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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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Italy

US Consular Information Sheet Italy, Holy See (Vatican City) and San Marino - January 21, 2009 COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
Italy is a developed democracy with a modern economy.
The Holy See is a sovereign entity that serves as the ecclesiastical, gove
nmental and administrative capital of the Roman Catholic Church, physically located within the State of the Vatican City inside Rome, with a unique, non-traditional economy.
San Marino is a developed, constitutional democratic republic, also independent of Italy, with a modern economy.
Tourist facilities are widely available. Read the Department of State Background Notes on Italy, the Holy See, and San Marino for additional information. ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:
Italy is a party to the Schengen agreement.
As such, U.S. citizens may enter Italy for up to 90 days for tourist or business purposes without a visa.
The passport should be valid for at least three months beyond the period of stay.
For further details about travel into and within Schengen countries, please see our fact sheet.
For all other purposes, a visa is required and must be obtained from the Italian Embassy or Consulates before entering Italy.
For further information concerning visas and entry requirements for Italy, travelers may contact the Embassy of Italy at 3000 Whitehaven Street NW, Washington, DC 20008, via telephone at (202) 612-4400 or online at http://www.ambwashingtondc.esteri.it/ambasciata_washington, or Italian Consulates General in Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, Newark, New Orleans, New York, Philadelphia, or San Francisco, accessible through the Italian Embassy web site. Americans staying or traveling within Italy for less than three (3) months are considered non-residents. This includes persons on vacation, those taking professional trips, students registered at an authorized school, or persons performing research or independent study. As of May 2007, under Italian law (http://www.camera.it/parlam/leggi/07068l.htm), all non-residents are required to complete a dichiarazione di presenza (declaration of presence). Tourists arriving from a non-Schengen-country (e.g. the United States) should obtain a stamp in their passport at the airport on the day of arrival. This stamp is considered the equivalent of the declaration of presence. Tourists arriving from a Schengen-country (e.g. France) must request the declaration of presence form from a local police office (commissariato di zona), police headquarters (questura) or their place of stay (e.g hotel, hostel, campgrounds) and submit the form to the police or to their place of stay within eight business days of arrival. It is important that applicants keep a copy of the receipt issued by the Italian authorities. Failure to complete a declaration of presence is punishable by expulsion from Italy. Additional information may be obtained (in Italian only) from the Portale Immigrazione at http://www.portaleimmigrazione.it and the Polizia di Stato at http://www.poliziadistato.it/pds/ps/immigrazione/soggiorno.htm. Americans staying in Italy for more than three (3) months are considered residents and must obtain a permesso di soggiorno (permit of stay). This includes Americans who will work or transact business and persons who want to simply live in Italy.
An application “kit” for the permesso di soggiorno may be requested from one of 14,000 national post offices (Poste Italiane). The kit must then be returned to one of 5,332 designated Post Office acceptance locations.
It is important that applicants keep a copy of the receipt issued by the post office.
Additional information may be obtained from an Italian immigration website online at http://www.portaleimmigrazione.it/.
Within 20 days of receiving the permit to stay in Italy, Americans must go to the local Vital Statistics Bureau (Anagrafe of the Comune) to apply for residency. It generally takes one to two months to receive the certificate of residence (Certificato di Residenza). Information about dual nationality or the prevention of international child abduction can be found on our web site.
For further information about customs regulations, please read our Customs Information sheet. SAFETY AND SECURITY:
There have been occasional episodes of politically motivated violence in Italy, most often connected to Italian internal developments or social issues.
Italian authorities have found bombs outside public buildings, received bomb threats, and were subjects of letter bombs.
Firebombs or Molotov cocktails have been thrown at buildings or offices in the middle of the night.
These incidents have all been attributed to organized crime or anarchist movements.
Americans were not targeted or injured in these instances.
Demonstrations may have an anti-American character.
Even demonstrations intended to be peaceful have the potential to turn into confrontational situations and possibly escalate into violence.
U.S. citizens traveling or residing in Italy should take common sense precautions and follow news reports carefully in order to avoid demonstrations and to be aware of heightened security and potential delays when they occur.
American citizens are encouraged to read the Warden Messages posted on the Embassy’s web site at http://italy.usembassy.gov/acs/demonstration/default.asp. Italy remains largely free of terrorist incidents.
However, like other countries in the Schengen area, Italy’s open borders with its Western European neighbors allow the possibility of terrorist groups entering/exiting the country with anonymity. For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State’s, Bureau of Consular Affairs’ web site, where the current Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts, as well as the Worldwide Caution, can be found. Up-to-date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll-free in the U.S., or for callers outside the U.S. and Canada, a regular toll line at 1-202-501-4444.
These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays). The Department of State urges American citizens to take responsibility for their own personal security while traveling overseas.
For general information about appropriate measures travelers can take to protect themselves in an overseas environment, see the Department of State’s A Safe Trip Abroad. CRIME:
Italy has a moderate rate of violent crime, some of which is directed towards tourists, principally for motives of theft.
Some travelers are victims of rape and beatings.
There are incidents of drinks laced with drugs being used by criminals to rob, and in some cases, assault tourists.
Many of these incidents occur in the vicinity of Rome’s Termini train station and at major tourist centers such as Campo de Fiori and Piazza Navona, as well as in Florence and Naples.
Criminals using this tactic “befriend” a traveler at a train station, bus stop, restaurant, café or bar in tourist areas, then eventually offer a drink laced with a sleeping drug.
When the tourist falls asleep, criminals steal the traveler’s valuables.
There are also instances where the victim is assaulted, either physically or sexually. Americans are urged to exercise caution at train stations and airports, and when frequenting nightclubs, bars and outdoor cafes, particularly at night, because criminals may make initial contact with potential victims in such settings.
Individuals under the effect of alcohol may become victims of crime, including robbery, physical and sexual assault, due to their impaired ability to judge situations and make decisions.
This is particularly a problem for younger Americans visiting Italy, where the age limit on the sale of alcoholic beverages is lower than in the United States.
If you are a victim of such a crime, please file a police report and contact the U.S. Embassy or nearest consulate.
There are also in-country organizations, which provide counseling, medical, and legal assistance to certain crime victims. Petty crimes such as pick-pocketing, theft from parked cars, and purse snatching are serious problems, especially in large cities.
Pick-pockets sometimes dress like businessmen.
Tourists should not be lulled into a false sense of security by believing that well-dressed individuals are not potential pick-pockets or thieves.
Most reported thefts occur at crowded tourist sites, on public buses or trains, or at the major railway stations: Rome’s Termini; Milan’s Centrale; Florence’s Santa Maria Novella; and Naples’ Centrale and Piazza Garibaldi.
Travelers should also be alert to theft in Milan’s Malpensa Airport, particularly at car rental agencies.
Clients of Internet cafes in major cities are also targeted.
Tourists who have tried to resist petty thieves on motor scooters have suffered broken arms and collarbones. Thieves in Italy often work in groups or pairs.
Pairs of accomplices or groups of street urchins are known to divert tourists’ attention so that another can pick-pocket them.
In one particular routine, one thief throws trash, waste or ketchup at the victim; a second thief assists the victim in cleaning up the mess; and the third discreetly takes the victim’s belongings.
Criminals on crowded public transportation slit the bottoms of purses or bags with a razor blade or sharp knife removing the contents.
Theft of small items such as radios, luggage, cameras, briefcases, and even cigarettes from parked cars is a major problem. Carjackings and thefts are reported by occupants of vehicles waiting in traffic or stopped at traffic lights.
Vehicles parked near beaches during the summer are broken into and robbed of valuables.
Robbers take items from cars at gas stations often by smashing car windows. In a scam practiced on the highways, one thief signals a flat tire to the driver of another car and encourages the driver to pull over.
Often, the tire has been punctured by an accomplice, while in other instances, there may, in fact, be nothing wrong with the vehicle.
When the driver stops, one thief helps change the tire, while the other takes the driver’s belongings.
Use particular caution driving at night on highways, when there may be a greater incidence of robbery attempts.
There are occasional reports of break-ins of rental cars driven by Americans when the precautions mentioned above were not followed during stops at highway service areas. On trains, a commonly reported crime involves one or more persons who pretend to befriend a traveler and offer drugged food or drink.
Also, thieves are known to impersonate police officers to gain the confidence of tourists.
The thief shows the prospective victim a circular plastic sign with the words “police” or “international police.”
If this happens, the tourist should insist on seeing the officer’s identification card (documento), as impersonators tend not to carry forged documents.
Tourists should immediately report thefts or other crimes to the local police. The U.S. Secret Service in Rome is assisting Italian Law Enforcement authorities in investigating an increase in the appearance of ATM skimming devices.
These devices are attached to legitimate bank ATMs, usually located in tourist areas, and capture the account information stored electronically on the card’s magnetic strip.
The devices consist of a card reader installed over the legitimate reader and a pin-hole video camera mounted above the keypad that records the customer’s PIN.
ATMs with skimming devices installed may also allow normal transactions to occur.
The victim’s information is sold, traded on-line, or encoded on another card such as a hotel key card to access the compromised account.
Here are some helpful hints to protect yourself and to identify skimming devices: 1) Use ATMs located in well-lit public areas, or secured inside the bank/business 2) Cover the keypad with one hand as you enter your PIN 3) Look for gaps, tampered appearance, or other irregularities between the metal faceplate of the ATM and the card reader 4) Avoid card readers that are not flush with the face of the ATM 5) Closely monitor your account statements for unauthorized transactions Organized criminal groups operate throughout Italy, but are more prevalent in the south.
They occasionally resort to violence to intimidate or to settle disputes.
Though the activities of such groups are not generally targeted at tourists, visitors should be aware that innocent by-standers could be injured. In many countries around the world, counterfeit and pirated goods are widely available.
Transactions involving such products may be illegal under local law.
In addition, bringing them back to the United States may result in forfeitures and/or fines.
More information on this serious problem is available at http://www.cybercrime.gov/18usc2320.htm. According to Italian Law (Law 80 of May 14, 2005), anyone caught buying counterfeit goods (for example, DVD’s, CD’s, watches, purses, bags, belts, sunglasses, etc.) is subject to a fine of no less than EUR 1,000.
Police in major Italian cities enforce this law to varying degrees.
Travelers are advised to purchase products only from stores and other licensed retailers to avoid unknowingly buying counterfeit and illegal merchandise. INFORMATION FOR VICTIMS OF CRIME:
The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate.
If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate for assistance.
The embassy/consulate staff can, for example, assist you to find appropriate medical care, contact family members or friends and explain how funds could be transferred.
Lost or stolen credit cards present risk of identity theft and should be cancelled immediately.
Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed. The local equivalent to the “911” emergency line in Italy is: 113. Please see our information on Victims of Crime, including possible victim compensation programs in the United States. CRIMINAL PENALTIES:
While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country’s laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those of the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law.
Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses.
Persons violating Italian law, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession, use or trafficking in illegal drugs in Italy are severe and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines.
Engaging in illicit sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime, prosecutable in the United States.
Please see our information on Criminal Penalties. SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:
Strikes and other work stoppages occur frequently in the transportation sector (national airlines, airports, trains, and bus lines).
Most are announced in advance and are of short duration.
Information on strikes may be found at http://www.infrastrutture.gov.it/page/NuovoSito/site.php.
Reconfirmation of domestic and international flight reservations is highly recommended. U. S citizens using public transportation while in Italy are reminded they must adhere to local transportation laws and regulations. Travelers must purchase train tickets and validate them by punching them in validating machines usually located near the entrance of train tracks prior to boarding.
Failure to follow this procedure may result in an on-the-spot fine by an inspector on the train. Travelers must purchase bus tickets prior to boarding and validate them immediately after boarding. Tickets may be purchased at tobacco stores or kiosks. Failure to follow this procedure may result in an immediate fine imposed by an inspector on the bus. If the violator does not pay the fine on the spot, it will automatically double and will be forwarded to the violator’s home address. MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:
Medical facilities are available, but may be limited outside urban areas.
Public hospitals, though generally free of charge for emergency services, sometimes do not maintain the same standards as hospitals in the United States, so travelers are encouraged to obtain insurance that would cover a stay in a private Italian hospital or clinic.
It is almost impossible to obtain an itemized hospital bill from public hospitals, as required by many U.S. insurance companies, because the Italian National Health Service charges one inclusive rate (care services, bed and board). In parts of southern Italy, the lack of adequate trash disposal and incineration sites has led to periodic accumulations of garbage in urban and rural areas.
In some cases, residents have burned garbage, resulting in toxic emissions that can aggravate respiratory problems. The U.S. Navy initiated a public health evaluation in the Naples area in 2008.
Updates on that evaluation can be found at http://www.nsa.naples.navy.mil/risk.
After finding levels of bacterial and chemical contamination of potential health concern, particularly in samples of area well water, the Navy recommended all personnel living off-base in the Naples area use only bottled water for drinking, cooking, ice-making, and brushing teeth.
For more information on safe food and water precautions, see the CDC’s web site below.
The U.S. Department of State is unaware of any HIV/AIDS entry restrictions for visitors to or foreign residents of Italy. Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC’s web site at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/default.aspx.
For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization’s (WHO) web site at http://www.who.int/en.
Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith MEDICAL INSURANCE:
The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation.
Please see our information on medical insurance overseas. TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS:
While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States.
The information below concerning Italy is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance. Streets in historic city centers are often narrow, winding and congested.
Motor scooters are very popular and drivers often see themselves as exempt from conventions that apply to automobiles. Travelers who rent scooters should be particularly cautious.
Pedestrians and drivers should be constantly alert to the possibility of scooters’ sudden presence.
Most vehicle-related deaths and injuries involve pedestrians or cyclists who are involved in collisions with scooters or other vehicles.
U.S. citizens should remain vigilant and alert while walking or cycling near traffic.
Pedestrians should be careful, as sidewalks can be extremely congested and uneven.
Drivers of bicycles, motorcycles, and other vehicles routinely ignore traffic signals and traffic flows and park and drive on sidewalks.
For safety, pedestrians should look carefully in both directions before crossing streets, even when using a marked crosswalk with a green avanti (“walk”) light illuminated.
Traffic lights are limited, often disobeyed, and a different convention of right-of-way is observed.
Italy has over 5,600 kilometers (3,480 mi.) of Autostrada, or superhighways.
Commercial and individual vehicles travel and pass on these well-maintained roads at very high speeds.
Accidents occur in which contributing factors include excessive speed, alcohol/drug use, and/or sleepiness of long-distance drivers.
Italy has one of the highest rates of car accident deaths in the European Union. In rural areas, a wide range of speed on highways makes for hazardous driving.
Roads are generally narrow and often have no guardrails.
Travelers in northern Italy, especially in winter, should be aware of fog and poor visibility, responsible for multiple-car accidents each year.
Most Italian automobiles are equipped with special fog lights.
Roadside assistance in Italy is excellent on the well-maintained toll roads, but limited on secondary roads.
Use of safety belts and child restraining devices is mandatory and headlights should be on at all times outside of urban areas. U.S. citizens driving in Italy are reminded that they must adhere to the local driving laws and regulations.
Vehicle traffic in some historic downtown areas of cities and towns throughout Italy is limited by a system of permits (called “ZTL” and functioning the same way as an EasyPass system in the United States might on the freeway).
Cameras record the license plates of cars driving in parts of the city that require a permit.
Although most of the automated verification stations are clearly marked, if a driver passes one it is impossible to know at the time that a violation occurred or has been recorded.
Violators are not pulled over or stopped, and there is no personal contact with a police officer.
Whenever possible, the fines imposed for these violations are forwarded to the driver’s home in the United States to request payment.
The fines are cumulative for each time a driver passes a control point.
A similar system of automated traffic control cameras is in place in many parts of the highway system and is used to ticket speeding violations. U.S. citizens driving in Italy should also note that, according to Italian regulation, if a resident of a non-European Union country (e.g. the United States) violates a traffic law, the violator must pay the fine at the time the violation occurs to the police officer issuing the ticket.
If the citizen does not or cannot pay the fine at the time, Italian regulation allows the police officer to confiscate the offender’s vehicle (even if the vehicle is a rental vehicle). For specific information concerning Italian driving permits, vehicle inspection, road tax and mandatory insurance, contact the Italian Government Tourist Board (ENIT) offices via the Internet at: http://www.enit.it, tel: 212-245-4822 or the A.C.I. (Automobile Club Italiano) at Via Magenta 5, 00185 Rome, tel: 39-06-4477.
For information on obtaining international drivers licenses, contact AAA or the American Automobile Touring Alliance. Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.
Visit the web site of the country’s national tourist office at http://www.italiantourism.com and national authority responsible for road safety at http://www.infrastrutturetrasporti.it. AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT:
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) assessed the Government of Italy’s Civil Aviation Authority as being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for oversight of Italy’s air carrier operations.
For more information, travelers may visit the FAA’s web site at http://www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa. DISASTER PREPAREDNESS:
Several major earthquake fault lines cross Italy.
Principal Italian cities, with the exception of Naples, do not lie near these faults, but smaller tourist towns, like Assisi, do and experience earthquakes.
General information about disaster preparedness is available online from the U.S. Federal Management Agency (FEMA) at http://www.fema.gov.
Detailed information on Italy’s earthquake fault lines is available from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) at http://www.usgs.gov Italy also has several active volcanoes generating geothermal events.
Mt. Etna, on the eastern tip of the island of Sicily, has been erupting intermittently since 2000.
Mt. Vesuvius, located near Naples, is currently capped and not active.
Activity at Mt. Vesuvius is monitored by an active seismic network and sensor system, and no recent seismic activity has been recorded.
Two of Italy’s smaller islands, Stromboli and Vulcano in the Aeolian Island chain north of Sicily, also have active volcanoes with lava flows.
Detailed information on volcano activity in Italy is available from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) at http://www.usgs.gov. CHILDREN’S ISSUES:
For information see our Office of Children’s Issues web pages on intercountry adoption and international parental child abduction.
REGISTRATION / EMBASSY AND CONSULATE LOCATIONS:
Americans living or traveling in Italy are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department’s travel registration web site, so they can obtain updated information on travel and security within Italy.
Americans without Internet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in case of emergency.
The U.S. Embassy is located at Via V. Veneto 119/A, tel.: 39-06-46741 and fax: 39-06-4674-2217; web site: http://italy.usembassy.gov/english/. The U.S. Consulates are located in: Florence:
Lungarno Amerigo Vespucci 38, tel: 39-055-266-951, consular fax: 399-055-215-550; Milan:
Via Principe Amedeo 2/10, tel: 39-02-290-351, and fax:
39-02-290-35-273; Naples:
Piazza della Repubblica, tel:
39-081-583-8111, and consular fax:
39-081-583-8275. There are U.S. Consular Agents located in: Genoa:
Via Dante 2, tel:
39-010-584-492, and fax: 39-010-553-3033; Palermo:
Via Vaccarini 1, tel:
39-091-305-857, and fax:
39-091-625-6026; Venice:
Viale Galileo Galilei, 30, tel: 39-041-541-5944, and fax: 39-041-541-6654. * * * This replaces the Consular Information Sheet dated June 10, 2008, to update the sections onSafety and Security and Medical Facilities and Health Information.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Tue, 6 Aug 2019 20:52:44 +0200 (METDST)

Rome, Aug 6, 2019 (AFP) - Tourists to the Eternal City will no longer be able to catch their breath on the Spanish Steps, after Rome banned people from sitting on the famous monument.   Police could be seen blowing whistles to order people up and off the Steps in the historic centre on Tuesday, an AFP photographer reported.

The marble steps, one of the architectural jewels of the Italian capital, have long been a place for weary sightseers to stop and watch the world go by -- while possibly scoffing down a quick sandwich or slurping a milkshake.   But in an attempt to crack down on slovenly behaviour, the council issued new rules earlier this summer banning all "camping out" or "sitting" on historic monuments, including the Steps and the "boat" fountain at its feet.   Transgressors could be slapped with a fine of up to 400 euros ($448) for everything from sitting, to going shirtless, bathing in fountains and dragging wheeled suitcases down historic steps.

The landmark, made famous in the United States by the 1953 film "Roman Holiday" starring Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck, underwent a 1.5-million-euro renovation in 2016 financed by upmarket jeweller Bulgari.   The marble had been discoloured by years of pollution but also caked in chewing gum and stained by wine and coffee spills.

The Steps, designed by architect Francesco de Sanctis between 1723 and 1726 and dominated by the Trinita dei Monti church at the top, are a UNESCO site.   Last month, two German tourists were fined 950 euros for making themselves a coffee on the steps of the famous Rialto bridge in Venice and asked to leave the city.
Date: Sat, 20 Jul 2019 11:45:40 +0200

Rome, July 20, 2019 (AFP) - Italy's Mount Etna, Europe's biggest live volcano, erupted overnight with lava flows and explosive burps, vulcanologists said Saturday.   A heavy emission of ash into the sky forced the closure of two airports in Sicily's second-biggest city of Catania. They partially reopened early Saturday.

The activity followed "lively spattering" recorded by the  National Institute of Geophysics and Vulcanology (INGV) in early June and a previous eruption in December last year.   Eruptions are frequent, and the last major one dated back to early 2009.   The institute said this latest eruption was intermittent and the lava was flowing around 1.5 kilometres (one mile) down a desertic escarpment called the Valle del Bove (Ox Valley) from craters situated on the volcano's southeast face.
Date: Wed, 3 Jul 2019 21:26:25 +0200
By Charles ONIANS

Rome, July 3, 2019 (AFP) - A volcano on the Italian island of Stromboli erupted dramatically on Wednesday, killing a hiker and sending tourists fleeing into the sea.   The volcano is known to be active but on Wednesday there were two particularly powerful explosions.   "Unfortunately one man is dead, there are a few injured, but none seriously," emergency worker Calogero Foti told RAI television.   The dead man was a 35-year-old from Messina in Sicily who was walking with a Brazilian companion who was found dehydrated and in a state of shock, the AGI news agency reported.   They were walking below the 400 metre altitude limit above which a guide is required.

- 'Like being in hell' -
A navy boat has been sent to the 12 square kilometre (five square miles) island for a possible mass evacuation, with 70 inhabitants and tourists already evacuated.   "It was like being in hell because of the rain of fire coming from the sky," Italian news agencies quoted local priest Giovanni Longo as saying.   He said it was not known if there were any hikers on the volcano at the time of the eruption, which caused fires around the village of Ginostra.   Stromboli is topped by an active volcano which is a magnet for tourists from early spring each year.   Italian media reported that some tourists had fled into the sea after the eruption, while others had barricaded themselves into homes.

Italy's National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology (INGV) said there were two huge explosions on the central-southern side of the volcano's crater at around 1446 GMT Wednesday, one of the biggest explosions ever recorded on the island.   The explosions were preceded by lava spills "from all the active mouths of the crater terrace," the INGV said, prompting a two-kilometre high plume of smoke.   "It's been a long time since we had an eruption of this magnitude," former local councillor Gianluca Giuffre told RAI news.   "My experience and of those who have been living here for generations leads us to believe that the situation will calm down again but we must be cautious," he said.   A firefighting plane could not put out fires in the area because of the amount of smoke, Italian media reported.   The INGV said it was monitoring the situation.

- Cinematic fame -
A previous massive eruption in December 2002 prompted a tidal wave after magma from a particularly violent eruption cascaded into the sea. Six people were injured.   Piers, boats and some buildings were swept away.   Access to the island was forbidden to outsiders for over a month amid the risk of further landslides and scientists set up electronic observation stations to monitor volcanic activity.   Four-fifths of the island's population of around 500 decided to leave for the Aeolian island administrative centre of Lipari, whose schools have taken on Stromboli's children since the disaster.   Stromboli was made famous in the 1950 film of the same name by Roberto Rossellini, starring Ingrid Bergman and is a major tourist attraction with thousands of people visiting its lava-spitting crater each year.   Stromboli is part of the seven-island Eolian Archipelago just off Sicily in southern Italy.
Date: Sat, 1 Jun 2019 21:20:01 +0200

Rome, June 1, 2019 (AFP) - Mount Etna in southern Italy has burst into life, spitting molten lava high into the sky, though cloud cover Saturday ruined the view for those brave enough to venture up the flanks of Europe's highest volcano.

The National Institute of Geophysics and Vulcanology (INGV) said there was "lively spattering" as fire and hot ash spewed high into the sky in an eruption which began Thursday and had slowed slightly by Saturday but still posed a risk to climbers.

The lava came from two eruptive fissures on the north-eastern and south-south-eastern sides of the New Southeast Crater.   The volcano on the island of Sicily previously erupted in December.   The latest lava show was not expected to pose any problems for nearby residential areas or for flights at the closest airport at Catania.
Date: 23 May 2019
Source: ECDC [edited]

Abstract
"In 2018, there was a large West Nile virus (WNV) outbreak in northern Italy. We observed 5 atypical cases of WNV infection that were characterised by the presence of WNV RNA and WNV IgG at the time of diagnosis, but no IgM response during follow-up. Neutralisation assays demonstrated pre-existing Usutu virus immunity in all patients. Besides challenging diagnosis, the immunological crosstalk between the 2 viruses warrants further investigation on possible cross-protection or infection enhancement effects."
=====================
[WNV and Usutu virus (USUV) are genetically related neurotropic mosquito-borne flaviviruses, which are endemic in several European countries. In their transmission cycle, WNV and USUV share the same mosquito vectors and bird populations as amplifying hosts, and often the 2 viruses co-circulate in the same environment. Most WNV infections in humans are asymptomatic or characterised by influenza-like illness, while less than one percent of cases might evolve to severe and potentially fatal neuro-invasive disease, especially in elderly and immunocompromised individuals. USUV appears to be more pathogenic and lethal than WNV for some bird species, while it rarely causes disease in humans; (J Clin Virol. 2018;107:38-47. DOI: 10.1016/j.jcv.2018.08.007 PMID: 30176404).

According to the paper, the 1st human cases of WNV infection were detected in northern Italy in 2008 with subsequent WNV infection outbreaks reported every year. The 1st human cases of USUV infection were detected in northern Italy in 2009 in immunocompromised patients [Euro Surveill. 2009;14(50):19446.PMID: 20070936]. Seroprevalence studies and retrospective investigations suggested that the prevalence of USUV infection in humans could be higher than WNV infection (estimated to range between 0.3 and 3 percent) in areas where both viruses co-circulate [J Med Virol. 2018;90(10):1666-8. DOI: 10.1002/jmv.25230 PMID: 29797606].

The 2018 transmission season recorded a substantial increase in the number of human WNV infections, with approx. 1500 confirmed cases in European Union countries, with Italy as the most affected country [available from: <https://ecdc.europa.eu/en/west-nile-fever>]. The authors infer that the unprecedented high number of WNV infections recorded in 2018 in the Veneto Region (440 confirmed cases) was perhaps the main factor that led to the identification of the cases of WNV infection with an atypical immune response, which is described in the paper, since the diagnostic process was similar to that of the previous years.

The study concludes: "Further investigation including a larger number of cases is needed to better define the clinical and virological features of WNV infection in individuals with pre-existing flavivirus imunity and to understand if USUV infection provides cross-protection against WNV disease or whether it might increase the risk for more severe disease through antibody-dependent enhancement. Infections from closely related flaviviruses, like WNV and USUV, may pose problems not only because of the induction of cross-reactive antibodies that challenge the differential diagnosis, but also because the immunological crosstalk between heterologous viruses may increase the risk of severe disease through a mechanism of antibody-dependent enhancement of infection." - ProMED Mod.UBA]

[HealthMap/ProMED map available at:
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World Travel News Headlines

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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