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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)
*
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: Fri, 6 Dec 2019 03:03:18 +0100 (MET)
By Pierre-Henry DESHAYES

Half Moon Island, Antarctica, Dec 6, 2019 (AFP) - The swimsuit-clad tourists leap into the icy water, gasping at the shock, and startling a gaggle of penguins.   They are spectators at the end of the world, luxury visitors experiencing a vulnerable ecosystem close-up.   And their very presence might accelerate its demise.   Antarctica, a vast territory belonging to no one nation, is a continent of extremes: the coldest place on Earth, the windiest, the driest, the most desolate and the most inhospitable.   Now, it's also a choice destination for tourists.

All around Half Moon Island, off the Antarctic Peninsula, blocks of ice of all sizes float by on a calm sea, their varying forms resembling weightless origami shapes.    On this strip of land, that juts out of the Antarctic Polar and towards South America, visitors can see wildlife normally only viewed in zoos or nature documentaries along with spectacular icy landscapes.   The ethereal shades of white that play across the pillowy peaks change with the light, acquiring pastel hues at dawn and dusk.   "Purity, grandeur, a scale that's out of this world," says Helene Brunet, an awestruck 63-year-old French pensioner, enjoying the scene.    "It's unbelievable, totally unbelievable. It's amazing just to be here, like a small speck of dust."

AFP joined the 430 passengers on board the Roald Amundsen, the world's first hybrid electric cruise ship, on its maiden voyage in the Southern Ocean.    "It's not your typical beach, but it's awesome to do it," says a numb Even Carlsen, 58, from Norway, emerging from his polar plunge in the three-degree C (37.4 F) water.   When tourists go ashore, bundled up in neon-coloured windbreakers and slathered in SPF50 sunscreen, they have to follow strict rules: clean your personal effects so you don't introduce invasive species, keep a respectful distance from wildlife to avoid distressing them, don't stray from the marked paths and don't pick up anything.   "We mucked up the rest of the world. We don't want to muck up Antarctica too," says an English tourist, as she vacuums cat hair off her clothes before going ashore.

- 'Heart of the Earth' -
The Antarctic peninsula is one of the regions on Earth that is warming the fastest, by almost three degrees Celsius in the past 50 years, according to the World Meteorological Organization -- three times faster than the global average.    In March 2015, an Argentinian research station registered a balmy 17.5 degrees Celsius, a record.    "Every year you can observe and record the melting of glaciers, the disappearance of sea ice... (and) in areas without ice, the recolonisation of plants and other organisms that were not present in Antarctica before," said Marcelo Leppe, director of the Chilean Antarctic Institute.

Antarctica is "like the heart of the Earth," he added, saying that it expands and contracts like a heart beating, while the mighty current which revolves around the continent is like a circulatory system as it absorbs warm currents from other oceans and redistributes cold water.   The Antarctic Treaty, signed 60 years ago by 12 countries -- it now has 54 signatories -- declared the area a continent dedicated to peace and science, but tourism has gradually increased, with a sharp rise in the past few years.   Tourism is the only commercial activity allowed, apart from fishing -- the subject of international disputes over marine sanctuaries -- and is concentrated mainly around the peninsula, which has a milder climate than the rest of the continent and is easier to access.

Cruise ships have roamed the region for around 50 years, but their numbers only started to increase from 1990, as Soviet ice-breakers found new purposes in the post-Cold War era.   Some 78,500 people are expected to visit the region between November and March, according to the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO).   That's a 40-percent increase from last year, due in part to short visits by a few new cruise ships carrying more than 500 passengers, too many to disembark under IAATO regulations.     "Some might say 'Well, 80,000 people, that doesn't even fill a national stadium'... (and that it) is nothing like Galapagos which welcomes 275,000 a year," says IAATO spokeswoman Amanda Lynnes.    "But Antarctica is a special place and you need to manage it accordingly."

- 'Leave Antarctica to the penguins' -
It is Antarctica's very vulnerability that is attracting more and more visitors.   "We want to see this fantastic nature in Antarctica before it's gone," Guido Hofken, a 52-year-old IT sales director travelling with his wife Martina, says.    They said they had paid a supplement to climate compensate for their flight from Germany.

But some question whether tourists should be going to the region at all.   "The continent probably would be better off being left to penguins and researchers, but the reality is, that is probably never going to happen," said Michael Hall, professor and expert on polar regions at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand.   "Vicarious appreciation never seems to be enough for humans. So with that being the case, it needs to be made as low risk to the Antarctic environment and as low carbon as possible," said Hall.    "However, when the average tourist trip to Antarctica is over five tonnes of CO2 emissions per passenger (including flights), that is a serious ask."

Soot or black carbon in the exhaust gases of the scientific and cruise ships going to the region is also of concern, said Soenke Diesener, transport policy officer at German conservation NGO Nabu.   "These particles will deposit on snow and ice surfaces and accelerate the melting of the ice because the ice gets darker and will absorb the heat from the sun and will melt much faster," he told AFP.   "So the people who go there to observe or preserve the landscape are bringing danger to the area, and leave it less pristine than it was," he added.

- Responsible tourism -
Antarctic tour operators insist they are promoting responsible tourism.   The trend is for more intimate, so-called expedition cruises, in contrast to popular giant cruise liners elsewhere which are criticised for being invasive and polluting.   With greener ships -- heavy fuel, the most commonly used for marine vessels, has been banned in Antarctica since 2011 -- cruise companies have sought to make environmental awareness a selling point, occasionally earning them accusations of greenwashing.

Global warming, pollution and microplastics are the result of human activities on other, faraway continents, say tour operators.   Here, their motto is "Take nothing but photographs, leave nothing but footprints, keep nothing but memories".   But before they've even set foot on the cruise ships departing from South America -- the most common itinerary -- visitors to Antarctica will already have flown across the world, causing emissions that harm the very nature they have come so far to admire.

Most visitors hail from the Northern Hemisphere, and almost half are from the United States and China, IAATO says.   "I'm a tourist who feels a little guilty about taking a flight to come here," admits Francoise Lapeyre, a 58-year-old globetrotter om France.   "But then again, there are priorities. There are some trips I just won't take, because they leave a big footprint and they're not worth it.   "Crisscrossing the planet to go to a beach for example," she says.

- Don't mention climate change -
Like other expedition cruises where accessible science is part of their trademark, the Roald Amundsen, owned by the Hurtigruten company, has no dance floor or casino.  Instead, there are microscopes, science events and lectures about whales and explorers like Charles Darwin.   But they steer clear of climate change, which is only mentioned indirectly.   That's a deliberate decision as the subject has proven "quite controversial", said Verena Meraldi, Hurtigruten's science coordinator.   "We held several lectures dedicated specifically to climate change but it leads to conflicts. There are people who accept it as a fact, others who don't," she said.   Onboard, "passengers" are referred to as "guests" and "explorers" rather than "cruisers".   "Explorers" are typically older, well-heeled, often highly travelled pensioners who are handed walking sticks as they step ashore.   "My 107th country," says a Dane, stepping ashore onto Antarctica.

The Roald Amundsen "guests" choose between three restaurants, from street food to fine dining -- a far cry from the conditions endured by the Norwegian adventurer for whom the ship is named, who had to eat his sled dogs to survive his quest to reach the South Pole in 1911.   They have paid at least 7,000 euros ($7,700) each for an 18-day cruise in a standard cabin, and up to 25,000 euros ($27,500) for a suite with a balcony and private jacuzzi.   Other cruises are banking on ultra-luxury, with James Bond-like ships equipped with helicopters and submarines, suites of more than 200 square metres (2,153 square feet) and butler services.   With a seaplane to boot, the mega-yacht SeaDream Innovation will offer 88-day cruises "from Pole to Pole" starting in 2021. The two most expensive suites, with a price tag of 135,000 euros per person, are already booked.
 
- Worlds collide -
Outside, in the deafening silence, wildlife abounds.   All around are penguins, as awkward on land as they are agile in water. Massive and majestic whales slip through the waves, and sea lions and seals laze in the sun.   On Half Moon Island, chinstrap penguins -- so called because of a black stripe on their chin -- strut about in this spring breeding season, raising their beaks and screeching from their rocky nests.   "This is to tell other males 'This is my space' and also, maybe, 'This is my female'," ornithologist Rebecca Hodgkiss, a member of the Hurtigruten's scientific team, explains, as a group of tourists stroll around ashore.   The colony of 2,500 penguins has been gradually declining over the years, but it's not known if that is man's fault or they have just moved away, according to Karin Strand, Hurtigruten's vice president for expeditions.   Invisible to the naked eye, traces of humankind are however to be found in the pristine landscape.   Not a single piece of rubbish is in sight but microplastics are everywhere, swept in on ocean currents.   "We've detected them in the eggs of penguins for example," Leppe told AFP.

- Venice under water -
The Antarctic, which holds the world's largest reserve of freshwater, is a ticking time bomb, warn experts and studies.   They say that the future of millions of people and species in coastal areas around the world depends on what is happening here.   As a result of global warming, the melting ice sheet -- especially in the western part of the continent -- will increasingly contribute to rising sea levels, radically re-drawing the map of the world, says climate scientist Anders Levermann, of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.   This meltwater will contribute 50 centimetres (almost 20 inches) to the global sea level rise by 2100, and much more after that, he said.   "For every degree of warming, we get 2.5 metres of sea level rise. Not in this century, but in the long run," he said.

Even if the international community meets its obligations under the Paris Agreement to limit global warming to under two degrees Celsius, sea levels will still rise by at least five metres.   "Which means that Venice is under water, Hamburg is under water, New York, Shanghai, Calcutta," he said.   It's impossible to predict when, but the scenario appears unavoidable, says Levermann.   In the same way that a cruise ship powering ahead at full speed can't immediately stop, sea levels will continue to rise even if all greenhouse gas emissions were to cease immediately, a study has said.

- Changing the world? -
The tourism industry says it hopes to make "ambassadors" out of Antarctica visitors.   "It's good for the animal life and for the protection of Antarctica that people see how beautiful this area is, because you cherish what you know and understand," said Hurtigruten chief executive Daniel Skjeldam.   Texan tourist Mark Halvorson, 72, says he is convinced.   "Having seen it, I am that much more committed to having a very high priority in my politics, in my own inner core convictions to being as environmentally friendly in my life as I can," he said.   So, do Guido and Martina Hofken see themselves as future "ambassadors of Antarctica"?    "Just a little bit, probably. But I don't think I will change the world," Guido Hofken concedes.    "The best thing would be for nobody to travel to Antarctica."
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."
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Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

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Israel

General Information:
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The Middle East is a favourite destination for many Irish holiday makers. The combination of a beautiful climate linked with such historical richness is hard to beat. Unfortunately the
security situation throughout the region has led to some significant concerns over the years. Nevertheless, in the vast majority of cases those visiting the region will not encounter any particular concerns in this regard. It is a wise precaution to ensure that your passport is valid for at least a further six months beyond the time of your holiday as otherwise you may be refused entry.
Security Situation:
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Security throughout the Middle East is generally tight. Carry some means of identification at all times in case you are requested to produce it by police or army personnel. In Jerusalem the city has been divided and it is sensible to remember which quarter you are in at all times.
Health Facilities:
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Generally the health facilities throughout the region are excellent. However, when visiting certain rural regions you may find it difficult to obtain hospital care similar to that at home. In Israel, travellers can find information in English about emergency medical facilities and after-hours pharmacies in the "Jerusalem Post" and English language "Ha'aretz" newspapers.
Food & Water Facilities:
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Again, this depends on your location and the facilities which are there at the time of the year you visit. Bottled water is easily available and food hygiene is usually excellent throughout all the main tourist destinations. However, it is generally wiser not to drink hotel tap water and only to use it for brushing your teeth if there is a clear smell of chlorine. When on organised trips tourists are sometimes offered local tea or other drinks. Generally this will be safe as the water is boiled but take care that the cup hygiene is acceptable.
Sun Exposure:
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The climatic conditions in the Middle East vary considerably throughout the year. Many tourists visit in late autumn or early spring. At these times the climate is much cooler and the evenings can be distinctly chilly. However, during the main tourist season (May to September) the temperatures rise high into the 80’s or 90’s and dehydration can easily occur. Increasing fluid and salt intake is important under these circumstances. It is essential that travellers are aware of the climatic conditions which should be present for their trip and that sensible clothing is used at all times.
Rabies:
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Tourists should avoid all animals as this viral disease is transmitted through the bite, lick or scratch of any infected warm blooded animal. In Israel the most common animals involved are foxes and jackals and in Jordan, dogs tend to be the main culprits.
Exploring the Region:
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Leaving the main tourist routes is unwise. There are a number of security risks which have to be considered and there are also significant health concerns which may be encountered. In July 2000 an 18 year old American tourist died of sunstroke when she became separated from her group in the Dead Sea region of Israel. Those exploring caves and parts of the desert areas also run the risk of diseases like Borreliosis and Rabies.
Walking & Trekking:
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For many going to these countries their trip will involve visiting some of the major ruins and archeological sites. This will involve a good deal of walking and trekking. Good supporting foot wear is essential and it would be wise to carry a crepe bandage in case of a sprained ankle. Having a suitable painkiller or anti-inflammatory medication would also be advantageous. Check your health will be up to the journey.
Swimming:
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Pools are usually very well maintained and the risk of disease is small. Those swimming in the sea should remember that the Mediterranean is home to many jelly fish. Swim with others and never alone and especially after alcohol or a heavy meal.
Anthrax:
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This bacterial disease is rare in the Middle east though travellers should be aware that it can be transmitted through unprepared leather goods usually bought in the local market places. Typically the disease may then present with a black ulcerated skin lesion.

Malaria:
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Fortunately this disease does not occur in Israel or Jordan. However other mosquito and sandfly diseases do occur and so protection against their bites should be used when necessary.
Hepatitis:
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There are many forms of this disease but the most common is Hepatitis A, often known as Infectious Jaundice. This disease can keep an infected individual off work for many weeks and it is wise to consider vaccination cover before exposure. In Israel approx 65% of the population will have been infected before 18 years of age.
Vaccinations:
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There are no essential vaccines for entry/exit however most Irish tourists are recommended to receive cover against; Poliomyelitis, Typhoid, Tetanus and Hepatitis A. Those living in these countries or planning an extended trip should also consider cover against Hepatitis B and Rabies.
Summary:
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Due to the unrest within Israel there are concerns regarding the safety of tourists at this time. If you are travelling to this region it is wise to ensure that your insurance policy is sufficient if your circumstances or travel plans change.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Thu 5 Sep 2019
Source: Newsweek [abridged, edited]

The Israeli Health Ministry recorded more than 4300 cases between July 2018 and July 2019, representing a monumental uptick from the year prior, when only about 30 cases were reported.

A 43-year-old flight attendant with El Al died last month [August 2019] after reportedly contracting measles from a passenger in March [2019].

[She] was admitted to Petah Tikva's Rabin Medical Center-Beilinson Campus with a high fever, then fell into a coma and had to be placed on a respirator. Tests indicated she had been vaccinated against the measles with only a single shot, instead of the recommended 2.

The Health Ministry also issued warnings this year [2019] about potential measles exposures on El Al flights from London and Thailand, at medical centers, public transportation stops and at Eilat's Underwater Observatory Marine Park.

Despite the outbreaks, Israel's immunization rates are among the highest in the world: According to The World Bank, 98% of Israeli children between 12 and 23 months have measles vaccinations.

The immunization gap, say health experts, is within the country's Haredi, or ultra-Orthodox, population. Israel's measles outbreak began in March 2018 in a Haredi community in Safed in northern Israel.

But the lack of vaccinations isn't because of any religious prohibition. "In general, those closed communities use our health care system much less than nonreligious people," Dr. Roy Zucker, a specialist in internal medicine in Israel, told Newsweek.

As of July 2019, there have been more than 1400 cases reported in Jerusalem, plus 400 in Beit Shemesh, 279 in Safed and 212 in Bnei Brak -- all of which have heavily Orthodox populations.  [Byline: Daniel Avery]
Source: Arutz Sheva 7 [edited]
Date: Tue 13 Aug 2019

A stewardess of Israel's El Al airline died Tuesday [13 Aug 2019], following a months-long battle with measles. The 43-year-old stewardess was infected with the measles virus during a flight from New York to Israel 5 months ago.

After she was infected, the stewardess was hospitalized in serious condition at Meir Medical Center in Kfar Saba in central Israel after she was found unconscious and struggling to breathe. During her hospitalization, the stewardess' condition deteriorated, and she was transferred to the quarantine section of the hospital's intensive care wing.

On Tuesday [13 Aug 2019], doctors at Meir hospital declared her death, following the 5-month struggle.  [Byline: Orly Harari]
===========================
[This is a very sad outcome, and our condolences go out to the family of the flight attendant, who worked for El Al, the Israeli national airline. It is not clear whether she contracted the virus in New York, in Israel, or on a flight between the two locations. The flight attendant received only one dose of the measles vaccine when she was a child. It wasn't discovered until later that one dose is only about 93% effective. More recently -- in the USA, starting in 1989 -- children have been given 2 doses, which is about 97% effective, according to the CDC. See Measles update (27) http://promedmail.org/post/20190418.6429834 for an earlier report on the flight attendant. - ProMED Mod.LK]
Date: Wed, 14 Aug 2019 17:55:43 +0200 (METDST)

Jerusalem, Aug 14, 2019 (AFP) - An Israeli flight attendant has died months after contracting measles on a flight from New York to Tel Aviv, Israel's health ministry and local media said Wednesday.   Rotem Amitai, 43 and a mother of three, was hospitalised in March following the flight with Israeli airline El Al, Israeli media reported.

She died on Tuesday at a hospital near the coastal city of Tel Aviv, a hospital spokeswoman said.   The health ministry confirmed her death and said her condition had been complicated by encephalitis, inflammation of the brain.   "The immediate cause of death was not defined as measles," it said in a statement. "However, the disability (caused by) the disease was a secondary cause."

The World Health Organization said Tuesday that measles cases had nearly tripled globally during the first seven months of the year compared to the same period in 2018.   The global body warned against "misinformation about vaccines".   The so-called anti-vax movement -- driven by fraudulent claims linking the MMR vaccine against measles, mumps and rubella to a risk of autism in children -- has gained traction.

So far this year, 364,808 measles cases have been reported around the world, compared to 129,239 cases during the first seven months a year earlier -- the highest registered since 2006.   Amitai's death was the first related to measles in Israel this year, following two last year, according to the ministry.   The highly contagious disease can be entirely prevented through a two-dose vaccine.   Amitai had only received one dose, Israeli media reported.

The Democratic Republic of Congo, Madagascar and Ukraine registered the highest number of cases, WHO said.   The United States has registered 1,164 cases so far this year, up from 372 for the whole of 2018 and the highest number on record in a quarter-century.   Nearly 90,000 cases have been registered in Europe this year -- well above the 84,462 cases registered last year.   The airborne infection, which causes fever, coughing and rashes that can be deadly in rare cases -- had been officially eliminated in many countries with advanced healthcare systems.
Date: Fri, 26 Jul 2019 15:53:07 +0200

Jerusalem, July 26, 2019 (AFP) - A forest fire in northern Israel's Galilee region is threatening a church where Christians believe the transfiguration of Jesus took place, the fire service said Friday.    It said in a statement that the blaze broke out on Thursday and monks were evacuated from the  Basilica of the Transfiguration overnight.

Fanned by strong winds the flames still menaced the church on Friday afternoon, fire service spokesman Dudi Peretz told AFP.   "An additional front of the fire is at the moment advancing  toward the church," he said in Hebrew.   "The fire's centre is far from main roads and the topography of the area and difficulty of access are hindering the work of the firefighting teams."    He said that the church itself had so far not been damaged.   Police said that arson was not suspected.   Israel has been gripped by record high temperatures accompanied by drought and strong winds over the past week, with wildfires reported across the country.

The basilica, built in 1924, by the Roman Catholic Franciscan order, sits atop the wooded Mount Tabor at a site where the Christian gospels say that Jesus -- accompanied by disciples Peter, John and James -- glowed with light and spoke with the prophets Moses and Elijah.   Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims visit the church every year, according to the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land, which oversees Roman Catholic properties in the area.   In a statement Friday it accused Israeli authorities of neglecting essential infrastructure at the site, failing to provide a proper water supply.   The fire, it said,"is a direct consequence of state negligence".
Date: Wed 17 Apr 2019
Source: Jerusalem Post [abridged, edited]

More than 2 million Israelis [population 8.2 million] are either unvaccinated or only partially vaccinated for the measles, according to a Channel 13 report. An outbreak of the measles has been worrying Israelis for months as it spread throughout the country, as well as in the rest of the world. But Israeli media reports on Tuesday night [16 Apr 2019] exposed the severity of the situation and the difficulty in solving the crisis.

The Health Ministry claims that it has only 115,000 doses of measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine available and 100,000 additional doses of the MMRV vaccine, which combines the diminished measles, mumps, rubella and varicella vaccine with the addition of chickenpox vaccine, according to Channel 13.

State comptroller Yosef Shapira has considered examining the Health Ministry's handling of the recent measles outbreak, according to a report released in January [2019].

The comptroller's office contacted infectious disease and public health experts and is working on compiling data about past efforts regarding the measles outbreak, examining if they were sufficient. However, no formal decision has been made so far over the next steps to take in combating the outbreak.

The ministry released a statement in the past warning the general public about the dangers of measles, including that one out of every 10 patients requires hospitalization after contracting the virus. Nearly 3% of hospitalized patients also have encountered issues with pneumonia. According to data presented at that time, 3 have contracted meningitis, and 2 measles cases resulted in fatalities.

The ministry has been facing intense criticism for its "ineffective" efforts in containing the outbreak. Critics cite the delayed start of vaccination efforts in the Jerusalem area, the city with the largest amount of unvaccinated people. Moreover, those born between 1957 and 1977 only received one dose of the measles vaccine and are only partially protected.

For years, the ministry has also not taken action against doctors who distributed false information about vaccines and has not worked to exhort the public to vaccinate their children. Finally, critics mentioned the lack of government support for Tipat Halav (early childhood clinics), where most infants receive their 1st vaccinations.

The measles surfaced due to the failure of thousands of parents to vaccinate themselves or their children, particularly among the Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) communities in Jerusalem, according to Health Ministry officials. Community leaders and rabbis in recent months have sent mobile units to entire neighbourhoods to vaccinate citizens living in the affected areas.

Several members of Knesset have reacted to the outbreak in the past.

The Health Ministry has since shown their inability to contain the outbreak within Israel's affected communities, and at the moment, there have been 2000 reported cases of Israelis who have contracted measles during the last few months, according to Israel Hayom.

The Health Ministry has not held any informational seminars to encourage these parents to immunize their children, and even though the Health Ministry offers to pay for these services, the parents still decline them just the same, according to Israel Hayom.  [Byline: Zachary Keyser]
More ...

World Travel News Headlines

Date: Thu, 23 Jan 2020 17:57:34 +0100 (MET)
By Eva XIAO

Beijing, Jan 23, 2020 (AFP) - The first fatality of China's new virus would come to represent a common set of traits for those who died to the disease: he was over the age of 60 and in poor health.   Since China reported the emergence of a new coronavirus at the end of December, the SARS-like virus has infected more than 500 and killed 17.   So far, the majority of the victims were elderly individuals with pre-existing health conditions, such as diabetes and liver cirrhosis.   All hailed from central Hubei province, where a local seafood market in the capital city of Wuhan is believed to be the epicentre of the epidemic.   But while older individuals have died from the Wuhan virus, some younger patients -- including a 10-year-old boy -- have since been released from the hospital.   Here's what we know so far about the deaths:

Most victims were over 60
According to details released by China's National Health Commission (NHC) on Thursday, the 17 victims of the virus were between 48 and 89 years old.   Only two were under the age of 60, while the average age of the victims was 73.   Most of them died this week, according to the NHC.   Among those who have been discharged from the hospital were younger patients, including a 35-year-old man from Shenzhen, a bustling tech hub in southern Guangdong province.   He was released from the hospital on Thursday, according to the local health commission, as well as the 10-year-old boy who had visited relatives in Wuhan before falling ill.

Many had pre-existing health conditions
Many of those who died from the virus also had pre-existing health issues before contracting the Wuhan disease, such as diabetes and hypertension.   One man, an 86-year-old who was hospitalised on January 9, had surgery for colon cancer four years prior, on top of suffering from high blood pressure and diabetes.   Another, an 80-year-old woman surnamed Hu, had Parkinson's Disease and more than 20 years of high blood pressure and diabetes in her medical history.

Some were hospitalised for weeks before dying
Several of the 17 victims were hospitalised for weeks before dying -- raising questions on the preparedness of hospitals that may have to treat patients for long periods of time.   The youngest victim of the Wuhan virus, a woman surnamed Yin, was hospitalised for more than a month before succumbing to the virus.   On December 10, the 48-year-old woman reported a fever, coughing, body soreness, and fatigue, and underwent anti-infection treatment for two weeks, according to the NHC.   Later in the end of the month, Yin suffered shortness of breath and chest tightness, and she passed away on January 20.

Not all of them had a fever
Currently, Wuhan authorities are screening passengers for fever at the airport, railway stations, and bus terminals.   At four airports in Thailand, authorities introduced mandatory thermal scans of passengers arriving from high-risk areas of China.   But not all those who died after being infected reported a fever before being hospitalised, according to the NHC.   A 66-year-old man surnamed Luo reported a "mainly dry cough" but no fever on December 22 before suffering from shortness of breath more than a week later.

By mid-January, Luo required a ventilator to help him breathe.   "A major concern is the range of severity of symptoms this virus is causing," said Dr Jeremy Farrar, Director of the Wellcome Trust.   "It is clear some people are being affected and are infectious while experiencing only very mild symptoms or possibly without experiencing symptoms at all," he said in an emailed statement.   "This may be masking the true numbers infected and the extent of person to person transmission," he added.
Date: Thu, 23 Jan 2020 16:05:30 +0100 (MET)

Singapore, Jan 23, 2020 (AFP) - Singapore Thursday confirmed its first case of the new SARS-like virus which has killed 17 people in China and spread to multiple countries including the United States.   The Ministry of Health (MOH) said the patient was a 66-year-old man from Wuhan who arrived in Singapore with his family on Monday.    He was immediately isolated after arriving at a hospital with a fever and cough, and test results later confirmed he was infected with the coronavirus.   One of his travelling companions, a 37-year-old man from Wuhan, has also been admitted to hospital as a suspect case.

Prior to admission, they had stayed at a hotel on the resort island of Sentosa, the ministry said.   It added that Singapore was expecting more cases and alarms "given the high volume of international travel".   Singapore's Changi Airport started screening flights from Wuhan at the beginning of the month, and on Wednesday extended the checks to all flights from China.   The travel hub receives over 430 flights from China every week.   The virus has caused alarm in China and abroad because of its genetic similarities to Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which killed nearly 650 people across mainland China and Hong Kong in 2002-2003.

Singapore was among the hardest hit by SARS with 33 deaths.   Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who is in Davos for the World Economic Forum, said there was "no need to panic".   Speaking to reporters travelling with him, Lee said Singapore has beefed up its hospital facilities and laid out response measures since the SARS epidemic.   "I think we are much better prepared now," he said in remarks carried by the Straits Times newspaper.
Date: Thu, 23 Jan 2020 14:43:33 +0100 (MET)

Barcelona, Jan 23, 2020 (AFP) - The death toll from a violent storm which has wrought havoc on huge swathes of Spain's eastern and southern coastline rose to nine on Thursday as rescuers pressed the hunt for at least five missing people.    The latest death was that of a man whose body was found in a flooded river near Jorba, some 70 kilometres (45 miles) northwest of Barcelona, the emergency services said.    Rescuers in Catalonia had been searching for a missing person in the same area but said it was too early to confirm if it was him.

Catalan rescuers had late on Wednesday found another body of a man who died after falling into the water in Palamos, a port town about 100 kilometres up the coast from Barcelona.    They are also searching for a man who went missing from a merchant ship in the same area, as well as a person in Cadaques near the French border.   Earlier on Thursday, regional officials confirmed the death of a 75-year-old woman whose house collapsed because of heavy rain in Alcoi, a town in the eastern Alicante region.

Storm Gloria hit the region on Sunday, bringing strong winds, torrential rains and heavy snow, battering Spain's southern and eastern flanks before moving north.   Gale-force winds and huge waves smashed into seafront towns, with dramatic images showing massive flooding that has damaged shops, houses and restaurants.   National weather agency Aemet had on Wednesday said the storm was starting to abate although it kept Catalonia and the Balearic Islands on alert.   As the storm eased, Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez was on Thursday visiting some of the worst-hit areas, overflying parts of Catalonia before heading to the Balearic Islands which on Tuesday were hit by record waves, the port authority said.

Rescuers on the islands are still searching for three people, including a 25-year-old Briton who went missing on a beach in northern Ibiza, and a 27-year-old Spaniard who disappeared in Mallorca while practising canyoning -- a mix of rappelling, climbing and watersliding through deep gorges.   Rescuers had found three other bodies on Wednesday, including that of a 67-year-old man who went missing in his car near the southeastern resort town of Benidom.    They also found two bodies in the southern Andalusia region, one of a 77-year-old man who died when a greenhouse collapsed on him in a hailstorm in Nijar as well as that of a homeless man who died of hypothermia.
Date: Wed 22 Jan 2020 1:04 PM EAT
Source: Uganda Red Cross Twitter [edited]

One confirmed case of Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever, 4 others suspected, in Kagadi [western Uganda]

A district Task Force has been formed to manage and coordinate the cases across the district @MinofHealthUG @robert_kwesiga @inakasiita1
========================
[Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever (CCHF) can cause serious disease in humans, with a case fatality rate of 10-40%. It can be responsible for severe outbreaks in humans, but it is not pathogenic for ruminants, their amplifying hosts. WHO states that the onset of symptoms in humans is sudden, with fever, myalgia, (muscle ache), dizziness, neck pain and stiffness, backache, headache, sore eyes and photophobia (sensitivity to light). There may be nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, abdominal pain, and sore throat early on, followed by sharp mood swings and confusion. After 2-4 days, the agitation may be replaced by sleepiness, depression, and lassitude, and the abdominal pain may localize to the upper right quadrant, with detectable hepatomegaly (liver enlargement). Other clinical signs include tachycardia (fast heart rate), lymphadenopathy (enlarged lymph nodes), and a petechial rash (a rash caused by bleeding into the skin) on internal mucosal surfaces, such as in the mouth and throat, and on the skin.

Public education, especially among individuals in contact with livestock or their products, is needed to prevent cases of CCHF infection. A One Health approach is needed for effective surveillance, with effective communication between animal health and human health professionals.

The information in the tweet above indicates that there is one confirmed and at least 4 suspected cases of CCHF in Kagadi district, in the western region of Uganda.  Any updates on the epidemiology of these cases, occupational exposure, and public health response measures to control the transmission will be highly appreciated. - ProMED Mod.UBA]

[Maps of Uganda:
Date: Mon 20 Jan 2020
Source: Global News [edited]

A doctor working with Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) in Saskatchewan is urging caution to residents in and around Onion Lake First Nation following 2 people contracting a rare, deadly bacterial infection. Medical health officer Dr. Ibrahim Khan wrote a letter to the chief of the Onion Lake First Nation that said both patients were admitted to medical facilities shortly after New Years Day with diphtheria. He said one patient is under 18, while the other is an adult and was suffering from skin abrasions [? cutaneous diphtheria], which Khan said is rare for that disease.

In the letter, he said the disease is very uncommon in the province and can lead to "severe complications like breathing problems, heart failure, and paralysis, and without appropriate treatment can result in death." He applauded the medical team in Onion Lake, saying they contained the infection and made sure everyone in the community was aware of the risk and vaccinated.

"Everybody gets that vaccination, and they have that protection. That's why we don't see it. We don't see that many measles cases. We don't see that many prostatitis [pertussis?] cases, and we do not see any tetanus cases, because there is a good immunization for it. A good vaccination for it (and) people are aware of it," he told Global News. He said other local agencies, like pharmacies, made sure those on the front lines were supplied if they came across someone who wasn't vaccinated.

The letter to Chief Henry Louis said vaccination is the best method for preventing diphtheria and that the disease could virtually be eradicated if everyone who could be vaccinated received the shot. He said the target is for 97% of the population to receive the vaccination to prevent further spread in the community and noted the rates in Onion Lake are below that benchmark.  [Byline: Kyle Benning]
=====================
[Although the news report above says that one of the 2 patients with diphtheria was an adult "suffering from skin abrasions, which is rare for that disease," perhaps implying that this patient had cutaneous diphtheria, we are not told specifically the patients' clinical manifestations, i.e., whether they had respiratory diphtheria, cutaneous diphtheria, or both; if the strains of _Corynebacterium diphtheriae_ were toxin-producers; or if the patients were vaccinated against diphtheria.

Diphtheria became nationally notifiable in Canada in 1924, and that year 9057 cases were reported, the highest annual number of cases ever recorded in Canada  (<https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/immunization/vaccine-preventable-diseases/diphtheria/health-professionals.html>).

The diphtheria vaccine was 1st introduced in 1926, and routine immunization in infancy and childhood has been widely practiced since 1930 in Canada. By the mid-1950s, routine immunization had resulted in a remarkable decline in the morbidity and mortality of the disease. Another steep decline in cases occurred in 1980, which has been attributed, in part, to a change in case definition to exclude carriers from reported cases in all provinces and territories. Since 1993, a total of 19 cases have been reported with a range of 0-4 cases annually  (<https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/immunization/vaccine-preventable-diseases/diphtheria/health-professionals.html>).

In the USA, the case definition for reporting to the National Notifiable Diseases Surveillance System includes only respiratory diphtheria
(<https://wwwn.cdc.gov/nndss/conditions/diphtheria/case-definition/2010/>).

Similarly, the WHO case definition for reporting diphtheria only includes clinical respiratory diphtheria. Although no longer reportable, cutaneous diphtheria still occurs in the USA and has been most often associated with homelessness, poor sanitation, poverty, and crowded living conditions  (<https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/pubs/pinkbook/dip.html>).

However, the Canadian case definition includes both respiratory diphtheria and infection at another site (e.g., wound, cutaneous)
(<https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/immunization/vaccine-preventable-diseases/diphtheria/health-professionals/national-case-definition.html>).

Cutaneous diphtheria is contagious and can be a source of both respiratory and cutaneous infections in contacts. Acquisition of _Corynebacterium diphtheriae_, the cause of diphtheria, can occur even in vaccinated contacts, as vaccine-induced immunity is anti-toxin. - ProMED Mod.ML]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map:
Saskatchewan province, Canada: <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/262>]
Date: Wed, 22 Jan 2020 17:37:27 +0100 (MET)
By Helen ROXBURGH

Beijing, Jan 22, 2020 (AFP) - A new SARS-like virus has killed 17 people in China, infected hundreds and reached as far as the United States, with fears mounting about its spread as hundreds of millions travel for Lunar New Year celebrations, which start Friday.   Many countries have stepped up screening of passengers from Wuhan, the Chinese city identified as the epicentre, and the World Health Organization has called an emergency meeting.   Here's what we know so far about the virus:

- It's entirely new -
The pathogen appears to be a never-before-seen strain of coronavirus -- a large family of viruses that can cause diseases ranging from the common cold to Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which killed 349 people in mainland China and another 299 in Hong Kong between 2002 and 2003.   Arnaud Fontanet, head of the department of epidemiology at the Institut Pasteur in Paris, told AFP the current virus strain was 80 percent genetically identical to SARS.   China has already shared the genome sequencing of this novel coronavirus with the international scientific community.   It has been named "2019-nCoV".

- It's being passed between humans -
The WHO said Monday it believed an animal source was the "primary source" of the outbreak, and Wuhan authorities identified a seafood market as the centre of the epidemic.   But China has since confirmed that there was evidence the virus is now passing from person to person, without any contact with the now-closed market.

The virus has infected more than 400 people across the country, with most cases in Wuhan, according to officials. Li Bin of China's National Health Commission on Wednesday said 1,394 people were still under medical observation.   Doctor Nathalie MacDermott of King's College London said it seems likely that the virus is spread through droplets in the air from sneezing or coughing.   Doctors at the University of Hong Kong published an initial paper on Tuesday modelling the spread of the virus which estimated that there have been some 1,343 cases in Wuhan -- similar to a projection of 1,700 last week by scientists at Imperial College, London.   Both are much higher than official figures.

- It is milder than SARS -
Compared with SARS, the symptoms appear to be less aggressive, and experts say the death toll is still relatively low.   "It's difficult to compare this disease with SARS," said Zhong Nanshan, a renowned scientist at China's National Health Commission at a press conference this week. "It's mild. The condition of the lung is not like SARS."   However, the milder nature of the virus can also cause alarm.

The outbreak comes as China prepares for the Lunar New Year Holiday, with hundreds of millions travelling across the country to see family.   Professor Antoine Flahault, director of the Institute of Global Health at the University of Geneva, told AFP that the fact that the virus seems milder in the majority of people is "paradoxically more worrying" as it allows people to travel further before their symptoms are detected.   "Wuhan is a major hub and with travel being a huge part of the fast approaching Chinese New Year, the concern level must remain high," said Jeremy Farrar, Director of the Wellcome Trust.

- International public health emergency? -
The WHO will hold a meeting on Wednesday to determine whether the outbreak constitutes a "public health emergency of international concern" and if so, what should be done to manage it.   Cases have so far been confirmed in Thailand, Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, Macau and the United States.

The WHO has only used the rare label a handful of times, including during the H1N1 -- or swine flu -- pandemic of 2009 and the Ebola epidemic that devastated parts of West Africa from 2014 to 2016.   The Chinese government announced Tuesday it was classifying the outbreak in the same category as the SARS outbreak, meaning compulsory isolation for those diagnosed with the disease and the potential to implement quarantine measures on travel.   But if the WHO decides to take this step, it would put the Wuhan virus in the same category as a handful of very serious epidemics.

- Global precautions -
As the number of confirmed deaths and infections has risen, so has concern worldwide about the disease spreading to other countries.   In Thailand, authorities have introduced mandatory thermal scans of passengers arriving at airports in Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Phuket and Krabi from high-risk areas in China.

In Hong Kong, where hundreds died during the SARS outbreak of 2002-2003, authorities have said they are on high alert, carrying out scans at the city's airport -- one of the world's busiest -- and at other international land and sea crossing points.

The United States also ordered the screening of passengers arriving on direct or connecting flights from Wuhan, including at airports in New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles.   Taiwan has issued travel advisories, and went to its second-highest alert level for those travelling to or from Wuhan. Vietnam has also ordered more border checks on its border with China.
Date: Wed, 22 Jan 2020 16:53:32 +0100 (MET)
By Beiyi SEOW

Beijing, Jan 22, 2020 (AFP) - The death toll from a new SARS-like virus that has infected hundreds in China rose to 17 on Wednesday, as authorities urged people to steer clear of the city at the centre of the outbreak.   The coronavirus has caused alarm because of its similarity to SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome), which killed nearly 650 people across mainland China and Hong Kong in 2002-2003.   With hundreds of millions of people travelling across China this week for the Lunar New Year holiday, the National Health Commission announced measures to contain the disease -- including sterilisation and ventilation at airports and bus stations, as well as inside planes and trains.

In Wuhan, the epicentre of the epidemic, large public events were cancelled and international football matches were moved to a new location. Visitors were urged to stay away, while residents were advised to not to leave the central city, which is home to 11 million people.   "If it's not necessary we suggest that people don't come to Wuhan," Wuhan Mayor Zhou Xianwang told state broadcaster CCTV.    The illness is mainly transmitted via the respiratory tract and there "is the possibility of viral mutation and further spread of the disease", health commission vice minister Li Bin told a news conference in Beijing.   More than 500 cases have now been reported, with the majority in Wuhan, capital of Hubei province.

The virus has now infected at least 444 people in Hubei province alone, said provincial officials at a press conference, adding that the death toll had risen from nine to 17.   Major cities, including Beijing, Shanghai, and Chongqing have also reported cases, as well as provinces in northeastern, central, and southern China.   The World Health Organization started an emergency meeting Wednesday to decide whether or not to declare a rare global public health emergency over the disease, which has now been detected in the United States, Taiwan, Thailand, Japan, South Korea and Macau.

The Chinese government has classified the outbreak in the same category as the SARS epidemic, meaning compulsory isolation for those diagnosed with the illness and the potential to implement quarantine measures.   But they still have not been able to confirm the exact source of the virus.   "We will step up research efforts to identify the source and transmission of the disease," Li said, adding that "the cases are mostly linked to Wuhan".   Countries have intensified efforts to stop the spread of the pathogen -- known by its technical name 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV).   Passengers are facing screening measures at five US airports and a host of transport hubs across Asia. Britain and Italy on Wednesday also announced enhanced monitoring of passengers from Wuhan.

- Virus source -
A prominent expert from China's National Health Commission confirmed this week that the virus can be passed between people.   However, animals are suspected to be the primary source of the outbreak.   A Wuhan market is believed to be the epicentre of the outbreak.

A price list circulating online in China for a business there lists a menagerie of animals or animal-based products including live foxes, crocodiles, wolf puppies and rats. It also offered civets, the animal linked to SARS.   "We already know that the disease originated from a market which conducted illegal transaction of wild animals," said Gao Fu, director of the Chinese centre for disease control and prevention.   He said it was clear "this virus is adapting and mutating".   Hong Kong and British scientists have estimated that between 1,300 and 1,700 people in Wuhan may have been infected.

- Containment -
Health authorities are urging people to wash their hands regularly, avoid crowded places, get plenty of fresh air and wear a mask if they have a cough.   Anyone with a cough or fever was urged to go to hospital.   In Wuhan, city authorities made it mandatory to wear a mask in public places on Wednesday, according to state-run People's Daily.

In response to skyrocketing demand for masks -- which were starting to sell out at pharmacies and on some popular websites -- China's industry and information technology ministry said it would "spare no effort in increasing supply", state media reported.   "These days, I wear masks even in places that are not too crowded, although I wouldn't have done so in the past," said Wang Suping, 50, who works at a Beijing arts school.   At the capital's main international airport, the majority of people were wearing masks.

Hong Kong flag carrier Cathay Pacific said it had agreed to allow staff to wear surgical masks on mainland China flights, and that passengers from Wuhan would be offered masks and antiseptic wipes.   In Wuhan, police were conducting vehicle spot checks for live poultry or wild animals leaving and entering the city, state media said.   Officials also screened people on roads, the airport and the train station for fever.   The local government has cancelled major public activities and banned tour groups from heading out of the city.   Women's Olympics football qualifiers scheduled for February 3-9 in Wuhan have been moved to the eastern city of Nanjing.
Date: Wed, 22 Jan 2020 15:49:25 +0100 (MET)

Montreal, Jan 22, 2020 (AFP) - A Canadian guide died and five French tourists were missing after at least one snowmobile plunged through ice in northern Quebec, police said Tuesday.   The group were riding close to where a river exits the Saint-Jean lake, and were outside the approved area for snowmobiles, police spokesman Hugues Beaulieu told AFP.   Nine people, including the guide, were on the trip on Tuesday evening when the ice broke underneath them.   Police said they were alerted by two of the tourists who had rescued a third tourist from the freezing water.

The 42-year-old guide was pulled out by emergency response teams and taken to hospital, but he died overnight, Beaulieu said, adding "five French tourists are still missing."   The police and army were searching the area on Wednesday, assisted by divers.   "This sector was not part of a marked trail, they were off-piste," said the spokesman.
Date: Wed, 22 Jan 2020 04:55:57 +0100 (MET)

Hong Kong, Jan 22, 2020 (AFP) - Macau on Wednesday reported its first confirmed case of the new SARS-like coronavirus as authorities announced all staff in the city's bustling casinos had been ordered to wear face masks.   The former Portuguese colony is a huge draw for mainland tourists as the only place in China that allows gambling.

With the Lunar New Year approaching this weekend, a huge influx of mainland tourists is expected in the city.   Asian countries have ramped up measures to block the spread of the new virus, which emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan and has so far killed at least nine people.

On Wednesday, Macau announced its first confirmed case -- a 52-year-old businesswoman from Wuhan who arrived in the city by high-speed rail on Sunday, via the neighbouring city of Zhuhai.    "A series of tests found that she was positive for the coronavirus and had symptoms of pneumonia," Lei Chin-lon, the head of Macau's health bureau, told reporters.    The woman had been staying at the New Orient Landmark Hotel with two friends who were being monitored since her admission to hospital on Tuesday.

Ao Ieong Iu, Macau's Secretary for Social Affairs and Culture, said staff in all casinos would be required to wear masks while anyone arriving at entry ports along the city's border with the mainland would need to fill out health declaration forms.    "We have not banned tourism groups from Wuhan but we are not encouraging them," Ao Ieong said.    "We will stay in close contact with tourism agencies and require them to notify us of all groups going to and coming from Wuhan," she added.
Date: Tue, 21 Jan 2020 22:23:22 +0100 (MET)
By Issam Ahmed with Helen Roxburgh

Washington/Beijing, Jan 21, 2020 (AFP) - The United States on Tuesday announced its first case of a new virus that has claimed six lives in China and sickened hundreds, joining countries around the world in ramping up measures to block its spread.   The man, a US resident in his 30s who lives near Seattle, is in good condition, according to federal and state officials, and approached authorities himself after reading about the SARS-like virus in news reports.   He is "currently hospitalized out of an abundance of precaution, and for short term monitoring, not because there was severe illness," said Chris Spitters, a Washington state health official.  "This is an evolving situation and again, we do expect additional patients in the United States and globally," added Nancy Messonier, a senior official at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), but stressed that the overall risk to Americans remained low.

The man entered the country on January 15 after traveling to Wuhan, two days before the US began deploying health officials at major airports to screen passengers arriving from that central Chinese city which is at the heart of the outbreak. The efforts are to be extended now to a total of five US airports.   It came as countries ramped up measures to block the spread of the virus -- known by its technical name 2019 Novel Coronavirus or 2019-nCoV -- as the number of cases surpassed 300, raising concerns in the middle of a major Chinese holiday travel rush.

Fears of a bigger outbreak rose after a prominent expert from China's National Health Commission confirmed late Monday that the virus can be passed between people.   That conclusion is shared by the CDC, which said "person-to-person spread is occurring, although it's unclear how easily the virus spreads between people," even as the World Health Organization (WHO) adopted a more cautious approach, saying it is still investigating.   The UN agency will hold an emergency meeting Wednesday to determine whether to declare a rare global public health emergency over the disease, which has also been detected in Thailand, Japan and South Korea and Taiwan.

- Holiday rush -
Authorities previously said there was no obvious evidence of person-to-person transmission and animals were suspected to be the source, as a seafood market where live animals were sold in Wuhan was identified as the center of the outbreak.   Hundreds of millions of people are criss-crossing China this week in packed buses, trains and planes to celebrate the Lunar New Year with relatives.

More than 80 new cases have been confirmed, bringing the total number of people hit by the virus in China to 315, with the vast majority in Hubei, the province where Wuhan lies, according to officials.   But cases have also been confirmed around the country, including Beijing and Shanghai.   The first case on the self-ruled island of Taiwan was also confirmed Tuesday, with a woman taken to hospital on arrival at the airport from Wuhan.   Wuhan mayor Zhou Xianwang told state broadcaster CCTV Tuesday that the death toll had risen from four to six.   The coronavirus has caused alarm because of its genetic similarities to Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which killed nearly 650 people across mainland China and Hong Kong in 2002-2003.

- Fever checks -
At four airports in Thailand, authorities introduced mandatory thermal scans of passengers arriving from high-risk areas of China.   In Hong Kong, authorities said they were on "extreme high alert," with passengers from Wuhan required to fill out health declarations and face possible jail time if they do not declare symptoms.   Enhanced screening measures have also been set up at airports in Australia, Bangladesh, Nepal, Singapore and Russia, Malaysia and Vietnam.   A man showing symptoms of the disease who had travelled to Wuhan has been put in isolation in Australia as health officials await test results, authorities said Tuesday.   In China, the government announced it was classifying the outbreak in the same category as SARS, meaning compulsory isolation for those diagnosed ith the disease and the potential to implement quarantine measures on travel.

In Wuhan, authorities banned tour groups and police were conducting spot checks for animals in vehicles leaving and entering the city, state media said.   It added that city health authorities had scheduled 800 beds to be made available in three hospitals and 1,200 more would soon be ready, and passengers were being screened for fever at the airport, railway stations and bus terminals.   Doctors at the University of Hong Kong released a study on Tuesday estimating that there have been 1,343 cases of the new virus in Wuhan.   The WHO has only called a global public health emergency a handful of times, including during the H1N1 -- or swine flu -- pandemic of 2009 and the Ebola epidemic that devastated parts of West Africa from 2014 to 2016.