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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: 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.
Date: Wed, 13 Jan 2016 04:21:54 +0100
By Briseida MEMA

Tirana, Albania, Jan 13, 2016 (AFP) - With her sick daughter in the arms, Mira Lela pushes her way through the hallway of the doctor's clinic, crowded with patients ailing from heavy pollution in Albania's capital.   "This is an emergency, she has difficulty breathing," said the tearful woman, forcing open the door to the office of Bardhyl Vaqari, who has worked in the specialist Tirana clinic for more than 20 years.   "An acute asthma attack," said the doctor on seeing the child.   "The number of people with respiratory allergies and cardiovascular problems has greatly increased," he told AFP, adding that the number of patients on the clinic's books has more than doubled to 8,000 in the last four years.

On the noisy and congested streets outside, clapped-out bangers and Hummer trucks cross paths with Mercedes, BMWs and overloaded buses that leave a trail of black smoke and heavy odour.    Having been cut off from the world under a strict communist regime until 1991, the Western Balkan city had just a few hundred cars on its roads in the 1990s.

But today, through a mixture of pride, luxury-seeking and necessity, given the lack of public transport, there are more than 190,000 cars circulating in a city of about one million people.   "Albanians take the car even when going to buy bread in a nearby store. That's why the traffic is overloaded all day and this increases pollution levels," said Altin Duka, a despairing 65-year-old shopkeeper.

The average age of vehicles on Tirana's roads is around 16 years, twice the European average, according to Gani Cupi, deputy manager of Albania's Road Transport Services.    Many of the vehicles do not meet the standards of the European Union, which Albania hopes to join.   "The traffic load, the age of vehicles, their technical condition but also the poor quality of fuel are all factors contributing to the capital's pollution," said Cupi.

- Taxing dilemmas -
In a bid to clean up the air, Albanian authorities considered doubling taxes on ageing vehicles but then dropped such plans. Analysts suggested the cost would weigh too heavily on citizens in one of the poorest countries in Europe.   New cars are already exempt from paying annual tax for the first three years, but authorities in 2012 lifted a levy on the import of old vehicles as the EU considered it a "fiscal discrimination".

Tirana's Mayor Erion Veliaj has pledged to battle against the fumes by increasing the number of green spaces, introducing hybrid buses and improving infrastructure in the city, which is crammed with mostly illegal constructions.   "The number of vehicles does not stop growing," he told AFP, pointing out that about 500 people die in the city each year "because of respiratory or cardiovascular problems related to pollution".

A report this year from the European Environment Agency noted a 20 to 30 percent decrease in Tirana's concentration levels of PM10 and PM2.5 -- damaging particulate matter -- according to data assessment from 2011 to 2013.   But Laureta Dibra, head of the air and climate change department at Albania's Environment Ministry, told AFP that PM10 levels had actually been rising in areas of heavy traffic in recent years.   Tirana remains "among the most polluted cities in Europe", added the director of the National Environment Agency, Julian Beqiri.   "The level of the population's exposure to pollutants is still a problem," he said.

- On your bikes -
In an effort to improve air quality in the capital and educate residents, Tirana organised two car-free days in 2015, when the air was said to be at least four times less polluted than usual.   Worried activists are campaigning to promote the bicycle as a means of transport and a way of life.   Ecovolis, a bike sharing system, rents out at least 200 bicycles from different tations around Tirana, at 60 leke (44 euro cents, $0.47) per bike per hour -- but many people still prefer getting behind the wheel.

Although Albania's energy minister claims that 95 percent of fuel meets the required standards, even Prime Minister Edi Rama attacked its quality in May last year.   "It is so bad that even a strong car like a Mercedes ends up being bad for Albanians' lungs," he said, calling for urgent measures to improve fuel controls.   The government says restrictions have since been tightened, but those at the frontline of the fumes remain unhappy.   "I come home in the evening with a completely dry throat and a bitter taste my mouth," said Bequir Veseli, 37, a traffic policeman who spends eight hours a day at the centre of a chaotic roundabout.   "I have trouble breathing but what can I do? The next day I have to go back to my post".
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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: Tue 10 Sep 2019
Source: ABC Columbia [edited]

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) [reports] 16 people [have been] poisoned by yellowfin tuna steaks, [forcing] Kroger [grocery stores] to recall the tainted product. The scombroid poisoning stemmed from yellowfin tuna steaks sold in Kroger stores, the FDA said in an alert.

The improperly stored tuna was sold in Kroger stores in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Missouri, Mississippi, Nebraska, Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia.

The FDA is advising consumers "to not eat yellowfin tuna steaks from the seafood counter or seasoned yellowfin tuna steaks in store-prepped Styrofoam trays from Kroger retail stores," the alert stated. The steaks "may cause scombroid poisoning."

Consumers of these products who are experiencing symptoms of scombroid poisoning should contact their healthcare provider. Consumers of these products who have recently experienced symptoms of scombroid poisoning should report their symptoms to their local Health Department, the department added.

The FDA became aware of the issue on [4 Sep 2019] and alerted Kroger, which the next day agreed to recall all yellowfin tuna steaks from stores in the aforementioned states. The company also began notifying customers who bought the steaks to dispose of them or return them to a store.

The FDA is working with Kroger, the distributor, and state and local partners to remove all contaminated product from the market. The Kroger grocery store didn't immediately respond to a request for comment and has not issued a statement on the recall.  [Byline: Rochelle Dean]
===========================
[Since the previous ProMail post Scombroid fish poisoning - USA: (OH) http://promedmail.org/post/20190907.6662594, the investigation seems to have greatly expanded.

What is scombroid fish poisoning?
Scombroid fish poisoning, also known as histamine fish poisoning, is an allergic-type reaction that occurs within a few hours of eating fish contaminated with high levels of histamine. When certain types of fish are not properly refrigerated, bacteria in the fish can multiply, break down the flesh of the fish, and produce high amounts of histamine. The most common sources of illness are finfish such as tuna, mackerel, amberjack and bonito. Other fish, such as mahi mahi, bluefish, marlin, and escolar, can also cause scombroid fish poisoning.

How common is scombroid fish poisoning?
Scombroid fish poisoning occurs worldwide. Between 10 and 35 scombroid fish poisoning cases are reported each year in California. There may be many more unreported cases from people who did not seek medical care.

How do people get scombroid fish poisoning?
People get scombroid fish poisoning when they eat fish contaminated with high levels of histamines. Histamine-contaminated fish often have a metallic, sharp, or peppery taste, smell bad, or have a "honey-combed" appearance. However, some contaminated fish will look, smell, and taste normal.

What are the symptoms of scombroid fish poisoning?
Scombroid fish poisoning resembles an allergic reaction and occurs within minutes to hours of eating fish contaminated with histamine. The most common symptoms are rash, diarrhea, reddening or flushing of the face and sometimes the neck, arms, and upper part of the body, sweating, headache, and vomiting. Burning sensation or swelling of the mouth, difficulty swallowing, stomach pain, and heart palpitations may also occur.

How is scombroid fish poisoning diagnosed?
There are no specific diagnostic tests for scombroid fish poisoning. Diagnosis is generally made based on symptoms and a recent history of eating fish a short time before symptoms appeared. If scombroid fish poisoning is suspected, laboratory testing may be done on any uneaten fish.

How is scombroid fish poisoning treated?
Most people have mild symptoms that resolve within a few hours. Treatment is often unnecessary, but antihistamines or epinephrine can help severe cases or patients with other medical conditions.

How can you prevent scombroid fish poisoning?
Histamine formation depends on the temperature at which the fish is kept from the time it is caught to the time it is eaten. The best prevention is to keep fish appropriately refrigerated, when it is being transported or stored, until it is cooked and eaten. Do not purchase or eat fish with a bad odor or a "honey-combed" appearance. Since histamines are heat-resistant, cooking spoiled fish will not make it safe to eat.

Where can I get more information on scombroid fish poisoning?
More information on scombroid fish poisoning is available from the FDA's Bad Bug Book (<http://www.fda.gov/downloads/food/foodborneillnesscontaminants/ucm297627.pdf>) and the FDA, Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition Fish and Fisheries Products Hazards and Controls Guidance, 4th edition (<http://www.fda.gov/downloads/food/guidanceregulation/ucm251970.pdf>).

Portions of this comment have been extracted from

Fish in the Scombridae family (tuna, mackerel, skipjack and bonito) are the most common vehicles for scombroid fish poisoning. Other fish, however, have been implicated in scombroid fish poisoning, and include mahi mahi, bluefish, marlin, and escolar. When susceptible fish are not promptly and continuously refrigerated, bacteria can metabolize naturally occurring histamine to produce scombrotoxin, which consists of histamine and other amines. The presence of 50 ppm or more histamine in fish is indicative of decomposition whether or not there is gross evidence of spoilage, such as bad odor. When illness results from consumption, histamine levels in implicated fish have commonly been at least 200 ppm and often greater than 500 ppm. Histamine is heat resistant and can therefore cause illness even when fish is properly canned or cooked thoroughly. While some contaminated fish will not show any outward signs of spoilage, others will show such signs as a bad odor. Cooked fish that has spoiled may have a "honey-combed" appearance. - ProMED Mod.TG]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map:
Date: Tue 10 Sep 2019
Source: WGN TV [edited]

Health officials in Northern California issued a warning on Tuesday [10 Sep 2019] after a tainted skin cream imported from Mexico left a Sacramento woman in a semi-comatose state.

The Pond's-labeled skin cream was found to have been contaminated with methylmercury, a hazardous substance causing severe illness and is "extremely dangerous to adults and children," according to a news release on Sacramento County's website.

The woman obtained the cream -- which is used to lighten skin and get rid of spots and wrinkles -- through an informal network importing the product from Mexico, the release stated.

Health officials emphasized the mercury was not added by the manufacturer, but by another party after it was purchased.

The woman's illness marks the 1st reported case of mercury poisoning tied to skin cream in the USA, according to the county.

"Sacramento County Public Health urges the community to immediately stop using similar skin creams imported from Mexico due to the risk of contamination with methylmercury," said Dr. Olivia Kasirye, the county's public health officer.

The California Department of Public Health is working closely with the county to test similar creams in the area for methylmercury.

In the meantime, anyone who uses a skin cream from Mexico is urged to stop using it immediately. Instead, consumers should put the product in a closed Ziploc bag, bring it to their doctor, and have a blood and urine test, according to the county.

Symptoms of methylmercury poisoning include headaches, fatigue, weight loss, and numbness or tingling in the hands, feet or around the lips.

Over the past 9 years, there have been over 60 poisonings in the state linked to unlabeled, homemade or foreign brand skin creams that contained calomel or mercurous chloride, a less toxic form of mercury, according to the release.

More information can be found on the Sacramento County Department of Health Service's website at
======================
[Mercury in skin creams (from the above stated website <https://dhs.saccounty.net/PUB/Pages/Mercury-in-Skin-Creams.aspx>): In California, over the last 9 years, there have been over 60 poisonings linked to foreign brand, unlabeled, and/or homemade skin creams that contained the less toxic form of mercury, mercurous chloride or calomel. You should avoid handmade or unlabeled creams and other brand-name containers that are not sealed when purchased. Unsealed containers could have been tampered with and may contain mercury. People use these types of creams for fading freckles, blemishes, and age spots; treating acne; and lightening the skin. These creams are usually sold in small stores, swap meets, by individuals, or on the internet.

In earlier poisonings linked with imported skin cream, several children and babies who were not cream users became very sick from contact with mercury contamination in their homes or through contact with family members who used the products. Children and pregnant women are especially sensitive to the toxic effects of mercury. Some of these products contain more than 200 000 times the legal limit of mercury.

General signs and symptoms:
- Difficulty concentrating, memory loss
- Nervousness, irritability, anxiety
- Depression, insomnia
- Headaches
- Weight loss, fatigue
- Tremors, numbness or tingling in hands, feet, or around the lips

Children with prolonged exposure:
- Pink hands and feet
- Skin flaking
- Excessive saliva or [thirst], gum disease
- Irritability, poor appetite
- Poor muscle tone, leg cramps
- High blood pressure, rash

From the World Health Organization
(<https://www.who.int/ipcs/assessment/public_health/mercury_flyer.pdf>):
Mercury is a common ingredient found in skin-lightening soaps and creams. It is also found in other cosmetics, such as eye makeup cleansing products and mascara. Skin-lightening soaps and creams are commonly used in certain African and Asian nations. They are also used among dark-skinned populations in Europe and North America. Mercury salts inhibit the formation of melanin, resulting in a lighter skin tone. Mercury in cosmetics exists in 2 forms: inorganic and organic. Inorganic mercury (e.g., ammoniated mercury) is used in skin-lightening soaps and creams. Organic mercury compounds (thiomersal [ethyl mercury] and phenyl mercuric salts) are used as cosmetic preservatives in eye makeup cleansing products and mascara.

The soaps come in bar form and are sold individually in boxes. The creams are generally packaged in tubes or jars. The soaps contain approximately 1-3% mercury iodide, and the creams are composed of 1%-10% mercury ammonium. Some soap products tested contained mercury at concentrations up to 31 mg/kg, whereas cream products had mercury concentrations as high as 33 000 mg/kg.

Products with very high levels of mercury contamination look grey or cream coloured.

The amount or concentration of mercury in a product may be labelled on the packaging or in the ingredient list. Names to look for include mercury, Hg, mercuric iodide, mercurous chloride, ammoniated mercury, amide chloride of mercury, quicksilver, cinnabaris (mercury sulfide), hydrargyri oxydum rubrum (mercury oxide), mercury iodide or "poison"; directions to avoid contact with silver, gold, rubber, aluminium and jewellery may also indicate the presence of mercury. However, companies selling products that contain mercury do not always list it as an ingredient.

Health effects and how to measure exposure: The main adverse effect of the inorganic mercury contained in skin-lightening soaps and creams is kidney damage. Mercury in skin-lightening products may also cause skin rashes, skin discoloration and scarring, as well as a reduction in the skin's resistance to bacterial and fungal infections. Other effects include anxiety, depression or psychosis and peripheral neuropathy.

The medical literature reports specific instances of individuals suffering from the aforementioned health effects following exposure to mercury through skin-lightening creams and soaps. One case report describes a 34-year-old Chinese woman who developed nephrotic syndrome, a condition marked by high levels of protein in the urine. The mercury levels in her blood and urine returned to normal 1 month and 9 months, respectively, after she stopped using the skin-lightening cream.

One study indicated a large proportion of nephrotic syndrome among African women using ammoniated mercuric chloride-containing skin lightening creams for periods ranging from 1 month to 3 years. Over three-quarters of the women who stopped using the creams went into remission.

Mercury in soaps, creams and other cosmetic products is eventually discharged into wastewater. The mercury then enters the environment, where it becomes methylated and enters the food-chain as the highly toxic methylmercury in fish. Pregnant women who consume fish containing methylmercury transfer the mercury to their fetuses, which can later result in neurodevelopmental deficits in the children.

Exposure to inorganic mercury can be quantified through measurements in blood and urine (extracted from

While most women are very conscious of signs of aging, this is clearly a case of a need to exercise caution and read labels. However, unscrupulous 3rd parties contaminating a product post-market is always dangerous and can be difficult for the average consumer to detect.

According to a trusted colleague: Recalls for these products occur every so often when they make their way into the USA...there have been several in the last 10 years, which the US FDA refers to here: https://www.fda.gov/consumers/consumer-updates/mercury-poisoning-linked-skin-products. - ProMED Mod.TG]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map:
California, United States: <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/204>]
Date: Sat 7 Sep 2019
Source: Outbreak News Today [edited]

Blastomycosis is a fungal infection usually acquired by breathing in the spores of the fungi, _Blastomyces dermatitidis_ or _Blastomyces gilchristii_.  In Minnesota from 1999-2018, 671 laboratory-confirmed cases of human blastomycosis were reported. Officials note that each year, a median of 34 cases of blastomycosis are reported in Minnesota. Recently these numbers have increased; in 2018, 58 cases were reported, more than any single year during this time frame.

In Minnesota, about 1/3 of cases live and are diagnosed in a different county than where they were exposed to _Blastomyces_. While most people are exposed in northern counties, or those along the Mississippi or St. Croix rivers, people can be exposed to _Blastomyces_ in many counties across the state.  Approximately 10% of cases die of blastomycosis.  _Blastomyces dermatitidis_ can be found throughout the world but is most common in parts of North, Central, and South America. In the United States, the fungus is endemic in the Southeast and the Midwest.

The time between exposure to the spores and when symptoms develop varies widely, ranging from 21-100 days. About 50% of infections are asymptomatic (no symptoms). When symptoms of blastomycosis are present, they may include fever, cough, cough with blood, shortness of breath, muscle aches, bone pain, back pain, chest pain, fatigue, weight loss, chills and/or night sweats, and skin sores.
======================
[The following is extracted from my moderator comments in ProMED-mail post Blastomycosis - USA: (WI) tubing, RFI

"Blastomycosis is a potentially fatal infection caused by the soil-based dimorphic fungi _Blastomyces dermatitidis_ [or Blastomyces gilchristii_], which exist in the environment at ambient temperature as a mold and in the animal host at body temperature as a yeast. The fungus likely resides in moist soil with decomposing organic debris. It appears that only under quite specific conditions of humidity, temperature, and nutrition can the fungus grow and produce the infecting spores. The spores become airborne when soil in which the fungus is growing is disturbed. Fungal spores may be inhaled and initiate an acute or chronic lung infection, which, if untreated, may disseminate to the skin, bone, joints, urinary tract, prostate, and brain. The incubation period can range from 3 weeks to 3 months, but many infected people remain asymptomatic.

"The diagnosis of blastomycosis is based on isolation of _Blastomyces dermatitidis_ from specimens obtained from sputum, skin, or tissue biopsy (growth of organisms in cultures may take at least 4 weeks), or the demonstration of characteristic broad-based budding yeast cells by direct microscopic examination of wet unstained clinical specimens, cytology preparations, or histopathology slides. PCR-based assays may also be available to detect DNA of _B. dermatitidis_ in cultures or clinical specimens (<http://jcm.asm.org/content/50/5/1783.full>). The drug itraconazole is used to treat mild or moderate disease, and amphotericin B is used for patients with central nervous system involvement, patients who are severely immunocompromised, or patients who do not respond to itraconazole therapy (<https://academic.oup.com/cid/article/46/12/1801/296953>). Blastomycosis more commonly affects people involved with outdoor activities, in proximity to waterways (<http://www.cdc.gov/Mmwr/PDF/wk/mm4528.pdf>), and the symptoms may be more severe in people with a weakened immune system.

"The infection is endemic throughout much of the Midwestern USA, including the area on both the Canadian and US sides of the Great Lakes and the St Lawrence River valley. Most cases are sporadic, but clusters of cases have occurred in a close geographic area within a short period of time."

Although blastomycosis is not nationally notifiable in the US, it is now reportable in 5 US states: Arkansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin (<https://www.cdc.gov/fungal/fungal-disease-reporting-table.html>). According to the CDC, in states where blastomycosis is reportable, yearly incidence rates are approximately 1-2 cases per 100,000 population, but Wisconsin may have the highest incidence of blastomycosis of any state, with yearly rates ranging from 10-40 cases per 100 000 persons in some northern counties (<https://www.cdc.gov/fungal/diseases/blastomycosis/statistics.html>). Although most cases are sporadic, outbreaks do occur; a large blastomycosis outbreak occurred in 2015 that involved 89 confirmed and suspected cases and was linked to rafting on the Little Wolf River in southeast Marathon County and Waupaca counties of Wisconsin (<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Little_Wolf_River>). See the "See Also's" below.

The reasons for the recent increase in cases in Minnesota are not stated in the news report above but could include increased reporting, an increase in high-risk activities, an increase in exposure of certain segments of the population that are more susceptible to blastomycosis, and a change in climate that favors proliferation of this fungus in the environment. - ProMED Mod.ML]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map:
Minnesota, United States: <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/354>]
Date: Fri 6 Sep 2019
Source: 10TV [edited]

The Ohio Department of Agriculture has issued a public health alert for yellowfin tuna purchased from Kroger stores in Ohio. The department issued this alert after an investigation involving 4 cases of scombroid poisoning [was] reported in Franklin and Montgomery counties.

The product was purchased from 3 stores: 1365 Stoneridge Drive, Gahanna; 10101 Landing Way, Miamisburg; and 5400 Cornerstone N Boulevard, Centerville. It was sold fresh with a label of "Tuna Yellowfin Steak Fresh Wild Caught," with sell-by dates of [3 Sep 2019] and [5 Sep 2019]. The product was both with and without sesame ginger seasoning. The Department of Agriculture said there may be additional customers who bought the product.

Scombroid fish poisoning, or histamine fish poisoning, is a syndrome resembling an allergic reaction that occurs after eating fish contaminated with high levels of histamine. Officials say symptoms begin within 2 minutes to several hours after eating. The most common symptoms are tingling and burning sensations around the mouth, facial flushing, sweating, nausea, vomiting, headache, palpitations, dizziness, and rash. Most people have mild symptoms that resolve within a few hours. In some cases, symptoms may last for several days.

The Ohio Department of Agriculture is asking anyone who may have this item to discard [it]. Anyone exhibiting signs or symptoms of foodborne illness [is] encouraged to contact a physician immediately.
=========================
[Two good reviews on the subject can be found at the citations below.

1. Taylor SL, Stratton JE, Nordlee JA: Histamine poisoning (scombroid fish poisoning): an allergy-like intoxication. J Toxicol Clin Toxicol 1989;27(4-5):225-40.

Abstract
--------
"Histamine poisoning results from the consumption of foods, typically certain types of fish and cheeses that contain unusually high levels of histamine. Spoiled fish of the families Scombridae and Scomberesocidae (e.g., tuna, mackerel, bonito) are commonly implicated in incidents of histamine poisoning, which leads to the common usage of the term 'scombroid fish poisoning' to describe this illness. However, certain non-scombroid fish, most notably mahi-mahi, bluefish, and sardines, when spoiled are also commonly implicated in histamine poisoning. Also, on rare occasions, cheeses, especially Swiss cheese, can be implicated in histamine poisoning. The symptoms of histamine poisoning generally resemble the symptoms encountered with IgE-mediated food allergies. The symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, an oral burning sensation or peppery taste, hives, itching, red rash, and hypotension. The onset of the symptoms usually occurs within a few minutes after ingestion of the implicated food, and the duration of symptoms ranges from a few hours to 24 hours. Antihistamines can be used effectively to treat this intoxication. Histamine is formed in foods by certain bacteria that are able to decarboxylate the amino acid, histidine. However, foods containing unusually high levels of histamine may not appear to be outwardly spoiled. Foods with histamine concentrations exceeding 50 mg per 100 g of food are generally considered to be hazardous. Histamine formation in fish can be prevented by proper handling and refrigerated storage, while the control of histamine formation in cheese seems dependent on ensuring that histamine-producing bacteria are not present in significant numbers in the raw milk."

2. Hungerford JM: Scombroid poisoning: a review. Toxicon 2010;56(2):231-43
<https://doi.org/10.1016/j.toxicon.2010.02.006>.

Abstract
--------
"Scombroid poisoning, also called histamine fish poisoning, is an allergy-like form of food poisoning that continues to be a major problem in seafood safety. The exact role of histamine in scombroid poisoning is not straightforward. Deviations from the expected dose-response have led to the advancement of various possible mechanisms of toxicity, none of them proven. Histamine action levels are used in regulation until more is known about the mechanism of scombroid poisoning. Scombroid poisoning and histamine are correlated but complicated. Victims of scombroid poisoning respond well to antihistamines, and chemical analyses of fish implicated in scombroid poisoning generally reveal elevated levels of histamine. Scombroid poisoning is unique among the seafood toxins since it results from product mishandling rather than contamination from other trophic levels. Inadequate cooling following harvest promotes bacterial histamine production, and can result in outbreaks of scombro idpoisoning. Fish with high levels of free histidine, the enzyme substrate converted to histamine by bacterial histidine decarboxylase, are those most often implicated in scombroid poisoning. Laboratory methods and screening methods for detecting histamine are available in abundance, but need to be compared and validated to harmonize testing. Successful field testing, including dockside or on-board testing needed to augment HACCP efforts, will have to integrate rapid and simplified detection methods with simplified and rapid sampling and extraction. Otherwise, time-consuming sample preparation reduces the impact of gains in detection speed on the overall analysis time." - ProMED Mod.LL]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map:
Ohio, United States: <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/237>]
Date: Sat 24 Aug 2019
Source: News-Topic [edited]

Caldwell County went 3 years without a confirmed case of rabies, but now it has had 2 just 2 weeks apart.  Caldwell County Animal Control was notified Friday [23 Aug 2019] by the North Carolina State Laboratory of Public Health that a bat found in a house in Colletsville tested positive for rabies, a potentially fatal virus that attacks the central nervous system of warm-blooded animals.

On 9 Aug 2019, the state lab notified the county that a fox found in the Green Mountain Park area tested positive for rabies, which was the 1st confirmed case of rabies in Caldwell County since 2016, according to state records.

Human cases of rabies are rare; in North Carolina, there has been just one case since 1955, which was in Jones County in eastern North Carolina in 2011, according to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services.

Humans contract the disease only by coming in contact with the saliva, tears, or brain or nervous system tissue of an infected animal, such as by being bitten, handling a pet that has been attacked, or cleaning an animal killed while hunting.

However, the disease must be treated early. If you are uncertain, report the contact so a health care provider can evaluate whether treatment is needed.

In North Carolina, rabies is most often found in raccoons, accounting for almost half of all confirmed cases, but it also is commonly found in skunks, foxes, coyotes, wolves, groundhogs, beavers and bats. In 2018, rabies cases in North Carolina involved 142 raccoons, 55 foxes, 24 bats, 56 skunks, 13 cats and 3 dogs.

In 2016, Caldwell had 4 confirmed cases of rabies, involving one dog, 2 raccoons and a skunk, according to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services.

Catawba County has had the most cases of rabies in this region in recent years. It had 14 cases confirmed in 2018 and has had 6 so far in 2019, according to state records.

Wilkes County had 4 cases in 2018 and has had 6 this year [2019]; Burke County had 4 in 2018 but none so far this year; Alexander County had 3 in 2018 but none this year; and Watauga County had 2 in 2018 and none this year.

Because rabies is fatal and can also be transmitted to people, vaccination of dogs and cats against rabies is required by state law.
======================
[For information on bats as reservoirs of rabies in the USA, go to

Despite its ability to infect all mammals, rabies virus persists in numerous species-specific cycles that rarely sustain transmission in alternative species. Rabies viruses recovered from bats were shown to be distinct from rabies viruses recovered from terrestrial mammals, suggesting that these viruses evolved within their bat hosts. Genetic evidence suggests that rabies is an old disease for bats in the New World. Bats from most of the bat species in North America, when sampled in sufficient numbers, have been found to be infected with rabies virus.

Bat rabies viruses are genetically diverse, exhibiting mutations characteristic to each host bat species. It should be taken into account, however, that bat rabies can be transmitted to humans and their domestic animals, as infections that are almost always fatal unless treated. Also, of course, a dog, cat or ferret infected with a bat rabies virus can then infect a human. - ProMED Mod.PMB]

[HealthMap/ProMED maps available at:
Montana, United States: <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/228>
North Carolina, United States: <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/235>]
More ...

Colombia

Colombia - US Consular Information Sheet
August 13, 2008

COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
Colombia is a medium-income nation of some 44 million inhabitants.
Its geography is very diverse, ranging from tropical coastal areas and rainforests t
rugged mountainous terrain.
Tourist facilities in Colombia vary in quality and safety, according to price and location.
Security is a significant concern for travelers, as described in the Department of State’s Travel Warning for Colombia.
Read the Department of State Background Notes on Colombia for additional information.

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:
All U.S. citizens who are not also Colombian citizens must present a valid U.S. passport to enter and depart Colombia, and to return to the United States.
Dual U.S-Colombian citizens must present a Colombian passport to enter and exit Colombia, and a U.S. passport to return to the United States.
Be aware that any person born in Colombia may be considered a Colombian citizen, even if never documented as such.
U.S. citizens born in Colombia or who otherwise have Colombian citizenship, will need both a Colombian passport and a U.S. passport for the trip.
U.S. citizens traveling to Colombia do not need a Colombian visa for a tourist stay of 60 days or less.
Travelers entering Colombia are sometimes asked to present evidence of return or onward travel, usually in the form of a round-trip plane ticket.
Americans traveling overland must enter Colombia at an official border crossing.
Travelers arriving by bus should ensure, prior to boarding, that their bus will cross the border at an official entry point.
Entering Colombia at unauthorized crossings may result in fines or incarceration.
Travelers planning to enter Colombia over a land border should carefully read our information on Traffic Safety and Road Conditions below.
The length of stay granted to travelers is determined by the Colombian immigration officer at the point of entry and will be stamped in your passport.
Extensions may be requested by visiting an office of the Colombian immigration authority, known as the Departamento Administrativo de Seguridad, or DAS, after arrival in Colombia.
Fines are levied if a traveler remains in Colombia longer than authorized, and the traveler cannot leave Colombia until the fine is paid.
Any traveler possessing a Colombian visa with more than three months’ validity must register the visa at a DAS immigration office within 15 days of arrival in Colombia or face fines.
The DAS immigration office in Bogota is located at Calle 100 and Carrera 11B.
No arrival tax is collected upon entry into Colombia, but travelers leaving by plane must pay an exit tax at the airport, in cash.
The tax varies with the dollar/peso exchange rate, but is usually between $50 and $70.
Some airlines include all or a portion of this tax in the cost of your airline ticket; check with your airline to find out how much you will have to pay at the airport.
U.S. citizens whose U.S. passports are lost or stolen in Colombia must obtain a new U.S. passport before departing.
They must then present the new passport, along with a police report describing the loss or theft, to a DAS office.
Information about obtaining a replacement U.S. passport in Colombia is available on the U.S. Embassy’s website at http://bogota.usembassy.gov.
Contact information for DAS is available in Spanish at http://www.das.gov.co.
The Embassy in Bogotá or the U.S. Consular Agency in Barranquilla can provide guidance on contacting DAS when you apply for your replacement passport.
For further, specific guidance on Colombian entry requirements, including information about Colombian visas, travelers should contact the Colombian Embassy at 2118 Leroy Place NW, Washington, DC 20008; telephone (202) 387-8338; website: http://www.colombiaemb.org; or the nearest Colombian consulate.
Consulates are located in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New Orleans, New York, San Francisco, and San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Also see the Department of State’s general information on Entry and Exit Requirements.
Visit the Embassy of Colombia website at http://www.colombiaemb.org for the most current visa information.
Information about dual nationality or the prevention of international child abduction can be found on our web site.
For further information about customs regulations, please read our Customs Information sheet.
ADDITIONAL EXIT REQUIREMENTS FOR MINORS:
To prevent international child abduction, Colombia has implemented special exit procedures for Colombian children under 18 who are departing the country without both their mother and their father or a legal guardian.
These procedures apply even if the child is also a U.S. citizen.
Complying with the procedures can be complex and time-consuming, especially if an absent parent is outside Colombia at the time.
Advance planning is essential.

The procedures are as follows: Upon exiting the country, the person traveling with the child (or the child him/herself) must present a certified copy of the child’s birth certificate, along with written, signed authorization from the absent parent(s) or legal guardian.
The authorization must explicitly grant permission for the child to travel alone, with one parent, or with a third party, by name.
When a parent is deceased, a notarized copy of a death certificate is required instead of written authorization.
When one parent has sole custody of the child, that parent may present a custody decree instead of the other parent’s written authorization.
If the documents to be presented originated in the United States, they must first be translated into Spanish and then signed in front of a Colombian consul at a Colombian consulate.
Then, upon arrival in Colombia, the documents must be presented to the Colombian Ministry of Foreign Affairs for certification of the consul’s signature.

Alternatively, the documents can be translated into Spanish, then notarized by a notary public in the United States, and authenticated by requesting an apostille from the competent authority in the state where the documents were prepared.
The document, translation, and apostille can then be presented to immigration officers at the airport when the child travels.
If the documents originated in Colombia and are written in Spanish, only notarization by a Colombian notary is required.
For documents originating in countries other than the United States or Colombia, please inquire with the Colombian embassy serving that country.
In cases where the absent parent refuses or is unable to provide consent, the other parent can request assistance from the Colombian child protective service, Instituto Colombiano de Bienestar Familiar (ICBF).
In appropriate cases, ICBF will investigate and may issue a document that will allow the child to travel without both parents’ consent.
This process may take a significant amount of time and is not within the control of the U.S. government.
SAFETY AND SECURITY:
Violence has decreased markedly in many urban destinations, including the cities of Bogota, Medellin, Barranquilla, and Cartagena.
Cali has made less progress combating crime than most other large cities.
The level of violence in Buenaventura remains high.
Small towns and rural areas of Colombia can be extremely dangerous due to the presence of narco-terrorists.
Common crime remains a significant problem in many urban and rural areas, as described in the section on crime below.

The incidence of kidnapping in Colombia has diminished significantly from its peak at the beginning of this decade.
Nevertheless, terrorist groups, including the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), and other criminal organizations, continue to kidnap and hold civilians for ransom or as political bargaining chips.
No one is immune from kidnapping on the basis of occupation, nationality, or other factors.
On July 2, 2008, the GOC effected a successful military rescue of three Americans, Ingrid Betancourt, and eleven members of the Colombia security forces. President Uribe called on the FARC to release the remaining hostages and seek peace. Although the U.S. government places the highest priority on the safe recovery of kidnapped Americans, it is U.S. policy not to make concessions to kidnappers.
Consequently, the U.S. government’s ability to assist kidnap victims is limited.

Official and personal travel by U.S. Embassy employees outside most urban areas is subject to strict limitations and reviewed by security officers on a case-by-case basis.
U.S. Embassy employees are allowed to travel by air, but inter- and intra-city bus transportation is off limits to them.
For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs’ website at http://travel.state.gov, where the current Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts, as well as the Worldwide Caution, can be found.

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

The Department of State urges American citizens to take responsibility for their own personal security while traveling overseas.
For general information about appropriate measures travelers can take to protect themselves in an overseas environment, see the Department of State’s pamphlet A Safe Trip Abroad.
CRIME:
Although the threat of terrorism has decreased in most of Colombia’s cities, they nevertheless experience much of the same crime that is seen in comparably sized cities throughout the region.
Robbery and other violent crimes, as well as scams against unsuspecting tourists, are common in urban areas.
Generally speaking, if you are the victim of a robbery, you should not resist.
Some of the most common methods used by criminals in Colombia are noted below:
Robberies of ATM customers:
Tourists and others have been robbed after using automatic teller machines (ATMs) on the street.
In some cases, robbers have used motorcycles to approach their victims and later flee the scene.
Americans are urged to use ATMs only inside shopping malls or other protected locations.
Driving to and from the location – rather than walking – provides added protection.
When using an ATM, you should be on the lookout for anyone watching or following you.

Robberies of taxi passengers:
Robbery of taxi passengers is a serious problem in Bogota.
Typically, the driver – who is one of the conspirators – will pick up the passenger and then stop to pick up two or more armed cohorts, who enter the cab, overpower the passenger, and take his/her belongings.
If the passenger has an ATM card, the perpetrators may force the passenger to withdraw money from various ATM locations.
Such ordeals can last for hours.
In almost every case of taxi-related crime, the victims have been riding alone and have hailed taxis off the street.
Rather than hailing a taxi, you should use the telephone dispatch service that most taxi companies offer.
Many hotels, restaurants, and stores will call a taxi for you, and the taxi usually arrives within minutes.
When a taxi is dispatched by telephone, the dispatcher creates a record of the call and the responding taxi.

Robberies while departing airports:
U.S. citizens arriving at major Colombian airports have occasionally been victimized by armed robbery while en route from the airport to their hotel or home.
The perpetrators typically scout out victims at the airport and then follow their vehicles before robbing the occupants at a stoplight.
Travelers should remain vigilant at airports and report to local airport police if they suspect they are being observed.
Robberies on Hiking Trails:
Several U.S. citizens were robbed in 2007 while hiking on nature trails in and around Bogota.
Because hiking trips generally take place in isolated settings, participants are especially vulnerable.
Hikers in Colombia are more protected if they travel in large groups.
Use of disabling drugs:
The Embassy continues to receive reports of criminals in Colombia using disabling drugs to temporarily incapacitate tourists and others.
At bars, restaurants, and other public areas, perpetrators may offer tainted drinks, cigarettes, or gum.
Typically, victims become disoriented or unconscious, and are thus vulnerable to robbery, sexual assault, and other crimes.
Avoid leaving food or drinks unattended at a bar or restaurant, and be suspicious if a stranger offers you something to eat or drink.
Counterfeit money scam:
U.S. citizens in Colombia routinely fall victim to a scam in which purported undercover police officers approach them on the street and request to examine their money, supposedly to determine if it is counterfeit.
The “officers,” who are in fact criminals, then flee with the money.
In a variation of this scam, the thieves may ask to see jewelry.
Legitimate Colombian police officers do not make such requests.

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 are solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed.

The local equivalent to the “911” emergency line in Colombia is 112 for police and 119 for fire.
There will not be an English speaker answering the phone[g1] .

See our information on Victims of Crime.
MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:
Medical care is adequate in major cities but varies greatly in quality elsewhere.
Emergency rooms in Colombia, even at top-quality facilities, are frequently overcrowded and ambulance service can be slow. Many private health care providers in Colombia require that patients pay for care before treatment, even in an emergency.
Some providers in major cities may accept credit cards, but those that do not may request advance payment in cash.
Uninsured travelers without financial resources may be unable to obtain care, or relegated to seeking treatment in public hospitals where care is far below U.S. standards.
The Embassy regularly receives reports of U.S. citizens in Colombia who have died or suffered complications from liposuction and other elective surgeries intended to treat obesity.
Before undergoing such a procedure in Colombia, the Department of State recommends that you consult with your personal physician, research the credentials of the provider in Colombia, and carefully consider your ability to access emergency medical care if complications arise.
It is important to confirm that your medical insurance provides coverage in Colombia, to include treatment of complications from elective procedures or medical evacuation if necessary.
Should you suffer complications as a result of medical malpractice, collecting damages from your surgeon may be difficult.
Colombia has seen a recent increase in the use of unregulated drugs that purport to enhance sexual performance.
Several American tourists recently died after using these substances, which come in liquid, powder, or tablet form.
You are urged to seek guidance from a physician before ingesting any such substances in Colombia.
Travelers to the capital city of Bogota may need time to adjust to the altitude of 8,600 feet, which can affect blood pressure, digestion, and energy level, and cause
mild dyspnea with exercise, headaches, sleeplessness, , and other discomfort.
Travelers should drink liberal fluids to maintain hydration,, and should avoid strenuous exercise unti they have acclimated to the altitude.
Travelers with circulatory or respiratory problems should consult a physician before traveling to Bogota or other high-altitude locations.
Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water 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 website at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/default.aspx.
For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization’s (WHO) website at http://www.who.int/en.
Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith/en.

Colombia has imposed HIV/AIDS travel restrictions on groups of travelers subject to restrictions or bans.
Entry is restricted to PLWHA (customs officials on the lookout). A waiver may be requested from the Colombian embassy (Source: NAM April 2006, USSD December 06).
Please inquire directly with the Embassy of Colombia at http://www.colombiaemb.org before you travel.

MEDICAL INSURANCE:
The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm that 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 Colombia is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.

Due to the security environment in Colombia, U.S. government officials and their families are not permitted to travel by road between most major cities.
They also cannot use inter- or intra-city bus transportation, or travel by road outside urban areas at night.
All Americans in Colombia are encouraged to follow these same precautions.
Traffic laws in Colombia, including speed limits, are often ignored and rarely enforced, creating dangerous conditions for drivers and pedestrians in major cities.
Under Colombian law, seat belts are mandatory for front-seat passengers in a private vehicle.
Car seats are not mandatory for children, but a child under ten is not permitted to ride in a front seat.
It is against the law to talk on a cellular phone while driving in Colombia, and violators may be fined.
While driving outside major cities, it is mandatory to drive with your lights on.
If an accident occurs, the involved parties must remain at the scene and not move their vehicles until the authorities arrive; this rule is strictly enforced, and moving a vehicle or leaving the scene of an accident may constitute an admission of guilt under Colombian law.
Americans seeking to import their own vehicles into Colombia should consult with their nearest Colombian consulate for information on Colombian taxes and licensing rules, which can be complicated and bureaucratic.
Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.

AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT:
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of Colombia’s Civil Aviation Authority as being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) safety standards for oversight of Colombia’s air carrier operations.
For more information, please visit the FAA’s website at http://www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa.
SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:
Colombia employs strict screening procedures for detecting narcotics smuggling at its international airports.
Americans and other travelers are occasionally questioned, searched, fingerprinted, and/or asked to submit to an abdominal x-ray upon arrival or departure.
Most airport inspectors do not speak English, and travelers who do not speak Spanish may have difficulty understanding what is asked of them.
Please refer to the section on Criminal Penalties for further information on the strict enforcement of Colombia’s drug laws. Please see our Customs Information.
CUSTOMS REGULATIONS:
Travelers generally must not enter or exit Colombia while carrying cash or other financial instruments worth more than 10,000 U.S. dollars.
Colombian authorities may confiscate any amount over $10,000, and may initiate a criminal investigation into the source of the money and the traveler’s reasons for carrying it.
Recovery of the confiscated amount requires a lengthy, expensive legal process and may not always be possible.
Americans wishing to send large sums of money to or from Colombia should contact their nearest Colombian consulate, or speak with Colombian customs officials, and should also consider seeking advice from an attorney or financial professional.

Colombian law prohibits tourists and business travelers from bringing firearms into Colombia.
Illegal importation or possession of firearms may result in incarceration.

In many countries around the world, counterfeit and pirated goods are widely available. Buying or selling them is illegal in Colombia, and bringing them back to the United States may result in forfeitures and fines.

Colombian law forbids the export of pre-Columbian objects and other artifacts protected by cultural patrimony statutes.
Under an agreement between the United States and Colombia, U.S. customs officials are obligated to seize pre-Columbian objects and certain colonial religious artwork when they are brought into the United States.
Please contact the Embassy of Colombia in Washington or one of Colombia's consulates in the United States for detailed customs guidance.
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 Colombia’s laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested, or imprisoned.
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.

If you are arrested, the U.S. government cannot request your release.
Colombia and the United States do not have a prisoner transfer agreement, and so any sentence for a crime committed in Colombia is ordinarily served in a Colombian prison.
Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking of illegal drugs in Colombia are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long prison sentences under harsh conditions, with significant expense and great hardship for themselves and their families.
Colombian police make multiple arrests daily for drug trafficking at major airports, and have sophisticated means for detecting illegal drugs in baggage or on your person.
Travelers are sometimes requested to undergo an x-ray to ensure that they are not smuggling narcotics within their own bodies.
There are more than 30 Americans incarcerated in Colombia for attempting to smuggle drugs out of the country.

The hardships resulting from imprisonment do not end even after release from prison:
Colombian law requires that serious offenders remain in the country to serve a lengthy period of parole, during which the offender is given no housing and may lack permission to work.
As a result, family members must often support the offender, sometimes for more than a year, until the parole period expires.
DISASTER PREPAREDNESS: Colombia is an earthquake-prone country.
Flooding and mudslides also sometimes occur in parts of the country.
General information about natural disaster preparedness is available from the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) at http://www.fema.gov/.
If a serious natural disaster occurs in Colombia, the Embassy will publish important information for American citizens on its website at http://bogota.usembassy.gov.

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 residing or traveling in Colombia are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department’s travel registration website so that they can obtain updated information on travel and security within Colombia.
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 Calle 24 Bis No. 48-50 Bogotá, D.C. Colombia.
Mailing address:
Carrera 45 No. 24B-27 Bogotá, D.C. Colombia.

In case of a serious emergency that jeopardizes the health or safety of an American citizen in Colombia, please call the Embassy at (571) 315-0811; Embassy fax: (571) 315-2197;
Consular Section phone: (571) 315-1566. The Embassy’s American Citizens Services office provides routine information at http://bogota.usembassy.gov.
For questions not answered there, inquiries may be sent by email to ACSBogota@state.gov.
Email messages are answered by the next business day.
The Embassy’s American Citizens Services office is open for passport applications, notary services, and routine in-person inquiries from 8:30 a.m. to 12:00 noon Monday through Thursday, excluding U.S. and Colombian holidays.
Inquiries concerning Social Security and other federal benefits can be made in-person from 2:00 to 3:00 p.m. Monday through Thursday, except holidays.
The American Citizens Services fax number is (571) 3152196/7.
The U.S. Consular Agency in Barranquilla, which accepts passport applications and performs notarial services, is located at Calle 77B, No. 57-141, Piso 5, Centro Empresarial Las Americas, Barranquilla, Atlantico, Colombia; telephone (575) 353-2001; fax (011-57-5) 353-5216.
The Consular Agency is not staffed to respond to after-hours emergencies; in case of an emergency in the Barranquilla/north coast area, please contact the Embassy in Bogota at (571) 315-0811.
*

*

*
This replaces the Country Specific Information issued May 29, 2008, to update sections throughout.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Sat 2 Mar 2019
Source: Outbreak News Today [edited]

Health officials are reporting a malaria outbreak in Cauca department in southwestern Colombia, according to a RCN Radio report (computer translated).

The outbreak has affected 322 people in the rural areas of Guapi and Timbiqui: (the towns of Calle larga, Belen, San Agustin, Pascualero, and Cascajero (in Guapi) and in the mining area of Santa Maria, Chacon Playa, and Coteje (in Timbiqui).

The strain of malaria was identified as _Plasmodium falciparum_. The report notes it was indicated that the presence of malaria was recorded in sites never considered endemic, which would be related to factors such as climate change and issues associated with mining that exacerbated the situation.

"This required an immediate displacement of our surveillance team to deal with this outbreak. Visits were made to the area where the cases were presented to make diagnoses with rapid tests and to initiate immediate treatments, "said the department's Health Secretary, Hector Andres Gil Walteros.

On the other hand and as a preventive action, 402 mosquito nets were delivered to 107 homes, benefiting more than 600 inhabitants in the outbreak areas, and treatment was given to the affected people.
=======================
[The Cauca Department is located south of Cali and is considered a malaria risk area by the CDC, see map here:
<https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/yellowbook/2018/infectious-diseases-related-to-travel/yellow-fever-malaria-information-by-country/colombia#5317>.

According to the text an outbreak is highly unusual in the area and mining is mentioned as a likely explanation. Mining especially illegal gold mining create numerous new breeding sites and there is usually a lack of control in the form of larvicidal spraying. - ProMED Mod. EP]

[Maps of Colombia:
Date: Tue, 11 Dec 2018 22:14:43 +0100

Bogota, Dec 11, 2018 (AFP) - The abandoned building where Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar lived will be covered in posters paying tribute to the victims of his Medellin Cartel before it is torn down next year.   The exhibition is part of a move by municipal authorities to tell the other side of Escobar's story -- that of his victims -- to counter a surge of television series glamorizing his life and that of his cartel.   "Respect our pain, honour our victims (1983-1994). 46,612 fewer lives," reads the message on one of the posters that now greet Medillin's "narco-tourists" flocking to the Monaco apartment block.

Portraits of slain journalist Guillermo Cano, gunned down in 1986, former presidential candidate Luis Carlos Galan and police chief Valdemar Quintero -- both murdered in 1989 -- are emblazoned over a message that reads, in English: "It is not fiction, it is reality."   Mayor Federico Gutierrez told reporters that the tourist site had become a "symbol of illegality."   "Now, there are messages that should lead us to reflect," he said.   The posters will remain affixed to the building until municipal workers tear it down on February 22, more than 25 years after Escobar was shot dead by police in 1993.     The former luxury block will be replaced by a municipal park.
Date: Tue 4 Dec 2018 08:48 AM COT
Source: El Tiempo [in Spanish, machine trans., abridged, edited]

Department health authorities turned on the alarms in Santander after the National Institute of Health confirmed the 1st case of measles in a 6-year-old child from Venezuela residing in Bucaramanga.

The Secretary of Health of Santander, Luis Alejandro Rivero Osorio, explained that "this minor who arrives from Venezuela does not have any vaccines. Fortunately, in the department we try to make sure that parents have their children up to date with their vaccinations."

Rivero Osorio emphasized that the protocols of treatment and follow-up were already activated in the event cases are presented from the Hospital Local del Norte, where the minor from the state of Valencia [Venezuela] was treated, to give attention also to the family and to avoid the spread of the virus.

In Santander there are about 50 possible cases of measles pending confirmation, and since the beginning of this 2018 hospitals and health centres remain alert to the risk posed by the massive arrival of Venezuelans to the region without the complete set of vaccines.
=====================
[Vaccinations are scarce in Venezuela with the current economic situation. As a consequence, vaccine-preventable diseases such as measles are being spread as people leave Venezuela seeking work or new lives in neighboring countries. See next report. - ProMED Mod.LK]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail maps:
Date: Wed 21 Nov 2018
Source: Outbreak News Today [extracted, edited]

A measles outbreak in Colombia has prompted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to issue a travel notice last week.

Between March and October this year [2018], Colombia has reported 129 confirmed measles cases.

Of the 129 confirmed cases, 45 were imported, 75 were import-related (25 cases of secondary transmission among persons coming from Venezuela and 50 related to imported cases among Colombians), and 9 with the source under investigation. No deaths have been reported.

The cases were reported in the departments of Antioquia, Arauca, Atlantico, Bolivar, Cauca, Cesar, La Guajira, Magdalena, Norte de Santander, Risaralda, Sucre, and in the districts of Barranquilla, Bogota, Cartagena, and Santa Marta.

Cartagena District and Norte de Santander Department account for 65 percent of the total confirmed cases.

CDC says travellers to Colombia should make sure they are vaccinated against measles with the MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) vaccine.
Date: Thu, 11 Oct 2018 18:45:51 +0200

Bogota, Oct 11, 2018 (AFP) - Eleven people were killed when a landslide swept away part of a town in central Colombia's coffee-growing region amid heavy rainfall, emergency officials reported Thursday.   Colombia's UNGRD disaster risk management unit said seven females and four males were buried in the landslide that struck the Los Andes suburb of the town of Marquetalia.   Four other people were injured.

Searches for possible missing persons were suspended because of continued heavy rains, it said.   The town is located in the coffee-growing department of Caldas.   "Of the 11 people dead, four were minors, six aged between 20 and 50 years old and one was an older adult," the UNGRD said in statement.   Marquetalia Mayor Luis Carlos Betancourt told journalists the mountain town had been hit by torrential rainfall late Wednesday.   The South American country is currently experiencing its second rainy season, with mountainous regions and part of the Caribbean coast on alert.
More ...

Benin

Benin - US Consular Information Sheet
April 28, 2008

COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
Benin is a developing country in West Africa. Its political capital is Porto Novo. However, its administrative capital, Cotonou, is Benin's largest city and the
site of most government, commercial, and tourist activity. Read the Department of State Background Notes on Benin for additional information.

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS: A passport and visa are required. Visas are not routinely available at the airport. Visitors to Benin should also carry the WHO Yellow Card (“Carte Jaune”) indicating that they have been vaccinated for yellow fever. Contact the Embassy of Benin for the most current visa information. The Embassy is located at: 2124 Kalorama Road NW, Washington, DC 20008; tel: 202-232-6656.

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:
U.S. citizens should avoid crowds, political rallies, and street demonstrations and maintain security awareness at all times.
U.S. citizens should not walk on the beach alone at any time of day. It is also highly recommended not to carry a passport or valuables when walking in any part of the city. Travelers should carry a notarized photocopy of the photo page of their passport (see Crime section). They should not walk around the city after dark, and should take particular care to avoid the beach and isolated areas near the beach after dark.
The ocean currents along the coast are extremely strong and treacherous with rough surf and a strong undertow, and several people drown each year.

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

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

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

CRIME: Street robbery is a significant problem in Cotonou. Robbery and mugging occur along the Boulevard de France (the beach road by the Marina and Novotel Hotels) and on the beaches near hotels frequented by international visitors. Most of the reported incidents involve the use of force, often by armed persons, with occasional minor injury to the victim. Travelers should avoid isolated and poorly lit areas and should not walk around the city or the beaches between dusk and dawn. Even in daylight hours, foreigners on the beach near Cotonou are frequent victims of robberies. When visiting the beach, travelers should not bring valuables and should carry only a photocopy of their passport. If you are a victim of crime, you should contact the U.S. Embassy immediately. There has been a continued increase in the number of robberies and carjacking incidents after dark, both within metropolitan Cotonou and on highways and rural roads outside of major metropolitan areas. Motorists are urged to be wary of the risk of carjacking. Keep the windows of your vehicle rolled up and the doors locked. Stay alert for signs of suspicious behavior by other motorists or pedestrians that may lead to carjacking, such as attempts to stop a moving vehicle for no obvious reason. Travelers should avoid driving outside the city of Cotonou after dark and should exercise extreme caution when driving in Cotonou after dark (see Traffic Safety and Road Conditions below). Overland travel to Nigeria is dangerous near the Benin/Nigeria border due to unofficial checkpoints and highway banditry.
Travelers should avoid the use of credit cards and automated teller machines (ATMs) in Benin due to a high rate of fraud. Perpetrators of business and other kinds of fraud often target foreigners, including Americans. While such fraud schemes in the past have been largely associated with Nigeria, they are now prevalent throughout West Africa, including Benin, and are more frequently perpetrated by Beninese criminals. Business scams are not always easy to recognize, and any unsolicited business proposal should be carefully scrutinized. There are, nevertheless, some indicators that are warnings of a probable scam. Look out for:

Any offer of a substantial percentage of a very large sum of money to be transferred into your account, in return for your "discretion" or "confidentiality";

Any deal that seems too good to be true;
Requests for signed and stamped, blank letterhead or invoices, or for bank account or credit card information;
Requests for urgent air shipment, accompanied by an instrument of payment whose genuineness cannot immediately be established;
Solicitations claiming the soliciting party has personal ties to high government officials;
Requests for payment, in advance, of transfer taxes or incorporation fees;
Statements that your name was provided to the soliciting party either by someone you do not know or by "a reliable contact";
Promises of advance payment for services to the Beninese government; and
Any offer of a charitable donation.
These scams, which may appear to be legitimate business deals requiring advance payments on contracts, pose a danger of both financial loss and physical harm. Recently more American citizens have been targeted. The perpetrators of such scams sometimes pose as attorneys. One common ploy is to request fees for “registration” with fictitious government offices or regulatory authorities. The best way to avoid becoming a victim of advance-fee fraud is common sense – if it looks too good to be true, it probably is. Travelers should carefully check out any unsolicited business proposal originating in Benin before committing any funds, providing any goods or services, or undertaking any travel. For additional information, please see the Department of State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs brochure, International Financial Scams.

Scams may also involve persons posing as singles on Internet dating sites or as online acquaintances who then get into trouble and require money to be "rescued." If you are asked to send money by someone you meet online please contact the U.S. Embassy before doing so.

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

See our information on Victims of Crime.

MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION: Medical facilities in Benin are limited and not all medicines are available. Travelers should bring their own supplies of prescription drugs and preventive medicines. Not all medicines and prescription drugs available in Benin are USFDA-approved. Malaria is a serious risk to travelers to Benin. For information on malaria, its prevention, protection from insect bites, and anti-malarial drugs, please visit the CDC Travelers' Health web site at http://www.cdc.gov/malaria/.

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

With the exception of the road linking Cotonou in the south to Malanville on the border with Niger in the north, and from Parakou in central Benin to Natitingou in the northwestern part of the country, roads in Benin are generally in poor condition and are often impassable during the rainy season. Benin's unpaved roads vary widely in quality; deep sand and potholes are common. During the rainy season from mid-June to mid-September, dirt roads often become impassable. Four-wheel drive vehicles with full spare tires and emergency equipment are recommended.
Most of the main streets in Cotonou are paved, but side streets are often dirt with deep potholes. Traffic moves on the right, as in the United States. Cotonou has no public transportation system; many Beninese people rely on bicycles, mopeds, motorbikes, and zemidjans (moped taxis). All official Americans are required to wear safety helmets when on a motorcycle and are strongly discouraged from using zemidjans. Travelers using zemidjans, particularly at night, are much more vulnerable to being mugged, assaulted or robbed. Buses and bush taxis offer service in the interior.
Gasoline smuggled from Nigeria is widely available in glass bottles and jugs at informal roadside stands throughout Cotonou and much of the country. This gasoline is of unreliable quality, often containing water or other contaminants that can damage or disable your vehicle. Drivers should purchase fuel only from official service stations. There are periodic gas shortages, which can be particularly acute in the north of the country where there are few service stations.
U.S. citizens traveling by road should exercise extreme caution. Poorly maintained and overloaded transport and cargo vehicles frequently break down and cause accidents. Drivers often place branches or leaves in the road to indicate a broken down vehicle is in the roadway. Undisciplined drivers move unpredictably through traffic. Construction work is often poorly indicated. Speed bumps, commonly used on paved roads in and near villages, are seldom indicated. Drivers must be on guard against people and livestock wandering into or across the roads. Nighttime driving is particularly hazardous as vehicles frequently lack headlights and/or taillights, and brake lights are often burned out.
With few exceptions, Cotonou and other cities lack any street lighting, and lighting on roads between population centers is non-existent. The U.S. Embassy in Cotonou prohibits non-essential travel outside of metropolitan areas after dusk by official Americans and strongly urges all U.S. citizens to avoid night driving as well. There have been numerous carjackings and robberies on roads in Benin after dark, several of which resulted in murder when the driver refused to comply with the assailants' demands. The National Police periodically conduct vehicle checks at provisional roadblocks in an effort to improve road safety and reduce the increasing number of carjackings. When stopped at such a roadblock, you must have all of the vehicle's documentation available to present to the authorities.
Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information. Visit the website of the country’s national tourist office at http://www.benintourisme.com.

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

SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:
U.S. citizens are advised to keep a notarized photocopy of the photo page of their passport with them at all times when traveling in Benin.
The Embassy has had a few reports of officials requesting a "gift" to facilitate official administrative matters (e.g., customs entry). Such requests should be politely but firmly declined.
It is prohibited to photograph government buildings and other official sites, such as military installations, without the formal consent of the Government of Benin. In general, it is always best to be courteous and ask permission before taking pictures of people. Beninese citizens may react angrily if photographed without their prior approval.
Obtaining customs clearance at the port of Cotonou for donated items shipped to Benin from the United States may be a lengthy process. In addition, to obtain a waiver of customs duties on donated items, the donating organization must secure prior written approval from the Government of Benin. Please contact the U.S. Embassy in Cotonou for more detailed information.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 Benin laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Benin are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines. Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime, prosecutable in the United States. Please see our information on Criminal Penalties.

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

REGISTRATION / EMBASSY LOCATION:
Americans living or traveling in Benin are encouraged to register with the U.S. Embassy through the State Department’s travel registration web site so that they can obtain updated information on travel and security within Benin. Americans withoutInternet 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 at Rue Caporal Anani Bernard in Cotonou. The Embassy's mailing address is B.P. 2012, Cotonou, Benin. The 24-hour telephone numbers are (229) 21-30-06-50, 21-30-05-13, and 21-30-17-92. The Embassy’s general fax number is (229) 21-30-06-70; the Consular Section’s fax number is (229) 21-30-66-82; http://cotonou.usembassy.gov/.
* * *
This replaces the Country Specific Information for Benin dated August 17th, 2007 to update sections on Safety and Security and Traffic Safety and Road Conditions.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Fri, 10 May 2019 19:38:30 +0200
By Hazel WARD and Daphne BENOIT

Paris, May 10, 2019 (AFP) - French special forces have freed two French hostages, an American and a South Korean in northern Burkina Faso in an overnight raid in which two soldiers died, authorities announced Friday.   The operation was launched to free two French tourists who had disappeared while on holiday in the remote Pendjari National Park in neighbouring Benin on May 1.

But during the raid, the French troops were surprised to discover two women also in captivity, with top officials saying they had been held for 28 days.    The French tourists were identified as Patrick Picque, 51, and Laurent Lassimouillas, 46, but the women's identities were not immediately clear.     "No one was aware of (the women's) presence," French Defence Minister Florence Parly told reporters, while French armed forces chief Francois Lecointre said.   "We know little about these other two hostages," Parly told reporters, saying that even Seoul and Washington did not appear to be aware the pair were in increasingly unstable Burkina Faso.    The raid was approved by French President Emmanuel Macron in what was seen as the last opportunity to stop the hostages being transferred to lawless territory in Mali to the north.

Parly said it was "too early to say" who had snatched the two French nationals from Benin, which has long been an island of stability in a region where Islamist militants are increasingly active.   "The message to terrorists and criminal gangs is clear: those who attack France and its nationals know that we will not spare any effort to track them down, find them and neutralise them," she said.   Four of the six kidnappers were killed in the raid.    French forces, helped by intelligence provided by the United States, had been tracking the kidnappers for several days as they travelled across the semi-desert terrain of eastern Burkina Faso from Benin to Mali.   They seized the opportunity to prevent "the transfer of the hostages to another terrorist organisation in Mali," Lecointre said, referring to the Macina Liberation Front (FLM).   The FLM is a jihadist group formed in 2015 and headed by a radical Malian preacher, Amadou Koufa. It is aligned with Al-Qaeda in the region.

- US intelligence support -
In a statement, Macron congratulated the special forces on the operation, in which he also expressed sorrow over the death of the two soldiers "who gave their lives to save those of our citizens".   And Parly thanked authorities in Benin and Burkina Faso for their help with the "complex operation", as well as the United States which provided intelligence and support.

The operation was also made possible by the presence of France's Operation Barkhane, which counts some 4,500 troops deployed in Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad to help local forces battle jihadist groups.   American special forces and drones are also known to operate in the violence-wracked Sahel region, which France fears could become further destabilised as jihadist groups are pushed out of north Africa, Iraq and Syria.   Burkina Faso has suffered from increasingly frequent and deadly attacks attributed to a number of jihadist groups, including the Ansarul Islam group, the Group to Support Islam and Muslims (GSIM) and Islamic State in the Greater Sahara.

- Relief and sadness -
The French tourists -- Patrick Picque who works in a Paris jewellery shop, and Laurent Lassimouillas a piano teacher, -- went missing with their guide on the last leg of their holiday in usually peaceful Benin.   The Pendjari wildlife reserve, which is famed for its elephants and lions, lies close to the porous border with Burkina Faso.   The badly disfigured body of their guide was found shortly after they disappeared, as well as their abandoned four-wheel Toyota truck.   The two freed men will be flown back to France on Saturday, alongside the South Korean woman, where they will be met on arrival by Macron and other top French officials.   Washington thanked the French forces for freeing the American hostage, with France saying she would likely be "repatriated independently" from the other three. 

The two dead French soldiers were named as Cedric de Pierrepont and Alain Bertoncello, decorated naval special forces members born in 1986 and 1991 respectively.   They were part of the prestigious Hubert commando unit of the French naval special forces which was deployed to the Sahel at the end of March.   A total of 24 French soldiers have died in the region since 2013 when France intervened to drive back jihadist groups who had taken control of northern Mali. The last death was on April 2.
Date: Tue 15 Jan 2019
Source: Punch [edited]

The Kwara state government has confirmed 2 cases of Lassa fever infecting a husband and wife in the state.

Speaking with newsmen on Tuesday [15 Jan 2019] at a news briefing, the Kwara commissioner for health, Alhaji Usman Rifun-Kolo, said the outbreak of Lassa fever was identified in a farm settlement in Taberu, Baruten local government area.

He explained that the 2 cases of the disease affected a husband and wife, natives of Benin republic, which shares a border with the state. He added that the husband and wife are farming in Baruten. "These cases of Lassa fever originated from Benin republic, whose citizen have interrelations with people in the Baruten area," he said.

According to him, the husband and wife were diagnosed in a health facility, and the state government had already deployed a disease-surveillance team to identify those who have been in contact with the patients.

Rifun-Kolo further explained that the surveillance team identified 4 people with a history of fever in the area. He said that the 4 cases raised suspicion of Lassa fever, which prompted them to take samples from the individuals for further investigation. He noted that the 4 individuals have commenced treatment in Taberu, Baruten LGA.
=====================
[The above report states that the couple was infected in Benin, although the timeline when that may have occurred is not given. The report also mentions 4 individuals in the Kwara state who had a history of Lassa fever, implying that the virus is present in that state in Nigeria as well. In December [2018], there were Lassa fever cases in Benin that were imported from Nigeria as well as infections that were locally acquired in Benin, so the Lassa fever cases cross the border in both directions. The source of the infecting virus for any of these cases is not mentioned. - ProMED Mod.TY

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail maps:
Kwara state, Nigeria: <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/19690>]
Date: Wed 26 Dec 2018
Source: Quotidein Le Matinal [in French, trans. ProMED Corr.SB, edited]

Minister of health Benjamin Hounkpatin confirmed on Wednesday [26 Dec 2018] 4 new cases of Lassa haemorrhagic fever in Benin, including one in Cotonou. This occurred in the period from 15-26 Dec 2018.

In the case of Cotonou, a 28-year-old (has been infected). His case was detected on 24 Dec [2018], but his illness commenced the previous week. He had a fever, a cough, a cold, and fatigue. Due to the persistence of the cough and cold, and with the appearance of traces of blood in nasal discharge on 24 Dec 2018, the alert was given.

The patient was placed in isolation on [Tue 25 Dec 2018], and on the morning of Wed 26 Dec 2018, his result from the laboratory came back positive [for Lassa fever]. Subsequently, the patient was isolated and put on treatment.

According to the details provided by Hounkpatin, there is no indication of travel [by the patient] to an epidemic locality of Lassa fever. According to the patient's statements, there is no known contact with rodents.

Taking advantage of this opportunity, the minister reassured the public that public health measures are underway. He also reminded people of the behaviours that will help avoid becoming infected. This involves washing hands regularly with soap and water; avoiding contact with stool, sperm, urine, saliva, vomit, and contaminated objects from a person suspected to be ill or dead from Lassa; and protecting food and keeping it in a safe place, out of reach of rodents.

It should be recalled that 7 cases have been recorded since the beginning of the epidemic to date, including 5 positive cases.
=======================
[One case is located in Cotonou on the Benin coast and apparently was locally acquired, perhaps from contact with the rodent host or its excrement. The location of the other 3 cases is not mentioned, but a 13 Dec 2018 report indicated that there were 3 cases in the municipality of Parakou in Borgou Department, in the northern part of Benin. Perhaps these 3 cases, which came from the village Taberou (in Nigeria), located 5 km [3.1 mi] from Tandou in the commune of Tchaourou, are the ones mentioned in this report.

The previous Lassa fever cases in Benin this year [2018] occurred in January and also involved case importation from Nigeria. A previous WHO report stated that Lassa fever is endemic in bordering Nigeria, and, given the frequent population movements between Nigeria and Benin, the occurrence of additional cases is not unexpected. Strengthening of cross-border collaboration and information exchange between the 2 countries is, therefore, needed. - ProMED Mod.TY]

[Images of the rodent reservoirs of Lassa fever virus can be seen as follows:
For _Mastomys natalensis_, see
For _M. erythroleucus_ and _Hylomycus pamfi_, see

HealthMap/ProMED-mail maps:
Date: Fri, 29 Jun 2018 13:37:32 +0200

Cotonou, June 29, 2018 (AFP) - Benin's Constitutional Court has banned the right to strike by workers in the country's defence, security, justice and health sectors, sparking concern among union officials and legal observers.   The ruling, issued late on Thursday, came after months of wrangling between the government and the court, which had previously said the measure was unconstitutional.

"Civil servants, public security forces and equivalents should fulfil their duties in all circumstances and not exercise their right to strike," the court said in its new ruling.   "There should be no disruption to the duties of public sector defence, security, justice and health workers."   The decision was taken "in the public interest" and for "the protection of citizens", it said.

Speaking on Friday, one senior union leader, who asked to remain anonymous, described the ruling as shocking and a "hammer blow".   And Benin legal affairs expert Albert Medagbe told AFP the decision was a "worrying sudden legal U-turn".   Earlier this month, a close ally of President Patrice Talon, Joseph Djogbenou, was elected to lead the Constitutional Court during a vote held behind closed doors.   Djogbenou is Talon's former personal lawyer and was previously  Benin's attorney general.

Until his arrival, the court had strained relations with Talon, and had criticised the government for misunderstanding and failing to respect the constitution.   The small West African nation was last year hit by a wave of public sector strikes, which brought the education, health and justice system to a near halt.   The industrial action was sparked by Talon's attempts to introduce free-market reforms.
Date: Wed, 21 Feb 2018 17:31:52 +0100

Cotonou, Feb 21, 2018 (AFP) - Nine people appeared in a Benin court Wednesday on charges of selling fake drugs at the start of a landmark trial in a regional campaign against illicit medicines.   The suspects, who include executives from major pharmaceutical companies operating in the West African nation, were remanded in custody until March 6 on technical grounds.   They are accused of "the sale of falsified medicines, (and) display, possession with a view to selling, commercialisation or sale of falsified medical substances."   A tenth defendant, the head of the Directorate for Pharmacies, Medications and Diagnostic Evaluation (DPMED) under the control of the ministry of health, was not in court on the trial's opening day.   He is accused of failing to prevent the offences.

Benin launched the crackdown last year after mounting alarm about the scale of the trafficking of expired and counterfeit drugs in West Africa.   Fake medicines are drugs that are bogus or below regulatory standards but often are outwardly indistinguishable from the genuine product.   Taking them may do nothing to tackle an illness or -- in the case of antibiotics -- worsen the problem of microbial resistance.   According to an investigation by the Paris-based International Institute of Research Against Counterfeit Medicines (IRACM), West African markets are awash with fake drugs made in China and India.

In 2015, the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene estimated that 122,000 children under five died due to taking poor-quality antimalarial drugs in sub-Saharan Africa.   A 15-nation regional body, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), last April announced an investigation into the fake drugs business.   A lawyer for the civilian plaintiffs told AFP that the trial in Benin was adjourned until March 6 at their request "in order to incorporate another case, of illegal pharmaceutical practice".
More ...

World Travel News Headlines

Date: Mon, 16 Sep 2019 08:19:07 +0200 (METDST)

Tokyo, Sept 16, 2019 (AFP) - Almost 80,000 homes are still without power a week after a powerful typhoon battered eastern Japan, authorities said Monday, with sustained heavy rain prompting evacuation orders and hampering recovery efforts.    Typhoon Faxai powered into the Tokyo region in the early hours of Monday last week, packing record winds that brought down power lines, disrupted Rugby World Cup preparations and prompted the government to order tens of thousands of people to leave their homes.

The storm killed two people, with at least three elderly later confirmed dead due to heatstroke as temperatures soared to above 35 degrees Celsius (95 degrees Fahrenheit) in areas affected by a post-typhoon blackout.   Some 78,700 households were still without power in Chiba, southeast of the capital, Tokyo Electric Co. (TEPCO) spokesman Naoya Kondo told AFP.   "A complete recovery is still unlikely until September 27 as we have difficulties in mountain areas," he added.   Some 16,700 households were also without water because several water purification plants had no power, a local official said.   With help from the military, officials were dispatching water tanker trucks to the affected areas.

The national weather agency Monday issued new warnings for heavy rain in Chiba, while local authorities issued non-compulsory evacuation orders to 46,300 people due to the risk of landslides.   "A delay in recovery work is expected due to heavy rain," said Kenta Hirano, a disaster management official in Futtsu in Chiba, where more than 1,000 houses were damaged by the typhoon.   Local media showed residents in Chiba hurriedly covering broken roofs with blue tarps.   "We are at a loss as we can't live there again," a 66-year-old man told public broadcaster NHK after the typhoon ripped off the roof of his house.
Date: Sun, 15 Sep 2019 15:38:29 +0200 (METDST)

Athens, Sept 15, 2019 (AFP) - More than 160 firefighters on Sunday battled to contain a large fire near Athens blazing for a second day amid gale force winds, officials said.   And in another emergency, authorities evacuated dozens of people from two villages and a hotel on the island of Zakynthos after a new fire broke out on Sunday.

The fire department said the blaze near Athens burned in the mountains above Loutraki, a coastal resort some 60 kilometres (35 miles) west of Athens.   "The fire is burning near the top of the mountain," Stefanos Kolokouris, the fire department's deputy chief of operations, told state TV ERT.   "We are trying to create a perimeter but the terrain is very difficult, with ravines," he said.   Four water bombers and six helicopters were participating in operations. Given a lack of roads in the area, two squads of firefighters had to be carried to the mountaintop by Super Puma helicopter, state agency ANA said.   Officials had already evacuated 50 people from a local monastery when the fire broke out on Saturday, but stressed that other inhabited areas were not in danger.

On Zakynthos, officials ordered the evacuation of the villages of Agalas and Keri in the south of the island. Some 120 tourists were also relocated to a safe area.   The Greek fire department on Sunday said it had been called to nearly 80 fires over the past 24 hours.   It has already faced more than 9,600 rural and urban fires this year.
Date: Sat, 14 Sep 2019 16:08:47 +0200 (METDST)

Singapore, Sept 14, 2019 (AFP) - Pollution from forest fires in Indonesia pushed Singapore's air quality to unhealthy levels for the first time in three years on Saturday, the government said, a week ahead of the Formula One night race in the city.   The toxic smoke caused by burning to clear land for plantations is an annual problem for Indonesia's neighbours, but has been worsened this year by particularly dry weather.   "There has been a deterioration in the haze conditions in Singapore this afternoon," the National Environment Agency (NEA) said in a statement.   "This was due to a confluence of winds over the nearby region that led to more smoke haze from Sumatra being blown toward Singapore," it said, referring to one of the Indonesian islands where fires are raging.

The NEA said the pollutant standards index (PSI) worsened to 112 in parts of the island Saturday night.   An index reading between 101-200 is considered unhealthy, with residents advised against doing prolonged strenuous exercises outdoors.   Singapore may continue to experience hazy conditions over the next few days, the agency warned.   The city-state of 5.6 million people was shrouded in a thin white haze, with a few residents seen wearing face masks, but there was no major disruption to daily activities.   The F1 race is scheduled from Friday to Sunday on a street circuit in the Marina Bay financial district.

Singapore GP, the Formula One organisers, said the possibility of haze is one of the potential issues covered in their contingency plan for this year's grand prix.   "The plan was formulated and refined with stake holders, government bodies and the Formula One community," Singapore GP said in an emailed statement.   "In the event that the haze causes visibility, public health or operational issues, Singapore GP would work closely with the relevant agencies before making any collective decisions regarding the event."

Neighbouring Malaysia has also been affected by the smoke, with air quality in parts of the country including the capital Kuala Lumpur reaching unhealthy levels over the past few days and triggering a diplomatic row with Jakarta.   In 2015, the index reached "hazardous" levels of more than 300 in Singapore, forcing the closure of schools. Indonesian forest fires were the worst in two decades that year, firing up smog that blanketed large parts of Southeast Asia for weeks.
Date: Sat, 14 Sep 2019 11:16:53 +0200 (METDST)

Bangkok, Sept 14, 2019 (AFP) - Floods in northeastern Thailand have submerged homes, roads and bridges, leaving more than 23,000 people in evacuation shelters as anger grows over the government's "slow" emergency response.   Torrential rain has lashed the country for the last two weeks, causing flash floods and mudslides in almost half its provinces, with families evacuated from their homes in boats or makeshift rafts.   Since August 29, 32 people have been killed in the deluge, said a statement from the disaster department on Saturday that also gave the number of people staying in emergency shelters.   Two weather events are behind the widespread floods, the department said -- Storm Podul and a tropical depression that formed over the South China Sea called Kajiki.

Local media reports from the worst-hit province of Ubon Ratchathani showed people wading through chest-deep water and rescuers in boats trying to steer buffalo to higher ground.   Flooding in the province, which borders Laos and Cambodia, has been exacerbated by rising water levels in the Moon and Chi rivers.   "It will take three weeks to drain the floodwater" from up to 90 percent of inundated households, said provincial governor Sarit Witoon.   "The water has slightly receded about four centimetres today and I think it will keep going down," he added.

But the situation is already "unlivable" for families in one-storey homes, said Pongsak Saiwan, local director of opposition party Future Forward.   Access to an entire district is currently cut off due to flood waters, which are about two metres (6.5 foot) deep in the main town, while three major bridges are "impassable", he said.   "The government has been very slow in responding to the situation since the floods started in the beginning of September," Pongsak told AFP.   Ubon Ratchathani's plight started trending on Twitter this week with the hashtag #SaveUbon.   Aerial shots of the flood-hit plains blanketed with muddy river water were widely shared, as well as photos of stray dogs being rescued by passing boats.

One Twitter user compared the flood response to how quickly the government had mobilised and saved 12 young boys and their football coach from a waterlogged cave last year -- an incident that catapulted Thailand to international attention.   "Only 13 lives stuck in the cave and it was still very high-profile, but this is hundreds of thousands of lives," tweeted Yosita8051. "It's not okay."   Thailand's junta leader-turned-premier Prayut Chan O-Cha tweeted on Saturday that he has told agencies to "expedite assistance" to those in the affected areas.
Date: Fri, 13 Sep 2019 16:44:33 +0200 (METDST)

Niamey, Sept 13, 2019 (AFP) - Niger launched a campaign on Friday to vaccinate more than four million children against measles, one of the biggest causes of child mortality in the country, the health ministry said.

The one-week nationwide vaccination programme aims to "eliminate measles by the end of 2020", Health Minister Illiassou Mainassara said, adding, it "will reach 4.254 million children" aged from 9 months up to the age of five.   "Despite all the efforts made in the fight against communicable diseases, we still note the persistence of localised measles epidemics (in Niger)," Mainassara said on his way to the capital Niamey to launch the campaign.    But some experts say the vaccination programme should have kicked in sooner    "The delay of this campaign which should have happened in 2018 has resulted in ...the emergence of epidemics in several health districts," said Niger's UNICEF representative, Felicite Tchibindat.

Since January this year, 9,741 suspected cases have been documented in Niger resulting in 53 deaths, she said.   "Measles is a serious and extremely contagious viral disease and remains one of the leading causes of early childhood death, while it can be prevented by vaccination," TchibiNdat said.    She believes the children of migrants, refugees and displaced people will especially benefit from the campaign.    Niger's vaccination programme is supported by the World Health Organization (WHO), UNICEF (United Nations Children's Fund) and the Gavi vaccine Alliance.
Date: Fri, 13 Sep 2019 16:08:16 +0200 (METDST)

Nairobi, Sept 13, 2019 (AFP) - Kenya on Friday became the third country to start routinely innoculating infants against malaria, using the world's first vaccine to combat a disease that kills 800 children globally every day.   The vaccine -- lab name RTS,S -- targets the deadliest and most common form of malaria parasite in Africa, where children under five account for two-thirds of all global deaths from the mosquito-born illness.

Kenya joins Malawi and Ghana, which commenced their own pilot programs for the vaccine supported by the World Health Organization (WHO) earlier this year.   The vaccine will be introduced in phases across malaria-endemic parts of western Kenya near Lake Victoria, starting with Homa Bay, the country's health ministry said.   "It's an exciting time for Kenya as we roll out this vaccine in parts of the country where the burden of malaria is the highest," Health Minister Sicily Kariuki said in a statement.   RTS,S will be added to the national immunisation schedule in these areas, given alongside other routine shots for children under two.

The health ministry said 120,000 Kenyan children were expected to be vaccinated under the pilot programme.   The country has distributed insecticide-treated mosquito nets, fumigated homes and improved diagnostics in its fight against malaria.   But the disease remains stubborn. The health ministry says malaria claimed more than 10,000 lives in 2016, and infected millions more.   As in the rest of the world, children in Kenya bear the brunt of the disease.    Up to 27 percent of Kenyan children under five have been infected with the disease, the health ministry said.   "This vaccine represents an additional tool that will boost Kenya's efforts in reducing malaria infections and deaths among children," Kariuki said.   WHO says a child dies roughly every two minutes from malaria somewhere in the world.

- 30 years in making -
Known under its commercial name as Mosquirix, the vaccine was developed over 30 years by British pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline in partnership with nonprofit PATH and African research institutes.   It is the only vaccine to date to show a protective effect against malaria in young children, WHO says.   It acts against Plasmodium falciparum, the deadliest malarial parasite and the most prevalent in Africa, where illness and death from the disease remain high despite some gains.   The shots, administered over four doses, have been shown in clinical trials to significantly reduce cases of malaria, and malaria-related complications, in young children.   The vaccine prevented about four in 10 cases of malaria and three in 10 cases of the most severe, life-threatening form of the disease, within the trial group, WHO says.

Evidence gained from the vaccine pilot schemes could guide decisions about whether RTS,S is rolled out more widely in future, WHO says.   "This is the most advanced malaria vaccine that we have today. It has been in the making for the last almost three decades," Dr Richard Mihigo, WHO's co-ordinator of immunisation and vaccine development programme, told AFP before the Kenyan launch.   "Children are the most vulnerable group to this severe disease that is malaria, so protecting children can make a big impact in preventing malaria."   The disease kills more than 400,000 people around the world every year. Of these about 290,000 are under five.    Most are in Africa, where more than 90 percent of the world's malaria cases -- and fatalities -- occur.
Date: Fri, 13 Sep 2019 11:40:02 +0200 (METDST)

London, Sept 13, 2019 (AFP) - British Airways has cancelled all its scheduled UK flights for September 27, when company pilots will again strike in a long-running row over pay.   It comes after the carrier cancelled all flights departing and arriving in the UK on Monday and Tuesday owing to BA's first strike by pilots in the company's 100-year history.

In a statement released late Thursday, BA called on the British Airline Pilots Association (BALPA) union "to call off their strike and return to negotiations".    The airline added: "We are very sorry that BALPA's actions will affect thousands more travel plans."   This week's strike sparked travel chaos for about 200,000 passengers, mostly using London's Gatwick and Heathrow airports.   BALPA estimates that the 48-hour strike cost the airline £80 million ($99 million, 89 million euros), but BA has yet to provide a figure.
Date: Tue, 10 Sep 2019 13:02:19 +0200 (METDST)

Khartoum, Sept 10, 2019 (AFP) - Sudan reported four confirmed cases of cholera in Blue Nile Tuesday and said three people had also died of acute diarrhoea in the war-torn state.   Health Minister Akram al-Toum has asked the World Health Organization to send supplies of cholera vaccine immediately, the ministry said.

Ministry and WHO officials have been sent to the affected area.   "There are 37 cases of acute diarrhoea in Blue Nile... There have been three deaths," the ministry said in a statement.   Dozens of people died from acute diarrhoea in Sudan in 2016 after thousands of cases were reported nationwide.   Blue Nile state, which has a large ethnic minority population, has been the focus of a rebellion by the Sudan People's Liberation Army-North since 2011.   The army declared a ceasefire after the  overthrow of veteran president Omar al-Bashir earlier this year.
Date: Sat 14 Sep 2019
Source: Vax Before Travel [edited]

A new report from Japan's National Institute of Infectious Disease (NIID) indicates the Rubella virus outbreak continues to spread. As of [4 Sep 2019], there have been 2156 Rubella cases reported by the NIID during 2019.

This is an increase of about 260 rubella cases in Japan since July 2019. On a local basis, the city of Tokyo has reported 37% of Japan's 2019 Rubella cases.

Since Rubella is very dangerous for a pregnant woman and her developing baby, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said on [7 Aug 2019], "pregnant women who are not protected against rubella through either vaccination or previous rubella infection, should not travel to Japan during this outbreak."

But, pregnant women should not get a Rubella vaccination with the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) says the CDC. This is because the MMR vaccine is an attenuated "live virus" vaccine.

The CDC says "pregnant women who are not vaccinated should wait to get [the] MMR vaccine until after they have given birth. And, women of childbearing age should avoid getting pregnant for at least 4 weeks after receiving the MMR vaccine."

Additionally, the CDC says "if a pregnant woman contracts the rubella virus, her baby could have birth defects such as deafness, cataracts, heart defects, mental disabilities, and organ damage."

And, when a rubella infection occurs during early pregnancy, serious consequences, such as miscarriages, stillbirths, and severe birth defects in infants, which are known as Congenital Rubella Syndrome (CRS), [may result].

This new NIID report indicates there have been 3 CRS cases in Japan during 2019. As a comparison, during 2005-2015 in the USA, only 8 babies with CRS were reported.

Moreover, [fewer] than 10 people in the USA are reported as having rubella each year. Since 2012, all rubella cases had evidence that they were infected when they were living or traveling outside the USA.

To alert international travellers, the CDC issued a Level 2 Travel Alert regarding Japan's ongoing Rubella virus outbreak in August 2019. This "Practice Enhanced Precautions" Travel Alert says "travellers to Japan should make sure they are vaccinated against rubella with the MMR vaccine before visiting Japan." This CDC Travel Alert is important since approximately 4.5 million US citizens visit Japan annually.

Additionally, the Public Health Agency of Canada and the UK Foreign Travel Advice recommend "pregnant women who are not protected against rubella avoid traveling to Japan."

In the USA, there are 2 approved rubella vaccines: MMR II-Rubella and ProQuad. Both rubella vaccines are available at most pharmacies. Travelers to Japan can request a rubella vaccine counselling appointment with a local pharmacist.

Rubella vaccines, like any medicine, can produce side effects. [People] are encouraged to report vaccine side effects to a healthcare provider or the CDC.  [Byline: Dani Reiter]
========================
[See discussion of rubella in ProMED-mail Rubella - Japan (02)

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map:
Date: Tue 10 Sept 2019
Source: Focus Taiwan [edited]

Taiwan's enterovirus cases continued to increase last week, bringing the total number to nearly 20 000 between [1 and 7 Sep 2019], the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) said Tuesday [10 Sep 2019].

A total of 19 254 patients sought outpatient or emergency treatment at hospitals for enterovirus infection around the country, up 4% from the figure recorded the previous week [25-31 Aug 2019] and the highest over the same period in nearly 5 years, according to CDC data.

CDC physician Lin Yung-ching said there were 2 severe cases recorded last week, one of which involved an 8-month-old girl and the other a 4-year-old boy, both in central Taiwan. The 2 children were reported in stable condition after treatment.

Some of the 2 patients' family members or classmates with whom they had had contact have also been confirmed as enterovirus cases, and the CDC judged that the infection might have been spread through contact, Lin said.

A total of 303 cases of enterovirus-71 (EV-71), the most severe enterovirus strain, have been reported so far this year [2019], the highest in the same period from 2016 to 2018.

Meanwhile, a total of 36 cases with severe complications have been recorded nationwide, including 27 EV-71 cases, according to CDC statistics.

EV-71 is a neurological disease that attacks the nervous system, and infants under the age of 5 are at highest risk of developing severe complications from this type of infection.

In extreme cases, EV-71 can cause polio-like permanent paralysis, according to the CDC. As Taiwan is still in the peak season for enterovirus infection, CDC Deputy Director-General Philip Lo urged the public to take precautions against the spread of the illness, especially among children.

Children infected with enterovirus should be kept away from school so as to prevent the spread of the disease, as enterovirus is highly contagious, Lo advised.  [Byline: Chen Wei-ting and Evelyn Kao]
=====================
[The enteroviruses are spread from person to person by coughs, sneezes, or touching objects or surfaces that have the virus on them. Therefore, practicing good personal hygiene -- washing hands regularly and thoroughly with soap and water -- is the best way to prevent from getting and spreading the infectious disease.

However, most people infected with non-polio enteroviruses do not get sick, or present with mild illness, like the common cold. Infants, children, and teenagers are more likely than adults to get infected and become sick because they do not yet have immunity (protection) from previous exposures to the viruses. Adults can get infected too, but they are less likely to have symptoms, or their symptoms may be milder. Symptoms of mild illness may include fever; runny nose, sneezing, and cough; skin rash; mouth blisters; and body and muscle aches.

Some non-polio enterovirus infections can lead to:
- Viral conjunctivitis;
- Hand-foot-mouth disease;
- Viral meningitis (infection of the covering of the spinal cord and/or brain);
- Viral encephalitis (infection of the brain);
- Myocarditis (infection of the heart);
- Pericarditis (infection of the sac around the heart);
- Acute flaccid paralysis (a sudden onset of weakness in one or more arms or legs);
- Inflammatory muscle disease (slow, progressive muscle weakness).

Infants and people with weakened immune systems have a greater chance of having these complications. People who develop myocarditis may have heart failure and require long-term care. Some people who develop encephalitis or paralysis may not fully recover.

Enterovirus cases were reported from Taipei, Taiwan in 2017 (Human enterovirus - Taiwan: alert http://promedmail.org/post/20170418.4978387), and health alerts like the one mentioned in report above were issued to the general public to observe proper hygiene to reduce disease transmission. Also the case number for EV-71 associated severe disease has also increased, which is a cause for public health concern. - ProMED Mod.UBA]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map: