M antibody that confirms a measles infection. He was admitted to St Paul's Hospital in Causeway Bay after he returned to Hong Kong. He was later declared to be in a stable condition and discharged.

This is the 11th case of measles confirmed in city this year [2019] with at least 7 infections imported. Authorities seek passengers on the Cathay Pacific flight who might have had contact with the 23 year old man.  [byline: Danny Mok]
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