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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;
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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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Greece

Background
Greece offers a great variety of attractions for the international traveller. A beautiful climate linked with great beaches, a vibrant nightlife and historical monuments to rival any other location throughout the world. All of this located
within western Europe and a short flight away from many of the cooler northern destinations - like Ireland. Travellers from these regions descent on Greece in very significant numbers each year and for the vast majority of them they will have a splendid and healthy time. However for some this may not be the case and serious illness and accidents are regularly reported. Following some commonsense rules would go a long way to avoiding disaster and ensuring that this trip is truly one to be remembered for all the right reasons.
Climate
Situated in southern Europe the country enjoys mild winters but very hot summers. There may be occasional cool breezes (meltemia) but these can serve only to fool the traveller into thinking that they are unlikely to burn. Rain is very uncommon during the height of summer (July and August) and all travellers should be advised to use very adequate sun-block lotion at all times.
Slip, Slop, Slap
Following the Australian mantra of Slip, Slop and Slap makes perfect sense. Slip on a shirt, slop on sunscreen and slap on a hat when out and about during the day and this should help protect against the intense suns rays. Nevertheless, despite all their best intentions, travellers get burnt. This is particularly a problem in the first few days after their arrival when they do not realise the intensity of the suns rays and how easily they can be exposed. Falling asleep beside the hotel's swimming pool or on the beach is a very common problem and must be avoided against. The tips of the ears, shoulders (especially along the bra-strap line, ankles and behind the knees are commonly exposed and forgotten areas.
After Sun care
To treat significant sunburn it is important to increase fluid intake but also to take extra salt on your food (unless medically contraindicated for some specific condition like high blood pressure etc). Soothing water soluble lotions (especially ones containing a mild anaesthetic and/or steroid cream) are probably best but certainly avoid any of the ones which paste the skin with a thick layer - which is almost impossible to remove without causing serious pain! The more severe sunburn cases may need medical care and even hospitalisation which really ruins a holiday.
Food & Water
As a European destination Greece has a good level of food and water hygiene. Unfortunately this can vary - especially as you move away from the main tourist destinations and also as the summer temperatures rise and food goes 'off' more quickly. Eating hot food, avoiding cold foods (side-salads, lettuce etc) and never eating undercooked bivalve shellfish (mussels, oysters, clams etc) makes perfect sense. Eating food or taking fruit juice drinks from street vendors is a risk just not worth taking.
Insect bites
There may be both mosquitoes and sandflys about so having good repellents (DEET based ones) is worthwhile. The biggest problem will be early in the morning and towards the end of the daylight hours. However sitting in the shade while having lunch may be nice and cool but it is also often a place where these insects tend to hover looking for their next meal. Just don't allow that meal to be the blood in your unguarded ankle!
Seeing the Monuments
As mentioned previously Greece is covered with ancient monuments and these attract many thousands of tourists each year. The ruins are often not the most hospitable places for sun-sensitive tourists so taking care against the suns rays is essential - especially while standing carefully listening to the tour guide explain some complicated piece of history while the back of your legs get roasted! The other issue, for those trekking through the ruins, is the distinct possibility of a nasty twisted ankle.
Laser Night shows
Many of the ancient sites have beautiful night shows which depict something of the past splendour and are definitely worth seeing. However it is wise to wear good shoes as stumbling across loose stones is a particular problem at night and also bring a small torch, if possible, to guide your way. Getting separated from your travelling companions, or not being able to find your return bus, can lead to some understandable panic so listen carefully to any instructions and look out for some land marks before you get too far away into the night time crowd.
Animal bites
Some tourists may forget that rabies is a problem in many countries throughout the world and, even though Greece is regarded as rabies-free', there is always a problem if someone should get bitten. The possibility that this animal could have been recently smuggled into the country cannot be out ruled and so many would advise full post exposure treatment should this contact occur. Children may be at particular risk due to their inquisitive nature.
Swimming
Sunburn and swimming go hand in hand but drowning can also occur all too frequently within this region. Strong currents, swimming after meals (or alcohol) and the ever popular romantic midnight swim are all serious risk factors. Also children running around the deep end of the pool may lose their footing and topple in without warning. Unfortunately a very small child sinks instantly with very little sign of the emergency to those close by. Parents need to keep aware of this risk at all times.
The summer working holiday
Many of our students head towards Greece for 2 to 3 months during the summer to work. The attractions are obvious but commonsense and sensible life-style choices are needed throughout their stay to lessen the risk of illness or them returning home with an infection they had not bargained for. Unfortunately many return home with life-long illnesses which have been contracted from a single unprotected sexual contact.
Vaccinations for Greece
As a general rule the usual travel vaccines are not recommended for most short-term travellers to this region. However for the student planning to spend a more prolonged period it would be sensible to consider cover against both Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B and also to check that their Tetanus cover is up-to-date.
Summary
This is still one of the most popular destinations for northern European travellers and, in the vast majority of cases, they will have a fantastic time with only good memories. Unfortunately some less prepared folks will end up with serious sunburn and other illnesses or diseases which perhaps are frequently associated with their own lack of care and protection rather than anything specific to this beautiful country.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Tue, 13 Aug 2019 11:40:19 +0200 (METDST)

Athens, Aug 13, 2019 (AFP) - Dozens of firefighters Tuesday battled a major wildfire that forced the evacuation of a monastery on the Greek island of Evia as smoke from the blaze reached as far as Athens, authorities said.   Authorities also placed on alert two villages threatened by the blaze on the island, Greece's second largest after Crete and located northeast of Athens.   The fire started at about 3 am (0000 GMT) at the side of a road and was quickly spread by strong winds through the dry and dense vegetation in the centre of the island, the semi-official news agency ANA said.

The monastery of Panagia Makrymallis was evacuated as a precaution and residents of the villages of Kontodespoti and Stavros were told to be ready to leave also, TV SKAI said.   "Everything is ready in case it is necessary to evacuate the villages. The evacuation can be done in a few minutes. We are totally prepared," Fani Spanos, the governor of central Greece who was coordinating the operations, told SKAI.   He warned the fire was not yet under control and was spreading in an area that was inaccessible overland.

Around 80 firefighters were fighting the blaze backed by some 40 fire trucks and two water-bombing helicopters and a plane.   The strong winds blew the smoke from the blazing pine forest north toward the Magnesia region and south to the Attica peninsula and Athens.   ANA said the pine forests on Evia are part of the "Natura 2000" European network of protected areas and habitats.   Greece has been hit by a spate of wildfires since the weekend amid gale-force winds and temperatures of 40 degrees Celsius (104 F).

On Monday, a major forest fire threatening homes in Peania, an eastern suburb of Athens, was brought under control. At least two houses were burned but there were no reports of injuries.   On Sunday, a fire on the small island of Elafonissos, in the Peloponnese region, was brought under control after a two-day battle.   Two more fires were doused on Saturday in Marathon, close to Mati, the coastal resort where last year 102 people died in Greece's worst fire disaster.
Date: Sun, 11 Aug 2019 14:32:21 +0200 (METDST)

Athens, Aug 11, 2019 (AFP) - A French man was charged in Greece on Sunday over a boat accident that left two dead and another person seriously injured, state TV ERT reported.   The 44-year-old was charged with negligent manslaughter by a prosecutor and given 24 hours to prepare his defence, ERT said.  The man's lawyer Nikos Emmanouilidis had earlier told reporters that his client "will assist in every way any request by the Greek authorities."

The suspect has admitted to driving a 10-metre (32-foot) speedboat which struck a smaller wooden fishing boat on Friday evening near the Peloponnese resort of Porto Heli, 170 kilometres (105 miles) southwest of Athens.   The collision killed two elderly Greek men on board. A 60-year-old Greek woman, reportedly their sister, was seriously injured and taken to Athens for treatment.

The suspect could not be located for several hours after the incident before turning himself in on Saturday.   He has denied trying to evade arrest, and claims he was also injured in the incident and had sought first aid.   The suspect has said he did not see the fishing boat, which may have had insufficient lighting, state news agency ANA reported.   He has taken a blood alcohol test, with the results to be available on Monday.   "The first indications point to excessive speed by the powerboat driver," Merchant Marine Minister Yiannis Plakiotakis told ERT on Saturday.

Ten other French nationals who were also on the speedboat -- two men, three women and five children aged three to 14 -- were initially taken to Porto Heli for questioning after helping to bring the injured woman and one of the bodies to shore, the coastguard said.   They were all released on Saturday.   Speedboat accidents involving swimmers or other boats are common in Greece during the busy summer holiday season.

Another speedboat on Friday injured a 32-year-old swimmer at the Athens coastal suburb of Glyfada. The driver was arrested.   In 2016, four people including a four-year-old girl were killed when a speedboat sliced into their wooden tourist vessel near the island of Aegina.   Nobody was sanctioned as the prime suspect, an elderly Greek man, died a year after the accident.
Date: Sat, 10 Aug 2019 19:32:52 +0200 (METDST)

Athens, Aug 10, 2019 (AFP) - Greece on Saturday battled over 50 wildfires nationwide, including a major blaze near Athens, in a dangerous mix of high temperatures and strong winds unseen in nearly a decade.   The fire department said it had mobilised more than 450 firemen and 23 aircraft nationwide to tackle the fires, including one on the island of Elafonissos and two around Marathon, near Athens.   A camping site and a hotel on Elafonissos and a children's summer camp near Marathon were evacuated as a precaution, state news agency ANA reported.

Marathon is a short distance from Mati, the coastal resort where last year 102 people died in Greece's worst fire disaster.   Temperatures in some areas are expected to hit 40 degrees Celius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) on Sunday, accompanied by gale force winds.   On Friday, civil protection chief Nikos Hardalias said it was the first time since 2012 that the country had faced such a mix of high temperatures, strong winds and low humidity.   "We are called upon to manage extreme weather conditions over the next three days... we must all be careful," Hardalias told reporters as he placed emergency services on high alert.
Date: Fri 2 Aug 2019
Source: French.Cnina.org.cn [in French, trans. Corr.SB, edited]

Two people over 80 were the 1st victims of West Nile virus in Greece this year [2019], according to the weekly epidemiological surveillance report published by the National Public Health Organization (EODY).

From the beginning of epidemiological surveillance until today [2 Aug 2019], 25 cases of West Nile virus infection have been diagnosed and studied in Greece. In 17 of the patients reported, the central nervous system (CNS) was affected (encephalitis and/or meningitis/acute flaccid paralysis), while 8 had mild symptoms, such as fever.

The median age of patients with CNS symptoms is 77 years old. Of the 25 patients, 10 are hospitalized.

The areas where virus cases have been recorded in the country are Pieria, Katerini, Pella, Xanthi, Kavala, Larissa, Karditsa as well as East Attica and Mesogia.

West Nile virus is spread mainly through the bites of infected mosquitoes, experts say.

The implementation of mosquito control and personal protection programs is most appropriate for controlling the disease, the EODY noted.
====================
[Greece has had both human and equine cases of West Nile virus in recent years. Mosquito control can be difficult and expensive, especially over such a broad geographic area. For humans, the best preventive measure is avoidance of mosquito bites. There is a vaccine for equine animals, but not for humans. - ProMED Mod.TY]

[HealthMap/ProMED map available at:
Date: Sat, 3 Aug 2019 14:22:20 +0200 (METDST)

Athens, Aug 3, 2019 (AFP) - Another earthquake shook Greece on Saturday, this time off the Aegean island of Karpathos, the Greek Geodynamic Institute said, although there were no immediate reports of damage or injuries.    The epicentre of the 4.8-magnitude quake, which occurred at 0951 GMT, was 71 kilometres (44 miles) off the coast of Karpathos at a depth of around 10 kilometres, the institute said.    It came just three days after a 5.2-magnitude quake on the island of Crete and just under a week after a 4.2-magnitude tremor some 20 kilometres northwest of Athens.

Greece lies on major fault lines and is regularly hit by earthquakes, but they rarely cause casualties.   In 2017, a 6.7-magnitude earthquake killed two people on the island of Kos in the Aegean sea, causing significant damage.   In 1999, a 5.9-magnitude quake left 143 people dead in Athens and the region northwest of the capital.
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World Travel News Headlines

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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