WORLD NEWS

Getting countries ...
Select countries and read reports below or

Antartica

General:
**********************************
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:
**********************************
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:
**********************************
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:
**********************************
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:
**********************************
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:
**********************************
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:
**********************************
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:
***********************************************
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:
************************************
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:
**********************************
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:
**********************************
There are no essential vaccines for entry / exit if coming from Ireland. However, for your own personal protection travellers are advised to have cover against the following;
*
Tetanus (childhood booster)
*
Typhoid (food & water borne disease)
*
Hepatitis A (food & water borne disease)
For those planning a longer or more rural trip vaccine cover against conditions like Hepatitis B and Rabies may also need to be considered.
Summary:
**********************************
Cuba is becoming a popular destination for tourists and generally most will stay very healthy. However commonsense care against food and water borne disease is essential at all times. Also take care with regard to sun exposure, dehydration and mosquito bites.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

- Changing the world? -
The tourism industry says it hopes to make "ambassadors" out of Antarctica visitors.   "It's good for the animal life and for the protection of Antarctica that people see how beautiful this area is, because you cherish what you know and understand," said Hurtigruten chief executive Daniel Skjeldam.   Texan tourist Mark Halvorson, 72, says he is convinced.   "Having seen it, I am that much more committed to having a very high priority in my politics, in my own inner core convictions to being as environmentally friendly in my life as I can," he said.   So, do Guido and Martina Hofken see themselves as future "ambassadors of Antarctica"?    "Just a little bit, probably. But I don't think I will change the world," Guido Hofken concedes.    "The best thing would be for nobody to travel to Antarctica."
Date: Thu, 17 May 2018 09:57:07 +0200

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

More ...

Sweden

Sweden - US Consular Information Sheet
14th October 2008
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
Sweden is a highly developed, stable democracy with a modern economy.
Read the Department of State Background Notes on Sweden for additional information.
/>
ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:
Sweden is a party to the Schengen agreement.
As such, U.S. citizens may enter Sweden 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 Schengen Fact Sheet.
Contact the Swedish Embassy at 901 30th Street, NW, Washington, DC
20007, tel: (202) 467-2600 (mailing address 2900 K Street, N.W., Washington, DC), or the Swedish Consulate General in New York at (212) 583-2550. Visit the Sweden Abroad web site at www.swedenabroad.com for the most current visa information.
Sweden’s immigration authorities (Migrationsverket) also maintain a home page at http://www.migrationsverket.se/english.jsp.

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:
Sweden remains largely free of terrorist incidents.
However, like other countries in the Schengen area, Sweden’s open borders with its Western European neighbors allow the possibility of terrorist groups entering/exiting the country with anonymity.
Americans are reminded to remain vigilant with regard to their personal security and to exercise caution.

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, including the Worldwide Caution, can be found.

Up to date information on security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the United States, or, for callers outside the United States 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:
Sweden has a low crime rate with rare, but increasing, instances of violent crime.
Most crimes involve the theft of personal property from cars or residences or in public areas. Pickpockets and purse-snatchers are becoming more prevalent. Many American citizens fall victim to these highly skilled thieves, especially at the main train stations in Stockholm and Gothenburg and during bus or train transit to and from airports. Do not put any bags containing valuables, such as your passport, down on the ground. Computer bags are particularly desirable.
Pickpockets and purse-snatchers often work in pairs or groups with one distracting the victim while another grabs valuables.
Often they operate in or near major tourist attractions such as Stockholm’s Old Town, restaurants, amusement parks, museums, bars, buses, long distance trains, subway trains, train and bus stations, and airports.
Hotel breakfast rooms and lobbies attract professional, well-dressed thieves who blend in with guests and target purses and briefcases left unguarded by unsuspecting tourists and business travelers.
Valuables should not be left in parked vehicles.

INFORMATION FOR VICTIMS OF CRIME:
The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to both 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, contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate for assistance.
The Embassy/Consulate staff can, for example, assist you in finding appropriate medical care, contacting family members or friends, and explaining how funds can be transferred.
Although the investigation and prosecution of a crime abroad 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.

Sweden has a limited criminal injuries compensation program for victims of violent, personal, and property crime.
Foreign citizens who are victims of crime on Swedish territory are eligible to apply for compensation, but if the victim and offender’s affiliation to Sweden is transitory in nature, compensation may not be awarded even though the crime occurred on Swedish soil.
Application forms in English are available at local police stations and other government agencies as well as on the Internet at
http://www.brottsoffermyndigheten.se/default.asp?id=1345.
Claimants are generally notified of the program’s decision within four months.

The local equivalent to the “911” emergency line in Sweden is 112.
See our information for Victims of Crime.
MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:
Medical care is comparable to that found in the United States.
The Swedish medical system is a state-run system, so instead of visiting a local private general practitioner, travelers can visit a local medical center or clinic, called an “Akutmottagning” or “Vardcentral.”
Patients should be prepared to present their passports.
In case of a medical emergency, use the emergency telephone number “112” (see above) to contact the appropriate emergency service.

Travelers with special medical needs should consult with their personal physician and take appropriate precautions, including bringing adequate supplies of necessary medication.
Medicines may be brought into the country as long as they are intended for the traveler’s personal use.
Medications categorized as narcotics may only be brought into the country to cover the traveler's personal use for a maximum of five days and must be accompanied by a medical certificate stating why the traveler needs them.
In addition, stringent Swedish customs regulations prohibit travelers from receiving drugs from abroad after having arrived in the country.
Travelers may also find local physicians reluctant to prescribe equivalent quantities or dosages.
Prescriptions are dispensed at state-run pharmacies called “Apotek” in Swedish.
Most pharmacies are open during normal shopping hours but major cities have a 24-hour pharmacy.

The U.S. Department of State is unaware of any HIV/AIDS entry restrictions for visitors to or foreign residents of Sweden.
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 Sweden is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.


A valid U.S. driver’s license may be used while visiting Sweden, but drivers must be at least 18 years of age.
Driving in Sweden is on the right.
Road signs use standard international symbols and Swedish text.
Many urban streets have traffic lanes reserved for public transportation only.

Swedish roads are comparable to those in the U.S., though secondary roads may be less heavily traveled.
These secondary routes often narrow to two lanes with a wider shoulder.
Slower vehicles are expected to move onto the shoulder to allow faster moving vehicles to pass.
All vehicles must have headlights lit when on the road, no matter what time of day.
The use of snow tires is mandatory between December 1 and March 31 and, experience in driving on ice and snow is recommended before navigating Sweden’s winter roads.

Public transport in Sweden is of good quality and is the recommended method of travel.
Passenger trains, intercity buses, and plane flights provide regular service over longer distances.
Public transportation in urban centers includes buses, subways, trams, suburban trains, and taxis.
Taxis are more expensive than in major U.S. cities.
Most local residents use public transport in Stockholm as parking can be hard to find and expensive.
The bus, train, and subway systems are relatively safe.

Use of seat belts is mandatory for drivers and all passengers, and children under the age of seven must be seated in approved child or booster seats.
The maximum speed limit is 110 kilometers per hour.
Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, including prescription drugs, is considered a very serious offense.
The rules are stringently enforced and fines can be severe.
Violations can result in severe fines and possible jail sentences.

Emergency services for traffic accidents can be reached by calling 112 (the equivalent to 911 in the U.S.).
Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.
Visit the website of the country’s national tourist office and national authority responsible for road safety at www.visitsweden.se and at http://www.vv.se/templates/page2_2____13172.aspx?epslanguage=EN
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT:
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of Sweden’s Civil Aviation Authority as being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for oversight of Sweden’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:
Please see our information on Customs Information and the Swedish web site www.tullverket.se/en for customs information specific to Sweden.
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 Sweden’s laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Sweden are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines.
There is no bail system in Sweden and non-resident Americans who are arrested may be held in custody until the trial is complete.
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.
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 Sweden are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department’s travel registration web site, https://travelregistration.state.gov, so that they can obtain updated information on travel and security within Sweden.
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
Dag Hammarskjoldsvag 31, telephone: (46) (8) 783-5300, fax:
(46) (8) 783-5480, and after-hours telephone: (46) (8) 783-5310.
The Embassy’s web site is http://stockholm.usembassy.gov/
* * *
This replaces the Consular Information Sheet dated March 4, 2008 to update the sections on Entry Requirements, Information for Victims of Crime and Medical Facilities and Health Information.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Sun 1 Dec 2019
Source: Outbreak News Today [edited]

In a follow-up on a previous report on the _Cryptosporidium_ outbreak in Sweden, the Public Health Authority, or Folkhalsomyndigheten, reports more than 300 cases of cryptosporidiosis in October and November [2019].

The good news is while the number of cases is still unusually high, the number of reported cases has decreased.

Adults have been the most affected age group and most cases have been reported from Stockholm, Ostergotland, Halland, Uppsala, Jonkoping, and Vastra Gotaland.

Health officials say of the 140 samples analyzed so far, 73 have been shown to belong to the same subtype (A ) of _Cryptosporidium parvum_. In addition to this subtype, a number of different subtypes have been detected, of which 35 cases with subtype B.

As part of the investigation, cases are interviewed about what they ate and drank before they became ill. The analysis shows that it was much more common among the cases with subtype A to drink pre-purchased freshly pressed fruit and vegetable drinks compared to the cases with subtype B.

Such beverages have not been heat-treated and can, therefore, contain harmful microorganisms. The investigation indicates that it is the spinach in the beverage, delivered in October [2019], which is the source of infection for the cases with subtype A. Since spinach is a fresh product, the contaminated beverage is no longer in store.

However, it is still unknown what the cases with subtype B have been infected with, so far the investigation indicates that it is a different source of infection than for subtype A.
======================
[The case-control investigation confirms that the outbreak is food-related stating that "that it was much more common among the cases with subtype A to drink pre-purchased freshly pressed fruit and vegetable drinks." The source of subtype B still has to be defined. - ProMED Mod.EP]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of Sweden:
Date: Wed 13 Nov 2019
Source: Swedish Public Health Agency [in Swedish, trans. ProMED Mod.EP, edited]

The Public Health Agency of Sweden is investigating an increase in notified cases of infection with _Cryptosporidium_.

During the autumn and in particular during weeks 44 and 45 [28 Oct-8 Nov 2019], an increase in the number of reported cases of cryptosporidiosis, infected in Sweden, was noted. Half of the regions in Sweden have reported cases in all age groups but mostly in adults. Most cases have been seen in the Stockholm region.

The Agency has initiated an outbreak investigation in collaboration with regional authorities and the Swedish Food Agency to identify a possible common source. The investigation will focus on food and water consumption in cases and controls and samples will be analysed by the agency.
=====================
[The graph in the article (see source URL above] shows that approximately 85 cases were recorded in week 45, compared to 20 to 30 cases weekly from week 32 (5-11 Aug 2019]. All cases were infected in Sweden.

Infection with _Cryptosporidium_ spp. is a zoonosis with a natural reservoir in ruminants from which surface water such as in lakes and rivers, is contaminated.

This outbreak is observed in half of the regions in Sweden, which strongly suggests that the infection is foodborne and not related to contaminated drinking water. The concentration of cases in Stockholm most probably reflects the distribution of the population between the regions. - ProMED Mod.EP]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of Sweden:
Date: 10 Oct 2019
Source: Food Safety News [edited]

Livsmedelsverket has warned people to correctly soak and cook dried legumes such as beans, peas and lentils after they were linked to a large food poisoning outbreak at a school.

Dried legumes naturally contain lectins which can cause nausea, vomiting and diarrhea around 1-7 hours after consumption.

Illness occurred in the canteen at lunchtime in early September 2019 at Baldergymnasiet school in Skelleftea, a city in Vasterbotten County. Swedish media reported that almost 280 people were affected, and samples were sent to a laboratory in the United Kingdom.

Sandra Wallstrom, a food inspector at Skelleftea municipality, said it was thought to be the 1st time elevated levels of lectin have been shown to have caused food poisoning in Sweden.

Follow-up checks will be made at the school to ensure the handling of beans and similar foods is safe in the future.

Swedish officials urged people to follow instructions on the packaging and in recipes. They should be soaked for at least 12 hours, rinsed and cooked for at least half an hour. Canned beans are already cooked and can be eaten directly without soaking and boiling.  [Byline: Joe Whitworth]
=======================
["Lectins are proteins selectively binding carbohydrates and, importantly, the carbohydrate moieties of the glycoproteins decorating the surface of most animal [and mammal] cells. They are found in a wide range of vegetables (29 out of 88 tested; [1]). Plant lectins not efficiently degraded by digestive enzymes, and that have an affinity for the surface of gut epithelial cells, such as those present in the Leguminosae family, can be poisonous [2]. Acute symptoms following ingestion include nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.

"Ingestion of the lectins present in certain improperly cooked vegetables [especially beans and lentils] can result in acute gastrointestinal (GI) tract distress, but the mechanism of toxicity is unknown. _In vivo_, gut epithelial cells are constantly exposed to mechanical and other stresses and consequently individual cells frequently experience plasma membrane disruptions. Repair of these cell surface disruptions allows the wounded cell to survive: failure results in necrotic cell death. Plasma membrane repair is mediated, in part, by an exocytotic event that adds a patch of internal membrane to the defect site. Lectins are known to inhibit exocytosis.

"Repair of plasma membrane disruptions and exocytosis of mucus was assessed after treatment of cultured cell models and excised segments of the GI tract with lectins. Plasma membrane disruptions were produced by focal irradiation of individual cells, using a microscope-based laser, or by mechanical abrasion of multiple cells, using a syringe needle. Repair was then assessed by monitoring the cytosolic penetration of dyes incapable of crossing the intact plasma membrane. We found cell surface-bound lectins potently inhibited plasma membrane repair, and the exocytosis of mucus normally accompanies the repair response."

1. Nachbar MS, Oppenheim JD. Lectins in the United States diet: a survey of lectins in commonly consumed foods and a review of the literature. Am J Clin Nutr. 1980;33:2338-2345.
2. Vasconcelos IM, Oliveira JT. Antinutritional properties of plant lectins. Toxicon. 2004;44:385-403.

The full article may be found at:

One note: Be sure to discard the water the lentils or beans were soaked in. Fresh water should be added for cooking the lentils/beans. The taste of soaked vs. unsoaked beans may not vary much, but apparently the effect on the GI tract is much different. - ProMED Mod.TG]

[HealthMap/ProMED map available at:
Date: Wed 25 Sep 2019
Source: Food Safety News [edited]

Authorities in Sweden are investigating a national outbreak of monophasic _Salmonella_ Typhimurium, which has affected almost 40 people.

Folkhalsomyndigheten (Public Health Agency of Sweden) reported that the source of the infections is still unknown. During September [2019], there was an increase in the number of cases of salmonellosis. The outbreak was identified, thanks to Folkhalsomyndigheten's microbial surveillance program. The latest date of illness onset is 6 Sep [2019].

To date, 36 illnesses from 10 counties have been linked by whole-genome sequencing. Most patients live in Vastra Gotaland, Jonkoping, Halland, and Dalarna. Those ill come from all age groups, including children and the elderly. More women, 22, than men, 14, have become ill.

Local authorities, Livsmedelsverket (Swedish Food Agency) and Folkhalsomyndigheten are investigating the outbreak to identify the source of infection that is suspected to be a food widely distributed in Sweden. People are being interviewed about what they ate the week before illness, with the aim of identifying common suspect foods.

The outbreak strain has multilocus variable-number tandem-repeat analysis (MLVA) pattern 3-12-11-N-211.

In 2018, isolates from 864 _Salmonella_ infections were typed; 91% were infected in Sweden, and 18% had been infected abroad. Among cases infected in Sweden, Enteritidis, Typhimurium, and monophasic Typhimurium were the most common serotypes.  [Byline: Joe Whitworth]
==========================
[The source of this outbreak is as yet unknown. By monophasic, it is meant that the organism does not have the complete set of flagellar serotypes. - ProMED Mod.LL]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map:
Date: Fri 6 Sep 2019
Source: Rikard Dryselius rikard.dryselius@folkhalsomyndigheten.se
[edited] [re: ProMED-mail Tularemia - Sweden (04): further increase, RFI
http://promedmail.org/post/20190905.6659382]
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
According to clinical reports, a majority (over 70%) of the reported cases during the ongoing outbreak of tularemia in Sweden appear to have contracted the infection through insect bites, mainly mosquito bites. For about 1/4 of the disease cases no path of infection is indicated, while mainly animal contact and in some cases drinking water is indicated as route of infection for the remaining cases. -- Rikard Dryselius Folkhalsomyndigheten rikard.dryselius@folkhalsomyndigheten.se
=====================
[ProMED thanks Rikard Dryselius for this clinical information. - ProMED Mod.LL]
 
[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of Sweden: <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/108>]
More ...

World Travel News Headlines

Date: Mon, 9 Dec 2019 11:12:25 +0100 (MET)
By Clare BYRNE

Paris, Dec 9, 2019 (AFP) - France's transport chaos deepened Monday on the fifth day of a nationwide strike over pension reforms, ramping up tensions at the start of a crucial week in President Emmanuel Macron's battle with trade unions.   With only two of the Paris metro's 16 lines running as normal and suburban trains also heavily disrupted, many commuters slipped behind the wheel to try to get to work in torrential rain, causing major gridlock.

By 9 am, the tailbacks in the Paris area ran to 600 kilometres (370 miles), twice the normal level, the Sytadin monitoring website said.   Large queues formed at bus stops following an announcement that one out of two buses would be running but striking workers blocked seven out of 25 bus depots, leaving more travellers stranded.   With many having opted to work from home last week and only now returning to the workplace, this week will test public support for the strike.

A poll Sunday in the Journal du Dimanche newspaper showed 53 percent of the French supporting the strike or expressing sympathy for their demands, up six points in a week.   Unions have called a second day of mass protests for Tuesday, a day before the government unveils the full details of its plans for a single points-based pension scheme that does away with dozens of more advantageous plans enjoyed by train drivers, sailors, lawyers and other professions.

- 'A monstrosity' -
Critics argue that the shake-up will require people in both the public and private sector to work longer for a smaller retirement payout.   Teachers are expected to walk out again for the second time in a week Tuesday, leading to widespread school closures.

Firefighters, electricity workers and "yellow vest" anti-government demonstrators have also joined railway workers in the streets in recent days.   The government's pensions envoy Jean-Paul Delevoye, who drafted the reforms, and Health Minister Agnes Buzyn will meet with trade unions on Monday to try to negotiate an end to the deadlock.   But the unions have sounded an uncompromising note.   "I will not negotiate over the implementation of what I describe as a monstrosity which endangers tomorrow's pensioners," said Yves Veyrier, the head of the militant Force Ouvriere union.

The strike has squeezed retailers in the run-up to Christmas, raising the prospect of another bleak year-end after the unrest caused by the yellow vests in late 2018.   The first day of the stoppage already caused an average 30 percent drop in sales, according to the Alliance of Commerce, which represents 27,000 supermarkets and clothing and shoe stores with almost 200,000 workers.   A hotel association said reservations in the larger Paris region dropped by 30 to 40 percent on the first day of the strike.    Regional and international trains, including the Eurostar to London and Thalys to Brussels, have also been hobbled by the unrest, and several flights were cancelled on the first days of the strike.

- Fairer system for all? -
Over 800,000 people took to the streets when the strike was launched on December 5, many accusing Macron of trying to weaken France's generous social safety net.   The president, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe and senior cabinet ministers met late Sunday to discuss the changes, which they argue will ensure a fairer and more sustainable system for all.   "If we do not carry out a far-reaching, serious and progressive reform today, someone else will do a really brutal one tomorrow," Philippe told Le Journal du Dimanche.

The strike has drawn comparisons with late 1995 when three weeks of strikes forced the then centre-right government to withdraw its pension reforms.   Adrien Quatennens, a lawmaker from the far-left France Unbowed party, acknowledged on LCI radio that the strike was hard on businesses and commuters, but said: "It's better to endure a few weeks of hassle than... years of hardship" in retirement.
Date: Mon, 9 Dec 2019 10:20:33 +0100 (MET)
By Neil SANDS, with Holly Robertson in Sydney

Wellington, Dec 9, 2019 (AFP) - Five people were killed, 18 were injured and several more were left stranded after an island volcano popular with tourists erupted unexpectedly in New Zealand on Monday.   Police said some 50 people were visiting White Island when it exploded suddenly in the early afternoon -- hurling ash and rock high into the air.   Two dozen people made it off the island, five of whom have since died. The rest are being treated for injuries, including severe burns.

Nothing is yet known about a group -- now estimated to number in the double digits -- who are still trapped on the island.   "We're unsure of the exact numbers on there and we're unsure of their wellbeing," said deputy commissioner John Tims.   As night fell, he said volcanic activity made a rescue attempt too dangerous.   "The island is unstable, there's a danger of further eruptions, it is physically unsafe for us to return to the island"   "I've got to consider the safety of our people and emergency services staff."   The eruption occurred at 2:11pm (0111 GMT), thrusting a thick plume of white ash 3.6 kilometres (12,000 feet) into the sky.   Seconds before, live camera feeds showed a group of more than a half dozen people walking on the crater floor. Then the images went black.

A "considerable number" of those caught up in the disaster are believed to be Australian, according to officials in Canberra.   As many as 30 people are also believed to be cruise passengers on a day trip from the vessel Ovation of the Seas, Kevin O'Sullivan, chief executive officer of industry body the New Zealand Cruise Association told AFP.   The ship's operator Royal Caribbean -- who had billed the trip to White Island as "an unforgettable guided tour of New Zealand's most active volcano" -- said "a number of our guests were touring the island" but did not confirm that number.   The ship has a capacity of around 4,000 people and set sail from Sydney last week on a 12 day voyage.

- Scene of terror -
Tourist Michael Schade, made it off the island just in time and was able to capture footage of the devastation.   His videos showed groups of startled tourists clustered by the shoreline, waiting to be evacuated as the ground around them smouldered, the sky filled with white debris. An ash-caked helicopter lies damaged nearby.   As his ship hurtled away, the caldera became virtually invisible, shrouded by a thick bank of ash.   Volcanic Air said they had landed a helicopter on the island shortly before the eruption carrying four visitors and one pilot. All were now accounted for.   "It had landed on the island. What happened after that we don't know, but we know that all five made it back to Whakatane on one of the tourist boats," a company spokesman told AFP.

Guillaume Calmelet, the co-director of Skydive Tauranga, saw the eruption from above as he took a customer on a tandem skydive from a plane 12,000 feet above the Bay of Plenty.   "As soon as the parachute opened there was this huge cloud that was really different to whatever we've seen before," he told AFP. "I could see it coming out in freefall, so probably about 30 seconds for the whole cloud to form, if that. It was pretty quick."   The country's National Emergency Management Agency described the eruption as "moderate", although the plume of ash was clearly visible from the mainland and from satellites flying overhead.    "We have seen a steady decline in activity since the eruption. There remains significant uncertainty as to future changes but currently, there are no signs of escalation."

White Island -- - also known as Whakaari -- is about 50 kilometres (30 miles) offshore in the picturesque Bay of Plenty and is popular with adventurous tourists willing to don hard hats and gas masks.   It is New Zealand's most active volcano cone and about 70 percent of it is underwater, according to government-backed agency GeoNet.   Around 10,000 people visit the volcano every year. It has erupted frequently over the last half-century, most recently in 2016.

In August of that year the New Zealand Defence Force airlifted a 2.4-tonne shipping container onto the island to serve as an emergency shelter in case of an eruption.   "Sudden, unheralded eruptions from volcanoes such as White Island can be expected at any time," said University of Auckland volcanologist Shane Cronin.   "The hazards expected from such events are the violent ejection of hot blocks and ash, and formation of 'hurricane-like' currents of wet ash and coarse particles that radiate from the explosion vent."   "These can be deadly in terms of causing impact trauma, burns and respiratory problems. The eruptions are short-lived, but once one occurs, there are high chances for further, generally smaller ones as the system re-equilibrates."
Date: Mon, 9 Dec 2019 09:54:20 +0100 (MET)

Rome, Dec 9, 2019 (AFP) - A 4.5 magnitude earthquake hit the central Italian region of Mugello on Monday, sending panicked residents into the streets but causing minimal damage to buildings.   The quake, centred some 31 km (19 miles) northeast of Florence in Tuscany, hit at 4:37 am (0330 GMT), after a series of smaller quakes, according to the national institute for geophysics and vulcanology (INGV).

Residents fled their buildings in the rain,  congregating outside or in their cars to await authorities.    "The quake went on for awhile, especially the first one, things fell down at a supermarket but for the moment we haven't seen any damage to people or things," said Filippo Carla' Campa, mayor of the town of Vicchio.   A resident of Barberino del Mugello said his neighbours were panicking getting out of the building.    "Paintings fell off the walls, bookcases fell over," he told Rai 24.    In Barberino del Mugello, the 17th century church suffered a crack in one side, television images showed.

Schools were closed in the region and some trains through Florence were cancelled or delayed.    Italy is frequently struck by seismic activity, often devastating. Most recently, a series of strong quakes hit central Italy in late 2016 and early 2017, killing 300 people.   In 1919, the area was hit by an earthquake that killed 100 people.
Date: Mon, 9 Dec 2019 03:52:15 +0100 (MET)

Mount Hutt, New Zealand, Dec 9, 2019 (AFP) - Almost 1,000 tourists were stranded in New Zealand's South Island Monday after wild storms cut highways, washed away bridges and flooded the rugged landscape.   Meteorologists said up to 400 millimetres (16 inches) of rain was dumped on the South Island over 24 hours by a severe weather system that unleashed gale-force winds and 230,000 lightning strikes.   The main highway through the island was closed after the Rangitata river burst its banks. Townships near the popular Franz Josef glacier were isolated when landslips blocked road access.

With New Zealand entering its peak tourist season, some 970 travellers at Franz Josef were left facing the prospect of taking an expensive helicopter ride to get out or hunkering down until Friday, when the road is expected to be cleared.   "Between the community, the hotels and motels and our welfare centre we've managed to billet out most people overnight," Civil Defence spokesman Stephen Doran told TVNZ.   "We'd just ask people to stay put at the moment. We want to keep the work site clear so we can get supplies in there... and try to get the road into some sort of shape."

Another landslip on the island's west coast will take an estimated six weeks to clear.   The worst of the weather hit over the weekend and it is forecast to deteriorate again later in the week, leaving authorities scrambling during a brief respite to complete as much repair work as possible.
Date: Sun, 8 Dec 2019 17:30:45 +0100 (MET)

Kigali, Dec 8, 2019 (AFP) - Rwanda on Sunday started a voluntary Ebola vaccination programme at its border with the Democratic Republic of Congo in a bid to prevent the spread of the deadly virus from its neighbour.   All countries in high-risk areas, even if not hit by Ebola, had been advised by the WHO to use a new vaccine developed by US group Johnson & Johnson, the country's health minister, Diane Gashumba, told journalists.   The idea was "to protect those with high chances of getting in contact with people living in areas where Ebola has been reported to be active", she said.

The vaccine, Ad26-ZEBOV-GP, is an experimental drug produced by US pharmaceuticals giant, Johnson & Johnson. It was used for the first time in mid-November in Goma in DR Congo, on the other side of the border.    So far, there have no confirmed cases of Ebola in Rwanda.   The epicentre of the outbreak in DR Congo, which has killed more than 2,200 people since August 2018, is located 350 kilometres (217 miles) north of Goma, in the Beni-Butembo region.   That region sits on the DR Congo border with Uganda.   More than 250,000 people in DR Congo have already been vaccinated using another product, rVSV-ZEBOV, made by US drug company, Merck Shape and Dohme.

- Ebola in Goma -
People working in the health sector, at border crossings, police officers, and business executives who frequently travel between the two countries are being given priority in the vaccination campaign.   But all residents in the border districts can ask to be vaccinated if they wish.    The first volunteers expressed relief at the measure.    "We lived in a life of worry because of what was going on in DR Congo," Joel Ntwari Murihe, one of the first Rwandans to be vaccinated, told AFP.   "It caused a lot of border disruptions as we were restricted to buying or selling with DR Congo residents who live in Goma.    "The vaccine is an assurance to the safety for our lives and our children's lives."

The head of DR Congo's anti-Ebola efforts, Jean-Jacques Muyembe, and the WHO's representative in Rwanda, Kasonde Mwinga, were present at the campaign launch.    In August, Rwanda briefly closed its border with DR Congo and ordered its citizens not to visit the country when the first Ebola cases were recorded in Goma.   The city, which is the regional capital of the Congolese province of North Kivu, sits on the border with Rwanda.    The border has since been reopened, but strict medical checks are being enforced.
Date: Sun, 8 Dec 2019 14:43:06 +0100 (MET)

Kuala Lumpur, Dec 8, 2019 (AFP) - Malaysia has reported its first polio case in 27 years, health authorities said Sunday, announcing a three-month-old baby had been diagnosed on Borneo island.   The Malaysian health ministry's director-general, Noor Hisham Abdullah, said the baby from Tuaran in eastern Sabah state had been admitted into intensive care after experiencing fever and muscle weakness.   "The patient is currently undergoing treatment in an isolation ward and is in a stable condition but needs respiratory support," Noor Hisham said, adding that the infant was diagnosed on Friday.

Polio is a highly infectious viral disease which has no cure and can only be prevented with several doses of oral and injectable vaccines. It affects the nervous system and spinal cord and can be fatal in rare cases.   Over the past three decades the world has made great strides in the battle against polio. The World Health Organization said only 33 cases were reported worldwide last year.   Malaysia was declared polio free in 2000. The last case in the country occurred in 1992.

The diagnosis comes after the Philippines, which shares a close sea border with Sabah, was hit in September by its first polio case in nearly two decades.   Noor Hisham said test results showed that the Malaysian child was infected with a strain that shared genetic links to the virus detected in the Philippines.   Public health expert  T. Jayabalan told AFP that he was not surprised by the polio outbreak because immunisation was not mandatory in Malaysia.   "This first case probably is the tip of the iceberg. There is a very high possibility of a rising trend," he warned.   Jayabalan said there was a small group of people who refuse vaccination on account of misinformation.

In recent years, Malaysia had recorded a number of deaths among children from diphtheria, a vaccine-preventable disease, because they did not receive immunisation.   Noor Hisham said investigations found that 23 children under the age of 15 who lived close to the infected baby had also not received the polio vaccine.   "This is a frustrating situation because the spread of the disease... can only be stopped with polio immunisation."   Vaccination activities and monitoring will be carried out to try and contain the spread of the disease, he added.
Date: Sun, 8 Dec 2019 05:56:06 +0100 (MET)

Sydney, Dec 8, 2019 (AFP) - Smoke haze from bushfires raging in Australia spread to the capital Sunday, as firefighters raced to contain more than 140 blazes ahead of a heatwave forecast early this week.   Australia is experiencing a horrific start to its fire season, which scientists say began earlier and is more extreme this year due to a prolonged drought and the effects of climate change.

Residents of Canberra in the country's southeast woke up to see the capital shrouded in haze Sunday, joining those in Sydney who have endured weeks of toxic air pollution caused by bushfire smoke.   Officials said favourable weather conditions had given them a chance to bring several blazes under control before the forecast return of strong winds and high temperatures Tuesday.   Among those is a "mega fire" burning across 250,000 hectares within an hour's drive of Sydney, Australia's largest city, where ash from the fires has occasionally fallen.

Firefighters are now bracing for Tuesday, when temperatures are expected to reach above 40 Celsius in parts of New South Wales state -- worst-hit by the bushfires -- and gusting westerly winds are likely to fan the flames.   "Today (fire) crews will be doing what they can to consolidate and strengthen containment lines, which in some areas will include backburning," NSW Rural Fire Service spokesman Greg Allan told AFP.   But the state's Bureau of Meteorology warned that the massive fires are "in some cases just too big to put out at the moment".   "They're pumping out vast amounts of smoke which is filling the air, turning the sky orange & even appearing like significant rain on our radars," the department tweeted.

Nearly 50 reinforcements from the United States and Canada have been flown in to support fatigued firefighters in recent days, with the international contingent tasked with providing logistical assistance.   In neighbouring Queensland, the focus was also on managing fatigue among frontline firefighters -- who in both states are almost all volunteers -- as weather there provided a brief reprieve from weeks of battling blazes.   "We're just looking to wind down and recover and prepare for the next round, whenever that may be," a Queensland Fire and Emergency Service spokesman told AFP.

Since the crisis began in September, six people have been killed, more than 700 homes destroyed and an estimated two million hectares (almost five million acres) scorched.   Though the human toll has been far lower than the deadliest fire season in 2009 -- when almost 200 people died -- the scale of this year's devastation has been widely described as unprecedented, as Australians grapple with the impacts of a changing climate.   Official data shows 2019 is on track to be one of the hottest and driest years on record in Australia.
Date: Sat, 7 Dec 2019 15:58:56 +0100 (MET)

Kampala, Dec 7, 2019 (AFP) - Twelve people have been swept to their deaths by floods in western Uganda, the Red Cross said on Saturday, as the East African country is battered by torrential rain.   "We have recovered 12 bodies from the water and one person has been rushed to hospital with serious injuries," said Diana Tumuhimbise, Red Cross branch manager in the Bundibugyo district.   "The rain started last night and continued until 9:00 am (0600 GMT)," she told AFP on Saturday.   "Several houses have been swept away, roads have been blocked and some washed away completely."

The Red Cross has launched a search and rescue operation with the police, military and community members in 12 affected areas but it is not yet clear how many people are missing.    Rain is hampering communication in the remote location, on the border with DR Congo and separated from the rest of Uganda by the Rwenzori mountains.   At least 20 people have been killed as a result of floods and mudslides in the last week in Uganda.

The extreme weather has been blamed on the Indian Ocean Dipole -- a climate system defined by the difference in sea surface temperature between western and eastern areas of the ocean.   At the moment, the ocean around East Africa is far warmer than usual, resulting in higher evaporation and moist air flowing inwards over the continent as rain: the hallmarks of a "positive" dipole.   Scientists warn that as ocean temperatures rise because of climate change, Indian Ocean dipoles will become more frequent and severe.
Date: 8 Dec 2019
Source: The Star [edited]

A polio case has been confirmed in the country, the 1st in Malaysia in 27 years.  The Health Ministry confirmed that a 3-month-old Malaysian boy from Tuaran, Sabah had been admitted into a hospital's Intensive Care Unit after experiencing fever and weakness of limbs. Health director-general Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah said the last polio case in Malaysia occurred in 1992, and in 2000, the country was declared as being polio-free.

In the recent case, the child was confirmed to be infected with the vaccine-derived poliovirus type 1 (VDPV1) on [6 Dec 2019] this year.  "The patient is currently undergoing treatment in an isolation ward and is in stable condition but needs respiratory support," he said in a statement Sunday [8 Dec 2019]. He added that the VDPV1 is classified as a circulating vaccine-derived poliovirus (cVDPV) type 1.

"The cVDPV originates from a poliovirus that has been weakened by the orally-administered polio vaccine. Those who have been vaccinated will be protected from infection. The weakened virus has been excreted from the body through the faeces. However, in unsanitary environments, the virus can infect others who have not been immunised against polio and will thus spread in communities whose polio immunisation rates are less than 95%. The longer the virus spreads in the community, it will undergo genetic mutation until it once again becomes an active virus," he said.

Dr Noor Hisham said test results showed that the virus has genetic links to the polio virus that was detected in a recent outbreak in the Philippines. The Philippines in September this year [2019] declared an outbreak of polio, caused by VDPV1.

He added that up until [5 Dec 2019], investigations at the vicinity of the polio-infected child's residence found that 23 out of 199 people aged between 2 months to 15 years have not received the polio vaccine.  "This is a frustrating situation because the circulation of a cVDPV can only end with a polio immunisation. "After explaining the importance of polio immunisation, the parents of the children have agreed to have them vaccinated," he said.

He added that surveillance for acute flaccid paralysis (AFP) -- a clinical syndrome which is characterised by weakness of the muscles of respiration and swallowing -- will be conducted in the area. "As of [5 Dec 2019], as many as 646 people have been checked, and symptoms of AFP have not been detected. "To ensure that the polio virus does not continue to spread in Malaysia and infect those who are not immunised, vaccination activities will be continued in the area of this case and will be expanded to other risk areas," he said.

He urged members of the public to immediately seek treatment if they have AFP symptoms or to inform the Health Ministry if they know of other cases.  "The success in eradicating the disease previously was due to prevention efforts through the polio vaccination, which was introduced in the National Immunisation Programme in 1972. The programme was made even more effective when the vaccine was changed from being administered orally to being administered through injection," he said.

Polio, or poliomyelitis, is a potentially deadly infectious disease caused by the poliovirus and can cause paralysis by invading a person's brain and spinal cord. The disease has no cure and can only be prevented through vaccination.  [Byline: Clarissa Chung]
===================
[As the media report states, this is the 1st case of polio reported from Malaysia since 1992, 27 years ago. According to the genetic profile of the isolated cVDPV1, it is related to the cVDPV1 identified in the Philippines. It is not mentioned whether this is related to the cVDPV1 identified from environmental samples in the Manila metropolitan region or whether it is related to the paralytic case confirmed with VDPV1 in the Mindinao region (see below for details).

It is curious that cVDPV1 seems to be affecting mostly countries in Eastern Asia (Myanmar, Malaysia) and Western Pacific (Papua New Guinea and Indonesia) this year (2019). Since 2015, the countries reporting cVDPV1 associated AFP cases include Philippines, Myanmar, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Laos, Madagascar and Ukraine  (<http://polioeradication.org/polio-today/polio-now/this-week/circulating-vaccine-derived-poliovirus/>).

This now brings the total number of cVDPV associated acute flaccid paralysis (AFP) cases in the past 2 years to 24.

Tuaran, Sabah state is located on the northwest coast of Borneo island (<https://www.mapsofworld.com/malaysia/malaysia-political-map.html>). Of interest is that Basilan island, where the VDPV1 case has been reported, is one of the southernmost islands of the Philippines.

The HealthMap/ProMED map of Malaysia:
Date: Tue 3 Dec 2019
Source: Liberian Observer [edited]

A report reaching the Daily Observer from the Nimba County Health Team said that Lassa fever is becoming alarming, with 9 cases confirmed, out of which 3 persons have died.

The county health surveillance officer, Isaac Cole, told reporters in Nimba that 3 districts, including Sanniquellie Mahn, Saclepea, and Tappita have been declared as the "epicenters" of the deadly disease.

Of the 3 districts, Cole said Sanniquellie Mahn is the worst-affected area, where over 30 cases of suspected Lassa cases were registered and 9 confirmed, and from where the 3 deaths are recorded.

He has meanwhile warned locals to avoid rodents (rats) by thoroughly cleaning their surroundings to stop the flow of rats in their homes. The county health team is therefore calling on residents to report any suspected case, particularly people who may have developed prolonged fever, to any of the nearest health facilities. Residents are also advised not to bury the dead (suspected Lassa fever patients) without referencing trained medical practitioners.

"Protect your food from rats, and also avoid touching them at all times should you encounter one," he added.

Lassa fever, also known as Lassa hemorrhagic fever (LHF), is a type of viral hemorrhagic fever caused by the Lassa virus. Many of those infected by the virus do not show symptoms early on. When symptoms do occur, they typically include fever, weakness, headaches, vomiting, and muscle pains.  [Byline: Ishmael F. Menkor]
===================
[The occurrence of Lassa fever cases in Liberia is continuing with the confirmation of 9 new cases. The previous ProMED-mail post reported that according to MoH data, a total of 92 suspected cases between 1 Jan-25 Aug 2019, including 21 deaths, have been reported. Of these, 25 cases have been confirmed by RT-PCR (Nimba (9), Bong (10), Grand Bassa (5), and Grand Kru (1)), while 9 remain suspected cases, the release recorded. The case-fatality rate among confirmed cases in that report was stated as 36% (9 deaths out of 25 confirmed cases). Males are mostly affected by the disease (56%) of confirmed cases as compared to females.

Occurrence of Lassa fever cases in areas outside the usual "Lassa fever belt" is of concern, and the Ministry of Health is wise to increase public information and advise citizens about measures that should be taken to avoid infection with the virus. Occurrence of Lassa fever in Liberia is not new, and cases have occurred there sporadically for several years. Between 1 Jan and 27 Jun 2018, 20 cases were laboratory confirmed (see archive no. http://promedmail.org/post/20180711.5898495). Apparently, all those Lassa fever virus infections were acquired by contact with infected rodents or their excretions. Lassa fever virus can be acquired from infected rodents or patients in the hospital. Transmission can occur in health facilities when personal protective equipment is not employed or barrier-nursing practices or biocontainment facilities in the laboratory are not adequate to protect staff from blood and secretions of infected patients.

As mentioned in previous posts, Lassa fever virus transmission to humans occurs when people are in contact with the reservoir rodent host, the multimammate mouse (_Mastomys natalensis_ and _M. erythroleucus_) and the African wood mouse (_Hylomycus pamfi_) or their excreta, as was likely the situation in many of these cases. Rodent control has to be undertaken at the village level with individual households employing the preventive measures listed above. This requires an extensive and continuous public education effort.

Images of the _Mastomys natalensis_ mouse, the rodent reservoir of Lassa fever virus, can be seen at <https://www.inaturalist.org/taxa/45326-Mastomys-natalensis> and of _M. erythroleucus_ and _Hylomycus pamfi_ at <http://punchng.com/nigerias-large-rat-population-threatens-lassa-fever-war/>. - ProMED Mod.TY]