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Antartica

General:
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Cuba is an independent island country situated in the Caribbean. It is the largest of the islands and covers 42,000sq miles. The climate is sub tropical throughout the year with most of the rainfall in
the northern parts of the country. Temperatures of between 20C to 35C are fairly standard throughout the year. Generally the winter effects of the American continent only last for short periods.
Safety & Security:
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The majority of tourists visiting Cuba will have no difficulty but bag snatching and other street crime appears to be increasing. The old Havana area and other major tourist resorts may be particular areas of concern in this regard. On arrival be careful to only use your recognised tour operator. If you are taking a taxi at any stage make sure it is a registered one and not a private vehicle. It is unwise to carry large quantities of money or jewellery away from your hotel and try not to flaunt wealth with your belongings. Pickpockets are too common an occurrence on buses and trains and at train stations so be careful with your essential documents and credit cards. Valuables should not be stored in suitcases when arriving in or departing from Havana as there have been a number of thefts from cases during the time the cases are coming through baggage handling. There is an airport shrink-wrap facility for those departing Havana which reduces the risk of tampering. Remember to carry a photocopy of your main documents (passport, flight tickets etc).
Road Safety:
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Following a number of serious road accidents involving tourists, you are advised not to use mopeds for travelling around Cuba or in Havana. Also, if you are involved in any accident a police investigation will be required to clear you and this may significantly delay your travel plans. On unlit roads at night there have been a number of accidents associated with roaming cattle (sounds like Ireland!). The traffic moves on the right side of the roads. There is a main highway running the length of the country but many of the country roads are in poor repair.
Local Laws & Customs:
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When arriving into Cuba make sure you are not carrying any items which could be considered offensive. Any illicit drug offense is treated very seriously and Cuban law allows for the death penalty to be used under these circumstances. If you require personal medication for your health, make sure it is in original packing and carry a letter from your doctor describing the medication. Never agree to carry any item for another individual and always secure your cases once they are packed. Taking photographs of military or police installations or around harbours, rail and airport facilities is strictly forbidden.

Currency:
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Since 1993 it is now possible to use US dollars for all transactions within Cuba. Remember, there is a 20$ airport departure tax. Certain travellers cheques and credit cards may not be acceptable within Cuba. This is particularly true of American Express cheques and cards but check your situation with the travel operator before departure.
Health Facilities:
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Generally healthcare facilities outside of Havana are limited and many standard medications may not be available. It is important to carry sufficient quantities of any medications which may be required for the duration of your time in Cuba.
Food & Water:
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The level of food and water hygiene varies throughout the country and between resorts. On arrival check the hotel cold water supply for the smell of chlorine. If it is not present then use sealed bottled water for both drinking and brushing your teeth throughout your stay. Cans and bottles of drinks are safe but take care to avoid pre-cut fruit. Peel it yourself to make sure it is not contaminated. Food from street vendors should be avoided in most cases. Bivalve shellfish are also a high risk food in many countries and Cuba is no exception in this regard. (Eg Mussels, Oysters, Clams etc)
Malaria & Mosquito Borne Diseases:
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Malaria transmission does not occur within Cuba and so prophylaxis is not required. However, a different mosquito borne disease called Dengue has begun to reoccur in the country over the past few years. This viral disease can be very sickening and even progress to death. It is rare for tourists to become infected but avoiding mosquito bites is a wise precaution.
Swimming, Sun & Dehydration:
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The extent of the Cuban sun (particular during the summer months (April to October) can be very excessive so make sure your head and shoulders are covered at all times when exposed. Watch children carefully as they will be a significant risk. Drink plenty of fluids to replace what will be lost through perspiration and, unless there is a reason not to,
take extra salt either on your food or in crisps, peanuts etc. Take care if swimming in the Caribbean to stay with others and to listen to local advice. Never swim after a heavy meal or alcohol.
Rabies Risk in Cuba:
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This viral disease does occur throughout Cuba and it is essential that you avoid any contact with all warm blooded animals. Dogs, cats and monkeys are the most commonly involved in spreading the disease to humans. Don't pick up a monkey for a photograph! If bitten, wash out the wound, apply an antiseptic and seek urgent medical attention.
Vaccinations for Cuba:
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There are no essential vaccines for entry / exit if coming from Ireland. However, for your own personal protection travellers are advised to have cover against the following;
*
Tetanus (childhood booster)
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Typhoid (food & water borne disease)
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Hepatitis A (food & water borne disease)
For those planning a longer or more rural trip vaccine cover against conditions like Hepatitis B and Rabies may also need to be considered.
Summary:
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Cuba is becoming a popular destination for tourists and generally most will stay very healthy. However commonsense care against food and water borne disease is essential at all times. Also take care with regard to sun exposure, dehydration and mosquito bites.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Thu, 17 May 2018 09:57:07 +0200

Buenos Aires, May 17, 2018 (AFP) - Tourism regulation in Antarctica has become an urgent matter due to environmental threats, officials from the 53 member countries of the Antarctic Treaty warned at their annual meeting, held this week in Buenos Aires.

In the absence of rules, travel agencies offer trips to the region on boats sometimes equipped with helicopters or submarines, according to Segolene Royal, French ambassador for the Arctic and Antarctic poles.   "This activity creates considerable disturbance ... we are witnessing a race toward large-scale tourism that is dangerous for ecosystems," she said at the assembly on Wednesday.

During the austral summer of 2016/2017, around 44,000 tourists set off for Antarctica, compared with just 9,000 in 1995/1996, according to French authorities.   However, the push for regulation is not about banning tourism, former environmental minister Royal said, but rather about ensuring it is managed in compliance with the treaty and its environmental protection protocol.

In Buenos Aires, the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting  -- whose mission is to regulate human activity on the continent -- also sought to encourage scientific cooperation between countries that have collectively set up around 100 research bases across the ice.   Also up for analysis is China's proposed fifth permanent scientific station in Antarctica, which would be located in the Ross Sea area south of New Zealand.
Date: Wed, 5 Jul 2017 13:01:49 +0200
By Marlowe HOOD

Paris, July 5, 2017 (AFP) - A chunk of ice bigger than the US state of Delaware is hanging by a thread from the West Antarctic ice shelf, satellite images revealed Wednesday.   When it finally calves from the Larsen C ice shelf, one of the biggest icebergs in recorded history will be set adrift -- some 6,600 square kilometres (2,550 square miles) in total, according to the European Space Agency (ESA).

The iceberg's depth below sea level could be as much as 210 metres (almost 700 feet), or about 60 storeys, it said.   "The crack in the ice is now around 200 kilometres (125 miles) long, leaving just five kilometres between the end of the fissure and the ocean," the ESA said in a statement.   "Icebergs calve from Antarctica all the time, but because this one is particularly large its path across the ocean needs to be monitored as it could pose a hazard to maritime traffic."

Scientists tracking the berg's progression expect it to break of within months.    The Larsen C shelf will lose more than 10 percent of its total surface area.   The massive ice cube will float in water and by itself will not add to sea levels when it melts.   The real danger is from inland glaciers.   Ice shelves float on the sea, extending from the coast, and are fed by slow-flowing glaciers from the land.    They act as giant brakes, preventing glaciers from flowing directly into the ocean.   If the glaciers held in check by Larsen C spilt into the Antarctic Ocean, it would lift the global water mark by about 10 centimetres (four inches), researchers have said.

The calving of ice shelves occurs naturally, though global warming is believed to have accelerated the process.   Warming ocean water erodes the underbelly of the ice shelves, while rising air temperatures weaken them from above.   The nearby Larsen A ice shelf collapsed in 1995, and Larsen B dramatically broke up seven years later.   The ESA is keeping an eye on Larsen C with its Copernicus and CryoSat Earth orbiters.

Man-made global warming has already lifted average global air temperatures by about one degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) since pre-industrial levels.    Antarctica is one of the world's fastest-warming regions.   The world's nations undertook in the Paris Agreement, inked in 2015, to cap average global warming at "well under" 2 C.
Date: Wed, 22 Jun 2016 21:35:09 +0200
By Jean-Louis SANTINI

Washington, June 22, 2016 (AFP) - Two sick workers were evacuated from a remote US research station near the South Pole on Wednesday in a risky rescue mission carried out in the dead of Antarctica's winter, a US official said.   A Twin Otter turboprop plane flew in dark and cold conditions to pick up the workers from the Amundsen-Scott station, about 250 meters from the geographic South Pole, a spokesman for the US National Science Foundation (NSF), Peter West told AFP.

The plane's crew and a medical team had made the 10-hour journey to the South Pole in the middle of Antarctica's 24-hour winter on Tuesday night to reach the unidentified patients, who could not be treated on site.   The NSF -- the US research agency that operates the Amundsen-Scott Station -- organized the rescue mission last week given the condition of the first patient, which was not disclosed for privacy reasons.   "It was really an emergency," West said.   It later became apparent that the second worker also needed to be evacuated.

The sick workers -- employees of the US company Lockheed Martin who worked on base logistics -- were then taken to the Rothera base, a British research station some 2,200 kilometers (about 1,365 miles) away, the spokesman said.   The pair, who were not identified, were then to be transferred to a hospital in South America, West said, without giving further details.   The Amundsen-Scott base was home to 48 people -- 39 men and nine women -- who work on-site throughout the austral winter, which spans February through October.

- Rare rescue mission -
Near the world's southernmost point, workers spend this period withstanding nearly complete darkness and dramatically low temperatures -- on Tuesday, the thermometer dropped to -60 degrees Celsius (-76 degrees Fahrenheit).   It was only the third time that an emergency rescue operation has been launched in the middle of winter.   In 2001, the only doctor at the Amundsen-Scott station was suffering from a life-threatening pancreatic condition and required urgent evacuation. A second medical evacuation was carried out that year.

In 1999, the US station's doctor Jerri Nielsen, who was self-treating her own breast cancer, required medical evacuation but weather conditions were more favorable, as the mission took place in the spring.  The Twin Otter plane, operated by the Canadian company Kenn Borek Air, is specially designed to operate in extremely cold temperatures.

Research projects at the Amundsen-Scott station include monitoring long-term levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere.     The station also operates two telescopes that observe "cosmic microwave background" radiation -- the faint light signature left by the Big Bang -- to study the origins of the universe, dark energy and dark matter.
Date: Wed, 18 Jun 2014 09:04:56 +0200 (METDST)
by Martin PARRY

SYDNEY, June 18, 2014 (AFP) - Antarctic scientists warned Wednesday that a surge in tourists visiting the frozen continent and new roads and runways built to service research facilities were threatening its fragile environment.   Tourist numbers have exploded from less than 5,000 in 1990 to about 40,000 a year, according to industry figures, and most people go to the fragmented ice-free areas that make up less than one percent of Antarctica.   A growing number of research facilities are also being built, along with associated infrastructure such as fuel depots and runways, in the tiny ice-free zones.

It is these areas which contain most of the continent's wildlife and plants, yet they are among the planet's least-protected, said a study led by the Australian government-funded National Environmental Research Programme (NERP) and the Australian Antarctic Division.   "Many people think that Antarctica is well protected from threats to its biodiversity because it's isolated and no one lives there," said Justine Shaw from the NERP of the study published in the journal PLoS Biology.   "However, we show that there are threats to Antarctic biodiversity.   "Most of Antarctica is covered in ice, with less than one percent permanently ice-free," she added.   "Only 1.5 percent of this ice-free area belongs to Antarctic Specially Protected Areas under the Antarctic Treaty System, yet ice-free land is where the majority of biodiversity occurs."   Five of the distinct ice-free areas have no protection at all while all 55 of the continent's protected zones are close to sites of human activity.

- Fragile ecosystems -
Steven Chown of Monash University, another collaborator in the study, said the ice-free areas contain very simple ecosystems due to Antarctica's low species diversity.   This makes its native wildlife and plants extremely vulnerable to invasion by outside species, which can be introduced by human activity.   "Antarctica has been invaded by plants and animals, mostly grasses and insects, from other continents," he said.    "The very real current and future threats from invasions are typically located close to protected areas.    "Such threats to protected areas from invasive species have been demonstrated elsewhere in the world, and we find that Antarctica is, unfortunately, no exception."

The study said the current level of protection was "inadequate by any measure" with Shaw saying more was needed to guard against the threat posed by the booming tourism industry.   "(We need) to protect a diverse suite of native insects, plants and seabirds, many of which occur nowhere else in the world," she said.   "We also need to ensure that Antarctic protected areas are not going to be impacted by human activities, such as pollution, trampling or invasive species."   Antarctica is considered one of the last frontiers for adventurous travellers.   Most travel by sea, some paying in excess of US$20,000 for a luxury cabin in the peak period from November to March. There is also a healthy market for sightseeing flights.

Approximately 30 nations operate permanent research stations on the continent including the US, China, Russia, Australia, Britain, France and Argentina, and more are on the way.   China's state media said in December that the country was building its fourth base and a fifth was being planned.   Fellow study author Hugh Possingham, from NERP, said that without better protection "this unique and fragile ecosystem could be lost".   "Although we show that the risks to biodiversity from increasing human activity are high, they are even worse when considered together with climate change," he added.    "This combined effect provides even more incentive for a better system of area protection in Antarctica."
Date: Sun, 17 Nov 2013 12:27:56 +0100 (MET)

WASHINGTON, Nov 17, 2013 (AFP) - A powerful 7.8 magnitude undersea earthquake struck in the Scotia Sea, a remote region in the far south Atlantic near Antarctica, US earthquake monitors reported Sunday.   The quake struck at 0904 GMT in the ocean some 893 kilometers (550 miles) southwest of Grytviken, South Georgia, and 1,140 kilometres (710 miles) southeast of Ushuaia, Argentina, said the US Geological Survey, which monitors earthquakes worldwide.   The epicenter was at a depth of 10 kilometers (6.2 miles), and was near that of a 6.8 magnitude undersea earthquake that the USGS registered in the Scotia Sea some 30 hours earlier.

The quake occurred at the boundary between the Antarctic tectonic plate and the Scotia Sea plate, said geophysicist Randy Baldwin at the National Earthquake Information Center in Golden, Colorado.   "They're sliding past one another horizontally, it's not a subduction zone," Baldwin told AFP. "There will be aftershocks probably for weeks."   There were no tsunami warnings since there were no vertical movements in the seafloor as occur in a subduction quake, when one tectonic plate moves under another one, Baldwin said.   Yet despite the enormous energy unleashed the area is so remote that there is little or no impact to humans, he said.   "You couldn't pick a more remote area for an earthquake," he said.
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Belize

Belize US Consular Information Sheet
November 05, 2008
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
Belize is a developing country.
Tourism facilities vary in quality, from a limited number of business class hotels in Belize City and resorts on the cayes to
range of ecotourism lodges and very basic accommodations in the countryside.
Crime is a growing concern. Read the Department of State Background Notes on Belize for additional information.

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS :
All U.S. citizens must have a U.S. passport valid for the duration of their visit to Belize.
U.S. citizens do not need visas for tourist visits of up to thirty days, but they must have onward or return air tickets and proof of sufficient funds to maintain themselves while in Belize.
Visitors for purposes other than tourism, or who wish to stay longer than 30 days, must obtain visas from the government of Belize.
All tourists and non-Belizean nationalities are required to pay an exit fee of U.S. $35 (payable in U.S. dollars only) when leaving Belize. Additional information on entry and customs requirements may be obtained from the Embassy of Belize at 2535 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Washington, DC
20008, Tel. (202) 332-9636 or at their web site:
http://www.embassyofbelize.org.

Information is also available at the Belizean Consular offices in Miami, and Los Angeles, or at the Belizean Mission to the UN in New York.
Visit the Embassy of Belize web site at http://belize.usembassy.gov for the most current visa information.

Information about dual nationality or the prevention of international child abduction can be found on our web site.
For further information about customs regulations, please read our Customs Information sheet.
SAFETY AND SECURITY:
Visitors should exercise caution and good judgment when visiting Belize.
Crime can be a serious problem (see Crime), particularly in Belize City and remote areas.
Road accidents are common (see Traffic Safety and Road Conditions) and traffic fatalities have included Americans.
Public buses and taxis are frequently in poor condition and lack safety equipment.
Medical care is limited and emergency response services such as ambulances or paramedics may be either unavailable or limited in capability or equipment (See Medical Facilities and Health Information).

Boats serving the public, especially water taxis, often do not carry sufficient safety equipment, may carry an excess number of passengers and may sail in inclement weather.
Rental diving equipment may not always be properly maintained or inspected, and some local dive masters fail to consider the skill levels of individual tourists when organizing dives to some of Belize’s more challenging sites. Deaths and serious mishaps have occurred as a result of negligent diving tour operators and the lack of strict enforcement of tour regulations. The Embassy strongly recommends that anyone interested in scuba diving and snorkeling while in Belize check the references, licenses and equipment of tour operators before agreeing to or paying for a tour.
Both tour guides and boat captains are now required to be licensed by the Government of Belize. Safety precautions and emergency response capabilities may not be up to U.S. standards.

Following a fatal accident at the Cave Branch Archeological Park in September 2008, the Belize Tourism Board (BTB) is implementing new regulations, effective and legally enforced beginning October 15, 2008, to improve safety at cave tubing attractions.
Those policies will include an enhanced, mandatory guest-to-guide ratio of eight-to-one for all operating cave tubing tour companies in Belize.
Additional signage will be posted in each cave tubing excursion site, informing participants of park rules and current water conditions and/or warnings.
Mandatory specialty training for each cave tubing guide will continue and include education on new regulations.

Helmets will also be required for each cave tubing participant starting January 1, 2009.
Furthermore, the National Institute of Culture and History (NICH), which manages the Cave Branch Archeological Park, will be installing additional monitoring equipment for cave tubing excursions which measure currents and other factors needing to be taken into considerations to ensure participant safety,

Cave tubing participants are urged to exercise due caution and their own best judgment regarding safety and river conditions at the time of their tour, particularly during the rainy/hurricane season from June 1 through November 30.
Rainfall upstream from tour sites, sometimes miles away, can cause rapid changes in current strength and water level conditions without notice.

The border between Belize and Guatemala is in dispute, but the dispute thus far has not affected travel between the two countries.
There have not been any terrorist activities in Belize.

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:
The incidence of crime, including violent crimes such as armed robbery, shooting, stabbing, murder, and rape, is on the rise.
The Embassy has noted an increase in recent years in reports of crimes against tourists at resorts and on the roadways and river ways.
The incidence of crimes such as theft, burglary, purse snatching and pick pocketing rises around the winter holidays and spring break.
Several victims who resisted when confronted by criminals have received serious personal injuries, including gunshot wounds.
Although the majority of reported incidents are in Belize City, crime occurs in all districts including tourist spots such as San Pedro, Caye Caulker, and Placencia.

Sexual harassment and/or assault of females traveling alone or in small groups have occurred this past year.
Several American travelers have been the victims of sexual assaults in recent years. One of these occurred after the victim accepted a lift from an acquaintance, while others have occurred during armed robberies in resort areas.
One of these assaults has resulted in the death of the victim.

The Embassy recommends that visitors travel in groups and only in daylight hours, stay off the streets after dark, in urban and rural areas, and avoid wearing jewelry, or carrying valuable or expensive items.
As a general rule, valuables should not be left unattended, including in hotel rooms and on the beach.
Care should be taken when carrying high value items such as cameras, or when wearing expensive jewelry on the street.
Women’s handbags should be zipped and held close to the body.
Men should carry wallets in their front pants pocket.
Large amounts of cash should always be handled discreetly.

If traveling by taxi, use only vehicles with green license plates, do not get in a taxi that is occupied by more than the driver, and do not let the driver pick up additional fares.

Armed robberies of American tourist groups occurred during the summer of 2006 in the Mountain Pine Ridge and Caracol regions of the western district of Belize.
Due to increased police patrols, coordinated tours among resort security managers, and the arrest of two of the "highway bandits," there have not been any additional robberies since June, 2006. In the past, criminals have targeted popular Mayan archeological sites in that region.
Visitors should travel in groups and should stick to the main plazas and tourist sites.
Although there are armed guards posted at some of the archeological sites, armed criminals have been known to prey on persons walking from one site to another.
Victims who resist when confronted by these armed assailants frequently suffer personal injury.

Travel on rural roads, especially at night, increases the risk of encountering criminal activities.
Widespread narcotics and alien smuggling activities can make remote areas especially dangerous.
Though there is no evidence that Americans in particular are targeted, criminals look for every opportunity to attack, so all travelers should be vigilant.

Rather than traveling alone, use a reputable tour organization.
It is best to stay in groups, travel in a caravan consisting of two or more vehicles, and stay on the main roads.
Ensure that someone not traveling with you is aware of your itinerary.
Travelers should resist the temptation to stay in budget hotels, which are generally more susceptible to crime, and stay in the main tourist destinations.
Do not explore back roads or isolated paths near tourist sites.
And remember always to pay close attention to your surroundings.

Americans visiting the Belize-Guatemala border area should consider carefully their security situation and should travel only during daylight hours. Vehicles should be in good operating condition, adequately fueled, and carry communications equipment.
Persons traveling into Guatemala from Belize should check the Country Specific Information for Guatemala and the U.S. Embassy web site at http://guatemala.usembassy.gov for the latest information about crime and security in Guatemala.

A lack of resources and training impedes the ability of the police to investigate crimes effectively and to apprehend serious offenders. As a result, a number of crimes against Americans in Belize remain unresolved.
Nonetheless, victims of crime should report immediately to the police all incidents of assault, robbery, theft or other crimes as well as notifying the U.S. Embassy in Belmopan, telephone 822-4011(after hours and weekends 610-5030).
Tourists may contact the Belizean tourist police unit in addition to the main police office for assistance.

In addition to reporting crimes to local police, American citizens should report all criminal incidents to the U.S. Embassy in Belmopan, telephone 822-4011 (after hours and weekends 610-5030).
The embassy staff can assist an American with finding appropriate medical care, contacting family members or friends, and having funds transferred, as well as in determining whether any assistance is available from the victim’s home state.
Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help explain the local criminal justice process and assist in finding an attorney if needed.

Drug use is common in some tourist areas.
American citizens should avoid buying, selling, holding, or taking illegal drugs under any circumstances.
Penalties for possession of drugs or drug paraphernalia are generally more severe than in the U.S.

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

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

See our information on Victims of Crime.
MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:
Medical care for minor conditions is generally available in urban areas.
Trauma or advanced medical care is limited even in Belize City; it is extremely limited or unavailable in rural areas.
Serious injuries or illnesses often necessitate evacuation to another country.
The Government of Belize reported an outbreak of dengue fever in April, May and June of 2005.

Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC’s web site at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/default.aspx.
For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization’s (WHO) web site at http://www.who.int/en.
Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith/en.

MEDICAL INSURANCE:
The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation.
Please see our information on medical insurance overseas .
TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS:
While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States.
The information below concerning Belize is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.

Valid U.S. driver's licenses and international driving permits are accepted in Belize for a period of three months after entry.
Driving is on the right-hand side of the road.
Buses and private vehicles are the main mode of transportation in Belize; no trains operate in the country.
Roadside assistance can be difficult to summon, as there are very few public telephones along the road and emergency telephone numbers do not always function properly.
The Belizean Department of Transportation is responsible for road safety.

Roads in Belize vary from two-lane paved roads to dirt tracks.
The few paved roads are high-crowned roads, which can contribute to cars overturning, and have few markings or reflectors.
Even in urban areas, few streets have lane markings, leading many motorists to create as many lanes as possible in any given stretch of street or road.
Bridges on the major highways are often only single lanes.
The Manatee Road, leading from the Western Highway to Dangriga, is unpaved, easily flooded after storms and without services.
The Southern Highway from Dangriga to Punta Gorda is mostly completed and in good condition, except for a short portion that is under construction.
Service stations are plentiful along the major roads, although there are some significant gaps in the rural areas.

During Tropical Storm Alma/Arthur in May-June 2008, the Southern Highway bridge over the Sittee River, north of Kendall, Stann Creek District, was destroyed.
In the interim, a temporary causeway has been constructed pending permanent replacement of the Kendall bridge but at times the causeway may not be passable due to conditions on the Sittee River.
The causeway itself has had to be replaced several times following major rainfall and flooding.

Poor road and/or vehicle maintenance causes many fatal accidents on Belizean roads.
Speed limits are 55 miles per hour on most highways and 25 miles per hour on most other roads, but they are seldom obeyed or even posted.
Many vehicles on the road do not have functioning safety equipment such as turn signals, flashers, or brake lights.
Seatbelts for drivers and front-seat passengers are mandatory, but child car seats are not required.
Driving while intoxicated is punishable by a fine; if an alcohol-related accident results in a fatality, the driver may face manslaughter charges. Moreover, Americans can and have been imprisoned in Belize for accidents, even where alcohol is not involved.

Unusual local traffic customs include: pulling to the right before making a left turn; passing on the right of someone who is signaling a right-hand turn; stopping in the middle of the road to talk to someone while blocking traffic; carrying passengers, including small children, in the open beds of trucks; and tailgating at high speeds.

Bicycles are numerous and constitute a traffic hazard at all times.
Bicyclists often ride against traffic and do not obey even basic traffic laws such as red lights or stop signs.
Few bicycles have lights at night. It is common to see bicyclists carrying heavy loads or passengers, including balancing small children on their laps or across the handlebars.
The driver of a vehicle that strikes a bicyclist or pedestrian is almost always considered to be at fault, regardless of circumstances.
Americans who have struck cyclists in Belize have faced significant financial penalty or even prison time.

Driving at night is not recommended, due to poor signage and road markings, a tendency not to dim the lights when approaching other vehicles, and drunk driving.
Pedestrians, motorcyclists and bicyclists without lights, reflectors, or reflective clothing also constitute a very serious after-dark hazard.
Local wildlife and cattle also are road hazards in rural areas.
For safety reasons, travelers should not stop to offer assistance to others whose vehicles apparently have broken down.

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 Belize’s Civil Aviation Authority as not being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for oversight of Belize’s air carrier operations.
For more information, travelers may visit the FAA’s web site at http://www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa.

SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:
Belize is vulnerable to tropical storms, especially from June 1 until November 30 of each year. General information on weather conditions may be obtained from the National Hurricane Center at http://www.nhc.noaa.gov.

It is not possible to access most U.S. bank accounts through automated teller machines (ATMs) in Belize.
However, travelers can usually obtain cash advances from local banks, Monday through Friday, using major international credit cards.

Special Notice for Dual Nationals:
A person who is a citizen of both the U.S. and Belize is able to enter Belize with only a Belizean passport; such a dual national should be aware, however, that he/she must have a U.S. passport in order to board a flight to the U.S. from Belize, and that average processing time for a passport at the U.S. Embassy in Belize is approximately 10 working days.

Belize customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation into or export from Belize of firearms.
It is advisable to contact the Embassy of Belize in Washington or one of Belize’s Consulates in the U.S. for specific information regarding customs requirements.
Please see our Customs Information.
CRIMINAL PENALTIES:
While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law.
Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses.
Persons violating Belize laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Belize 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.
Belize has strict laws making possession of a firearm or ammunition illegal unless a valid permit is obtained.
Penalties for firearms violations are severe.
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 Belize are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department’s travel registration web site in order to obtain updated information on travel and security within Belize.
Americans withoutInternet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in case of emergency.
The U.S. Embassy is located in the capital city of Belmopan, approximately 50 miles west of Belize City.
The U.S. Embassy is on Floral Park Road, Belmopan, Cayo District, and the telephone number is 822-4011.
The American Citizen Services section fax number is 822-4050.
In the event of an after hours emergency, the embassy duty officer may be reached at 610-5030. The Embassy is open from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Monday through Friday, except for the 12:00 noon to 1:00 p.m. lunch hour, and on U.S. and Belizean holidays.
The Embassy web site is http://belize.usembassy.gov/; the e-mail address is embbelize@state.gov

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Wed 2 May 2018, 3:30 PM CST.
Source: Breaking Belize News [edited]

Ministry of Health staff from the Western Health Region are currently in Benque Viejo and surrounding areas monitoring a developing situation due to confirmed cases of hepatitis A in Arenal and Benque. According to a statement from the Ministry, there have been 3 confirmed cases in Benque Viejo and 11 suspected cases in Arenal.

Part of the plan includes sensitization of school staff and students about hepatitis A, its transmission and risk factors. Food handlers in Benque and Arenal will also be visited and informed of the risks of hepatitis A and the importance of following established protocols.

The relevant departments in health have been made aware and are working closely with the region to minimize ongoing cases including a sensitization session on the local radio station in Benque.
===================
[No information is given about the age of those affected. In much of the developing world where hepatitis A is quite endemic, the population is almost all seropositive for HAV by the age of 10. I would wonder if the infection was confirmed by a specific IgM anti-HAV antibody. - ProMED Mod.LL]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map:
Cayo District, Belize: <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/6149>]
Date: Mon 8 Oct 2017
Source: Outbreak News Today [edited]

The summer of 2017 appears to be "pink eye", or conjunctivitis season in the Americas with a number of countries in Central and South America and the Caribbean reporting increases of the eye infection.

Now joining the Bahamas, Brazil, Costa Rica, Dominica, the Dominican Republic, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Mexico, Panama, Saint Lucia, Saint Martin, Suriname, and the Turks and Caicos Islands is Belize where health officials report an increase in the number of reported conjunctivitis cases, particularly in the northern and central health regions.

The Belize Health Ministry says the symptoms of pink eye include:
- redness in the white of the eye or inner eyelid;
- watery eyes;
- thick yellow discharge that crusts over the eyelashes, especially after sleep; and
- itchy eyes, blurred vision and increased sensitivity to light

They offer the following measures to prevent the spread of this contagious infection:
- wash your hands often with soap and warm water. Wash them especially before and after cleaning, or applying eye drops or ointment to your infected eye;
- avoid touching or rubbing your eyes. This can worsen the condition or spread the infection;
- with clean hands, wash any discharge from around your eye(s) several times a day using a clean wet washcloth. Wash the used washcloth with hot water and soap, and then wash your hands again with soap and warm water;
- wash pillowcases, sheets, washcloths, and towels often with hot water and soap; wash your hands after handling such items;
- do not wear contact lenses until your eye doctor says it's okay to start wearing them again;
- do not share personal items such as pillows, washcloths, towels, eye drops, eye and face makeup, makeup brushes, contact lenses and contact lens containers, or eyeglasses;
- avoid shaking hands with others;
- persons suffering pink eye should stay away from work, school and public places until the infection clears.  [Byline: Robert Herriman]
==================
[Viral conjunctivitis, also called pinkeye, is a common, self-limiting condition that is typically caused by adenovirus. Other viruses that can be responsible for conjunctival infection include herpes simplex virus (HSV), varicella-zoster virus (VZV), picornavirus (enterovirus 70, Coxsackie A24), poxvirus (molluscum contagiosum, vaccinia), and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) (<http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/1191370-overview>). But bacteria and allergens also can cause conjunctivitis.

There is no known specific treatment for this disease, and containment includes increased attention to hygiene.

According to <https://www.garda.com/crisis24/news-alerts/73151/belize-conjunctivitis-outbreak>, in the [3 weeks leading up to 26 Sep 2017], 1108 cases have been reported [in Belize] in what government officials are calling the worst such outbreak since 2005. Cases have been reported in Belize City, Corozal, Cayo, Chetumal, and Orange Walk, among other places.

See ProMED Conjunctivitis - Americas (10): Panama, Grenada, Mexico http://promedmail.org/post/20170929.5348507 for further discussion regarding the conjunctivitis outbreak in the Americas.

A HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of Belize can be found at
Date: Sat 26 Aug 2017
Source: Amandala [edited]
<http://amandala.com.bz/news/ciguatera-poisoning-linked-turneffe-barracudas/>

Each year, between 10,000 and 50,000 people who live in or visit tropical and subtropical areas suffer from Ciguatera Fish Poisoning (CFP), which is said to be one of the most frequently reported seafood-toxin illness in the world. Ciguatera poisoning, which causes symptoms such as tingling and numbness in fingers and toes, around lips, tongue, mouth and throat; nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea and/or abdominal cramps; joint pains and headache; and breathing difficulty, has also been reported in Belize, and over the past 4 days, 2 alerts have been issued by the Ministry of Health in Belize, following reports of cases cropping up, which have been linked to the consumption of barracuda fish. In the 1st alert, issued on [Fri 18 Aug 2017], the Ministry of Health reported that "suspected fish poisoning (Ciguatera poisoning) was detected in people that had eaten fish bought from a fish vendor in Ladyville, Belize District."

In the 2nd alert, issued on [Tue 23 Aug 2017], the Ministry said that 2 further cases of suspected Ciguatera poisoning, linked to the consumption of the large predatory fish, had been identified. "Investigations conducted so far reveal that the barracuda fish from the Turneffe Islands area has been the sole carrier of the ciguaxtoin or poison," the alert said. It warned that toxic fish does not have any odor or taste and cooking and freezing does not eliminate the toxin. According to the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), ciguatera fish poisoning (or ciguatera) is an illness caused by eating fish that contain toxins produced by a marine microalgae called _Gambierdiscus toxicus_, associated with corals.

Whereas the barracuda is believed to be the culprit for the most recent bouts of illness caused by the toxin, other fish may also carry the toxin, including coral trout, red snapper, donu, parrot fish, grouper, Spanish mackerel, red emperor, wrasse, reef cod, sturgeon fish, trevally and moray eel. The CDC also lists blackfin snapper, cubera snapper, dog snapper, greater amberjack, hogfish, horse-eye jack, and king mackerel among the fish which have been known to carry ciguatoxins. "Anyone who consumes fish contaminated with the ciguatera toxin will become ill," the Ministry's alert said, adding that, "The gastrointestinal or stomach symptoms normally appear within 24 hours of exposure and those of the nervous system can appear 1 to 2 days later."

Although some symptoms may last only a few days, in some cases, the toxin can continue to affect those who ingest it for months. The CDC says people who have ciguatera may find that cold things feel hot and hot things feel cold. The Belize Ministry of Health has shared some guidelines for reducing the risk of CFP.

It advises the following:
- Avoid eating larger reef fish that have a greater likelihood of carrying ciguatoxins, especially the barracuda.
- Limit the weight of a fish to less than 11 pounds, as ciguatera fish poisoning occurs more frequently in larger fish.
- Eat other types of fish not listed above.
- Avoid eating the head, roe or fish egg, liver, or other organs of the fish, as it is where the highest level of toxin is present. [Byline: Adele Ramos]
=========================
[A recent open access review of ciguatera fish poisoning (CFP) has been published in Marine Drugs: Friedman MA , Fernandez M, Backer LC, et al: An updated review of Ciguatera Fish Poisoning: Clinical, epidemiological, environmental, and public health management. Mar Drugs 2017, 15(3): pii: E72; doi:10.3390/md15030072; available at: <http://www.mdpi.com/1660-3397/15/3/72/htm.

The publication does not say that the intoxication occurs related to fish from European waters. The description of the acute illness with the citations intact (the citations can be found at the original URL) has been extracted below: "CFP is characterized by gastrointestinal, neurological, and cardiovascular symptoms. In addition, after the initial or acute illness, neuropsychological symptoms may be reported.

Clinical features can vary depending on elapsed time since eating the toxic meal, and whether the geographic source of the implicated fish was the Caribbean Sea, Pacific, or Indian Ocean [17,36,52-58]. Gastrointestinal symptoms and signs usually begin within 6-12 hours of fish consumption and resolve spontaneously within 1-4 days.

Gastrointestinal symptoms may include nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and diarrhoea. The neurologic symptoms usually present within the 1st 2 days of illness. They often become prominent after the gastrointestinal symptoms (particularly in CFP events from Caribbean fish), although they may present concurrently with gastrointestinal symptoms (K Schrank, written communication, April 2016) [59].

The neurologic symptoms vary among patients and include paresthesias (that is, numbness or tingling) in the hands and feet or oral region, metallic taste, sensation of loose teeth, generalized pruritus (itching), myalgia (muscle pain), arthralgia (joint pain), headache, and dizziness. A distinctive neurologic symptom is cold allodynia, sometimes referred to as "hot-cold reversal," an alteration of temperature perception in which touching cold surfaces produces a burning sensation or a dysesthesia (that is, unpleasant, abnormal sensation) [60]. One study revealed that intra-cutaneous injection of CTX in humans elicited this sensation [61].

Cold allodynia is considered pathognomonic of CFP, although not all patients report experiencing it and it can be seen with other human seafood poisoning syndromes (such as neurotoxic shellfish poisoning). Less commonly, severe central nervous system symptoms, such as coma or hallucinations, have been reported [54,62,63].

Neuropsychological symptoms, which often become apparent in the days or weeks after the initial or acute illness, include subjectively reported cognitive complaints such as confusion, reduced memory, and difficulty concentrating [64-67], depression or irritability [64,65,68], and anxiety [65]. Fatigue or malaise have been reported and may be debilitating [6,62,69,70].

Cardiac symptoms and signs may manifest, generally in the early stage of the illness. When present, they usually occur in combination with gastrointestinal and/or neurologic signs and symptoms [71,72]. Cardiac signs often include hypotension and bradycardia which may necessitate emergency medical care." - ProMED Mod.LL]

[A HealthMap/ProMED-mail map can be accessed at: <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/19>.]
Date: Thu 2 Feb 2017 10:41 AM CST
Source: Breaking Belize News [edited]

Yesterday [1 Feb 2017] the Belize Agricultural Health Authority (BAHA) announced that bovine rabies has been confirmed in 3 districts in Belize: Orange Walk, Cayo, and Toledo.

Bovine rabies is a specific type of rabies that affects cattle; however, it can be transmitted to humans and as a result, farmers are advised by BAHA to vaccinate their livestock as well as sheep, cattle and horses.

Bovine rabies is a fatal disease that can be prevented through vaccination of animals.

Affected animals will show aggressive behavior and may salivate more than normal.

If [bovine] rabies is suspected in your district, please contact BAHA immediately at phone number 822-0818.
===================
[Rabies is a viral infection caused by viruses belonging to the Lyssavirus genus. It is a zoonosis -- an animal disease that can spread to humans -- transmitted through saliva from bites, and even scratches of infected animals.

In Belize, as urban rabies is well controlled, most cases of rabies occur as bovine paralytic rabies transmitted by the vampire bat. Rabies in cattle has been reported in all 6 districts. According to the OIE vaccinating 70 percent of dogs allows rabies to be eradicated from a given endemic area.

Generally in Belize the rabies is of vampire bat origin. Cases of human rabies, including deaths, have been reported in Belize. There, several strains of the rabid virus circulate in the vampire bat, _Desmodus rotundus_.

The hairy-legged vampire bat, _Diphylla ecaudata_, is naturally infected by rabies virus (same variant as one infecting _D. rotundus_), so this vampire species is definitely a source for rabies cases in humans.

This vampire species ranges from Southern Tamaulipas (Mexico) to Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Belize, and Brazil (except the central Amazon basin); a single vagrant individual has also been reported from Southern Texas, USA. (For a picture go to  <https://naturalhistory.si.edu/mna/images/images/831032911523015.jpg>).

Predators and parasites can be plastic when it comes to selecting their preys/hosts, and this confers to them the ability to adapt to environmental changes, and a phenomenon of special interest for public health, as it is associated with the link between human-driven change and emerging diseases.

Notifications of suspect rabies cases are investigated by BAHA, the MoH and the Ministry of Agriculture (MNRA) at no cost to the animal owner. A history of the animal determines the steps to be taken, I.e., whether it is isolated and kept for observation or euthanatized and the brain sent to the veterinary services laboratory in Panama. The MoH will determine human exposure to the virus. If warranted (bite, scratch, saliva) a post exposure regimen will be initiated which consists of 5 vaccines. Laboratory-confirmed cases in cattle trigger control response which includes vaccination of herd, vaccination of susceptible animals in protection zone and vampire bat control at farm and roosts (caves).

If you believe your animal, regardless of whether it is bovine, dog or other animal has rabies or is acting differently than normal, please call your veterinarian. Remember that thinking a bovine is choking and putting your hand in the mouth to remove the blockage may expose you to rabies.

Portions of this comment were extracted from

[Maps of Belize can be seen at
<http://healthmap.org/promed/p/19>. - ProMED Sr.Tech.Ed.MJ]
Date: Thu, 4 Aug 2016 08:41:33 +0200
By Henry MORALES

Puerto Barrios, Guatemala, Aug 4, 2016 (AFP) - A hurricane packing 130 kilometre (80 mile) per hour winds and heavy rain made landfall in Central America near Belize's capital, where officials warned of likely flooding and damage to homes Thursday.   Hurricane Earl swept in from the Caribbean to strike just south of Belize City, population 60,000, around midnight Wednesday (0600 GMT Thursday), according to the US National Hurricane Center (NHC).

Along the way, it had gathered strength and dumped rain on northern Honduras as it brushed past at sea.     The hurricane's heavy rains "could cause flash floods and mudslides especially over higher terrain," Belize's National Emergency Management Organization said in a bulletin just before it arrived.   "For coastal areas, there is also a risk for flooding, especially in low-lying areas."   Nearby Guatemala, Honduras and southern Mexico also issued alerts. Airports in the area were closed.

- Evacuations -
Earl was expected to weaken as it continued west from Belize City, farther inland, toward northern Guatemala and southeastern Mexico.   The Mexican authorities took no chances, evacuating 300 families living close to a river along the border with Belize in the southeastern state of Quinta Roo for fear of flooding.   More than 750 shelters were readied in the state in preparation for expected high winds and fierce gusts.

Other southern Mexican states likely to be affected were Campeche, Tabasco and Yucatan.   In the northern Guatemala town of Puerto Barrios, a military commander, Colonel Nelson Tun, told AFP that "patrols in vulnerable areas" were being carried out.   "We have identified high areas to where the population can evacuate before possible flooding," he said.

Guatemala in particular is prone to rainy season flooding and mudslides that often prove fatal.   Guatemala's population, at 16 million, is much bigger than the 330,000 in Belize, Central America's only English speaking country.   Guatemala's president, Jimmy Morales, late Wednesday offered Belize humanitarian aid and shelters along the border if needed.   That gesture was significant after months of tensions between the two countries following a shooting death of a Guatemalan boy by a Belizean border patrol in April.

- Category 1 hurricane -
The fifth named tropical storm of the 2016 season, Earl strengthened to a Category 1 hurricane on Wednesday, according to the NHC. Winds initially measured at 120 kilometers per hour picked up just before landfall.   Category 1, the lowest of five grades on the hurricane scale, is described as having dangerous winds of between 119 and 153 kilometers per hour that can rip off roofs, bring down trees and cause extensive damage to power lines.   Belizean public and private sector workers were permitted to go to their homes Wednesday to secure property.   Officials warned that people living on the ground floor "will experience flooding" and some older wooden buildings would likely be destroyed.   The authorities have opened 29 shelters.
More ...

World Travel News Headlines

Date: Mon, 19 Aug 2019 03:45:54 +0200 (METDST)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meanwhile, the jury is still out on the effects of microplastics on human health.   A recent report by WWF said that humans ingest an average of five grammes of microplastics a week -- about the weight of a credit card.   A 2018 study published in the journal Environmental Pollution, based on samples from British coastlines and supermarkets, estimated that every 100 grammes (3.5 ounces) of mussels contained 70 tiny pieces of plastic.   Should we be worried? Meistertzheim thinks not.   "I eat them," she says. "A dish of mussels is not necessarily worse than organic hamburger meat wrapped in plastic."
Date: Sat, 17 Aug 2019 20:51:48 +0200 (METDST)
By Ricky Ombeni and Marthe Bosuandole

Kinshasa, DR Congo, Aug 17, 2019 (AFP) - Measles has killed 2,758 people in the DR Congo since January, more than the Ebola epidemic in a year, medical NGO Doctors Without Borders said, and called Saturday for a "massive mobilisation of funds."   The disease, preventable with a vaccine, has infected over 145,000 people in the Democratic Republic of Congo between January and early August, it said in a statement.   "Since July, the epidemic has worsened, with a rise in new cases reported in several provinces," said the NGO that goes by its French acronym MSF.   "Only $2.5 million has been raised out of the $8.9 million required for the Health Cluster response plan  -- in stark contrast with the Ebola epidemic in the east of the country, which attracts multiple organisations and hundreds of millions of dollars in funding," it added.

MSF tweeted that without a "massive mobilisation of funds and response organisations, the current measles outbreak in #DRCongo could get even worse."   The NGO said it has vaccinated 474,860 children between the ages of six months and five years since the beginning of the year, and provided care to more than 27,000 measles patients.   In the country's east, Ebola has claimed more than 1,900 lives since erupting last August.

Measles is a highly-contagious diseased caused by a virus that attacks mainly children. The most serious complications include blindness, brain swelling, diarrhoea, and severe respiratory infections.   Last year, cases more than doubled to almost 350,000 from 2017, according to the World Health Organization, amid a rise in "anti-vaxxer" sentiment in some countries that can afford the vaccine, and lagging resources for the preventative measure in poor nations.   The DR Congo declared a measles epidemic in June.
Date: Sat, 17 Aug 2019 12:12:19 +0200 (METDST)

Toulouse, France, Aug 17, 2019 (AFP) - Nine people were injured during a fireworks display in a popular resort in southern France when one rocket misfired close to onlookers on the beach, firefighters said Saturday.   Three of those hurt in the incident in on Friday night in Collioure were taken to hospital after the device "exploded very low" and rained down sparks on some of the 80,000 crowd, firefighters and the local prefecture said.

One person remained in hospital after surgery for a shoulder fracture.   The misfiring rocket was part of a show on a barge just off the port of Collioure, a small picturesque seaside town near the Spanish border whose 3,000 population mushrooms around 30-fold with summer tourists.   Three doctors on site swiftly intervened to treat those injured, the local prefecture said, adding local police have opened an investigation into the incident.
Date: Fri, 16 Aug 2019 21:37:39 +0200 (METDST)
By Ricky Ombeni and Marthe Bosuandole

Bukavu, DR Congo, Aug 16, 2019 (AFP) - A woman has died of Ebola and her infant son was diagnosed with the virus in the first confirmed cases in DR Congo's South Kivu province, reviving fears Friday the highly contagious disease could spread through the region.

The Democratic Republic of Congo's Ebola epidemic has claimed more than 1,900 lives since erupting last August.   "Two cases which tested positive for Ebola were confirmed overnight in South Kivu, in Lwindi district in the Mwenga region," the provincial government said in a statement.   A woman in her twenties died while her seven-month-old child tested positive for the virus and is receiving treatment, the vast central African nation's pointman on Ebola, Jean-Jacques Muyembe, said in a statement.

The woman had been staying with a family in the North Kivu town of Beni, the epicentre of the outbreak, and was identified as a "high-risk contact" of one of the family members infected with Ebola, the statement said.   She then "escaped" movement controls in the area, changing identities four times and travelling from Beni through the North Kivu cities of Butembo and Goma to South Kivu's Bukavu and Mwenga, the statement added.    She died on Wednesday.   "We reassure neighbouring countries that all steps are being taken to strengthen surveillance at points of entry as well as sanitary control," the statement said.    South Kivu shares borders with Rwanda, Burundi and Tanzania.

World Health Organization (WHO) chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus tweeted that the outbreak in South Kivu "has sparked a rapid response... to provide treatment, identify all contacts, raise community awareness & begin vaccinating".   The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) said it was "rapidly deploying an expert team" to the area.   And South Kivu Governor Theo Ngwabidje told reporters: "Teams from the national anti-Ebola coordination campaign arrived yesterday to provide support."

- Risk of crossing border 'enormous' -
The outbreak of the haemorrhagic virus began in neighbouring North Kivu province on August 1, 2018 and spread to Ituri province.   The WHO declared the epidemic a "public health emergency of international concern" last month after cases were confirmed in the densely-populated North Kivu capital Goma.   The city's proximity to Rwanda and many transport links sparked fears of cross-border spread.    "Beni, Butembo and Goma are still containable," a Congolese professor and epidemiologist said of the three North Kivu cities.   "But with the disease in South Kivu, the risks of it spreading to (the eastern DR Congo town) of Kalemie, Tanzania and Burundi are enormous."

Residents in South Kivu's capital Bukavu said they were worried.   "At this time of year, we rarely have running water -- how are we going to avoid this disease if we have to frequently wash our hands?" asked mother-of-five Martine Mushagalusa.   Anselme Kangeta, 35, said: "Given the crowded way we live, movement is uncontrolled, people go from one place to another without taking precautions. The authorities must get involved otherwise we will all die."   South Kivu experienced an Ebola scare on July 31 when doctors briefly quarantined 15 people in the town of Birava over fears they were infected, but tests came back negative.

- Drug breakthrough -
Ebola is named after a river in northern DR Congo, formerly named Zaire, where the virus was first identified in 1976.   The latest outbreak is the second-deadliest on record after more than 11,000 people were killed in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia between 2014-2016.   The pathogen causes fever, vomiting and severe diarrhoea, often followed by kidney and liver failure, and internal and external bleeding.   The disease is spread by contact with infected bodily fluids and is fought with the time-honoured but laborious techniques of tracing contacts and quarantining them.

The cases in South Kivu come on the heels of researchers announcing a possible breakthrough in the quest for drug to treat Ebola. Two prototype drugs, REGN-EB3 and mA114, slashed mortality rates among Ebola patients in a
trial in eastern DR Congo.   The authorities have also deployed a US-made vaccine called rVSV-ZEBOV, which is unlicensed but has been widely tested for safety.    Muyembe, appointed by President Felix Tshisekedi to coordinate the campaign against Ebola, predicted Thursday that with the new drugs and vaccine "we can manage to completely control the epidemic in three to four months".    Nearly 200,000 people have been vaccinated to date.   Burundi said Wednesday it had begun vaccinating frontline workers at its border with DR Congo.
Date: Fri 16 Aug 2019
Source: CBS Boston [edited]

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health has confirmed a 2nd human case of eastern equine encephalitis [EEE] in the state on Friday [16 Aug 2019]. Officials also raised the risk level for EEE to "critical" in 10 more towns in central and eastern Massachusetts.

The department said the new EEE case is in a man between the ages of 19-30 in Grafton. As a result, Grafton, Hopkinton, Northbridge, Shrewsbury, Southboro, Upton, and Westboro are all at "critical risk" for EEE.  The wife of the Grafton man diagnosed with EEE says he is in his late 20s and lives near a farm. The couple asked not to be identified but told WBZ he was diagnosed after having a seizure.  A goat in Bristol County has also tested positive for EEE, leading officials to put Easton, Norton and Raynham at critical risk as well. A total of 19 communities across the state are at critical risk now, and 18 are at high risk.

The department said it is working with local boards of health and mosquito control experts to work on "appropriate public health response activities."  "The most intense level of EEE activity is still being seen in Bristol and Plymouth Counties," said Public Health Commissioner Monica Bharel in a statement. "However, in active EEE years, the virus may move outside of southeastern Massachusetts. This is evidence of that movement, and residents in the area of increased risk should use mosquito repellent and avoid outdoor activities at night."  Less than a week ago, the department confirmed the 1st human case of EEE in Massachusetts since 2013. The infected man is over 60 and lives in southern Plymouth County.

So far, EEE has been found in 288 mosquito samples.  "[The] history here in Massachusetts [is that] the mosquitos test positive, but the people don't, so this is a little bit unusual," said Dr. Michael Hirsh of the Worcester Division of Public Health.  He said weather may be to blame. "Whenever there is a winter that doesn't have a really hard frost, if it's much more mild, the mosquitoes don't really ever knock off from last year."  Residents should make efforts to avoid mosquito bites, which can spread EEE, including using insect repellent, being aware of peak mosquito hours (dusk to dawn), wearing long sleeve shirts and pants when outside, draining standing water from around your home, replacing window screens, and protecting your animals from mosquitos.

EEE symptoms can range from a stiff neck, headache and lack of energy to dangerous complications like inflammation and swelling of the brain.  The risk of EEE will remain until the 1st killing frost.
========================
[There was a recent human eastern equine encephalitis (EEE) case in Massachusetts, the 1st human case that ProMED-mail has posted this year (2019), and now a 2nd case in that state and the 3rd in the eastern USA.

So far this year (2019), all of the EEE cases other than in humans posted on ProMED-mail have been in horses, indicating that this has been an active EEE virus transmission season. The case above again reminds us that human cases occur as well. As usual, the equine cases have occurred in the eastern states and a midwestern state in the USA. There is a vaccine available for equine animals, and their owners are wise to have them vaccinated. There is no commercially available vaccine for humans, so avoidance of mosquito bites is the best preventive measure.

Additional information on EEE is available on the CDC website at
<https://www.cdc.gov/EasternEquineEncephalitis/>. - ProMED Mod.TY]

[HealthMap/ProMED map available at:
Massachusetts, United States: <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/224>]
Date: Sun 18 Aug 2019
Source: Taipei Times [abridged, edited]

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) yesterday [17 Aug 2019] confirmed 5 new measles cases associated with a cluster outbreak in Taipei, saying that 1981 people who had come into direct contact with the patients would be monitored for symptoms until 6 Sep 2019.

The cases are likely associated with a man in his 30s living in northern Taiwan who was infected with measles in Viet Nam, returned home on 29 Jul 2019, transmitted the disease to his flat-mate, and was confirmed to have measles on Wed 31 Jul 2019, the centres said.

One of the 5 cases confirmed yesterday [17 Aug 2019] is a man in his 30s who was on the same flight with the index case on 29 Jul 2019 and was in Viet Nam from 5 Aug to Wed 14 Aug 2019, so he might have been infected by the index case or by other people in Viet Nam, it added.

The other 4 patients are nurses who work at Cathay General Hospital's emergency room who had come into contact with the index case, the CDC said.

The nurses started experiencing symptoms between Friday last week [9 Aug 2019?] and Thursday this week [15 Aug 2019?], CDC Deputy Director-General Chuang Jen-hsiang said, adding that one of them was vaccinated for measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) in 2013, and 2 were vaccinated last year [2018], but the other has not been vaccinated.

The hospital held an emergency response meeting to discuss prevention measures and asked the medical practitioners who have had direct contact with the index case to have their measles antibody levels measured and receive an MMR vaccine if no antibodies are found, hospital deputy superintendent Lee Chia-long said. The hospital also asked medical practitioners with higher antibody levels to help screen patients with a fever, control the personnel who are allowed to enter the emergency room, take disinfection measures, and put up posters to warn people about clustered measles cases, he said.

One 119 measles cases have been confirmed this year [2019] -- 72 domestic cases, among whom 51 had come into contact with confirmed cases, and 47 imported -- the CDC said.  [Byline: Lee I-chia]
Date: Fri 16 Aug 2019
Source: 1 News Now [abridged, edited]

A spike in measles cases this week is the worst since the outbreak started, Auckland Regional Public Health Service said.

In the past week, there have been 81 new cases.

As of midday [16 Aug 2019], the total number of cases in Auckland this year [2019] was 456.