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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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Panama

Panama - US Consular Information Sheet
June 05, 2008
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION: Panama has a developing economy. Outside the Panama City area, which has many first-class hotels and restaurants, tourist facilities vary in quality. The U.S. dollar is t
e paper currency of Panama, and is also referred to as the Panama balboa. Panama mints its own coinage. Read the Department of State Background Note on Panama for additional information.

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS: U.S. citizens traveling by air to and from Panama must present a valid passport when entering or re-entering the United States. Sea travelers must have a valid U.S. passport (or other original proof of U.S. citizenship, such as a certified U.S. birth certificate with a government-issued photo ID). American citizens can visit travel.state.gov or call 1-877-4USA-PPT (1-877-487-2778) for information on applying for a passport.

Panamanian law requires that travelers must either purchase a tourist card from the airline serving Panama or obtain a visa from a Panamanian embassy or consulate before traveling to Panama. Further information may be obtained from the Embassy of Panama, 2862 McGill Terrace NW, Washington, DC 20009, tel. (202) 483-1407, or the Panamanian consulates in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Honolulu, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New Orleans, New York, Philadelphia, San Juan, San Diego, San Francisco or Tampa.

U.S. citizens transiting the Panama Canal as passengers do not need to obtain visas, report to customs, or pay any fees. U.S. citizens piloting private craft through the canal should contact the Panama Canal Authority at 011-507-272-1111 or consult the canal’s web page at http://www.pancanal.com.

In an effort to prevent international child abduction, many governments have initiated procedures at entry/exit points. These often include requiring documentary evidence of relationship and permission for the child's travel from the parent(s) or legal guardian not present. Having such documentation on hand, even if not required, may facilitate entry/departure.

Panamanian law requires all persons to carry official identification documents at all times. This law applies to both Panamanian citizens and visitors to the country. Due to an increase in illegal aliens in Panama, the police have been checking documents more frequently, resulting in the detention of people not carrying identification. For this reason, all Americans are encouraged to carry their passports or other official identification at all times.

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.

Visit the Embassy of Panama web site at http://www.embassyofpanama.org/cms/index4.phpfor the most current visa information.

SAFETY AND SECURITY: U.S. citizens are warned not to travel to Darien Province. Embassy personnel are only allowed to travel to Darien Province on official business with prior approval of the Embassy’s Regional Security Officer. This restricted area encompasses the Darien National Park as well as privately owned nature reserves and tourist resorts. While no incidents have occurred at these resorts, U.S. citizens, other foreign nationals and Panamanian citizens have been the victims of violent crime, kidnapping and murder in this general area. Reliable communications and medical infrastructure are not readily available in the region, which makes travel therein potentially hazardous. Moreover, all around the Panama-Colombia border area the presence of Colombian terrorist groups, drug traffickers and other criminals is common, increasing the danger to travelers. Note: The Secretary of State has designated the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the National Liberation Army (ELN) and the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) as Foreign Terrorist Organizations.

There is increasing evidence that the Revolutionary Armed Forced of Colombia (FARC), a designated foreign terrorist organization, has increased its operations in Panama’s Darien Province, including in areas far removed from the immediate vicinity of Panamanian-Colombian border. In February 2008 encounters between six FARC members and the Panamanian police near the city of Jaque resulted in the arrest of the FARC members.

From time to time, there may be demonstrations protesting internal Panamanian issues, or manifestations of anti-American sentiment by small but vociferous groups. While most demonstrations relate to labor disputes or other local issues and are typically non-violent, it is nonetheless a good security practice to avoid demonstrations. U.S. citizens are advised to exercise caution on the campus of the University of Panama, where members of radical, anti-U.S. student groups are active. For updated security information, contact the U.S. Embassy Consular Section at the address below.

Visitors should be cautious when swimming or wading at the beach. Some beaches, especially those on the Pacific Ocean, have dangerous currents that cause drowning deaths every year. These beaches are seldom posted with warning signs.

On the Pacific coast, boaters should be wary of vessels that may be transporting narcotics northward from Colombia. Special permission is needed from the Ministry of Government and Justice and the National Environment Authority to visit the National Park on Coiba Island. At this time, the island, a former penal colony, has fewer than 20 prisoners. Boaters should avoid the southeastern coast of Kuna Yala Comarca (San Blas Islands), south of Punta Carreto, on the Atlantic Coast.

Local maritime search and rescue capabilities are limited and well below U.S. standards.
For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs’ web site at http://travel.state.gov, where the current Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts, as well as the Worldwide Caution, can be found.

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

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

CRIME: Crime in Panama City is moderate but increasing, particularly because of the activities of youth gangs. The city of Colon is a high crime area. Police checkpoints have become commonplace on weekends on roads in both cities. Based upon reported incidents by local police, the high-crime areas around Panama City are San Miguelito, Rio Abajo, El Chorrillo, Ancon, Curundu, Veracruz Beach, Panama Viejo, and the Madden Dam overlook. Crimes there are typical of those that plague metropolitan areas and range from rapes to armed robberies, muggings, purse-snatchings, "express kidnappings" from ATM banking facilities, in which the victim is briefly kidnapped and robbed after withdrawing cash from an ATM, and petty theft. Tourists recently experienced a problem with armed bandits during an organized canoe trip on the Chagres River. There have been several targeted kidnappings, including in Panama City, one of which involved a U.S. citizen, and one which involved the complicity of corrupt law enforcement officials. If concerned for their safety when being stopped by Panamanian law enforcement, U.S. citizens should consider slowing down and turning on their hazard lights, acknowledging the request to stop, and proceeding deliberately to a safe public place at which to stop.

Panama City has a curfew for persons under 18 years of age. Under the law, students attending night classes must have a carnet or permit, issued by the school or, if employed, a Certificate of Employment. Minors who are picked up for a curfew violation are subject to detention at a police station until parents or legal guardians can arrange for them to be released into their custody. Parents or legal guardians may be fined up to U.S. $50.00 for the violation.
INFORMATION FOR VICTIMS OF CRIME: The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate for assistance. The Embassy/Consulate staff can, for example, assist you to find appropriate medical care, contact family members or friends and explain how funds could be transferred. Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed. The Panamanian Government also sponsors a program for Assistance to Victims of Crimes. The program is managed by the Oficina de Asistencia a Víctimas de Crímenes, located at the Policia Tecnica Judicial in the Ancon area of Panama City, telephone number is 011-507-262-1973 or 011-507-512-2222.
See our information on Victims of Crime.

MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION: Although Panama City has some very good hospitals and clinics, medical facilities outside of the capital are limited. When making a decision regarding health insurance, Americans should consider that many foreign doctors and hospitals require payment in cash prior to providing service and that a medical evacuation to the U.S. may cost well in excess of $50,000. Uninsured travelers who require medical care overseas often face extreme difficulties, whereas travelers who have purchased overseas medical insurance have, when a medical emergency occurs, found it to be life-saving. Some insurance policies also include coverage for psychiatric treatment and for disposition of remains in the event of death. In Panama, most hospitals accept credit cards for hospital charges, but not for doctors' fees.

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

MEDICAL INSURANCE: The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation. Please see our information on medical insurance overseas.

TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS: While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Panama is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.

Panama's roads, traffic and transportation systems are generally safe, but traffic lights often do not exist, even at busy intersections. Driving is often hazardous and demanding due to dense traffic, undisciplined driving habits, poorly maintained streets, and a lack of effective signs and traffic signals. On roads where poor lighting and driving conditions prevail, night driving is difficult and should be approached with caution. Night driving is particularly hazardous on the old Panama City – Colon highway.

Buses and taxis are not always maintained in a safe operating condition due to lack of regulatory enforcement. Auto insurance is not mandatory and many drivers are uninsured. If an accident occurs, the law requires that the vehicles remain in place until a police officer responds to investigate. Traffic in Panama moves on the right, as in the U.S., and Panamanian law requires that drivers and passengers wear seat belts.

Flooding during the April to December rainy season occasionally makes city streets impassible and washes out some roads in the interior of the country. In addition, rural areas are often poorly maintained and lack illumination at night. Such roads are generally less traveled and the availability of emergency roadside assistance is very limited. Road travel is more dangerous during the rainy season and in the interior from Carnival through Good Friday. Carnival starts the Saturday prior to Ash Wednesday and goes on for four days.

Traveling on the Pan American Highway: There is often construction at night on Panama's main Pan American highway. There are few signs alerting drivers to such construction and the highway is not well lit at night. When traveling on the highway, travelers should be aware of possible roadblocks. The Pan American Highway ends at Yaviza in the Darien Province of Panama and does not go through to Colombia. The paved portion of the road ends at Santa Fe, with all-weather surface through Canglón. Travelers going to South America by car may wish to ship their cars on a freighter.

Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information. Visit the web site of the country’s national tourist office at http://www.ipat.gob.pa/ and the national authority responsible for road safety at http://www.mop.gob.pa/default0.asp.

AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of Panama’s Civil Aviation Authority as being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for oversight ofPanama’s air carrier operations. For more information, travelers may visit the FAA’s web site at http://www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa.

SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES: Panamanian customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation into or export from Panama of items such as firearms and ammunition, cultural property, endangered wildlife species, narcotics, biological material, and food products. It is advisable to contact the Embassy of Panama in Washington or one of Panama's consulates in the United States for specific information regarding customs requirements. In many countries around the world, counterfeit and pirated goods are widely available. Transactions involving such products are illegal and bringing them back to the United States may result in forfeitures and/or fines. Please see our Customs Information.

CRIMINAL PENALTIES: While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating Panamanian laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Panama are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines. Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime, prosecutable in the United States. Please see our information on Criminal Penalties.

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

REGISTRATION / EMBASSY LOCATION:
Americans living or traveling in Panama are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department’s travel registration web site so that they can obtain updated information on travel and security within Panama. Americans withoutInternet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in case of emergency. The U.S. Embassy and U.S. Consular Section are located in Avenida Demetrio Basilio Lakas, Building No.783 in the Clayton section of Panama City. The international mailing address is: Apartado 0816-02561, Zona 5, Panama, Republic of Panama.

The U.S. mailing address is U.S. Embassy Panama, Department of State, Washington, DC 20521-9100. The telephone numbers for the Embassy are 011-507-207-7000, or for after-hours emergencies, 011-507-207-7200; Consular Section 011-507-207-7030 and fax 011-507-207-7278 or 011-507-207-7303. The Embassy web site is http://panama.usembassy.gov/. E-mail inquiries may be addressed to Panama-ACS@state.gov.
* * *
This replaces the Country Specific Information for Panama dated December 2007, to update sections on Security and Information for Victims of Crimes.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Tue 25 Jun 2019 10:30 EST
Source: La Prensa [in Spanish trans. Mod.TY, edited]

The Ministry of Health (MINSA) reported this [Tue 25 Jun 2019] 5 cases of equine encephalitis in Darien province. The Minister of Health Designate, Rosario Turner, explained that they are dealing with children.

Meanwhile, the current Minister of this office, Miguel Mayo, signalled that now it is being determined if they are dealing with Venezuelan equine encephalitis or eastern equine encephalitis, since both have circulated in Panama.

Mayo added that currently the patients are being treated in the Hospital del Nino Jose Renan Esquivel and that the ministry will provide more details of these cases in the coming hours.

The disease, transmitted by the bite of infected _Culex_ mosquitoes, attacks the nervous system causing disorientation, reduction in reflexes and movement of arms and legs. The usual hosts are horses and humans.  [Byline: Urania Cecilia Molina]
========================
[This is not the 1st time there have been human cases of encephalitis caused by both Venezuelan equine encephalitis (VEE) and eastern equine encephalitis (EEE) in Darien province of Panama. As noted earlier, both viruses occur in Panama. The case fatality rate for humans infected with VEEV is relatively low -- less than 1 percent, whereas it is much higher in individuals with neurological disease from EEEV infections. Children are more severely affected by VEEV infection than adults.

If VEE virus infection in these children is confirmed, it would be of interest to know which VEEV subtype is involved in these cases, as subtype IAB or IC can cause massive equine epizootics over wide geographic areas with spillover to many humans. Subtype ID usually causes a few sporadic human cases (see ProMED-mail archive no. http://promedmail.org/post/20100617.2034). The results of confirmation of the virus involved in these cases is awaited with interest. - ProMED Mod.TY]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of Panama:
Date: Mon, 13 May 2019 06:50:44 +0200

Panama City, May 13, 2019 (AFP) - A 6.1-magnitude earthquake hit Panama on Sunday, injuring at least five people and causing damage to businesses and homes, officials said.   The strong quake struck at a depth of 37 kilometers (23 miles) in the far west of the country near the Costa Rican border, according to the US Geological Survey.

It was followed by a smaller 5.4-magnitude quake in Colon province, on central Panama's Caribbean coast, according to the country's National Civil Protection System (Sinaproc).   Five people were injured in the first quake, which hit 22 km from the town of Puerto Armuelles, said Sinaproc.   Four homes were damaged, including two that collapsed, it said.

President Juan Carlos Varela had said on Twitter earlier that just one person was hurt, in Puerto Armuelles.    He reported damage to homes and businesses in the Central American nation.   School classes were suspended for Monday in Baru district, where the first quake struck.   There was no tsunami alert issued from the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center.

The second quake occurred late Sunday and was not related to the afternoon quake near Puerto Armuelles, Sinaproc said.   So far no damage has been reported from the second quake, it added.   In November 2017 a 6.5-magnitude quake on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica left buildings swaying in the capital San Jose and contributed to the deaths of two people who had heart attacks.   Further north, two months earlier in September 2017 a 7.1-magnitude earthquake killed more than 300 people in Mexico.
Date: Fri 4 Jan 2019
Source: WHO Emergencies preparedness response [edited]

The Panama Ministry of Health has reported an increase in cases of hantavirus infection in Los Santos Province, Republic of Panama, to the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO). Between 1 Jan - 22 Dec 2018, a total of 103 confirmed cases of hantavirus [infections] have been reported at the national level, 99 of which were reported in Los Santos Province. In Los Santos Province, 51 cases were classified as hantavirus fever (HF) without pulmonary syndrome, and 48 cases were classified as hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (HPS), including 4 deaths.

Of the 51 HF cases, 41 percent were female, 55 percent aged between 20-59 years, with 76 percent occurring between June 2018 and November 2018.

Of the 48 HPS cases, 56 percent were female, 67 percent aged between 20-59 years, with more than half of the cases occurring in February 2018 (17 percent) and between June 2018 and September 2018 (42 percent).

Of HPS cases, 4 deaths were reported (2 female, 2 male, all aged over 60 years).

Cases were confirmed by serology and polymerase chain reaction (PCR). Sequencing determined that the type of virus associated with this outbreak is Choclo virus. It was 1st isolated in 1999 in the western Republic of Panama.

Hantavirus cases have been reported in the Republic of Panama since 1999 (Figure 1). In the last 5 years, transmission has been documented in Los Santos, Herrera, Veraguas, and Cocle provinces. During 2018, cases have been reported in Los Santos (99 cases, Figure 2), Herrera (2 cases), Cocle (one case) and Veraguas (one case) provinces (Figure 3). Since the reservoir for hantavirus is sylvatic rodents and transmission can occur when people come in contact with rodent habitats, the current increase in hantavirus cases in the Republic of Panama could be related to changes in the abundance and distribution of rodent species, as well as strengthened surveillance and laboratory capacity at the provincial level. Environmental and ecological factors affecting rodent populations can have a seasonal impact on disease trends.

Figure 1 [graph]. Distribution of HF and HPS cases by year, Republic of Panama, 1999-2018 (as of November 2018).
Figure 2 [graph]. Distribution of confirmed hantavirus [infection] cases by epidemiological week, Los Santos Province, Republic of Panama, January-December 2018.
Figure 3 [map]. Geographical distribution of confirmed hantavirus [infection] cases, Republic of Panama, January-November 2018.

Public health response

The public health responses currently being implemented include:
- Investigation and monitoring of cases, including case management.
- Enhanced surveillance and active case finding.
- Rodent control and mitigation measures.
- Increasing awareness and health promotion in the affected areas.

WHO risk assessment
------
HPS is a zoonotic, viral respiratory disease. The causative agent belongs to the genus _Hantavirus_, family Bunyaviridae. Infections are acquired primarily through inhalation of aerosols or contact with the excreta, droppings or saliva of infected rodents. Cases of human hantavirus infection usually occur in rural areas (forests, fields, farms, etc.), where rodents hosting the virus might be found. Infected individuals may experience headache, dizziness, chills, fever and myalgia. They may also experience gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms including nausea, vomiting, abdominal pains, and diarrhoea, followed by sudden onset of respiratory distress and hypotension. Symptoms of HPS typically occur from 2-4 weeks after initial exposure, though symptoms may appear as early as one week to as late as 8 weeks following exposure. The case fatality rate can reach 50 percent.

In the Americas, HPS cases have been reported in several countries. In January 2019, World Youth Day will be hosted in the Republic of Panama. This mass gathering will take place predominantly in Panama City, while side events will occur in other provinces. Though a seasonal increase of hantavirus during the month of January has not been previously documented, increases in cases have been related to outdoor and agricultural activities in rural environments. Nevertheless, participants to the World Youth Day should be provided with recommendations and guidance on how to take appropriate precautionary measures to reduce their risk of infection. Health awareness campaigns for health personnel and the general public are planned for the coming weeks. Organisers and public health authorities should collaborate with travel and tourism sectors in placing educational materials and appropriate signage at strategic locations and points of entry (e.g. airports, public transport stations, travel agent offices). Alternative forms of media including public service announcements on planes, ships and public radio should also be considered.

Based on current epidemiological data and public health response, WHO's risk assessment is that there is no significant risk of international spread of HPS in relation to this event.

WHO advice

PAHO/WHO recommends that Member States continue efforts of detection, investigation, reporting, and case management for the prevention and control of infections caused by hantavirus.

Particular attention should be paid to travellers returning from the affected areas, who are advised to report their travel history, as early identification and timely medical care can improve clinical outcomes.

Care during the initial stages of the illness should include antipyretics and analgesics as needed. In some situations, patients should receive broad-spectrum antibiotics while confirming the etiologic agent. Given the rapid progression of HPS, clinical management should focus on the patient's haemodynamic monitoring, fluid management, and ventilation support. Severe cases should be immediately transferred to intensive care units (ICUs).

Health awareness campaigns should aim to increase detection and timely treatment of the illness and prevent its occurrence by reducing people's contact with rodents. Preventive measures should cover occupational and eco-tourism related hazards. While most usual tourism activities pose little or no risk of exposing travellers to rodents or their excreta, people who engage in outdoor activities such as camping or hiking should take precautions to reduce possible exposure to potentially infectious materials.

HPS surveillance should be part of a comprehensive national surveillance system and must include clinical, laboratory and environmental components. WHO recommends the implementation of integrated environmental management, with the goal of reducing rodent populations. Throughout the World Youth Day event, syndromic surveillance may alert public authorities to increased influenza-like and GI symptoms among mass gathering participants.

At this time, WHO does not recommend any restrictions on travel and/or trade to the Republic of Panama based on available information for the current hantavirus outbreak.

References:
- Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO). Epidemiological Alert Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome (HPS). 17 Oct 2013.
- Hantavirus in the Americas: Guidelines for diagnosis, treatment, prevention and control.
- Hantavirus information: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

[Footnotes]
Hantavirus fever (HF): Cases who present with fever, myalgia, headache, gastrointestinal symptoms, and weakness. This case definition is used for epidemiological surveillance purposes to detect patients potentially exposed to the virus. Source: Guide for Hantavirus Disease Management in Republic of Panama, Gorgas Memorial Institute, Panama Ministry of Health.

Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (HPS): Cases who present with cardio-respiratory symptoms, classified as mild, moderate, or severe. Source: Guide for Hantavirus Disease Management in Republic of Panama, Gorgas Memorial Institute, Panama Ministry of Health.

National Reference Laboratory, Gorgas Memorial Institute,

World Youth Day Panama 2019. (<https://bit.ly/2KdmDxT>)

For the last 5 World Youth Day events (2016 in Krakow, Poland; 2013 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; 2011 in Madrid, Spain; 2008 in Sydney, Australia; and 2005 in Cologne, Germany), the range in the number of attendees was 500 000 in Australia (<https://bit.ly/2rXptP1>) to 3,700,000 in Brazil (<https://bit.ly/2EVxs77>).
====================
[Although ProMED-mail has reported most of the cases of hantavirus infections in Panama during 2018, this WHO summary and the graphs and map may be of interest to subscribers and other readers. It is helpful to note that laboratory diagnosis has been carried out by the Gorgas Memorial Laboratory, the national reference laboratory in Panama. The methods used for diagnosis are mentioned in this report. Interestingly, Choclo is the hantavirus identified in these cases, based on genomic sequence analysis. Curiously, Choclo virus is never mentioned in the popular press reports that come to ProMED-mail from Panama. It is reassuring to know that the virus responsible for these cases, or at least the ones for which samples and diagnostic testing was done, confirm the ProMED conclusion that Chocolo virus was involved. Earlier, Dr. Jan Clement suggested that Seoul hantavirus might be involved in some of the cases in the Americas including Panama. Presumably, genomic analysis by the Gorgas Lab would have detected this virus. Nonetheless, diagnostic laboratories should be aware of this possibility and look for it.

The WHO report indicates that rodents are the reservoir hosts of Choclo virus but does not specify which rodents play that role. The rodent host of Choclo virus is the pygmy rice rat (_Oligoryzomys fulvescens_), a photograph of which can be accessed at <http://www.medwave.cl/medios/perspectivas/Hantavirus/Actualiz/Fig2.jpg>. These rodents live in and around agricultural areas and adjacent houses and buildings. They can be persistently infected with the virus and shed it in urine, feces, and saliva, the source of human infections.

Map of Panama: <http://www.lib.utexas.edu/maps/americas/panama.jpg>. - ProMED Mod.TY]

[HealthMap/ProMED map available at:
Date: Mon 2 Jul 2018
Source: La Prensa [in Spanish trans. Mod.TY, edited]

A 9-year-old child, resident of Cambutal de Tonosi, a victim of hantavirus cardiopulmonary syndrome, was moved early this morning, 2 Jul 2018, to the Children's Hospital in the capital city.  The Los Santos regional epidemiology coordinator, Carlos Munoz, stated that as of this Monday morning [2 Jul 2018], the number of cases of hantavirus [infection] is 40.

Munoz indicated that the child was moved because in the area there is no intensive care unit that attends children. He stated that in the month of June [2018], 11 cases of the disease were diagnosed. He added that this month [July 2018] more cases were added.  The Tonosi district has reported 27 cases so far in 2018.  [Byline: Vielka Corro Rios]
==================
[The number of cases of hantavirus infection continues to increase in Los Santos province. Hantavirus infections occur in Los Santos province relatively frequently. The specific situation in which the above patient might have acquired the infection is not mentioned.

There is no indication of which hantavirus is involved in this or in previous cases in Panama. However, as noted in comments in previous posts, Los Santos and adjoining provinces are endemic for Choclo hantavirus. Although no data on this or the previous cases in earlier years include an indication of which hantavirus is responsible, Choclo is the only one of the 3 hantaviruses known to be endemic in Panama that causes HPS (hantavirus cardiopulmonary syndrome) or hantavirus fever. No vaccine is available for Choclo virus.

The rodent host of Choclo virus is the pygmy rice rat (_Oligoryzomys fulvescens_), a photograph of which can be accessed at <http://www.medwave.cl/medios/perspectivas/Hantavirus/Actualiz/Fig2.jpg>. These rodents live in and around agricultural areas and adjacent houses and buildings. They can be persistently infected with the virus and shed it in urine, faeces and saliva, the source of human infections. - ProMED Mod.TY]

[Maps of Panama:

HealthMap/ProMED map available at:
Date: Tue 26 Jun 2018, 10:20 AM
Source: La Prensa [in Spanish, trans., ProMED Mod.TY, edited]
<https://www.prensa.com/provincias/Reportan-nuevos-casos-virus-Santos_0_5062743696.html>

A total of 7 new hantavirus [infection] cases in Los Santos province were reported this [Tue 26 Jun 2018] by health authorities in the province. Delfina Saez, head of Los Santos regional Public Health, indicated that 4 of them remain hospitalized in the Joaquín Pablo Franco Sayas Hospital in Las Tablas. Sa¡ez said that 2 are being attended in intensive care (a 79-year-old woman from La Laguna de Pocra­ and a 73-year-old man from Flores de Tonosa).

The official stated that with these 7 cases the number of people ill from hantavirus [infections] is raised to 38 so far in 2018. She added that with the evident increase in cases of the disease, provincial, local and municipal authorities are involved, as well as rice and corn producers, to seek together new strategies to prevent and promote [measures] in the affected communities and avoid occurrence of new cases. [Byline: Vielka Corro Ríos]
======================
[There is a recent increase in the number of hantavirus infections in Los Santos province. Hantavirus infections occur in Los Santos province relatively frequently. The specific situations in which these patients acquired the infection are not mentioned. There is no indication of which hantavirus is involved in this or in previous cases in Panama.

However, as noted in comments in previous posts, Los Santos and adjoining provinces are endemic for Choclo hantavirus. Although no data on this or the previous cases in earlier years include an indication of which hantavirus is responsible, Choclo is the only one of the 3 hantaviruses known to be endemic in Panama that causes HPS (hantavirus cardiopulmonary syndrome) or hantavirus fever.

No vaccine is available for Choclo virus. The rodent host of Choclo virus is the pygmy rice rat (_Oligoryzomys fulvescens_), a photograph of which can be accessed at <http://www.medwave.cl/medios/perspectivas/Hantavirus/Actualiz/Fig2.jpg>.

These rodents live in and around agricultural areas and adjacent houses and buildings. They can be persistently infected with the virus and shed it in urine, feces and saliva, the source of human infections. - ProMED Mod.TY]
 
[Maps of Panama: <http://www.lib.utexas.edu/maps/americas/panama.jpg>
and <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/41725>]
More ...

World Travel News Headlines

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

EEE symptoms can range from a stiff neck, headache and lack of energy to dangerous complications like inflammation and swelling of the brain.  The risk of EEE will remain until the 1st killing frost.
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[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.