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Albania

Albania US Consular Information Sheet November 04, 2008

 COUNTRY DESCRIPTION

Albania is a parliamentary democracy that is transforming its economy into a market-oriented system. Albania's per capita income is among the lowest in Eu

ope, but economic conditions in the country are steadily improving. Tourist facilities are not highly developed in much of the country, and though Albania's economic integration into European Union markets is slowly underway, many of the goods and services taken for granted in other European countries are not yet available. Hotel accommodations are limited outside of major cities. Read the Department of State Background Notes on Albania for additional information.

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS

 A passport is required. All travelers entering or exiting Albania must have six months or more validity on their passport. Customs officers strictly enforce this law. U.S. citizens do not require a visa prior to entering Albania, but those traveling without a visa will be charged a fee for an entry stamp at the point of entry, which is valid for a stay of up to 90 days. This fee is currently 10 Euros, or the equivalent in any easily convertible currency, including U.S. dollars. Travelers without a visa who intend to stay in Albania for more than 90 days should be aware that Albanian law allows a traveler without a visa to remain in Albania for 90 days only within a specific 180-day period. That 180-day period is defined from the first day of entry. For example, a traveler entering without a visa on January 1 may remain in Albania for 90 days total during the period of time between January 1 and June 28. Departing Albania during this time period does not "restart the clock." Travelers attempting to reenter Albania without a visa and within 180 days of a previous entry and after an aggregate stay of 90 days may be denied entry. For stays exceeding 90 days within a 180-day period, those interested must apply for a Residency Permit at the police station with jurisdiction over the city of residence. Information on how to apply for a residency permit is available on the Embassy of Albania web site at http://www.embassyofalbania.org/. There is also a departure fee of ten Euros, or the equivalent in any easily convertible currency, including U.S. dollars. Visit the Embassy of Albania web site at http://www.embassyofalbania.org/consular.html#visa for the most current visa information. Dual Nationality: The Albanian government considers any person in Albania of Albanian parents to be an Albanian citizen. In addition to being subject to all Albanian laws affecting U.S. citizens, dual nationals may be subject to Albanian laws that impose special obligations. Male Albanian citizens are subject to compulsory military service regulations. If such persons are found guilty of draft evasion in Albania, they are subject to prosecution by the Albanian court. Those who might be affected should inquire at an Albanian Embassy or Consulate outside Albania regarding their status before traveling. In some instances, dual nationality may hamper U.S. Government efforts to provide protection abroad. 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

Although the overall security situation in Albania has improved in recent years, organized criminal activity continues to operate in all regions, and corruption is pervasive. US Government employees need permission to travel to the northern administrative districts of Shkoder, Malesi E Madhe and Tropoje (with the exception of the route along the national road to Montenegro and the city of Shkoder) and to the southern town of Lazarat, with such travel restricted to secure vehicles with escort. Travel restrictions for U.S. Government employees have been lifted for overnight stays in the city of Shkoder. In most cases, police assistance and protection is limited. A high level of security awareness should be maintained at all times. Photographing anything that authorities regard as being of military or security interest may cause travelers problems. All gatherings of large crowds should be avoided, particularly those involving political causes or striking workers. For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs’ web site at http://travel.state.gov, where the current Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts, as well as the Worldwide Caution, can be found. Up-to-date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S. and Canada, or for callers outside the U.S. and Canada, a regular toll-line at 1-202-501-4444. These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays). The Department of State urges American citizens to take responsibility for their own personal security while traveling overseas. For general information about appropriate measures travelers can take to protect themselves in an overseas environment, see the Department of State’s A Safe Trip Abroad.

CRIME

In the latest State Department assessment, Albania’s crime rating is “medium.” Crime against foreigners is rare in Albania, as targeting foreigners is often viewed as too risky. Visitors should maintain the same personal security awareness that they would in any metropolitan U.S. city. Caution should be exercised in bars in Tirana where violent incidents, some involving the use of firearms, have occurred in the past, particularly in the early morning hours. Within the last years there have been fewer cases of carjacking compared with previous years. Anyone who is carjacked should surrender the vehicle without resistance. Armed crime continues to be more common in northern and northwestern Albania than in the rest of the country. Street crime is fairly common in Albania, particularly at night. Criminals do not seem to deliberately target U.S. citizens or other foreigners, but do seek targets of opportunity, and select those who appear to have anything of value. Vehicle theft is still one of the biggest problems in Albania. Pick-pocketing is widespread; U.S. citizens have reported the theft of their passports by pick-pockets. 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 is 129, though coverage is inconsistent at best. See our information on Victims of Crime.

MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION

Medical facilities and capabilities in Albania are limited beyond rudimentary first aid treatment. Emergency and major medical care requiring surgery and hospital care is inadequate due to lack of specialists, diagnostic aids, medical supplies, and prescription drugs. Travelers with previously diagnosed medical conditions may wish to consult their physicians before travel. As prescription drugs may be unavailable locally, travelers may also wish to bring extra supplies of required medications. Recent electricity shortages have resulted in sporadic blackouts throughout the country, which can affect food storage capabilities of restaurants and shops. While some restaurants and food stores have generators to properly store food, travelers should take care that food is cooked thoroughly to reduce the risk of food-borne illness. Water in Albania is not potable. Visitors should plan to purchase bottled water or drinks while in country. The U.S. Department of State is unaware of any HIV/AIDS entry restrictions for visitors to or foreign residents of Albania. 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 (CDC) 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 Albania is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance. Major roads in Albania are often in very poor condition. Traveling by road throughout Albania is the most dangerous activity for locals and tourists. Vehicle accidents are the major cause of death, according to police statistics. Electricity shortages have resulted in sporadic blackouts throughout the country that can happen any hour of the day or night. Such outages affect traffic signals and street lights, making driving increasingly treacherous at any time of day. Travel at night outside the main urban areas is dangerous and should be avoided due to deplorable road conditions. During the winter months, travelers may encounter dangerous snow and icy conditions on the roads throughout mountainous regions in northern Albania. Buses travel between most major cities almost exclusively during the day, but they are often unreliable and uncomfortable. Many travelers looking for public transport prefer to use privately owned vans, which function as an alternate system of bus routes and operate almost entirely without schedules or set fares. Please note that many of these privately owned vans may not have official permission to operate a bus service and may not adhere to accepted safety and maintenance standards. Persons wishing to use privately owned vans should exercise caution. There are no commercial domestic flights and few rail connections. Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information. Visit the website of the country’s national tourist office at www.albaniantourism.com.

AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT

As there is no direct commercial air service to the United States by carriers registered in Albania, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed Albania's Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards. For further information, travelers may visit the FAA's web site at http://www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES: Albania's customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation into or export from Albania of some items. It is advisable to contact the Embassy of Albania in Washington, D.C. or one of Albania's Consulates in the United States for specific information regarding customs requirements. As noted previously, the Albanian government considers any person in Albania of Albanian parents to be an Albanian citizen. In addition to being subject to all Albanian laws affecting U.S. citizens, dual nationals may be subject to Albanian laws that impose special obligations. Male Albanian citizens are subject to compulsory military service regulations. See our information pertaining to dual nationality. Albania is a cash economy. Credit cards and travelers checks are not generally accepted, except at the major new hotels in Tirana and some international airline offices. Travelers' checks can be changed at banks in larger towns. Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) are available in most cities. 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 Albania’s laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Albania 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. Under Albanian law, police can detain any individual for up to 10 hours without filing formal charges. U.S. citizens are encouraged to carry a copy of their U.S. passports with them at all times to show proof of identity and U.S. citizenship if questioned by local officials.

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 Albania are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department’s travel registration web site and to obtain updated information on travel and security within Albania. 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 Rruga Elbasanit 103, tel. (355)(4) 2247285; fax (355)(4) 2232222. The U.S. Embassy web site is http://tirana.usembassy.gov/ * * * This replaces the Consular Information Sheet dated June 10, 2008, to update sections on Entry and Exit Requirements, Medical Facilities and Health Information, and Traffic Safety and Road Conditions.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Sat, 21 Sep 2019 20:39:17 +0200 (METDST)

Tirana, Sept 21, 2019 (AFP) - Albania was rattled by its strongest earthquake in decades Saturday, officials said, sending people fleeing into the streets in several cities, damaging buildings and triggering power cuts in the capital.   The epicentre of the shallow 5.6-magnitude quake, was near Durres, less than 40 kilometres (25 miles) west of the capital Tirana, according to the US Geological Survey.

Albania's defence ministry said it was the "strongest earthquake in the country in the last 20 to 30 years".   "There are no deaths," defence ministry spokeswoman Albana Qajaj said.   Some 80 people sought medical help in both Tirana and Durres, 21 of whom were hospitalised due to injuries caused by falling objects or parts of walls as well as for panic attacks, Health Minister Ogerta Manasterilu said.   Qajaj told AFP that houses and buildings in Tirana had been damaged but were still standing and that the ministry was accessing damage in other towns and villages.   Prime Minister Edi Rama cancelled his scheduled trip to the United States following the quake, which cut electricity and telephone lines in Tirana and a number of other towns and villages.

Many people remained outside their homes for several hours in the capital, fearful of aftershocks.   "I fear to return because such a strong earthquake could be followed with others," Drita Lohja, a resident in her fifties, told AFP.    Falling debris pulverised parked cars in parts of the city.   AFP reporters and witnesses saw windows broken and deep fissures in the facades of buildings in Durres, as well as in the capital.   Media reported that a large building in Tirana was seriously damaged and that residents were being evacuated.   A University of Tirana building was also damaged, witnesses said.

According to local media reports, at least two people were lightly injured and a dozen houses collapsed in the village of Helmes, 10 kilometres from Tirana.   Two other earthquakes followed the strong one that occurred at around 4:00 pm (1400 GMT) and was felt in neighbouring Montenegro and Italy, but also on the Greek island of Corfu according to some Twitter users.
Date: Fri, 9 Mar 2018 16:28:50 +0100

Tirana, March 9, 2018 (AFP) - The military has been deployed in northern Albania to help hundreds of people trapped by floods following heavy rainfall, authorities said on Friday.   More than 9,230 hectares (22,800 acres) of agricultural land is underwater in the Shkodra region, including villages where the only means of transport is by boat, the defence ministry said.

Army personnel are evacuating residents and securing food supplies in the affected areas, 100 kilometres (60 miles) north of the capital, Tirana.   The torrential rain in recent days has caused landslides damaging dozens of homes and flooding roads, said the transport ministry.   The rain has also forced the Albanian authorities to release excess water from a hydroelectric plant, which has added to the flooding in northern areas of the country.   Weather forecasters say the rain is likely to ease from Saturday.
Date: Sun, 3 Dec 2017 12:29:40 +0100

Tirana, Dec 3, 2017 (AFP) - Thousands of police and soldiers have been deployed in Albania to rescue stranded residents after heavy rainfall triggered major flooding, and caused the death of a utility worker, officials and the power company said Sunday.   The victim, Sabri Vlinga, died while he was working on a electricity pole at Roskovec in the flooded south of the country, the power company said in statement.   Two other people were injured in similar accidents. it added.   Some 6,400 police and soldiers have been sent to help rescue people stranded by the floods, Prime MInister Edi Rama said Saturday, calling the situation "very critical".

Around 1,500 people in the affected areas have been rescued, while several thousand homes were without electricity as many utility poles have been swept away by mudslides, said Shemsi Prenci, head of civil protection.   More than 7,874 hectares (19,450 acres) of farm land as well as 3,193 homes are under water and several roads in the south remained impassable.

Army forces have built a temporary bridge at Darezeze, about 70 kilometres (44 miles) from the capital Tirana, to come to the aid of 2,000 residents stranded by the floods, the defence ministry said.    In neighbouring Macedonia, the heavy rains have also caused flooding as several rivers include the main Vardar river have burst their banks, the MIA news agency reported.
Date: Sat 5 Aug 2017
From: Edmond Puca <edmond_puca@yahoo.com> [edited]

Here in Albania, we have 2 imported cases of haemorrhagic fever with renal syndrome (HFRS), one imported from the north of Greece and another from Macedonia in a village near the border with Albania.

The patient from Macedonia is 25 years old. He presented in the emergency room on 31 Jul [2017]. Right now, he is in good condition and will survive. He presented with fever, nausea and vomiting, abdominal pain, and lower back pain.

The other patient from Greece had been in our service for the previous 2 weeks and now is at home in good condition.

The disease is caused by Dobrava-Belgrade virus infection.
---------------------------------
Dr Edmond Puca
Infectologue
Department of Infectious Disease
UHC "Mother Teresa"
Tirana, Albania
===================
[ProMED-mail thanks Dr Edmond Puca for sending in this report.  This and the previous report are the 1st reports of hantavirus infections in Macedonia that ProMED-mail has posted. There is also evidence of HFRS in Greece, although ProMED-mail has not posted reports previously. Sero-epidemiological investigations conducted in several Balkan countries revealed an overall seroprevalence of 4 per cent in Greece (<http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0168170213004887#>). There doubtless have been Dobrava-Belgrade virus infections in Greece and the Balkans over the years, given that this virus is known to circulate widely in the Balkans.

The yellow-necked field mouse (_Apodemus flavicollis_) is the principle vertebrate host for Dobrava-Belgrade virus. - ProMED Mod.TY]

[A HealthMap/ProMED-mail map can be accessed at:
Date: Mon, 6 Feb 2017 04:30:32 +0100
By Briseida MEMA

Tirana, Feb 6, 2017 (AFP) - Emira Sela covers her face with her hand to hide a disfiguring abscess, the traumatic result of unregulated cosmetic treatments now rampant across Albania.   The 31-year-old began to worry when wrinkles appeared on her face. Sela's hairdresser told her that a simple injection, costing around 60 euros ($65), would banish the signs of ageing.   "She assured me that I would not risk anything. She even listed well-known names" of women who had undergone such treatment, said Sela.   "I did not think twice, I trusted her without asking questions," said the blonde woman with green eyes, her voice trembling.

Albanian hair and beauty salons lacking expertise and medical supervision are offering such cosmetic treatments, unregulated in a legal vacuum, much to the alarm of qualified doctors.   A single injection of a product whose content and dosage Sela knew nothing about was enough to ruin her life in late August.    Despite antibiotics she has permanent pain, fever and nausea, while the abscess on her right cheek forces her eye to half-close and her face is nearly paralysed.   "I am so disfigured that I tried to commit suicide," said Sela, who lost her job in a bank. Her only hope now is corrective surgery at an Italian hospital, scheduled for this month.

- Desiring Kardashian look -
"There are more and more impostors with syringes," said Panajot Papa, a plastic surgeon at a private clinic in Tirana.   "The problem is also the products... Forbidden in Europe, they enter illegally from Turkey or China."    Eriona Shehu, a dermatologist at Tirana's university hospital, said these unregulated synthetic products, such as injected liquid silicone and acrylamide, were being offered at temptingly low prices.

"Cosmetic interventions have become a lucrative industry. The patient is only a customer, exposed to a number of risks."   Shehu said the desire to look like voluptuous US reality television star Kim Kardashian was "destroying the lives of young Albanian girls looking for beauty".   Albanian doctors say the typical age of clients for such procedures is between 16 and 28.    In the country of about three million people, the demand for cosmetic interventions rose more than 50 percent in 2015, according to a study published by Albania's economic magazine Monitor.

Promotional offers can be seen everywhere, such as a beauty salon advertising 20 percent reductions for three people coming together for treatment during the holiday season.   Papa says he has treated a dozen young women aged between 20 and 27 who suffered complications after having their lips and cheekbones swollen with injected liquid silicone for 40 to 50 euros.    The product has been banned for cosmetic use in countries such as Italy and France for more than 15 years.   Papa said such botched interventions left these women prone to particularly bad swellings during their menstrual period, requiring further treatment -- and he warned they may suffer such symptoms for life.

- Closing legal gap -
Albanian doctors are worried about foreign practitioners who come from Italy, Turkey and Greece to work just for a weekend.   "They may not have a diploma, qualification or licence for these kind of interventions or for assuming the responsibility of a patient's medical follow-up," said Besim Boci, head of the otolaryngology department at Tirana's university hospital.   Due to legal loopholes, the judiciary cannot step in.    A spokesman at Tirana's tribunal, Alba Nikolla, admits that it is currently impossible to "open investigations and prosecute based only on complaints" against practitioners.

But authorities are set to tackle this with a draft law to control cosmetic products and beauty salons, which is due to be introduced in parliament in the next few months.   The law complies with the requirements of the European Union, which Albania aspires to join, and will enable authorities to shut down rogue establishments using synthetic products.    When health is adversely affected, practitioners could be imprisoned for three to 10 years.    Such regulations could go some way to easing the trauma of women like Elisa Lura, a 22-year-old economics student.   She underwent a laser treatment to restore her natural look after paying 50 euros to a neighbourhood salon for permanent eyebrow tattoos, which went wrong. But the laser made things much worse.   "Everything is spoiled!" she said of her face now covered with painful scars.
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United States of America

FCO - UK information on the United States
Updated: 25 July 2002

SUMMARY
Most visits to the United States are trouble-free. However, visitors should continue to be vigilant about their personal security.

SAFETY AND SECURITY<
R />Travellers to the United States should use common sense and take basic precautions.

If staying in a hotel, do not leave your door open at any time.

Do not wear ostentatious jewellery and avoid walking in obviously run down areas.
If arriving at night, take a taxi to your hotel and collect your hire car the next day.
If departing on an evening flight avoid leaving luggage and souvenirs in view in your hire car during the day. Thieves are targeting these vehicles and stealing the contents.
Drive on main highways and use well-lit car parks.

Do not stop if your car is bumped from behind. Instead, indicate to the other driver to follow you to the nearest public area and call for police assistance.
Do not sleep in your car on the roadside or in rest areas.
LOCAL LAWS AND CUSTOMS
Travellers wishing to visit Canada during their stay should contact the Canadian Consulate and US Immigration and Naturalisation Service for entry clearance requirements. If travellers have 90 day visa waiver for US, they should not wait until the end of their stay to travel between US and Canada. Travellers must not overstay past expiration date of their visa as they may risk being denied entry in either country or be deported. Travellers need to carry passports, round trip airline tickets showing their confirmed departure for return from US or Canada to country of origin, and they may need to show proof of sufficient funds to cover their stay.

Travellers should be aware that the age of consent varies from state to state in the US, as does the age at which someone may legally buy and consume alcohol.
ENTRY REQUIREMENTS
Foot and Mouth Disease:
Travellers are prohibited from carrying into the US any agricultural products, particularly animal products – including dairy products – that could spread FMD. (Some hard cheeses and canned meats are permitted. If you are in any doubt, you must check with a US customs or US Department of Agriculture (USDA) official immediately on arrival in the airport terminal). Passengers are required to tick the appropriate box on the US Customs declaration form if they have recently visited a zoo, or been on a farm or in contact with livestock. Passengers are specifically required to identify any farm contacts to US Customs and USDA officials. All luggage is subject to inspection. Penalties for not declaring farm visits or prohibited items can run to $1,000.

All US ports of entry and airports are on heightened alert to ensure that passengers, luggage and cargo are checked as appropriate. This includes placing additional inspectors and dog teams at airports to check incoming flights and passengers.

USDA are saying that soiled shoes, clothing or luggage will be disinfected on arrival. Food products and any other items suspected of potentially carrying the FMD virus will be confiscated and destroyed.
HEALTH
Medical treatment can be very expensive; there are no special arrangements for British visitors. The British Embassy and Consulates-General cannot assist with medical expenses.

Travellers who are HIV-positive
Travellers to the United States who are HIV-positive are not eligible, under current United States visa law, to travel visa free under the Visa Waiver Programme. They are required to apply for a visa and a waiver of the ineligibility before travelling. US immigration authorities state applicants’ details will remain confidential and an applicant’s HIV status will not/not be declared on their passport. For more details contact the US Embassy in London.
GENERAL
Comprehensive travel and medical insurance is essential.
NATURAL DISASTERS
Visitors to the United States will be aware of reports of large-scale wild and forest fires throughout the country. Those travelling to affected areas should be particularly vigilant and pay attention to advice from local authorities and press and radio announcements about personal safety and how to avoid starting fires. Further information can be obtained from the National Interagency Fire Centre, 3833 S. Development Avenue, Boise, Idaho, 83705-5354; tel: +1 208 387 5512; Website: www.nifc.gov

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Fri, 4 Oct 2019 18:04:29 +0200 (METDST)

Washington, Oct 4, 2019 (AFP) - More than 1,200 people have been sickened with measles this year, the highest number since 1992, US health authorities said Friday, though the infectious childhood disease officially remains "eliminated" after the worst-hit region contained its outbreak.   New York health officials Thursday declared the end of the state's nearly year-long epidemic, which accounted for 75 percent of cases nationwide, and occurred mostly among unvaccinated children in Orthodox Jewish communities.   Before the declaration, it had appeared that the US might lose its measles elimination status, which it has had since 2000.

The status is lost if a chain of transmission in a given outbreak is sustained for more than 12 months.   "We are very pleased that the measles outbreak has ended in New York and that measles is still considered eliminated in the United States," said Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar.   "But this past year's outbreak was an alarming reminder about the dangers of vaccine hesitancy and misinformation," he added.   "That is why the Trump administration will continue making it a priority to work with communities and promote vaccination as one of the easiest things you can do to keep you and your family healthy and safe."   The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said there had been 1,249 cases of measles between January 1 and October 4, 2019.

The US is far from alone in experiencing a surge: data from the World Health Organization for the first six months of 2019 shows the highest number of measles cases reported since 2006.   In the last year alone, Britain, Greece, Venezuela and Brazil lost their measles elimination status.    The rise comes as a growing anti-vaccine movement gains steam around the world, driven by fraudulent claims linking the MMR vaccine against measles, mumps and rubella to a risk of autism in children.   Measles is caused by a virus and can lead to serious complications including pneumonia and inflammation of the brain that can do permanent damage and be deadly, especially in small children.
Date: Thu 10 Oct 2019, updated Fri 11 Oct 2019 1:50 p.m. ET
Source: Citizen Times [edited]

Officials with the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services' [NCDHHS'] Division of Public Health have confirmed a 2nd death in the outbreak of _Legionella_ bacteria, which has now infected dozens of Mountain State Fair attendees with the potentially life-threatening Legionnaires' disease.

On 10 Oct [2019], NCDHHS officials confirmed 134 cases of Legionnaires' disease or Pontiac fever among people who attended the 2019 NC Mountain State Fair, which took place 6-15 Sep [2019] at the WNC Ag Center in Fletcher. Those diagnosed live in in multiple states and several North Carolina counties, according to a news release.

Two people have died, and 88 people have been hospitalized in the outbreak. Personal information of those who have died is not being released, NCDHHS said, to protect privacy of the families. "We send our sincerest condolences to the families of the 2 people who have died and to all those who have been affected by this outbreak," said Dr. Zack Moore, state epidemiologist. "Legionnaires' disease is a serious illness that can lead to complications and death, especially in older individuals or those with underlying conditions."

Seven [8, according to the NCDHHS; see below. - ProMED Mod.ML] of the confirmed cases are actually Pontiac fever, a milder illness also caused by the _Legionella_ bacteria. Symptoms are the eponymous fever, muscle aches, headache, chills, nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea, according to the NCDHHS.

While officials have not yet confirmed a source for the deadly bacteria, officials have pointed to a hot tub display as the most likely culprit. "The preliminary epidemiologic and environmental findings suggest that exposure to _Legionella_ bacteria occurred in the Davis Event Center of the WNC Ag Center, particularly near the hot tubs and during the last 5 days of the fair," the NCDHHS release stated. Hot tubs are a well-established source of aerosolized water exposure and have been associated with previous Legionnaires' disease outbreaks nationally and internationally.

"These results highlight the importance of caring for and maintaining equipment that can aerosolize water," according to the release. "There were no other significant sources of aerosolized water at the WNC Ag Center and no other ongoing potential sources of exposure identified."

The _Legionella_ bacteria enters the body via contaminated water, but it has to reach the lungs to be dangerous. The culprit is usually aerosolized water -- tiny water droplets suspended in the air by something like a misting station, an air conditioner, or steam -- that people unknowingly breathe in.

To report possible cases, call the local health department or the NCDHHS Division of Public Health at (919) 733-3419. In Buncombe County, call BCHHS Communicable Disease at 828-250-5109. In Henderson County, call 828-694-6019.
=======================
[The latest status, as of 9 Oct 2019, of the legionellosis outbreak associated with the Mountain State Fair that was held in western North Carolina between 6 and 15 Sep 2019 at the Western North Carolina Agricultural Center (WNC Ag Center) in Fletcher, a town in Henderson County, can be found at <https://epi.dph.ncdhhs.gov/cd/legionellosis/outbreak.html>.

The number of confirmed cases of legionellosis by county are as follows: Buncombe, 49; Burke, 1; Caswell, 1; Cherokee, 1; Gaston, 1; Granville, 1; Haywood, 12; Henderson, 33; Jackson, 1; Madison, 6; McDowell, 3; Mecklenburg, 4; Mitchell, 2; Polk, 1; Rutherford, 3; Transylvania, 3; Union, 1; Watauga, 1; and Yancey, 1. Nine cases occurred out of state (in South Carolina). Total cases: 134.

Male, 75 (56%)**; female, 57 (44%)**. Median age in years (range): 61 (24-91). Hospitalizations: 88 (68%); deaths 2.
**Some cases reported with unknown gender.

A total of 126 (94%) have Legionnaires' disease, the pneumonic form of the infection, and 8 (6%) have Pontiac fever, the non-pneumonic form of the infection.

The source of the outbreak has still not been identified. However, hot tub displays in one of the buildings (Davis Event Center) has been linked to the outbreak, and _Legionella_ was found in a women's restroom in this building. A site map of the WNC Ag Center that shows the location of the Davis Event Center building can be found at <https://www.wncagcenter.org/p/mountainstatefair/competitions/map>.

Although 97 of the 134 (72.4%) cases reside in 4 adjacent counties (Buncombe, Haywood, Henderson, and Transylvania) near the WNC AG Center, the infection now involves cases in a total of 19 of the 100 North Carolina counties plus counties in the neighboring state of South Carolina. A map showing the location of the North Carolina counties can be found at  <https://geology.com/county-map/north-carolina.shtml>.

The species of _Legionella_ detected in patients or in the environmental isolate from the Davis Event Center is not specified; however, the usual pathogen in the US is _Legionella pneumophila_ serogroup 1. Genotyping clinical and environmental isolates will help identify clusters of cases with a common source and identify the source responsible for infection in these clusters. - ProMED Mod.ML]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail maps:
North Carolina, United States: <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/235>
South Carolina, United States: <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/242>]
Date: 4 Oct 2019
Source: New Mexico (USA) Department of Health [edited]

The New Mexico Department of Health's (NMDOH) Scientific Laboratory Division has confirmed a case of plague in a 72-year-old man from Torrance County, the 1st human case of plague in New Mexico this year [2019].  Plague is a disease caused by the bacterium _Yersinia pestis_, which is generally transmitted to humans from the bites of infected fleas that live among rodents and rabbits. Plague can also be transmitted by direct contact with infected animals. Pet dogs and cats can become infected with plague when they eat an infected rodent or when they are bitten by an infected flea.

NMDOH staff have gone door-to-door in the affected area to inform neighbours about plague and provided them with education to reduce their risks.  "No matter where you call home in New Mexico, you can reduce the risk of plague by avoiding contact with rodents or their fleas, or outdoor pets by providing appropriate flea prevention for pets year-round," said Secretary of Health Kathy Kunkel.

Symptoms of plague in humans include sudden onset of a fever, chills, headache, and weakness usually within one to 7 days of becoming infected. There may be a painful swelling of the lymph node in the neck, armpit or groin areas, referred to as bubonic plague. The infection can also spread to the blood, causing septicemic plague, or to the lungs, causing pneumonic plague.

With prompt diagnosis and appropriate antibiotic treatment, the fatality rate in people and pets can be greatly reduced. Physicians who suspect plague should promptly report all cases to the New Mexico Department of Health.

To prevent plague, the Department of Health recommends that residents:
- Avoid sick or dead rodents and rabbits, and their nests and burrows.
- Clean up areas near the house where rodents could live, such as woodpiles, brush piles, junk and abandoned or un-used vehicles.
- See a healthcare provider about any unexplained illness involving a sudden and severe fever. Inform your healthcare provider about any flea bites, contact with rodents, or burrows during the previous couple of weeks.
- Wear protective clothing to prevent flea bites while working outside.
- Provide safe and effective flea control for pets as recommended by a veterinarian.
- Sick pets should be examined promptly by a veterinarian.

This is the 1st human plague case in New Mexico since 2017, a year where there was a total of 4 human cases. There has been one animal plague case in a dog in Quay County in 2019 (see Department of Health Reports Plague Case in Quay County). There were 3 cases of animal plague in dogs in 2018, and 28 animal plague cases in 2017 in New Mexico.
=======================
[Earlier comment from ProMED Mod.LL (archive number

"The manifestations of _Yersinia pestis_ infection in this case are not stated in the report but it is likely to have been bubonic plague. Of late, 2015 was a "banner year" for _Y. pestis_ infections in the USA with 15 cases and 4 deaths. In recent decades, an average of 7 human plague cases have been reported each year (range: 1-17 cases per year) with 0-2 deaths.

The following was extracted from: Prentice MB, Rahalison L. Plague. Lancet. 2007; 369(9568): 1196-207, with the citations removed:

"Some plague cases (10-25 per cent) present with primary septicaemia (hypotension, shock) without lymph nodes being obviously affected and these patients have higher mortality than those with bubonic plague. The term septicemic plague can be confusing, since most patients with buboes have detectable bacteremia at some stage and can also have high-density bacteremia with systemic signs of sepsis. Debate about whether septicemic plague is always secondary to frank or subclinical bubonic or pneumonic disease continues, but work in mice lends support to the existence of a syndrome of septicemic disease without histological changes in lymph nodes in a few animals infected by flea bites."

Earlier comment of ProMED Mod.TG (archive number

"Plague is primarily a disease of wild rodents. It is caused by the bacterium _Yersinia pestis_, which is mainly spread by the bites of infectious fleas. The bacterium is not native to North America. When it was introduced, it became established in some rodent populations. Surveillance efforts testing fleas are very important to detect circulation of _Y. pestis_ and risk of infection.

Plague may infect human beings through several routes: 1) the bite of an infected flea carried by a rodent or, rarely, other animals (mentioned previously; 2) direct contact with contaminated tissues, generally from an animal; or 3) in rare cases, inhalation of respiratory secretions from infected people or animals.

Clinical signs in pets involve a localized swelling, such as under the jaw in cats, but also in the inguinal region or under the front leg (the armpit, if you will), lethargy, anorexia, and fever (or chills). These clinical signs may be present in the dog as well. Swelling under the jaw in cats is frequently mistaken as a cat-fight abscess.

If your pets are not on flea prevention, please ask your veterinarian about the best flea prevention. Bathing your pet in dishwashing soap is not sufficient to help your pet avoid diseases carried by fleas. Some of the over the counter flea preventions may be harmful to your pet, so please check with your veterinarian. It is also a good time to make sure your pet is current on a rabies shot.

Keeping your pets inside is best, and being inside a yard will help diminish the ability to consume a dead animal and further reduce the risk of plague to your animal and to yourself." - ProMED Mod.LM]

[HealthMap/ProMED map available at:
New Mexico, United States: <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/233>]
Date: Fri 4 Oct 2019 08:55 PM CDT
Source: ArkLaTex, WVLA [edited]

Health experts say there are more cases of hepatitis A in the state. The Louisiana Department of Health now has the count at 575. Livingston Parish has the most cases ranging from 121 to 240. One death has been reported so far in Louisiana.

Hepatitis A is a contagious viral liver infection easily spread through close contact with an infected person.

There are vaccines to combat the infection. You can get one at your doctor's office or parish health unit. The Louisiana Department of Health has a list of resources for anyone with questions about hepatitis A.  [Byline: Deon Guillory]
=====================
[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of Louisiana, United States:
Date: Fri 20 Sep 2019
Source: NBCDFW [edited]

Hours after Collin County Health Care Services released information on Fri 20 Sep 2019 about a travel-related case of typhoid fever confirmed in August 2019 in McKinney, the Frisco ISD said it is currently investigating a possible case at an elementary school.

Collin County health officials said on Fri 20 Sep 2019 that people who ate at the Hat Creek Burger Co., 3321 South Custer Road, between 19 Aug 2019 and 22 Aug 2019 may have come in contact with the extremely drug-resistant strain of XDR _Salmonella_ Typhi and could still develop symptoms.

Pam Ritz, a spokesperson for the restaurant, said a worker who contracted the virus had travelled out of the country and only became ill 3 days after returning to work. The worker was at the restaurant on 19-22 Aug 2019 before showing symptoms. Ritz said the worker was sent home when he became ill and was later confirmed to be suffering from typhoid fever. No other employees or customers have reported symptoms of the illness in the past month, and strict sanitation procedures have been followed at the restaurant, the spokesperson said.

Friday afternoon, 20 Sep 2019, officials with the Frisco Independent School District said a student at Talley Elementary is being investigated for having typhoid fever as well. The district said the student is only suspected of having contracted the virus and that it has not yet been confirmed. Frisco ISD told parents in a letter that the Talley campus is being disinfected. It is not clear whether the cases are related or the strains of the bacterium are the same.

Dr. Jawaid Asghar, chief epidemiologist for Collin County Health Care Services, said the disease could be transmitted by a sick person who did not wash their hands after using a toilet before touching the food of a healthy person. He said the McKinney case is the 1st confirmation of the XDR _Salmonella_ Typhi strain in Texas. "This is extremely drug resistant," Asghar said. "It is resistant to drugs we can normally give for typhoid." The worker is still receiving care for the illness and has not returned to work but has improved, Asghar said.

Ashgar said the risk of transmission of the disease from that one sick person is very low, but the press was notified to warn people who were in the restaurant during those 3 days to seek medical attention if they become ill.

Symptoms of typhoid fever may include sustained fever as high as 103-104 F [39-40 C]. Infected individuals may also feel weak, or have stomach pains, headache, diarrhoea, or loss of appetite and constipation more often than diarrhoea in adults. In some cases, patients have a rash of flat, rose-coloured spots. Symptoms can begin in as little as 3 days or as long as 60 days, with an average range of 8-14 days after exposure.

_Salmonella_ is spread through the stool of a person with the bacteria. Objects, food, or water put into someone's mouth that has bacteria on them can cause the illness. The most important way to prevent the spread of this illness is through careful handwashing by everyone. Hands must be washed after using the restroom. Hands must also be washed before preparing food and before eating. Alcohol based hand rubs are effective when soap and water are not available.
====================
[It is likely that the traveling food service worker visited Pakistan, where most of the XDR cases have occurred, and was not vaccinated against typhoid prior to the trip. As a food worker, he or she could then transmit the infection via contaminated food as occurred with the famous "Typhoid Mary."

We await information about the possible secondary case and whether other cases occur. - ProMED Mod.LL]

[HealthMap/ProMED map available at:
Texas, United States: <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/245>]
More ...

Afghanistan

Afghanistal US Consular Information Sheet March 03, 2009


COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:


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

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


ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:


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


SAFETY AND SECURITY:


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


CRIME:


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


INFORMATION FOR VICTIMS OF CRIME:


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


CRIMINAL PENALTIES:


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


SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:


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


MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:


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


MEDICAL INSURANCE:


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


SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS:


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


AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT:


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


CHILDREN'S ISSUES:


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


EGISTRATION / EMBASSY LOCATION:


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

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Sun 1 Sep 2019
Source: MENAFN - Afghanistan Times [edited]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of Afghanistan:
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: 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: Mon, 1 Jul 2019 11:19:17 +0200

Kabul, July 1, 2019 (AFP) - At least one person was killed and dozens wounded in a Taliban-claimed attack which saw a powerful car bomb rock Kabul early Monday, followed by gunmen who battled special forces in an area housing military and government buildings.   Many children were among the wounded, according to a hospital statement, after the rush-hour explosion sent a plume of smoke into the air above the Puli Mahmood Khan neighbourhood of the Afghan capital and shook buildings up to two kilometres (1.2 miles) away.

AFP reporters could hear gunshots and multiple smaller explosions as fighting between the gunmen and special forces continued more than four hours after the attack began.   "At first, a car bomb took place and then several attackers took over a building. The area is cordoned off by the police special forces and (they) are bringing down the attackers," interior ministry spokesman Nasrat Rahimi said.    He later said that at least one attacker had been killed.   Health ministry spokesman Wahidullah Mayar said that at least one person had been killed and 65 wounded -- including nine children -- and warned that casualties could rise.   "Among the wounded, many children who were going to school," said the Twitter account of the Emergency Hospital in Kabul, where many victims were taken.   Some social media images purportedly taken at the hospital showed wounded, stunned children in school uniforms, still clutching books as they arrived for treatment.

The Taliban claimed the attack, which came just two days after the insurgents began a seventh round of talks with the US in Qatar as Washington eyes a breakthrough before Afghanistan's September presidential election.   Militant spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid released a statement saying the insurgents had targeted a defence ministry building in the area, which was quickly blocked off by Afghan forces and ambulances, with helicopter gunships seen overhead as firing continued.   Authorities have not confirmed the target.    "We were sitting inside the office when the world turned upside down on us," Zaher Usman, an employee at a branch of the culture ministry, which he said stands just 150 metres (yards) from the blast.

- Brief lockdown -
"When I opened my eyes, the office was filled with smoke and dust and everything was broken, my colleagues were screaming," Usman told AFP by telephone.   Shams Amini, a spokesman for the Afghan Football Federation, told AFP that the blast occurred near their HQ gates, and said some colleagues had been injured.   Nearby Shamshad TV station, which was attacked in 2017, aired images of broken glass and damage to its offices. "I was terrified," Shamshad anchor Hashmat Stanikzai told AFP.

The explosion came as the US was set to begin a third day of negotiations with the militants in Doha. There was no immediate confirmation if they would go ahead after the blast.   With the attack still ongoing, the Taliban spokesman in Doha again insisted that the insurgents will not negotiate with Kabul.   "Once the timeline for the withdrawal of foreign forces is set in the presence of international observers, then we will begin the talks to the Afghan sides, but we will not talk to the Kabul administration as a government," Suhail Shaheen tweeted. 

The insurgents have long refused to negotiate with the Western-backed government, whom they deem puppets.   The talks have so far centred on four issues -- counter-terrorism, the foreign troop presence, an intra-Afghan dialogue and a permanent ceasefire.   A potential deal would see the US agree to withdraw its troops after more than 17 years in Afghanistan, igniting deep concerns among Afghans who fear Washington will rush for the exits and allow the militants to return to some semblance of power.   In return, the Taliban would guarantee the country would never again become a safe haven for violent extremism, as happened with Al-Qaeda before the September 11, 2001 attacks.   However, US officials have insisted that "nothing is agreed until everything is agreed", including intra-Afghan talks.
Date 24 Jun 2019
Source: Mena FN [edited]

The number of polio positive cases in Afghanistan has reached 10 so far in 2019, with 4 cases reported from Uruzgan [Oruzgan] province and 1 new case detected in the Mehr Abad area of Tirinkot, the provincial capital.

According to Ministry of Public Health, a 21-month-old girl is permanently paralyzed in Tirinkot, making 10 cases of polio in Afghanistan so far [in 2019].

The Health ministry in a statement said that last week, another polio case was reported from Trinkot, which paralyzed a 30-month-old boy [see Poliomyelitis update (50): Afghanistan (OZ) http://promedmail.org/post/20190619.6528976].

House-to-house polio campaigns have been banned in this area since May 2018. This means children under [5 years of age] living in the area have not been vaccinated and protected from the virus since then, the ministry added.

Only one out of 10 polio cases were reported from Eastern Kunar province, while the rest have been reported from the southern region: 4 cases in Urozgan [Oruzgan], 3 in Helmand and 2 cases in Kandahar.

"Access to health services is the right of every citizen of the country," said Dr. Ferozuddin Feroz, the Minister of Public Health of Afghanistan. "We are deeply concerned about the increasing polio cases and the number of children who still don't have consistent access to vaccination. The virus could spread, and more children will be affected and paralyzed by polio virus in Afghanistan. I ask everyone to work together and protect innocent children against polio, to provide a safe and secure environment for our frontline workers to vaccinate children in every corner of the country."

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

Polio vaccination has also been strongly endorsed by national and global Islamic scholars, the statement added.
======================
[In last week's report on the 30-month-old male child from Oruzgan, there was mention that the vaccination teams were unable to enter the zone where the child lived due to security concerns. The media report above mentions there haven't been vaccinations provided through household visits in this zone since May 2018.

Oruzgan is located in the central part of Afghanistan, sharing southern and southwestern borders with Kandahar and Helmand provinces where other polio cases have been reported this year (2019) as well (<https://www.afghana.com/GetLocal/Afghanistan/Provinces.htm>).

With the addition of this newly confirmed case, there have now been 10 cases of confirmed poliomyelitis reported from Afghanistan since the beginning of 2019. Add these to the 27 cases confirmed in Pakistan, and there are now 37 cases reported this year (2019), 4 more than the total number of cases reported during 2018.

HealthMap/ProMED-mail maps:
Oruzgan Province, Afghanistan: <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/1257>  - ProMED Mod.MPP]
More ...

Virgin Islands

British Virgin Islands US Consular Information Sheet
April 03, 2006
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION: The British Virgin Islands (BVI) are a British overseas territory, part of the British West Indies, lying about 60 miles east of Puerto Rico. There are abo
t 50 islands in the BVI, many of them uninhabited. Tortola is the main island; other islands include Virgin Gorda, Jost Van Dyke, and Anegada. Tourist facilities are widely available.
ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS: For tourist stays of up to six months, U.S. citizens need a valid U.S. passport or other proof of U.S. citizenship (original or certified birth certificate, Certificate of Naturalization or Certificate of Citizenship as well as photo identification), onward or return tickets, and sufficient funds for their stay. Upon initial entry, no more than 60 days will be granted. At the end of 60 days, visitors must report to the Immigration Department's main office in Road Town for an extension. Extensions of up to 90 days are issued at the discretion of the Immigration Officer subsequent to an interview. For further information on travel to the British Virgin Islands, travelers should contact the BVI Department of Immigration at 1-284-494-3471. Visit the Embassy of the British Government web site at for the most current visa information.
See Entry and Exit Requirements for more information pertaining to dual nationality and the international child abduction . Please refer to our Customs Information to learn more about customs regulations.

SAFETY AND SECURITY For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department's Internet web site, 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 .
CRIME: Thefts and armed robberies do occur in the BVI. Visitors should take common-sense precautions against petty crime. Avoid carrying large amounts of cash and use hotel safety deposit facilities to safeguard valuables and travel documents. Do not leave valuables unattended on the beach or in cars. Always lock up boats when going ashore.
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 the British Virgin Islands consists of a small general hospital with an emergency room staffed 24-hrs/day by physicians, several clinics on Tortola, and one clinic in Virgin Gorda. Ambulances staffed with paramedics serve both islands. There are no medical facilities on the other islands. A volunteer organization, Virgin Islands Search and Rescue (VISAR), responds 24-hrs/day to medical emergencies at sea or on outer islands. VISAR transports casualties to the nearest point for transfer to ambulance. To reach VISAR, dial SOS (767) or call on Marine Channel 16.
There is no hyperbaric chamber in the BVI. Patients requiring treatment for decompression illness are transferred to St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands. Most sensitive medical cases are transferred to San Juan, Puerto Rico.
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 internet site at . For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization's (WHO) website at . Further health information for travelers is available at .
MEDICAL INSURANCE: The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation. Please see our information on medical insurance overseas
TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS: While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning the British Virgin Islands is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
Vehicles drive on the left (the British side) with most steering wheels on the left (the "American" side). Road signs are limited and seatbelts are required by law. Drivers often fail to yield the right-of-way to pedestrians, even at painted crosswalks. Speeding and reckless driving are fairly common in the BVI. Drivers can encounter nighttime drag racing on main thoroughfares and livestock on roads. Roads in Tortola's interior can be steep and extremely slippery when wet. Travelers planning to drive across the island should consider requesting four-wheel drive vehicles and should ensure that tires and brakes are in good operating condition on any rental vehicle. Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information, as well as the website of the BVI's national tourist office and national authority responsible for road safety at
.
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of the British Virgin Islands as being in compliance with ICAO international aviation safety standards for oversight of BVI's air carrier operations. For more information, travelers may visit the FAA's Internet web site at .
CUSTOMS REGULATIONS: BVI customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation into or export from the British Virgin Islands of items such as drugs and firearms. Visitors to BVI carrying firearms must declare them upon entry into any port in the territory. Firearms must be bonded and are held by the proper authorities until time of departure. Contact BVI Customs & Immigration at 1-284-494-3475, the Embassy of the United Kingdom in Washington, D.C. or one of the UK's consulates in the United States for specific information regarding customs requirements. Please see our information on Customs Information .
CRIMINAL PENALTIES: While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating British Virgin Island laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in the BVI 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 .
DISASTER PREPAREDNESS: All Caribbean countries can be affected by hurricanes. The hurricane season normally runs from June to the end of November, but there have been hurricanes in December in recent years. General information about natural disaster preparedness is available via the Internet from the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
CHILDREN'S ISSUES: For information on international adoption of children and international parental child abduction, see the Office of Children's Issues website.
REGISTRATION/EMBASSY AND CONSULATE LOCATIONS: Americans living or traveling in the British Virgin Islands are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department's travel registration website , and to obtain updated information on travel and security within the BVI. 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 nearest U.S. Embassy to the BVI is located in Bridgetown, Barbados. The Consular Section is located in the American Life Insurance Company (ALICO) Building, Cheapside, telephone 1-246-431-0225 or fax 1-246-431-0179, email ConsularBridge2@state.gov , or . The U.S. Consular Agent in Antigua, located at Jasmine court, St. John's, tel. 1-268-463-6531, is closer to the BVI and can also assist in some limited non-emergency cases, by previous appointment only.
****
This replaces the British Virgin Islands Consular Information Sheet dated April 26, 2005 to update all sections.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Thu 19 Sep 2019
Source: Emerg Infect Dis [edited]

Citation:
Guendel I, Ekpo LL, Hinkle MK, Harrison CJ, Blaney DD, et al.: Melioidosis after Hurricanes Irma and Maria, St. Thomas/St. John District, US Virgin Islands, October 2017. Emerg Infect Dis. 2019; 25(10): 1952-1955. doi: 10.3201/eid2510.180959.

Melioidosis is caused by _Burkholderia pseudomallei_, a saprophytic, gram-negative bacillus endemic to tropical regions worldwide (1). Diagnosis is difficult because of wide-ranging clinical manifestations (2), and this bacterium is innately resistant to many antimicrobial drugs, making treatment options limited, complex, and lengthy (3). Infection occurs by percutaneous exposure, inhalation, or ingestion.

Melioidosis is rare in the USA, and cases are usually travel related (4,5). However, regional endemicity has been documented in Puerto Rico (6), and sporadic human cases have been reported in the Caribbean (5,7). In September 2017, the US Virgin Islands were affected by 2 category 5 hurricanes, Irma and Maria; widespread flooding continued for weeks. We describe the clinical manifestations, management, and outcome of post-hurricane melioidosis cases in 2 women in St. Thomas and St. John, US Virgin Islands.

The study
Despite major damage to the 2 hospitals in the territory during the 2 hurricanes, the Virgin Islands Department of Health (VIDOH) maintained surveillance at both emergency departments. Two isolates were recovered from each patient. Local specimen analysis for organism identification was performed by using the MicroScan WalkAway System (Siemens Healthcare Diagnostics, <https://www.siemens-healthineers.com>). All isolates were confirmed as _B. pseudomallei_ at the CDC. Whole-genome sequencing and single-nucleotide polymorphism analysis were performed (National Center for Biotechnology Information, <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov>. Genomes from a given patient were clonal to each other. However, representative genomes from both patients had differences (greater than 5600 single-nucleotide polymorphisms), indicating the presence of different strains in these infections. Genomic comparison with a reference panel indicated that the isolates were within the previously described Western Hemisphere clade and subclade associated with the Caribbean (8).

Patient 1 was an 80-year-old female resident of St. Thomas who had a history of cardiomyopathy and type II diabetes mellitus. She came to the emergency department (ED) at Schneider Regional Medical Center (St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands) because of shortness of breath (symptom onset 28 days after Hurricane Irma and 9 days after Hurricane Maria). Her symptoms were worsened orthopnea, increased abdominal girth, and edema, consistent with her symptoms at previous admissions. The patient was admitted for management of acute decompensated heart failure.

The patient had a temperature of 98.5 deg F [36.9 deg C]; diffuse pulmonary crackles; jugular venous distension; normal heart sounds; and bilateral, lower extremity pitting edema. Examination showed a focal area on the anterior left thigh that had a central, firm, warm, erythematous, tender, subcutaneous nodule about 2 cm [approximately 0.8 in] in diameter with a central fluctuant area and a small pinhole. Incision and drainage was performed, and a swab specimen of purulent drainage was sent for culture.

The patient was given intravenous clindamycin (600 mg every 8 h for 5 d) and was discharged while receiving oral clindamycin, but the treatment course was not completed. Cultured wound showed growth of _B. pseudomallei_ at 5 days. However, culture growth was not yet positive before patient discharge. The isolate was susceptible to trimethoprim/sulfamethoxazole (Table 1 [for Tables and Figure, see original URL - ProMED Mod.LL]).

Patient 1 returned to the ED 2 weeks later because of manifestations similar to those at the 1st visit. She was afebrile and admitted for diuresis. The left thigh lesion had progressed into a 2 cm [about 0.8 in], tender, shallow ulcer productive of purulent material surrounded by erythema and a focal area of induration (Figure). Laboratory data reflected a leukocyte count within reference ranges and mild renal insufficiency with estimated glomerular filtration rate of 40.47 mL/min (Table 2). A 2nd wound culture was collected, and the patient was given intravenous meropenem (1 g every 8 h). Culture was presumptively positive for _B. pseudomallei_ and _Serratia marcescens_ after 48 hours, confirmed after 8 days. Both isolates showed the same resistance pattern and were susceptible to meropenem and trimethoprim/sulfamethoxazole: the MIC for meropenem was <1 microgram/mL (Table 2). Meropenem was continued for 8 days, and ulcer improvement was observed. The patient was discharged while receiving oral trimethoprim/sulfamethoxazole (800 mg/160 mg 2x/d) to complete maintenance therapy. The patient completed a 3-month course of trimethoprim/sulfamethoxazole and achieved resolution.

Patient 2 was a 60-year-old female who had diabetes and was a resident of St. John. She was referred to the ED at Schneider Regional Medical Center by her primary care physician because of hyperglycemia, productive cough, and malaise for one week (symptom onset 46 days after Hurricane Irma and 33 days after Hurricane Maria). The patient was admitted to the intensive care unit because of community-acquired pneumonia.

The patient was lethargic and had a temperature of 101 deg F [38.3 deg C]; heart rate was 99 beats/min, respiratory rate 22 breaths/min, and blood pressure 142/81 mm Hg. Blood gas testing showed pO2 of 47.6 mm Hg with an oxygen saturation of 87.2% on 2-liter nasal cannula. A chest radiograph showed a left-sided mild infiltrate, and her leukocyte count was markedly increased (28 300 cells/mm3) (Table 2).

The patient was given intravenous ceftriaxone (1 g/d) and azithromycin (500 mg/d) after blood and sputum cultures were prepared. She required bilevel positive airway pressure but eventually required mechanical ventilation. The patient then became hypotensive and required norepinephrine to maintain a main arterial pressure greater than 65 mm Hg. Ceftriaxone was discontinued, and she was given intravenous piperacillin/tazobactam (3.375 g every 6 h). Trimethoprim/sulfamethoxazole- and ceftazidime-sensitive _B. pseudomallei_ were identified from sputum culture after 72 hours (Table 1). Methicillin-sensitive _Staphylococcus aureus_ and _Candida glabrata_ were also identified. One of 2 blood cultures was positive for gram-negative rods. Piperacillin/tazobactam was discontinued, and the patient was given meropenem (1 g every 8 h).

The patient remained critically ill and was transferred to a tertiary-care hospital in the continental USA. She died in a long-term care facility during October 2018 without showing signs of neurologic improvement.

Isolates from both patients showed susceptibility to routinely tested antimicrobial drugs (10,11). Isolates from patient 1 showed resistance to ceftazidime during preliminary analysis (Table 1). However, broth microdilution confirmatory testing performed at CDC indicated ceftazidime susceptibility, highlighting the need for additional antimicrobial resistance confirmation.

Both patients were interviewed to determine travel history and possible exposure sources. Patient 1 traveled occasionally to the southeastern USA; her last travel date was 3 months before her illness. This patient reported flooding and water damage to her home from the hurricanes but did not report contact with flood waters. Patient 2 reported no travel history before the hurricanes.

VIDOH has investigated and confirmed a subsequent case-patient with pulmonary melioidosis in St. Thomas during December 2018 (I. Guendel et al., unpub. data). This case-patient reported no recent travel and might have had occupational exposure as a professional gardener. This person had 2 risk factors (type II diabetes mellitus and heavy use of alcohol).

Conclusions
Given regional occurrence, detection of melioidosis in the US Virgin Islands is not surprising. Furthermore, emergence of melioidosis after extreme weather events has been well documented, and cases were likely acquired locally from storm-related exposure to flooded soil, surface water runoff, or generation of coarse aerosols (12,13). Although detection of _B. pseudomallei_ has yet to be confirmed in the environment, it might be endemic to the US Virgin Islands, as in Puerto Rico.

In January 2018, melioidosis was listed as a reportable disease in the US Virgin Islands. Future actions include disease education efforts for physicians and laboratory staff because misdiagnosis is common (14). Awareness campaigns highlighting preventive measures for the public are necessary because risk factors are prevalent in the local population (e.g., diabetes and other chronic disease) and might be exacerbated under disaster settings (e.g., respiratory effects and open wounds). VIDOH has implemented rapid diagnostic testing by using Active Melioidosis Detect (InBios International, <https://inbios.com>) on suspected specimens for prompt on-island case identification while routine ED diagnostic cultures are performed (5). All confirmatory testing is conducted at CDC.

References
-------
On Request
======================
[This infection is found primarily in southeast Asia and the Northern Territory of Australia. Despite this, cases of melioidosis have been acquired in other parts of the world including the Americas. Flooding from the increasing number of severe tropical storms related to climate change is increasing.

Melioidosis is a disease of the rainy season in its endemic areas. It mainly affects people who have direct contact with soil and water. Many have an underlying predisposing condition such as diabetes (most common risk factor), renal disease, cirrhosis, thalassemia, alcohol dependence, immunosuppressive therapy, chronic obstructive lung disease, cystic fibrosis, and excess kava consumption (kava is an herbal member of the pepper family that can be associated with chronic liver disease).

Melioidosis may present at any age but peaks in the 4th and 5th decades of life, affecting men more than women. In addition, although severe fulminating infection can and does occur in healthy individuals, severe disease and fatalities are much less common in those without risk factors.

The most commonly recognized presentation of melioidosis is pneumonia, associated with high fever, significant muscle aches, and chest pain, and -- although the cough can be nonproductive -- respiratory secretions can be purulent, significant in quantity, and associated with on-and-off bright red blood. The lung infection can be rapidly fatal -- with bacteremia and shock -- or somewhat more indolent.

Acute melioidosis septicaemia is the most severe complication of the infection. It presents as a typical sepsis syndrome with hypotension, high cardiac output, and low systemic vascular resistance. In many cases, a primary focus in the soft tissues or lung can be found. The syndrome, usually in patients with risk factor comorbidities, is characteristically associated with multiple abscesses involving the cutaneous tissues, lung, liver, and spleen, and a very high mortality rate of 80-95%. With prompt optimal therapy, the case fatality rate can be decreased to 40-50%.

The melioidosis bacillus is intrinsically insensitive to many antimicrobials, and in fact, bioterrorism strains may be engineered to be even more resistant. _Burkholderia pseudomallei_ is usually inhibited by tetracyclines, chloramphenicol, trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole (SXT), antipseudomonal penicillins, carbapenems, ceftazidime, and amoxicillin/clavulanate or ampicillin/sulbactam. Ceftriaxone and cefotaxime have good in vitro activity but poor efficacy, and cefepime did not appear, as well, to be equivalent to ceftazidime in a mouse model. The unusual antimicrobial profile of resistance to colistin and polymyxin B and the aminoglycosides but sensitivity to amoxicillin/clavulanate is a useful tool to consider in treatment of infection with the organism.

The randomized and quasi-randomized trials comparing melioidosis treatment have been reviewed, and it was found that the formerly standard therapy of chloramphenicol, doxycycline, and SXT combination had a higher mortality rate than therapy with ceftazidime, imipenem/cilastatin, or amoxicillin/clavulanate (or ampicillin/sulbactam). The betalactam-betalactamase inhibitor therapy, however, seemed to have a higher failure rate.

Source: Tolaney P, Lutwick LI: Melioidosis. In: Lutwick LI, Lutwick SM (eds). Bioterror: the Weaponization of Infectious Diseases. Totowa NJ: Humana Press, 2008. pp 145-58. - ProMED Mod.LL]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map:
US Virgin Islands: <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/479>]
Date: Fri 31 Jan 2014
Source NBC News [edited]

The Explorer of the Seas outbreak was caused by norovirus, one of the worst outbreaks in 20 years, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said. The Explorer of the Seas cruise ship returned to port after hundreds of passengers became ill. Federal health officials confirmed on Friday [31 Jan 2014] that norovirus was the culprit that sickened nearly 700 people on a cruise ship this week, and said it was one of the biggest norovirus outbreaks in 20 years. But the source of the outbreak on the Royal Caribbean ship Explorer of the Seas, which returned early to New Jersey on Wednesday [29 Jan 2014], may never be known, CDC said: "CDC has been investigating the outbreak since last Sunday [26 Jan 2014] but no particular source has been identified and it's quite possible a source won't be identified."

The report comes after passengers streamed off the Caribbean Princess on Friday morning [31 Jan 2014], the 2nd cruise cut short this week amid reports of illness on board. The ship, operated by Princess Cruises, returned to Houston [Texas] a day early with a confirmed outbreak of norovirus. "The ship was forced to return to Houston one day early because we were informed that dense fog was expected to close the port for much of the weekend," the company said in a statement. "The ship did not return early because of the increased incidence of norovirus on board, despite some media reports."

At least 178 people on board became ill during the cruise, according to the cruise line and CDC. Sick patients were quarantined to their rooms, and other passengers said they no longer had access to buffet tongs as crew members handed out hand sanitiser. CDC health officials met the Caribbean Princess at the Bayport Cruise Terminal in Pasadena, Texas. The vessel launched on a 7-day cruise to the western Caribbean on [25 Jan 2014] and had been scheduled to return on Saturday [1 Feb 2014]. Princess Cruises said the outbreak was over by the time the ship returned to Houston. "As a result of our actions, case numbers declined significantly and by the end of the cruise there were no passengers with active symptoms," the company said. "Over the course of the cruise 178 passengers (5.7 per cent) and 11 crew (1 per cent) reported ill to the Medical Center."

CDC officials also helped Royal Caribbean clean up the Explorer of the Seas, and said it had been approved to go back out again with a new batch of passengers Friday afternoon [31 Jan 2014]. Royal Caribbean officials say they cleaned the ship, which carried more than 3000 passengers, 3 times. It's the 3rd cruise ship outbreak to occur this year [2014]. A Norwegian Cruise Line ship, the Norwegian Star, reported that 130 passengers and 12 crew members became ill on 2-week cruise that launched [5 Jan 2014] from Miami.

About 20 million passengers take cruises in the US each year, fuelling a USD 37.8 billion annual industry, according to the American Association of Port Authorities. There were 9 vessel outbreaks in 2013 and 16 in 2012, according to the CDC. Norovirus is a common culprit in outbreaks on cruise ships, in nursing homes, and other confined places. It is a fast-moving gut bug typically spread by infected people or contaminated food or water. Norovirus is the most common cause of acute gastroenteritis in the US, resulting in about 21 million illnesses, between 56 000 and 71 000 hospitalizations and as many as 800 deaths, CDC says.

The virus lingers on surfaces and spreads very easily. Thorough hand washing with hot water and soap and meticulous environmental cleaning can help stop the spread. CDC says it's the season for norovirus. "Norovirus outbreaks wit high attack rates are common during this time of year," the agency said. "Most outbreaks occur between January and April."   [byline: Maggie Fox]
*****
Date: Wed 29 Jan 2014
Source: NBC News [edited]

Beleaguered passengers finally fled a Royal Caribbean cruise ship on Wednesday [29 Jan 2014] after a 10-day vacation cut short by a nasty gut bug that sickened nearly 700 people. One woman aboard the Explorer of the Seas yelled, "We made it!" as the ship docked in Bayonne [New Jersey], 2 days ahead of schedule. Other passengers stood on deck wrapped in blankets to watch the ship pull in. One person was removed from the Explorer of the Seas on a stretcher and taken away by ambulance. Others walked under their own power after the vessel arrived. Several passengers recounted a week full of tension and drama, but also professionalism and care from the cruise line crew.

Still, the ordeal on the 1020-foot ship -- whose relaxing voyage to the US Virgin Islands was thwarted by suspected norovirus -- may linger a little longer for people still showing signs of the fast-moving infection, health officials said. "We have passengers who are still exhibiting active disease," said Burnadette Burden, a spokeswoman for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. People who are still sick may be too ill to travel home -- and too contagious to use public transportation like trains and buses, health experts say. Royal Caribbean officials said Wednesday [29 Jan 2014] that they'd pay for hotels or make sure that ill passengers get additional medical care. "Should a guest feel sick enough that they want to go to the hospital, we will arrange for transportation," Royal Caribbean spokeswoman Cynthia Martinez said in an email. "We will work with the small number of guests that still feel ill to make them as comfortable as possible."

At least 630 of the ship's 3071 passengers and at least 54 of the 1166 crew members came down with diarrhea and vomiting -- classic signs of norovirus. Most of the cases occurred early in the cruise, which left New Jersey on [21 Jan 2014], and many passengers had already recovered. It's hard to say that the outbreak was the worst on record because of inconsistencies in record-keeping. But it's a bad one, Burden said. "It would be fair to say this is one of the largest numbers in the last 20 years or so," she said. One of the closest outbreaks to compare occurred in 2006, when a Carnival Cruise ship, the Carnival Liberty, was hit with an outbreak of norovirus that sickened 679 passengers and crew on a November trip to the US Virgin Islands.

CDC officials have not confirmed that norovirus is the culprit on the Explorer of the Seas, though it's a common cause of illness on cruise ships. Officials said testing was delayed by a treacherous winter snowstorm that closed the agency's Atlanta headquarters and results aren't expected until Friday [31 Jan 2014]. But if it is the germ, it's highly contagious for the one to 2 days when people are actively sick -- and for a few days afterward. The virus actually lingers in people's stool for 2 weeks or more, according to the CDC. That means that anyone who fell ill -- and those who were around them -- should pay extra attention to washing their hands and other kinds of cleanliness, said Dr Ruth Lynfield, outgoing head of the public health committee of the Infectious Diseases Society of America.

Cleanliness will be the key for the cruise line, too. Officials said they plan another scrub, a so-called "barrier sanitation" program to ensure that any remaining traces of illness are removed from the ship. Norovirus is a notoriously difficult bug to eradicate, health experts say. "It will be the 3rd aggressive sanitizing procedure the ship has undertaken since we became aware of the issue, and will additionally provide a window of more than 24 hours where there are no persons aboard the ship," officials said in a statement.   [byline: JoNel Aleccia]
******
Date: Fri 31 Jan 2014
Source: CDC, National Center for Environmental Health, Division of
Emergency and Environmental Health Services, Vessel Sanitation Program (VSP) [edited]

Cruise ship: Explorer of the Seas -- voyage dates: 21-31 Jan 2014
-----------------------------------------------------------------
- number of passengers who reported being ill during the voyage out of total number of passengers onboard: 634 of 3071 (20.6 per cent)
- number of crew who reported being ill during the voyage out of total number of crew onboard: 55 of 1166 (4.7 per cent)
- predominant symptoms: vomiting, diarrhea
- Causative agent: Norovirus

Actions: in response to the outbreak, Royal Caribbean Cruise Line and the crew aboard the ship took the following actions:
- increasing cleaning and disinfection procedures according to their outbreak prevention and response plan;
- making announcements to both notify onboard passengers of the outbreak and encourage case reporting;
- collecting stool specimens from ill passengers and crew for submission to the CDC lab;
- making multiple daily reports of gastrointestinal illness cases to the VSP [Vessel Sanitation Program];
- preparing additional crew members to join the ship mid-voyage to assist with case management and intensified sanitation procedures;
- consulting with CDC on plans for: passenger notification procedures and the planned delayed embarkation schedule in Bayonne, NJ on [31 Jan 2014], and disembarkation plans for active cases, terminal, and transport infection control procedures.

One CDC Vessel Sanitation Program epidemiologist, one contract epidemiologist, and one VSP environmental health officer boarded the ship in St Thomas, [US Virgin Islands] and are sailing on the ship as it travels back to port in New Jersey. This team is conducting an epidemiologic investigation, environmental health assessment, and evaluating the outbreak and response activities on board. One additional CDC Vessel Sanitation Program environmental health officer will board the ship upon arrival on [29 Jan 2014] to assist with the evaluation of the disinfection process. The team will continue the investigation and evaluation on the ship thru the boarding of new passengers for the next voyage. 5 clinical specimens were shipped to the CDC lab for testing on [26 Jan 2014].
**************************
Date: Fri 31 Jan 2014
Source: CDC, National Center for Environmental Health, Division of
Emergency and Environmental Health Services, Vessel Sanitation Program (VSP) [edited]

Cruise ship: Caribbean Princess -- voyage dates: 25 Jan-1 Feb 2014
------------------------------------------------------------------
- number of passengers who reported being ill during the voyage out of total number of passengers onboard: 181 of 3102 (5.8 per cent)
- number of crew who reported being ill during the voyage out of total number of crew onboard: 11 of 1148 (0.96 per cent)
- predominant symptoms: vomiting, diarrhea
- causative agent: Norovirus

Actions: in response to the outbreak, Princess Cruise Lines and the crew aboard the ship took the following actions:
- increasing cleaning and disinfection procedures according to their outbreak prevention and response plan;
- making announcements to both notify onboard passengers of the outbreak and encourage case reporting;
- collecting stool specimens from ill passengers and crew for submission to the CDC lab. Samples tested with the vessel's onboard rapid norovirus test were positive for norovirus. The specimens will be sent to the CDC lab for confirmatory analysis;
- making multiple daily reports of gastrointestinal illness cases to the VSP;
- consulting with CDC on plans for: passenger notification procedures and the planned delayed embarkation schedule in Houston, TX on [1 Feb 2014], and disembarkation plans for active cases, and terminal and transport infection control procedures.

Two CDC Vessel Sanitation Program environmental health officers will board the ship in Houston, TX on [31 Jan and 1 Feb 2014] to conduct an epidemiologic investigation, environmental health assessment, and evaluate the outbreak and response activities. Specimens are being collected and will be sent to the CDC lab for testing.
=====================
[ProMED-mail does not normally report outbreaks of norovirus-related gastroenteritis because of their ubiquity during the winter months. (Hence the alternate designation 'winter vomiting bug'). Norovirus infection is very contagious and can be contracted from an infected person, contaminated food or water, or by touching contaminated surfaces. The virus causes acute gastroenteritis with stomach pain, nausea, and diarrhea and vomiting. Anyone can be infected with norovirus and acquire norovirus illness repeatedly throughout life. Norovirus is the commonest cause of acute gastroenteritis in the United States. Each year, it causes 19-21 million cases and contributes to 56 000-71 000 hospitalizations and 570-800 deaths. Norovirus is also the commonest cause of foodborne disease outbreaks in the United States. There's no vaccine to prevent norovirus infection and no drug to treat it.

Norovirus illness is usually not serious. Most people get better in 1 to 3 days. But norovirus illness can be serious in young children, the elderly, and people with other health conditions. It can lead to severe dehydration, hospitalisation but rarely death. Most outbreaks of norovirus illness happen when infected people spread the virus to others. But, norovirus can also spread by consumption of contaminated food or water and by touching contaminated surfaces.

Health care facilities, including nursing homes and hospitals, are the most commonly reported places for norovirus outbreaks in the United States. Over half of all norovirus outbreaks reported in the United States occur in long-term care facilities. Outbreaks of norovirus illness appear to be occurring more frequently in cruise ships and similar environments. - ProMed Mod.CP]

[A HealthMap/ProMED-mail map can be accessed at:
<http://healthmap.org/r/8vcv>.]
Date: Tue 13 Dec 2011
Source: Virgin Islands Daily News [edited]

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC] has linked 5 past cases of Legionnaires' disease -- reported between March 2010 and August 2011 -- with stays at Marriott's Frenchman's Reef and Morning Star Beach Resort and Marriott's Frenchman's Cove [in Saint Thomas], prompting remediation work to the resorts' water systems. The VI [Virgin Islands] Health Department has been "working closely" with a team of CDC specialists to monitor the remediation efforts at the resorts, after an investigation into the 5 past cases, according to a statement the Health Department released Monday [12 Dec 2012].

The illness was found in stateside residents who had been guests at the resorts, said Health Department spokeswoman Eunice Bedminster. They required hospitalization but have since recovered, she said. There have been no reports of employees affected at either site, according to the Health Department statement.

The statement indicates that Frenchman's Reef and Morningstar Beach Resort has hired a consultant who led a cleaning project of the affected areas and treated the water system. Test results show no existence of _Legionella_ bacteria, although the Health Department statement said the test results have not yet been evaluated independently by the CDC.

The Health [Department] had asked the resorts to notify those who could potentially be affected by the bacteria: guests and employees, Bedminster said. The properties asked for an extension on a deadline that had been set, and it was granted, but the deadlines passed last week [week of 5 Dec 2011] without the notification to guests and employees going out, Bedminster said. She did not know if, after the deadline, the properties had made the requested notifications, she said.

The hotel provided The Daily News with a written statement that did not address guest notification: "Marriott takes hotel hygiene and cleanliness very seriously. As soon as we were notified of the possibility of the presence of _Legionella_ bacteria we immediately began to work with the USVI Department of Health (DOH) to address the situation. The Frenchman's Reef and Morning Star Beach Resorts hired a consultant who led a cleaning project of affected areas and the treatment of the water system. The latest test results taken after the implementation of these measures show no existence of _Legionella_ bacteria in the samples tested. We have complied with the recommendations provided by the DOH, and we have successfully addressed the issue at the resort. The DOH has allowed the hotel to remain fully open for business and welcome our guests."

The Daily News spoke with Marriott Frenchman's Reef and Morning Star Beach Resort General Manager Jose Gonzalez Espinosa by phone and asked for comment on the Health Department's assertion that the resort did not make the notifications it was supposed to make by the deadline. Gonzalez would not answer the questions unless they were in writing. The Daily News has a policy against submitting questions in writing because written Q and A stifles and slows follow-up and response. The resort underwent a major renovation during the summer, closing 3 May 2011 and reopening on 6 Oct 2011.

Legionnaires' disease is a pneumonia caused by the _Legionella_ bacteria, which live in warm water supplies, said Dr Lauri Hicks, a medical epidemiologist with the CDC. The bacteria that cause the disease do not pass from person to person. "It really requires exposure to water aerosol that contains _Legionella_," she said, Exposure may occur from showering or with time spent in a whirlpool or hot tub where the bacteria that lead to Legionnaires' disease are present, Hicks said.

Only a fraction of people -- typically those with certain risk factors, such as compromised immune systems -- exposed to the bacteria become ill, she said.

According to the Health Department statement, from 2000 through 2009, a total of 22 418 cases of legionellosis were reported to CDC from the 50 states and the District of Columbia. The CDC informed the Health Department in October [2011] of the 5 Legionnaires' disease cases among past guests at the resorts, and the Health Department asked for the agency's help in investigating. From 18 to 22 Oct 2011, CDC specialists conducted testing, and the properties were alerted about the possible _Legionella_ contamination, Bedminster said. On 3 Nov 2011, the Health Department notified each property of the CDC's conclusive findings and ordered them to immediately work on their water systems, including cleansing, superheating, chlorinating, and hiring a private consultant experienced in eliminating _Legionella_ from building water systems, according to the release. More than 6 weeks later, the Health Department notified the public with the statement it released Monday [12 Dec 2011].

Bedminster said that there had been no delay -- and that remediation work began immediately. "We have worked in good faith with both the resorts during what I have said was a monitoring process. We had some agreed-upon deadlines that had not been met, so we had to let the public know," she said.

Bedminster said that Health Department officials had discussed the possibility of enforcement actions with the Department of Labor and the Department of Planning and Natural Resources to get those deadlines met, but she did not know the outcome of the discussions. "Safeguarding the public's health, including that of employees and guests, from exposure and threats are of the utmost importance to the Department of Health," acting Health Commissioner Mercedes Dullum said in the prepared statement. "DOH will continue to monitor this situation with assistance from the CDC. People should not be discouraged from traveling to or within the US Virgin Islands."  [Byline: Joy Blackburn]
---------------------------------------------
Communicated by:
Denis Green
denis@gatesit.com.au
=======================
[The following has been extracted from the US CDC document Travel-Associated Legionnaires' Disease (<http://www.cdc.gov/legionella/faq.htm>):

"About 20-25 percent of all Legionnaires' disease reported to CDC is travel-associated. Legionnaires' disease is important to diagnose and to report because its identification implies the presence of an environmental source to which other susceptible individuals are likely to be exposed. Clusters of Legionnaires' disease associated with travel to hotels or aboard cruise ships are rarely detected by individual clinicians or health departments; travelers typically disperse from the source of infection before developing symptoms. Therefore, a travel history should be actively sought from patients with community-acquired pneumonia and _Legionella_ testing should be performed for those who have traveled in the 2 weeks before onset of symptoms.

"_Because of the multi-state nature of travel in the US, national-level surveillance is necessary to detect outbreaks of travel-associated Legionnaires' disease. CDC relies upon state and local health departments to conduct this surveillance. Surveillance through the National Notifiable Diseases Surveillance System (NNDSS) is still important for monitoring national trends; all cases should be reported through NNDSS."

"Because of the public health importance of timely reporting, inform CDC of travel-associated cases by emailing about the patient's movements in the 2-10 days before onset."

"Environmental sampling/testing should only be conducted after careful consideration of the epidemiologic evidence linking a case(s) to a particular location."

The following article is linked to the CDC document: Barbaree JM, et al: Protocol for Sampling Environmental Sites for Legionellae. Applied Environmental Microbiol 1987; 53(7): 1454-8 (<http://www.cdc.gov/legionella/files/sampling_protocol1987.pdf>): "Since legionellae not related to disease may be found in many of the sites sampled, an epidemiologic association with the probable source should be established before intervention methods, such as disinfection, are undertaken."

"Random sampling without an epidemiologic evaluation and comparing isolates from the environment and from patients could lead to false conclusions about sources of epidemic strains."

Potential environmental sampling sites for _Legionella_ spp that the CDC document suggests include: internal surfaces of faucets, aerators, and shower heads; and water from incoming water main, holding tanks and cisterns, water heater tanks, decorative fountains, irrigation equipment, fire sprinkler system (if recently used), whirlpools, and spas. Because _Legionella_ may be found in water supplies without linkage to any cases, the actual causative source should be demonstrated by matching the genotype of the environmental isolates with that of any clinical isolates to assure frequently costly corrective measures are carried out on the actual source (<http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC86783/>; and <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2730281/>).

The Virgin Islands are located in the Leeward Islands of the Lesser Antilles, which form the border between the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. Politically, the eastern islands form the British Virgin Islands and the western ones form the United States Virgin Islands. The US Virgin Islands consist of the main islands of Saint Croix, Saint John, and Saint Thomas (<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Virgin_Islands >). They can be seen on the HealthMap/ProMED-mail interactive map at <http://healthmap.org/r/1xng>. - ProMed Mod.ML]
Date: Sat 18 Sep 2010
Source: Virgin Islands Daily News [edited]
<http://virginislandsdailynews.com/dengue-outbreak-confirmed-in-1.1018284>

After 19 cases of suspected dengue fever -- and at least one death -- reported in the St Thomas-St John District, the VI Health Department issued a statement Friday [17 Sep 2010] saying that the district is experiencing a dengue fever outbreak. According to the Health Department statement released [Fri 17 Sep 2010], 9 of the 19 suspected cases have been laboratory-confirmed as dengue fever in the St Thomas-St John District since June [2010]. On St Croix, there have been 4 suspected cases with no confirmed cases. There is no requirement in the territory that people with suspected dengue fever undergo testing to confirm whether or not they have the mosquito-borne virus, said Health Department epidemiologist Eugene Tull.

His experience with a 2005 outbreak on St Croix leads him to believe that the number of dengue cases this year [2010] is higher than reported, Tull said, adding that he is now receiving anecdotal information about more cases in the community. According to the release, the strain causing the current outbreak is [dengue virus] type 2, which was responsible for the 2005 outbreak on St Croix.
================
[An interactive HealthMap/ProMED-mail map showing the location of the Virgin Islands in the Caribbean can be accessed at
<http://healthmap.org/r/01tp>. - ProMed Mod.TY]
Date: Fri 27 Aug 2010
Source: Virgin Islands Daily News [edited]
<http://virginislandsdailynews.com/news/dengue-fever-possible-cause-of-death-of-st-john-woman-1.977556>

A St John woman who was transferred last week [week of 16 Aug 2010] to a Miami hospital with possible dengue fever symptoms died there 20 Aug [2010] from complications, her husband said. VI [Virgin Islands] Health Department epidemiologist Eugene Tull said earlier this week [week of 23 Aug 2010] that he had no information about a possible death from dengue fever.

Health Department spokeswoman Eunice Bedminster said Thursday [26 Aug 2010] that the department was not aware of any deaths from the territory's dengue fever cases but had been investigating since receiving inquiries from reporters Monday [23 Aug 2010].

Tull said earlier this week that so far this year [2010], there have been 8 confirmed, laboratory positive cases of dengue fever in the territory, 3 probable cases with lab results pending, and 15 suspected cases. All of those were in the St Thomas/St John District, except for 2 of the suspected cases, which were on St Croix, he said. [Byline: Joy Blackburn]
=====================
[The attribution of the woman's death to dengue virus infection is speculative. ProMED-mail awaits confirmation (or not) as further information becomes available. It is clear, however, that locally acquired dengue virus infections are occurring there.

Maps showing the location of the US Virgin Islands can be accessed at <http://www.worldatlas.com/webimage/countrys/carib.htm>. and the HealthMap/ProMED-mail interactive map at <http://healthmap.org/r/01tp> - ProMed Mod.TY]
More ...

World Travel News Headlines

Date: Mon, 14 Oct 2019 11:08:10 +0200 (METDST)

Manila, Oct 14, 2019 (AFP) - Parents lined up from sunrise holding sleeping infants as the Philippines launched a campaign on Monday to vaccinate millions of children against polio, which has re-emerged nearly two decades after the nation's last cases.   Years of falling vaccination rates, made worse by the botched rollout of a dengue vaccine, culminated in an outbreak of the preventable disease in September.   "This is for the welfare of my child," Ruth Miranda told AFP after the vaccine was squirted into her child's mouth at the Manila slum they call home.

Miranda's child is among scores who are unprotected in the capital of about 13 million people, where vaccination rates of young children plunged from 77 percent in 2016 to a mere 24 percent in June.   The atmosphere at the event in Manila was festive -- with ice cream vendors and music -- but the stakes for the campaign are high.

Polio, which can cause paralysis and can be fatal in rare cases, has no cure and can only be prevented with several doses of oral and injectable vaccines.   Two cases were detected in September, the first polio infections in the Philippines since 2001, adding to the woes of a country already hit by deadly measles and dengue epidemic.   The risk of the disease spreading within the Philippines is high, according to World Health Organization, due to low immunisation coverage partly blamed to a dengue vaccine scandal.

The Philippines was the first nation to use Dengvaxia in a mass programme in 2016, but a botched rollout led to claims that children had died after being vaccinated.   A dramatic drop in vaccine confidence followed, with trust plunging from 93 percent in 2015 to 32 percent in 2018, according to a study led by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.   The Philippines polio outbreak has been traced back to the weakened form of the virus used in vaccines, which is excreted by people for a time after they receive it.   According to the WHO, that form can mutate and spread in the surrounding community when immunisation rates get too low.
Date: Mon, 14 Oct 2019 10:25:38 +0200 (METDST)
By Shingo ITO, Sara HUSSEIN

Tokyo, Oct 14, 2019 (AFP) - Tens of thousands of rescue workers in Japan battled on Monday to find survivors of a powerful typhoon that killed at least 43 people, as fresh rain threatened to hamper efforts.   Typhoon Hagibis crashed into the country on Saturday night, unleashing high winds and torrential rain across 36 of the country's 47 prefectures, and triggering landslides and catastrophic flooding.   "Even now, many people are still unaccounted for in the disaster-hit area," Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told an emergency disaster meeting on Monday.   "Units are trying their best to search for and rescue them, working day and night," Abe said.

But even as rescuers, including troops, combed through debris, the country's weather agency forecast rain in central and eastern Japan that it warned could cause further flooding and new landslides.   "I would like to ask people to stay fully vigilant and continue watching for landslides and river flooding," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference.   In Nagano, one of the worst-hit regions, rain was already falling and was expect to intensify.   "We are concerned about the impact of the latest rain on rescue and recovery efforts," local official Hiroki Yamaguchi told AFP.   "We will continue operations while watching out for secondary disasters due to the current rain."

- 43 dead, 16 missing: NHK -
By late Monday afternoon, national broadcaster NHK said the toll had risen to 43 dead, with 16 others missing and over 200 people injured. The government gave lower figures but was continuing to update its information.   The dead included a municipal worker whose car was overcome by floodwaters and at least seven crew from a cargo ship that sank in Tokyo Bay on Saturday night, a coast guard spokesman said.   Four others, from China, Myanmar and Vietnam, were rescued when the boat sank and the coast guard was still searching for a last crew member.   While Hagibis, one of the most powerful storms to hit the Tokyo area in decades, packed wind gusts of up to 216 kilometres (134 miles) per hour, it was the heavy rains that caused most damage.

A total of 142 rivers flooded, mainly in eastern and northern Japan, with river banks collapsing in two dozen places, local media said.   In central Nagano, a levee breach sent water from the Chikuma river gushing into residential neighbourhoods, flooding homes up to the second floor.   As water slowly receded Monday, television footage showed patients being transferred by ambulance from a Nagano hospital where some 200 people had been cut off by flooding.   Elsewhere, rescuers used helicopters to winch survivors from roofs and balconies, or steered boats through muddy waters to reach those trapped.

- Japan dedicates rugby win to victims -
By Monday afternoon, some 75,900 households remained without power, with 120,000 experiencing water outages.   The disaster left tens of thousands of people in shelters, with many unsure when they would be able to return home.   "Everything from my house was washed away before my eyes, I wasn't sure if it was a dream or real," a woman in Nagano told NHK.   "I feel lucky I'm still alive."   The storm brought travel chaos over the holiday weekend, grounding flights and halting commuter and bullet train services.

By Monday, most subway trains had resumed service, along with many bullet train lines, and flights had also restarted.   The storm also brought havoc to the sporting world, forcing the delay of Japanese Grand Prix qualifiers and the cancellation of three Rugby World Cup matches.   But a crucial decider pitting Japan against Scotland went ahead, with the hosts dedicating their stunning 28-21 win to the victims of the disaster.   "To everyone that's suffering from the typhoon, this game was for you guys," said Japan captain Michael Leitch.
Date: Sun, 13 Oct 2019 23:31:57 +0200 (METDST)

Kinshasa, Oct 13, 2019 (AFP) - Doctors will use a second Ebola vaccine from November in three eastern provinces in the Democratic Republic of Congo to fight the deadly virus, medical officials said Sunday.   "It's time to use the new Ad26-ZEBOV-GP vaccine, manufactured by Johnson & Johnson's Belgian subsidiary," said Dr. Jean-Jacques Muyembe, who leads the national anti-Ebola operation in the DRC.    It will arrive in the eastern city of Goma, in North Kivu province, on October 18 and be used from the beginning of next month, he added.   DRC's latest Ebola epidemic, which began in August 2018, has killed 2,144 people, making it the second deadliest outbreak of the virus, after the West Africa pandemic of 2014-2016.

Muyembe said the communes of Majingo and Kahembe had been selected to receive the vaccine as they were considered the epicentres of the epidemic.   "We will extend this vaccination to our small traders who often go to Rwanda to protect our neighbours," he added.   "If it works well, we will expand vaccination in South Kivu and Ituri."   DR Congo's eastern provinces of Ituri, North Kivu and South Kivu sit on the borders with Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi.   The Belgian laboratory will send a batch of 200,000 doses to neighbouring Rwanda and 500,000 doses in the DRC, Muyembe said.   More than 237,000 people living in active Ebola transmission zones have received a vaccination produced by the pharma company Merck Sharpe and Dohme since August 8, 2018. 

The J&J vaccine had been rejected by DRC's former health minister Oly Ilunga, who cited the risks of introducing a new product in communities where mistrust of Ebola responders is already high.   But Ilunga's resignation in July appears to have paved the way for approval of the second vaccine. He currently faces charges that he embezzled funds intended for the fight against Ebola.   In his letter of resignation Ilunga said "actors who have demonstrated a lack of ethics" want to introduce a second vaccine, but did not elaborate.    Muyembe, who took over the Ebola fight in the DRC in July, said "The Johnson & Johnson vaccine has the most science-based data."
Date: Thu, 10 Oct 2019 20:02:59 +0200 (METDST)
By Robbie COREY-BOULET

Addis Ababa, Oct 10, 2019 (AFP) - A palace that once housed Ethiopia's emperors and also served as a torture site under the communist Derg regime is to open to the public in a controversial government tourism project.    The palace compound in Addis Ababa, which Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed's government has rebranded "Unity Park", was formally launched Thursday and will be open from Friday.    Abiy's office said on Twitter Thursday that the project "symbolises our ability to come together".

But critics have dismissed it as vanity project for Abiy that could prove divisive.   Backed by the United Arab Emirates, the project cost more than $160 million (145 million euros), Ethiopian officials told reporters at a briefing earlier this week.    Built in the late 1800s by Emperor Menelik II, who founded Addis Ababa, the palace was the residence of Ethiopia's rulers for more than a century.   Abiy himself does not live there, and it has seen little activity in recent years.    Abiy's advisers say he has taken a keen interest in transforming the palace into a tourist attraction since coming to power in April 2018 -- visiting the site every day in recent weeks to monitor progress.

The government's "Home-Grown Economic Reform" agenda, unveiled last month, describes tourism as a primary engine of potential job creation.    On Thursday, government officials and the diplomatic corps toured the expansive site before attending a banquet that was expected to draw five regional heads of state and other dignitaries.    The restored rooms feature items like Menelik's sword and a life-size wax replica of former Emperor Haile Selassie, who lived at the palace and was then etained there after the Derg overthrew him in 1974.

The site also includes a sculpture garden with installations representing Ethiopia's nine regions, and a zoo is expected to open by the end of the year.    Aklilu Fikresilassie, an Ethiopian employee of the United Nations who attended the launch Thursday, said he was "really fascinated" to set foot inside a place that had been closed to the public his entire life.    "For us it's like a government house, so now when you enter that palace it tells you that we are getting somehow closer to our leaders," he said.

But not everyone is convinced the palace will succeed in bringing Ethiopians together.   In a country grappling with ethnic divisions, some worry that the palace could alienate ethnic Oromos who contend that their ancestors were forced off their land when Addis Ababa was built.    Journalist and former political prisoner Eskinder Nega said the renovations were undertaken "without consultation from the public", which he called "a huge mistake."    "This is all about heritage, about preserving heritage. The people should have had a say in it," he said.    "Like everything else this was decided from the top and implemented only by the decision of the prime minister."
Date: Thu, 10 Oct 2019 13:13:57 +0200 (METDST)

Hanoi, Oct 10, 2019 (AFP) - Selfie-snapping tourists railed against the closure of Hanoi's 'train street' on Thursday after police blocked off the Instragram-famous tracks for safety reasons.   The narrow railway corridor in central Hanoi has become a hotspot among visitors seeking the perfect holiday snap on the tracks -- often dodging trains that rumble through daily.    But Hanoi authorities said this week they would block people from the tracks to avoid accidents, and police on Thursday erected barricades to keep out disappointed visitors.    "I'm very frustrated because today I can't go in and take a picture," Malaysian tourist Mustaza bin Mustapha told AFP, vowing to come back later.

Dozens of other tourists were turned away, though some managed to get onto still-open sections of the railway, moving out of the way as an afternoon train chugged past.    Built by former colonial rulers, the railway once shipped goods and people across France's former Indochina colony and remains in use today by communist Vietnam's state-run railway company.    The stretch of the tracks was once known as a rough part of town, occupied by drug users and squatters until their recent discovery by camera-wielding holidaymakers who have splashed images of the area across social media.

Cafe owners complained that business would be hurt thanks to the new regulations, and that tourists always moved out of the way for oncoming trains.   "There has never been any regretful accidents here," said Le Tuan Anh, who runs a cafe from his home along the tracks.   "Compared to traffic density elsewhere in the city, this is much safer," he said, referring to Hanoi's chaotic, motorbike-clogged streets.   New signs were installed in the area Thursday, warning passersby not to take photos or videos in the "dangerous area", much to the chagrin of British tourist Harriet Hayes.   "People come from all over the world to Hanoi just to see the train go past," she told AFP.   "It's such a shame that we come and have been told that we have to leave."
Date: Thu, 10 Oct 2019 06:51:42 +0200 (METDST)
By Holly ROBERTSON

Sydney, Oct 10, 2019 (AFP) - Large numbers of tourists are rushing to scale Uluru -- also known as Ayers Rock -- ahead of a looming ban on climbing a site sacred to indigenous Australians.   Photographs of hundreds of people clambering up the giant red monolith have provoked a social media backlash, with critics lashing as "ignorant" those going against the wishes of the traditional Aboriginal owners of the land, the Anangu.   "A mass of morally and ethically bankrupt people," indigenous woman Laura McBride tweeted alongside an image showing a queue of people snaking up the side of Uluru.    "One even hiking a toddler up, teaching the next generation how to be ignorant."   "Imagine rushing to climb Uluru before it closes just so you could brag about disrespecting the oldest living culture in the world," tweeted National Indigenous Television journalist Madeline Hayman-Reber, who called the scenes "embarrassing".

Officials say the ban, which comes into effect on October 26, is intended to show respect for cultural practices, protect the site from further environmental damage and to ensure visitors' safety.    More than 395,000 people visited the Uluru-Kata National Park in the 12 months to June 2019, according to Parks Australia, about 20 percent more than the previous year. Around 13 percent of those who visited during that period made the climb, park authorities said.    More recent figures are not available but Tourism Central Australia CEO Stephen Schwer said there had been a "significant jump" in the number of people visiting in recent weeks, with the period leading up to the ban coinciding in part with school holidays.   "Its been very busy, particularly down in the national park precinct itself," he told AFP.   "We've had quite an issue with accommodation availability, because there's a lot of people want to climb Uluru before it closes. It's been a busier than normal holiday period."   Japanese visitors and Australians on driving holidays were most likely to want to scale Uluru, Schwer said, though he urged them not to do so.

Australian tourist Belinda Moore, 33, drove to Uluru from her home in central Queensland state to ascend the rock, an experience she said she "absolutely loved".   "It's always been something to tick off the bucket list and when we heard it was closing, we knew it was now or never," she told AFP.   Moore said she did not think her climb was disrespectful to traditional owners as she was not Aboriginal.    "It may be for their own people, because it's their sacred site," she said.   "I'm pretty sad that they're closing it, but it's still amazing just to see it. I would still recommend it."   The climb will be permanently closed as of October 26, the anniversary of ownership being handed back to the Anangu people.

Uluru has great spiritual and cultural significance to indigenous Australians, with their connection to the site dating back tens of thousands of years.   Though visitor numbers were expected to decline once the ban was in place, Schwer said local tourism operators were "not particularly concerned" as it would return the area to normality.   "People need to remember that in central Australia we're a very interconnected community," he said. "The people who are requesting the climb closure are our friends and colleagues.   "We're just looking forward to being able to have the climb consigned to the annals of history."
Date: Wed, 9 Oct 2019 22:01:17 +0200 (METDST)

Kinshasa, Oct 9, 2019 (AFP) - Six people were killed in the Democratic Republic of Congo after torrential rains hit the capital Kinshasa, flooding several neighbourhoods. a local official said.    The bodies were found between Tuesday night and Wednesday morning.    Five people were killed in the capital's Selembao municipality where around 30 houses collapsed, local mayor Augustin Mankesi told Top Congo radio station.   One woman died in the Pelende district after she was electrocuted, he added.    "Our community is stricken," Mankesi added, calling on the Congolese authorities for help.   Fatal floods and rains are frequent in Kinshasa. In January last year 48 people were killed in landslides, floods and after houses collapsed, according to authorities.    Residents told AFP the road from the sea port district of Matadi to the Kinshasa turnoff has been closed due to erosion caused by the rain.    The passage is Kinshasa's main supply route for imported goods and also serves as an exit point for exports.
Date: Tue, 8 Oct 2019 04:13:25 +0200 (METDST)
By Margioni BERMÚDEZ

Caracas, Oct 8, 2019 (AFP) - The small waiting room at the home of self-styled healer "Brother Guayanes" in Caracas' rundown Petare district fills up quickly with patients -- business has never been better.   With Venezuela's chronic medicine shortages and hyperinflation, more and more people are turning to alternative medicine to treat common ailments in the crisis-wracked South American country.   "We go to the hospital and there's nothing there. They don't have medicines, or they're too expensive, what are we to do?" said Rosa Saez, 77, who has come to get treatment for a painful arm.   Carlos Rosales -- he uses the more ceremonious "Brother Guayanes" for his business -- is finishing up a "spiritual intervention" on a patient in what passes for his surgery.   The patient lies, eyes closed, on a cot as, in a series of swishes and clicks, the healer waves five pairs of scissors one after another over his prone body.    The healer says he performs 200 such interventions a week in a dim, candle-lit room that features two camp beds and an array of plaster statues that Rosales says represent "spiritual entities".   A regular visitor to the spiritual center, Saez says she has faith in Rosales' methods: "He healed my kidneys."

- Natural healing -
All across Venezuela, but particularly in poor areas like Petare, patients cannot hope to afford the price of medicines that due to the economic crisis, have become exceedingly rare.  Venezuela's pharmacists' federation say pharmacies and hospitals have on average only about 20 percent of the medicine stock needed.   Rosales' clinic is muggy with the smell of tobacco. A crucifix suspended from a chain around his neck, he practices a seeming mixture of smoke-blowing shamanism, plant-based medicine and mainstream religion.    Posters hung near the entrance remind clients to arrive with a candle and tobacco and "Don't forget that payment is in cash".   Much like a general practitioner, Rosales spends time consulting with his patients, examining them with a stethoscope, before offering a diagnosis. Often he prescribes potions based on plants and fruit, such as pineapple and a type of local squash known as chayote.   "We know medicines are necessary," he says. "I'm not against medicine, but my medicine is botany."

- Plants replace drugs -
At her stall in a downtown Caracas market, 72-year-old Lilia Reyes says she has seen her trade in medicinal plants flourish.   "I can't keep up with the demand," she said at her stall, bathed in the aroma of camomile, one of the 150 plants she sells.   Careless consumption of some herbs can be deadly, warns Grismery Morillo. A doctor at a Caracas public hospital, she says she has seen many cases of acute liver failure in people who have eaten certain roots.   According to Venezuela's opposition parties, some 300,000 chronically ill people are in danger of dying from the shortages of medicines.

But despite the risks, people like Carmen Teresa say they have no alternative.    In the kitchen of her restaurant which closed down three years ago as the economic crisis took hold, the 58-year-old Colombian prepares an infusion of fig leaves to treat "diabetic neuropathy".   The painkillers needed for the condition are "too expensive" and prices are going up due to hyperinflation, so she is cutting back on the pills and supplementing her treatment with herbal infusions.   She needs at least four tablets a day to keep her diabetes at bay. Her mother, bedridden since breaking a leg a year ago, suffers from Alzheimer's disease and needs five pills a day for hypertension.   "I'm still taking my pills, but I reduced the dose," says Teresa, who is also replacing cholesterol pills with lemon juice.
Date: Sun, 6 Oct 2019 12:04:37 +0200 (METDST)

Riyadh, Oct 6, 2019 (AFP) - Saudi Arabia announced Sunday it would allow unmarried foreign couples to rent hotel rooms together as the ultraconservative kingdom begins offering up tourist visas for the first time.   The tourism authority said in a statement published on Twitter that Saudi women travelling alone would also be able to check into a hotel by presenting valid ID.

In the past, couples wanting to stay in a hotel had to prove they were married.    "This is no longer required for tourists," the statement said.   Saudi Arabia announced on September 27 it was opening its doors to holidaymakers with the goal of diversifying its oil-dependent economy.   The kingdom had previously only issued visas to Muslim pilgrims, foreign workers, and recently to spectators at sporting or cultural events.

Kickstarting tourism is one of the centrepieces of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's Vision 2030 reform programme to prepare the biggest Arab economy for a post-oil era.   Citizens from 49 countries are now eligible for online e-visas or visas on arrival, including the United States, Australia and several European nations.   On September 28, Saudi authorities warned that tourists who violated "public decency", including with immodest clothing and public displays of affection, would be subject to fines.
Date: Sat, 5 Oct 2019 03:30:17 +0200 (METDST)
By Giovanna FLEITAS

Petorca, Chile, Oct 5, 2019 (AFP) - For Erick Hurtado, the worst thing about the drought that has devastated his family farm in Chile is the dead animals.   "Going out and seeing the animals dead on the ground is so horrible," Hurtado says as he gazes across the dusty paddocks of his farm in Petorca, near the coastal city of Valparaiso.

Farmers are counting the cost of one of the driest austral winters in six decades, which has destroyed crops and left tens of thousands of farm animals dead in the fields of central Chile.   Hurtado's farm, owned by his grandfather, has lost half its 60 head of cattle.   So far, 106,000 animals have died due to lack of water and fodder, mostly goats, cattle and sheep, according to the agriculture ministry.   President Sebastian Pinera, who last month announced a $5 billion plan to improve water distribution, this week set up a crisis group of government agencies to tackle the water crisis, which he said had become "more extensive and more intense."

In Colina, north of the capital Santiago, the drought has been hard on small farmers. Scrawny cattle pick at sprigs of strawy grass on pastures that have turned to dust. Cows, goats and horses roam hungry on hills have turned to a dry muddy brown.   "The drought has been disastrous for us," said Sandra Aguilar. Her family owned about a hundred head of cattle. Today, only half survive thanks to a trickle of water provided by a neighbor who still has some reserves.   "The situation is complicated," said Javier Maldonado, governor of the province of Chacabuco, where several agricultural areas have been hit particularly hard by the drought.    "We have to be realistic, climate change is here to stay," he said.

- Water shortages -
Dominga Mondaca points out the deep fissures that run through the garden behind her house in the village of La Ligua near Valparaiso. The garden used to be full of strawberries and citrus trees; now it's cracked earth.    "We have had many years with little water. But the last year, it didn't rain at all," said the 73-year-old, one of more than 600,000 people the government is supplying by tanker trucks as part of emergency measures.   She says she has had to give up raising chickens, in order to keep what little water she and her husband receive for their own consumption, washing and cleaning. Whatever is left, she uses to sprinkle on herbs in a small kitchen garden.   The agriculture ministry says 37,000 family farms need assistance in the central Chile.

- Thirsty avocados? -
In Petorca, some rivers have run dry, and the landscape has been left parched, but lush avocado and citrus plantations are nevertheless thriving.   Locals in Petorca say the real, long-term problem is the mismanagement of water resources.    "There is an excess of monoculture plantations that consume all the water," said Diego Soto of the Movement for the Defense of Access to Water, Land and Environmental Protection (MODATIMA) told AFP.   Avocados need a lot of water to grow, said Soto.   "An avocado tree needs 600 liters of water per week, whereas humans consume 50 liters a day, or 350 liters a week," he said.   Producers refute these figures and say the real problem is a lack of infrastructure to store water, both above and below ground.    "The avocado is not a crop that needs more water," insisted Francisco Contardo, chairman of the local producers' committee.   Avocados are a key export for Chile, mostly to the US and China, but drought has reduced exports by 25 percent.

- Less snow -
For many though, the changes being wrought by climate change are overwhelmingly obvious. Snow in the highlands of central Chile was relatively scarce this year.    Scientists predict an average decrease of between five and 10 percent snowfall every 10 years in almost the entire Andes mountains, one of the country's main sources of water.   "The central zone of Chile is highly dependent on the summer melt season, its snow and glaciers, which means that if the snow cover is reduced, there is also a reduction in the availability of water resources," said Paul Cordero, climate change expert at the University of Santiago.   Weak snowfall forced the country's main ski resorts to use artificial snow machines much earlier and more often this season than in previous years.    "Chile has been living as if it were a country with an abundance of water," said Pinera.   "Climate change and global warming have changed this situation probably forever."