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Austria

Austria - US Consular Information Sheet
July 29, 2008
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
Austria is a highly developed, stable democracy with a modern economy.
Tourism is an important pillar of the Austrian economy and facilities are widely availab
e.
Read the Department of State Background Notes on Austria for additional information, or see the information at the Austrian National Tourist Office web site, http://www.austria.info.
ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:
A valid passport is required. U.S. citizens can stay without a visa for tourist/business for up to 90 days in each six-month period. That 90-day period begins when you enter any of the Schengen countries: Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, and Sweden.
Note:
Although European Union regulations require that non-EU visitors obtain a stamp in their passports upon initial entry to a Schengen country, many borders are not staffed with officers carrying out this function.
If an American citizen wishes to ensure that his or her entry is properly documented, it may be necessary to request a stamp at an official point of entry.
Under local law, travelers without a stamp in their passports may be questioned and asked to document the length of their stay in Schengen countries at the time of departure or at any other point during their visit, and could face possible fines or other repercussions if unable to do so.
There are no vaccination requirements for international travelers.
Visit the Embassy of Austria web site at http://www.austria.org/ for the most current visa information. There are four Austrian Consulates General in the United States. As each one serves clients from a particular region, please contact the appropriate office for assistance. If you reside outside the U.S. please contact the responsible Austrian Embassy or Consulate in your country of residence.
A list of Austrian Embassies/Consulates is available at http://www.bmeia.gv.at/aussenministerium/buergerservice/oesterreichische-vertretungen.html.
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:
Austria remains largely free of terrorist incidents. However, like other countries in the Schengen area, Austria’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.

Austrian intelligence experts have registered increased radicalization of immigrant Muslim individuals and of small conspiratorial groups, as well as intensified use of the Internet as a propaganda and communications platform. Despite some terrorism-related incidents in 2007 directed against individual Austrian nationals or the Government of Austria, authorities overall believe the likelihood of terrorist attacks in Austria remains relatively low; the State Department rates Austria as a “Medium” threat for transnational terrorism.

Every year, a number of avalanche deaths occur in Austria's alpine regions. Many occur when skiers/snowboarders stray from the designated ski slopes. Leaving the designated slopes to ski off-piste may pose serious risks and may delay rescue attempts in case of emergency. Skiers/snowboarders should monitor weather and terrain conditions, and use the available avalanche rescue equipment. Avalanche beepers (transceivers) are the most common rescue devices and, when properly used, provide the fastest way of locating an avalanche victim, usually enabling authorities to begin rescue operations within minutes.

For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State’s, 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:
Austria has one of the lowest crime rates in Europe, and violent crime is rare. However, crimes involving theft of personal property have increased in recent years.
As such, most crimes involving Americans are crimes of opportunity involving theft of personal belongings. Travelers are also targets of pickpockets who operate where tourists tend to gather. Some of the spots where such crimes are most frequently reported include Vienna’s two largest train stations, the plaza around St. Stephan’s Cathedral and the nearby pedestrian shopping areas (in Vienna’s First District).

There has been an increase in thefts and pick-pocketing on public transportation lines, especially on those lines coming into and out from the city center. U.S. citizens are advised to secure personal belongings and always take precautions while on public transportation and in public places such as cafes and tourist areas. Many citizens have had to disrupt travel plans while awaiting replacements for lost and stolen passports since emergency passports are generally only authorized in rare circumstances such as critical medical emergencies.
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.
Information on the Austrian crime victim compensation program can be found on the U.S. Embassy web site at http://vienna.usembassy.gov/en/embassy/cons/compens.htm.
The local equivalent to the 911 emergency line in Austria is 133.See our information on Victims of Crime.

MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:
There are an adequate number of hospitals available in Austria. Local hospitals will not settle their accounts directly with American insurance companies. The patient is obliged to pay the bill to the local hospital and later claim a refund from his/her insurance carrier in the United States. MEDICARE payments are not available outside the United States.

The Austrian Medicine Import Act generally prohibits the import of prescription drugs into Austria, with two exceptions:
A) Travelers residing outside the European Union are allowed to carry with them (as part of their personal luggage) drugs and medicines, but only the quantity that an individual having a health problem might normally carry; and,
B) Travelers while staying in Austria may receive drugs and medicines for their personal use by mail. The quantity is limited to the length of their stay in Austria and must never exceed three packages.
Generally, it is recommended that travelers have either a prescription or written statement from their personal physician that the medicines are being used under a doctor's direction and are necessary for their physical wellbeing while traveling.
Public health conditions in Austria are excellent. The level of community sanitation in Vienna meets or exceeds that of most large American cities. Disease incidence and type are similar to that seen in the major cities of Western Europe and the United States. At the present time, air pollution is not a major health problem in Vienna.

The U.S. Department of State is unaware of any HIV/AIDS entry restrictions for visitors to or foreign residents of Austria.

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 (CDC) 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.

Any person, regardless of citizenship, who wants to take up residence in Austria, must be covered by some health insurance plan that covers full medical treatment in Austria. American citizens interested in joining the health insurance plan under the Austrian system should apply to the Health Insurance Agency (Gebietskrankenkasse) in the province (Bundesland) where they reside.
Further information may be obtained from the appropriate “Gebietskrankenkasse” http://www.sozialversicherung.at/portal/index.html?ctrl:cmd=render&ctrl:window=esvportal.channel_content.cmsWindow&p_menuid=955&p_tabid=6&p_pubid=687.
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 Austria is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
Road conditions in Austria are generally excellent. During the winter, however, roads in alpine areas may become dangerous due to snowfall, ice, or avalanches. Some mountain roads may be closed for extended periods and tire chains are often required. Drivers should exercise caution during the heavily traveled vacation periods (December-February, Easter, July-August). Extra caution is recommended when driving through autobahn construction zones, particularly on the A-1 East/West Autobahn. Reduced lanes and two-way traffic in these zones have resulted in several deadly accidents in recent years. Traffic information and road conditions are broadcast on the English language channel fm4, located between 91 and 105 FM depending on the locale.

A U.S. driver’s license alone is not sufficient to drive in Austria. The U.S. driver’s license must be accompanied by an international driver’s permit (obtainable in the U.S. from American Automobile Association and the American Automobile Touring Alliance) or by an official translation of the U.S. driver’s license, which can be obtained at one of the Austrian automobile clubs (OEAMTC or ARBOE). This arrangement is only acceptable for the first six months of driving in Austria, after which all drivers must obtain an Austrian license.

Austria requires all vehicles using the autobahn to display an “Autobahn Vignette” highway tax sticker on the inside of the vehicle’s windshield. The sticker may be purchased at border crossings, gas stations in Austria, and small “Tabak” shops located in Austrian towns. Fines for failing to display a valid autobahn vignette on the windshield of your car are usually around $120.

Austrian autobahns have a maximum speed limit of 130 km/hr, although drivers often drive much faster and pass aggressively. The use of hand-held cell phones while driving is prohibited. Turning right on red is also prohibited throughout Austria. The legal limit for blood alcohol content in Austria is .05 percent and penalties for driving under the influence tend to be stricter than in many U.S. states.

Tourists driving rented vehicles should pay close attention to the provisions of their rental contract. Many contracts prohibit drivers from taking rented vehicles into eastern European countries. Drivers attempting to enter countries listed as “prohibited” on the car rental contract may be arrested, fined, and/or charged with attempted auto theft. Austrian police are authorized to hold the rented vehicle for the car rental company.
Emergency roadside help and information may be reached by dialing 123 or 120 for vehicle assistance and towing services (Austrian automobile clubs), 122 for the fire department, 133 for police, and 144 for ambulance.
The European emergency line is 112.
Austrian Federal Railroads (Österreichische Bundesbahnen) offer excellent railroad service to all major towns of the country and also direct connections with all major cities in Europe. Trains are well maintained and fares are reasonable. There is also an extensive network of bus lines operated by the Austrian Postal Service (Österreichische Post). All major cities also offer excellent public transportation services.
Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information. Visit the web-site of Austria’s national tourist office (Österreich Werbung) at http://www.austria.info and the national authority responsible for road safety (Kuratorium für Verkehrssicherheit) at http://www.kfv.at/.

AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of Austria’s Civil Aviation Authority as being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for oversight of Austria’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:
Travelers using U.S. issued debit cards in Austrian Automatic Teller Machines (ATMs) may encounter problems. If the request for cash is rejected, travelers should check their accounts immediately to see whether the money was in fact debited from their account. If this is the case, they should notify their banking institution immediately. Prompt action may result in a refund of the debited amount. Receipts should always be requested and kept for verification with your home bank.
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 Austrian laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Austria 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 Austria 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 Austria.
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 Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy is located at Parkring 12a, tel. +43- 1-31339-7535, fax: +43-1-5125835, web site: http://vienna.usembassy.gov/en/index.html
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This replaces the Country Specific Information sheet for Austria dated January 23, 2008, without substantive changes.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Sun, 3 Mar 2019 04:10:56 +0100
By Sophie MAKRIS

Vienna, March 3, 2019 (AFP) - It looks like a scene from the halcyon days of the railways: travellers finding their sleeper berth, turning on the reading light and stowing their cases under the bed.    But it's still a common nightly ritual at Vienna's main station, where overnight train routes have endured in the age of low-cost flights -- and are even expanding.   From early evening onwards, the departures board at Vienna's "Hauptbahnhof" station becomes a roll call of destinations to whet the appetite of any globetrotter: Venice, Rome, Zurich, Berlin, Warsaw...   It's an unusual sight in a continent where budget airlines and faster trains have become the norm and led to the closure of many slower overnight routes.

But Austria's state railway company OeBB is looking to expand its network.   It already runs 26 such routes, either on its own or in partnerships with other operators.   In late 2016, OeBB bought the night train operation of its German counterpart Deutsche Bahn, which was looking to offload a department it judged insufficiently lucrative.   Around 60 percent of DB's overnight routes were preserved, including a revamped Vienna-Berlin service which started a few months ago.   Pointing to the "moderate growth" in passenger numbers -- more than 1.4 million used the services in 2018 -- OeBB has ordered 13 new trains equipped with state-of-the-art sleeper carriages.

- Eco-friendly -
It's no surprise then that Austria has become the poster child for rail enthusiasts, who say it provides an example of how overnight train travel can provide an alternative to air travel and even help in the fight against climate change.    "With regard to the target of becoming carbon-neutral by 2050, night trains which run on renewable energy are an attractive alternative," according to Thomas Sauter-Servaes, transport expert at the Zurich University of Applied Sciences.

But as with all those who have researched the sector, he admits that cross-border overnight rail travel can represent a logistical and financial challenge.   The profits per passenger take a hit from the extra space that sleeper compartments require, on top of the higher labour costs for those who have to work on the trains overnight and money spent on laundry.   And that's before you take into account the hefty fees sometimes charged by other network owners for use of the rails, the technical difficulty of decoupling and then re-attaching carriages, and navigating the myriad of different rules a train has to adhere to over a long journey.

Sauter-Servaes points out that international air transport has a big commercial advantage in being exempt from VAT and fuel taxes.   Among those preparing to board at Vienna station to spend a night on the rails on a recent evening, some told AFP they had chosen a night train with the environment in mind.   "It's a small gesture, and it won't stop me taking the plane for my holiday in Madagascar this autumn, but it's better than nothing," said Austrian traveller Yvonne Kemper.   David, a 42-year-old from Germany, said he was using the Hamburg service because he needed to get to Goettingen in Germany for a business trip -- a medium-sized town which, typically, is served by night trains but has no airport.

- An Austrian tradition -
OeBB spokesman Bernhard Rieder explained that Austria's attachment to night trains is down to "a tradition stemming from Austria's mountainous terrain, which limited the development of high-speed lines".   He added that "the night train sector is distinct in that it can't function without strong cross-border cooperation."   "Night trains are and will continue to be a niche market, but that doesn't mean a niche market can't be profitable."   But Poul Kattler, from the pan-European "Back on Track" group which campaigns for more cross-border night trains, says the sector should be more ambitious.   "If national railway companies were more aggressive in the market and the EU built a truly common rail policy, we could offer a real transport alternative and a very popular European project," he says.
Date: Tue, 15 Jan 2019 15:26:31 +0100

Vienna, Jan 15, 2019 (AFP) - Around 60 guests were evacuated from an Austrian hotel and holiday apartment house early Tuesday after the buildings were engulfed by an avalanche, rescue services said.   "It was lucky the avalanche didn't occur four hours earlier when all of the guests were in the dining room," said Heribert Eisl, of the mountain rescue team in Ramsau am Dachstein, a village in the central Styria region where the accident happened at 1:00 am (0000 GMT).

The dining room was filled with snow up to one metre (three feet) below the ceiling, he told a news conference.   The avalanche shattered the hotel's windows and overturned vehicles in the car park, but no-one was injured, Eisl said.   "We hadn't expected the avalanche to wreak such damage," he continued.

A number of areas in the Austrian Alps have been on high avalanche alert for the past 10 days as a result of heavy snowfall across the west and centre of the country since early January.    In some regions, more than three metres of snow has fallen.   The army has been called in to help clear roads and roofs and evacuate residents in the wake of the bad weather, which has also affected southern Germany and parts of Switzerland.
Date: Mon, 7 Jan 2019 20:17:54 +0100

Vienne, Jan 7, 2019 (AFP) - Three skiers and two snowshoe hikers have died as heavy snow and avalanches hit Austria, isolating several areas of the mountainous country, authorities said Monday.

Two German skiers lost their lives in avalanches in the western region of Vorarlberg on Sunday, and a Slovenian died in the region of Salzburg, rescue services said.   The bodies of two missing snowshoe hikers were discovered Monday as snow caused chaos in parts of the country, blocking roads and shuttering schools.   Two other hikers are still missing in the country's northeast.   Up to 1.5 metres (five feet) of snow has fallen in central and north Austria since the middle of last week, with up to three metres accumulating in the mountains around Salzburg, Austria's meteorological service said.

Some 2,000 people, including tourists, were left stranded in villages in the Soelktal valley in the southeast.    Army helicopters used in avalanche control were grounded due to the bad weather.    In the Hochkar mountain range in Lower Austria, ski resorts were closed until further notice, with inhabitants and tourists requested to vacate the area.    More snow is expected this week, with up to 80 centimetres forecast from Tuesday.
Date: Tue 16 Oct 2018
Source: Food Safety News [edited]

Austria has become part of a multi-country hepatitis A outbreak with 31 confirmed cases linked to frozen strawberries imported from Poland.  The outbreak of hepatitis A virus (HAV) is connected to the one recently declared over in Sweden which affected 20 people in 6 counties. Of these cases, 17 were confirmed and 3 were probable. Dates of symptom onset ranged from 30 May 2018 to 10 Jul 2018. Ages ranged from 9 to 92 years and 13 out of 20 were women.

In July and August 2018, Austria recorded 9 hepatitis A cases with the source unknown. Researchers reported in the Eurosurveillance journal that by sharing the sequence information identified in Sweden internationally, 14 cases in Austria were found linked to strawberries from the same producer.

Genotyping of the hepatitis A outbreak strain in Sweden showed of 17 of the 20 cases confirmed an identical genotype IB strain. Environmental investigations and interviews with kitchen personnel found strawberries had not been heated adequately before serving. Following the outbreak, the juice bar chain where at least 10 cases had fallen ill stopped using frozen strawberries in smoothies and changed to pasteurized frozen pellets of the fruit.

The incriminated batch of frozen strawberries was withdrawn in June 2018 but it had best before date 6 Apr 2020. In total, 1664 packages with 5 kg [11 lbs] strawberries each were removed from the Swedish market.

Almost 2 months after the initial outbreak alert in Sweden, Austria reported a case of HAV infection with a strain indistinguishable from the Swedish outbreak strain. It can take up to 6 weeks after exposure for symptoms to develop. In late August 2018, the Austrian reference laboratory for viral hepatitis reported 5 cases sharing the Swedish outbreak genotype IB strain to the Ministry of Health (MOH). The Austrian Agency for Health and Food Safety (AGES) was told to investigate the outbreak.

As of early October 2018, 36 cases of laboratory-confirmed acute hepatitis A had been reported to public health authorities in Austria since June 2018. Of those, 14 met the definition of a confirmed case and 4 were classified as non-outbreak infections based on sequence-typing data. For confirmed cases, disease onset ranged from 8 Jun to 20 Sep 2018, age range was between 5 and 70 years, with 8 males and 6 females affected. 12 patients ate strawberry ice cream during the incubation period and 9 remembered the restaurants where they ate it. For the remaining 18 cases, sequence-typing data was not yet available and patient interviews regarding food exposure during their incubation periods is ongoing, according to the researchers.

Since mid-May 2018, only one wholesaler in Austria purchased frozen strawberries from the producer in Poland, but further distribution included two wholesalers in Slovakia and one ice cream producer in Italy.

The Austrian importer of frozen strawberries from the Polish producer is expecting a supply of 22 tons at the end of 2018 and has requested evidence for a HAV-negative test result of samples. It has also asked for a guarantee from purchasers that frozen strawberries are heated before consumption.

There are several challenges with HAV outbreaks related to berries, according to the researchers. "First, the trace back can be difficult as berries are typically harvested by one producer, then packed by another food business operator whereby batches may then be mixed or split. Another point to consider during HAV outbreak investigations is the long incubation period of hepatitis A up to 6 weeks. After such a long time, it can be difficult to recall food consumption and collect food leftovers. Furthermore, the time from the onset of symptoms to a primary diagnosis and the sequence information can take several weeks," they said.

"In the current outbreak, leftovers from the suspected frozen strawberries in Sweden were sent to Livsmedelsverket and the presence of HAV could be confirmed by real-time PCR and Sanger sequencing, providing evidence for the source of infection. While being invaluable in tracing the source of infections, the molecular detection of viruses in food is challenging." Researchers also said boiling recommendations could be considered for frozen strawberries in Sweden. Such advice is already in place for frozen, imported raspberries because of the risk of norovirus.  [Byline: Joe Whitworth]
==========================
[Frozen berries have been implicated in hepatitis A transmission in the past. The exact mechanism of contamination of the berries is generally not clearly established, but hepatitis A is essentially only a human pathogen transmitted by the fecal-oral route. Transmission can be through food or water contamination or, as has been occurring in a number of large and some still ongoing outbreaks in the USA, through poor sanitation involving marginalized populations such as the homeless, with spill over into other groups. - ProMED Mod.LL]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail maps
Date: Tue, 10 Jul 2018 16:14:43 +0200

Vienna, July 10, 2018 (AFP) - An American tourist brought an unexploded World War Two shell to Vienna airport in her luggage, Austrian police said on Tuesday.   The 24-year-old had found the bomb on Sunday while walking in the Dachstein mountains, according to police in Lower Austria state.

She kept the shell in her belongings as a souvenir and declared it to customs officers when she came to the airport on Monday, who immediately rang the police.   A bomb disposal unit was called and in order to safely remove the device, the baggage hall and parts of the arrivals area were closed for around 15 minutes.   There was no danger to passengers and no delays as a result, according to police.

The tourist was charged with public endangerment through negligence and given a four-figure fine.   More than 70 years after World War II and a century after World War I, unexploded bombs still regularly turn up across Austria and Germany, often during construction work.
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Latvia

Latvia US Consular Information Sheet
October 02, 2008
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
Latvia is a stable democracy with a developing economy. Most tourist facilities found in a western European city are available in the capital city of Riga. However,
some of the goods and services taken for granted in other countries are not yet available in other parts of the country. Read the Department of State Background Notes on Latvia for additional information.
ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS: Latvia is a party to the Schengen agreement. As such, U.S. citizens may enter Latvia for up to 90 days for tourist or business purposes without a visa. The passport should be valid for at least three months beyond the period of stay. For further details about travel into and within Schengen countries, please see our fact sheet. Travelers remaining in Latvia for more than 90 days, including 180 day periods that cross over two half-calendar years, must apply for temporary residence. All travelers must have a valid insurance policy, covering medical expenses while in Latvia. Repatriation costs, including funeral and disposition of remains costs also have to be covered by the policy. In addition, upon entering or exiting the country, travelers must declare cash in excess of 10,000 euros to Latvian customs. For more information, travelers may contact the Latvian Embassy, at 2306 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20008, tel. (202)328-2840, fax (202) 328-2860. For further information, visit http://www.latvia-usa.org. Within Latvia, contact the Ministry of Interiors Office of Citizenship and Migration Affairs at Ciekurkalna 1, linija 1,k,3,Riga, LV 1026. Tel. (371)67219645, (371)67219679, (371)80007657, fax (371)67219654, e-mail: pmlp@pmlp.gov.lv, web site http://www.ocma.gov.
Any traveler to Russia, even in transit, is advised to obtain a visa prior to entry into Latvia. The process of obtaining a visa at the Russian Embassy in Riga can be lengthy, and involve surrender of the passport for an undetermined period of time. Visit the Embassy of Latvia web site at http://www.latvia-usa.org for the most current visa information.
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.
SAFETY AND SECURITY:
Civil unrest is not a problem in Riga. Nonetheless, in the past, Riga has seen large, peaceful demonstrations related to internal political issues. While demonstrations have been peaceful, American citizens are nevertheless cautioned to avoid any large public demonstrations. There have been no incidents of terrorism directed toward American interests. Incidents of anti-Americanism are rare. However, instances of racially motivated verbal harassment, and on occasion, physical assaults on non-Caucasian foreigners, have occurred in Riga. There have also been reports of non-Caucasian foreigners being subjected to extra scrutiny by security guards in shops and malls in Riga. Additionally, individuals displaying alternative lifestyles have experienced harassment.

For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department’s 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 security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S., or, for callers outside the U.S. and Canada, a regular toll line at 1-202-501-4444. These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).
The Department of State urges American citizens to take responsibility for their own personal security while traveling overseas. For general information about appropriate measures travelers can take to protect themselves in an overseas environment, see the Department of State’s notice A Safe Trip Abroad.
CRIME: Crime in Riga is generally non-violent. The majority of non-violent crime tends toward acts of pickpocketing, identity theft, and personal scams. However, there have been instances of serious violent assaults and robberies. Street crime is a serious problem, particularly for tourists. In addition to pickpockets in all public areas, there are numerous scam artists targeting foreigners in the tourist pubs and restaurants. There have been a number of reports recently of foreign tourists being charged xorbitant prices for drinks in bars. Some have then been assaulted or forced to withdraw money from an ATM to pay the bill. You can avoid situations like this by ensuring that you check the price of drinks before ordering, pay for one round at a time and seek recommendations for bars from trustworthy sources. There have also been a few cases of tourists and residents being drugged in bars and restaurants and then taken outside or to their residences and robbed. In any public area, one should always be alert, particularly to being surrounded by two or more people at once. It is not uncommon for groups of pickpockets to attempt to overwhelm their victim. Gangs of professional pickpockets are specifically targeting foreigners, particularly those carrying backpacks. In addition, Riga has one of the highest rates of car theft in the world.
Internet crime is a growing concern in Latvia. Common fraudulent schemes involve both Internet auction sites and Internet job search sites. In the first scam, criminals offer valuable items for sale at low prices on Internet auctions and request that payments be sent by wire transfer to a bank in Latvia or through a fraudulent escrow site that they have created themselves. In this scheme, the money passes through a bank in Latvia and is quickly withdrawn by ATM or transferred to a bank in another country. It is very difficult in these cases to discover the identities of the account holders or recover the funds.
The second common scam involves identity theft through false job offers. In this scheme, a company claiming to be located in Latvia, but which has a non-existent address, offers the victim employment as a U.S. – based agent or freight forwarder. When the victim responds to the job offer, commonly posted on one of several popular Internet job sites, a Social Security Number and other identifying information needed for the identity theft is required under the guise of conducting a background check.

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 or Consulate staff can, for example, assist you to find appropriate medical care, to 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. For more information, see Victims of Crime.
MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION: Medical care in Latvia is steadily improving, but remains limited in several important respects. There are a few private clinics with medical supplies and services, including disposable needles and basic modern diagnostics, which are nearly equal to Western Europe or U.S. standards. However, because of the lack of equipment and resources, most major invasive procedures or surgeries in Latvia are not recommended. Hospital services have shown good progress but are still not equal to Western standards. Elderly travelers and those with existing health problems may be at risk due to inadequate medical facilities. Most, but not all, antibiotics and prescription medications are available but as they are generally produced in Europe or Latvia, they often have different names and instructions are usually not printed in English. Diphtheria, hepatitis and tick-borne encephalitis are present. According to the World Health Organization, tuberculosis is a significant problem in Latvia, with 9% of all cases being multi-drug resistant. For further information, please consult the CDC’s Travel notice on TB at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/yellowBookCh4-TB.aspx. State ambulance service for emergencies is available by dialing 112 anywhere in Latvia. However, response time is poor in rural areas. Air ambulance service is available for medical evacuations. In general, private air ambulance services are very expensive and require advance payment before the patient is transported.
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 Latvia is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
Foreign visitors to Latvia planning to operate a motor vehicle are required to obtain an International Driving Permit. These may be obtained through the American Automobile Association (AAA) or the American Automobile Touring Alliance for a small fee. A U.S. state driver’s license is not sufficient. These requirements apply to those operating rental cars as well, whether or not the rental company chooses to enforce the requirement as a condition of rental. Individuals driving without an International Driving Permit may have their vehicle confiscated by the police. Americans resident in Latvia for more than six months are required to apply for a Latvian driver’s license. Upon receipt of a Latvian driver’s license, American citizens are required to surrender their US driver’s license to the Latvian authorities. The licenses are then returned to their respective states of issuance. For more information, visit the Latvian Road and Traffic Safety Department at http://www.csdd.lv
Latvia has one of the highest rates of automobile accidents and fatalities in Europe. While recent reports show a decrease in the number of traffic accident fatalities, there are still a number of hazards to watch out for. Drivers should be alert for pedestrians and slow moving vehicles in traffic. Additionally, violation of traffic rules is common, and it is not unusual to be overtaken by other automobiles traveling at high speeds, even in crowed urban areas. Drivers do not always yield to pedestrians, even at marked intersections. During winter, most major roads are cleared of snow. However, drivers should be alert for fog, snow, and ice while driving. Driving while intoxicated is a very serous offense and carries heavy penalties. Local authorities use roadblocks and Breathalyzer tests as enforcement tools. Drivers and pedestrians should be alert to the possibility of drunk drivers and drunken pedestrians wandering on the road. Drivers must use their headlights at all times. Speed limits are usually 50 km/hr in the city and 90 km/hr on the highways. Public transportation is generally considered safe, but travelers are encouraged to select well-marked taxis. Emergency services are fair but improving (See section on Medical Facilities above); response time may be especially slow in traffic or in rural settings. Dial 112 for ambulance service.
Please refer to our Road Safety page for information. Visit the website of Latvia’s national tourist office at http://latviatourism.lv/info.php and the national authority responsible for road safety at http://www.csdd.lv/
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT:As there is no direct commercial air service to the United States by carriers registered in Latvia, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed Latvia’s Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards. For more information, travelers may visit the FAA’s web site at www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa
SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:
Banks and currency exchange counters may refuse to accept U.S. currency that is crumpled, torn, discolored or defaced (even small pen stokes, hand written numbers and letters are considered defacing). If such notes are accepted for exchange, an additional processing fee, based on the size of the transaction, may be charged. ATMs are widely available in Riga and in major towns. For security purposes, it is recommended that visitors use ATMs located inside major hotels or shopping malls, versus those located on the street, in high-volume tourist areas. Telephone connections with the United States are reliable. However, 1-800 numbers cannot be accessed from Latvia. Please check with your long distance carrier before departure to see if they offer service in Latvia. Local Internet cafés offer computer access, and fax machines are widely available.
Latvian customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation into or export from Latvia of items such as firearms, religious materials, antiquities, medications, business equipment, drugs, etc. It is advisable to contact the Embassy of Latvia in Washington or one of the Latvian consulates in the United States for specific information regarding customs requirements at http://www.latvia-usa.org.
Please see our information on 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 Latvian laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Latvia are strict and convicted offenders can expect jail sentences and heavy fines. Engaging in illicit sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime, prosecutable in the United States.Please see our information on Criminal Penalties.
CHILDREN'S ISSUES: For information see our web pages on intercountry adoption and international parental child abduction.
REGISTRATION/EMBASSY AND CONSULATE LOCATIONS: Americans living or traveling in Latvia are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy of Consulate through the State Department’s travel registration website, https://travelregistration.state.gov/ibrs/ui/ and to obtain updated information on travel and security within Latvia. 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 7 Raina Blvd. Riga, LV-1510, and may be reached by dialing +371-703-6200. The fax number for the Consular American Citizen Services section is+371-781-4088. You can find the ACS section online at http://riga.usembassy.gov/
* * * * * *
This replaces the Consular Information Sheet dated March 12, 2008 with updated information on Entry Requirements.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Sun, 22 Jul 2018 18:58:20 +0200

Riga, July 22, 2018 (AFP) - Fires raging for five days have destroyed more than 800 hectares (2,000 acres) of western Latvia, authorities said Sunday, with continuing extreme temperatures hampering firefighters' efforts.   Satellite images showed the fires have wiped out 170 acres of forest, 257 hectares of scrubland and nearly 400 hectares of peatland.

A peat fire in the Courland region broke out last Tuesday and spread eastwards, with the smoke noticeable in the resort town of Jurmala, more than 100 kilometres (60 miles) away in the neighbouring Riga region.   "Peatland fires burn downward, but when there's wind, which brings oxygen, the fires can erupt into flames," Latvian fire services spokesman Inta Palkavniece told reporters.   "The main goal is to prevent the fires from spreading," he added.   The fire services said on its website that firefighting efforts would be "long and troublesome".    "The weather is unfavourable to firefighting and will remain so over the next days," it said.

The Courland region is sparsely populated, with few roads and many areas inaccessible because of its vast marshes.   Residents of Stikli, a village that was evacuated because of the fire, began to return home after the wind changed "of their own accord", the mayor of its municipality Ventspils, Aivars Mucenieks, told reporters.   Pupils of a school for disabled children in Stikli will not return until the situation is fully under control, he added.

Meteorologists warned that the high temperatures are persisting and no rain is expected for the next two weeks.   Latvia has experienced severe drought over the last few months, prompting authorities to declare a natural catastrophe in the agricultural sector.   The Baltic country has not yet asked for help from other European countries and has no proposals to do so for the time being.   But other countries in Europe have been in the grip of an unusually long heatwave for recent weeks with little prospect of rain for the time being.

In Sweden, where temperatures are the highest for a century, farmers are even sending their animals to slaughter because there is no hay left to feed them.   It has asked for help from other European countries, because of the lack of manpower and capacity to tackle such natural catastrophes.   Poland has asked the EU for financial aid after more than 91,000 farms were affected by an unusual spring drought, according to the agriculture ministry.   In Germany, which suffered a drought in May and June, agricultural producers warned the harvest this year will be down by between 20 and 50 percent.
Date: Wed, 18 Jul 2018 19:41:17 +0200

Riga, July 18, 2018 (AFP) - Latvian authorities on Wednesday ordered the evacuation of a village threatened by a wildfire in the west of the Baltic state as firefighters struggled to control the blaze.   Clouds of smoke and ash from the fire choked the small community of Stikli, forcing the evacuation of dozens of residents including handicapped children from a boarding school, the state fire and rescue service said.   The fire broke out in a peat bog in the Kurzeme region on Tuesday before quickly engulfing bone-dry forests nearby.

The blaze covers an area of nearly 200 football pitches (180 hectares, 444 acres), according to firefighters.   "Firefighting is very problematic, as this part of Kurzeme is only sparsely populated, the roads are few and narrow and many areas are inaccessible due to vast marshlands," said Zigmunds Jaunkirkis, an official with the State Forestry Department.   The army and national guard deployed a specialised helicopter on Wednesday to help firefighters fight the flames.

Neighbouring Lithuania has also sent a helicopter while residents from the nearby port city of Ventspils have started to form volunteer units.   Daytime temperatures of up to 30 degrees Celsius (86 Fahrenheit) and strong winds have fanned the flames amid a long heatwave.   No substantial rain is forecast for the next two weeks.    An EU and NATO member of 1.9 million people, Latvia has suffered from severe drought in recent months, forcing its government to declare a national disaster in the farm sector in June.
Date: Tue, 26 Jun 2018 18:23:31 +0200

Riga, June 26, 2018 (AFP) - Latvia's government on Tuesday declared a national state of disaster in its agricultural sector as a result of a prolonged drought that has affected most of the Baltic state and which some call the worst in decades.

The westernmost region of Kurzeme has been hit hardest, though several areas have not seen proper rain since April, resulting in burnt-up fields and lost crops.    "Last year we had heavy rainfall and a flood. My fields were submerged, and I wasn't able to harvest crops. This year: the complete opposite. I worry about my bank loans," said Dainis Rutenbergs, a farmer near the central town of Dobele.

"My red beet seeds didn't even sprout. There's an empty field where there should be beetroots right now," he told AFP.   Rutenbergs said his losses could reach 10,000 euros, ($11,700) -- a considerable amount for a small family-owned farm -- adding that he hopes to make up some of the difference on autumn berries, which have not been affected.

Because of the state of disaster declaration, banks will be forbidden from foreclosing on farms, and farmers will get some leeway to finish development projects in time to secure EU funding.   Agriculture Minister Janis Duklavs told reporters that the financial losses incurred by farmers "will not be directly compensated by the state budget".

However he added that the government has already asked the European Commission to provide its promised farming subsidies ahead of schedule.    "This is the worst drought in 40 years," Gundega Mertena, editor-in-chief of the regional newspaper Ventas Balss, said of the situation in Kurzeme.    "Last weekend we had some raindrops, but it was insufficient for the fields. Crops have died out along with cattle fodder," she told AFP, adding that farmers have been forced to butcher some of their animals.
Date: Mon 22 May 2017
Source: The Baltic Course [edited]

The Latvian Infectology Center has received this season's 1st 2 patients with alleged tick-borne encephalitis, Riga Eastern Hospital Representative Aija Lietina said.

This year [2017] 343 ticks have been removed from patients and inspected, and 17 of them were infected with encephalitis [virus].

The 1st tick this year was brought for inspection on 18 February [2017], and the next one on 8 March [2017].

Tick season usually lasts from March to October, but could be longer during a warmer autumn.

Persons are asked to be careful when walking through forests and fields. Experts remind that in order to avoid tick bite, clothes must be adjusted so that ticks could not get under the clothes - trousers must be tucked into socks, shirt - in trousers, the cuffs and the collar must be tight. It is advisable to wear light clothes while outdoors so as to notice the tick and flick it off in time.
======================
[Discovery of active ticks reported above is early in the season. Finding tick-borne encephalitis virus in these ticks is a warning that the transmission season is beginning. Tickborne encephalitis is a viral infection caused by one of 3 tickborne encephalitis virus (TBEV) subtypes belonging to the Flaviviridae family: Central European, Siberian, and Far Eastern (formerly known as Russian spring-summer encephalitis). The Central European subtype is found in Latvia. It is transmitted to humans there through the bite of infected sheep ticks, _Ixodes ricinus_. The WHO states, "Approximately 10 000-12 000 clinical cases of tick-borne encephalitis are reported each year, but this figure is believed to be significantly lower than the actual total. Immunization offers the most effective protection. Currently, there are 4 widely used vaccines of assured quality: FSME-Immun and Encepur, manufactured in Austria and Germany respectively, and based on European strains of the virus; and TBE-Moscow and EnceVir, manufactured in the Russian Federation and based on Far-Eastern strains. The 4 vaccines are considered to be safe and efficacious." (<http://www.who.int/immunization/topics/tick_encephalitis/en/>). - ProMED Mod.TY]

[A HealthMap/ProMED-mail map can be accessed at:
Date: Mon 16 Nov 2015
Source: Public Broadcasting of Latvia [edited]

Despite state-funded vaccines, cases of diphtheria in Latvia have doubled in the last 3 years. At a time when the disease has been all but eradicated in other EU countries, in Latvia 20 people have died from diphtheria in the last 15 years, including 4 children. Parents' irresponsibility, lack of knowledge, and myths about vaccination are to blame, Latvian Radio reported on Mon 16 Nov 2015; 1/3rd of the EU's diphtheria patients are Latvians.

The last diphtheria outbreak in Latvia happened in the early 1990s when more than 300 people caught the disease. The epidemic was caused by anti-vaccination sentiments in a large part of society. "There were calls that [people] shouldn't be vaccinated, and many responded to these calls and didn't vaccinate their children in the 1980s. As a result, the so-called collective immunity crumbled," said Juris Perevoscikovs, a representative from the [Latvian] Center for Disease Control and Prevention (SPKC).

The epidemic was prevented after a wide vaccination campaign, but since 2011, cases have been on the rise again. From 2009 to 2011, there were 14 diphtheria patients in Latvia -- only in adults -- while in the last 3 years, the number of cases has doubled and there are 16 children among the patients.

The SPKC admits that it's a huge number when compared to other EU countries, where diphtheria has been almost completely eradicated.

"In the EU, there have been 93 diphtheria cases in 3 years. Of these, 27 were registered in Latvia. Practically speaking, every 3rd case in the EU is tied to Latvia.

The cases outside of Latvia, like in Germany or the United Kingdom, are mostly due to people visiting foreign countries, India, for example, where diphtheria is still not something unusual. "The people in Latvia, though, didn't go anywhere. They caught the disease right here," said Perevoscikovs.

As before, one of the main reasons why there are so many cases of the disease now is that people choose not to get diphtheria shots. About 95 percent of Latvian infants have been vaccinated in their 1st year of life, while only a little more than half are vaccinated among adults.

However, vaccines are the only safeguard against the disease, the mortality rate of which reaches 10 percent. Sadly, 20 people have died from diphtheria in the last 15 years, and 4 of them were children. None of them had been vaccinated, said Perevoscikovs.

Dace Zavadska, a pediatrist from the Children's Clinical Hospital where the last 2 registered cases of diphtheria were treated, listed a few reasons why parents choose forgoing vaccination for their children. "It's fear of [adverse] reactions, of which most are transient and don't harm the child in any way. Then there are many stories and myths on the Internet, between friends and among activist groups, about complications that may arise, but in reality it's not based on facts," said Zavadska.

Family practitioners should encourage vaccination. The SPKC told Latvian Radio that family practitioners should convince people to take vaccines, which are voluntary. Old people are particularly hard to convince about vaccination. "Those who work, and young people, they all agree to have shots, while more than half of those over 70 refuse. They say that they have already lived their life and that they won't catch the disease anymore. The argument that they can become disease carriers and endanger others if they don't get vaccinated doesn't convince them," said family practitioner Ainars Mezals.

The diphtheria vaccine is fully funded by the state. Adults should take reinforcing (booster) doses every 10 years. If the number of cases rises again, it's possible that the interval will be reduced to 5 years.  [Byline: Aija Pakalna]
=======================
[Aggressive vaccination programs are the sole way to prevent a spate of infectious diseases.

The following is extracted from:

Diphtheria takes its name from the Greek word dipthera meaning leather and was named in 1826 by French physician Pierre Bretonneau. This is because it refers to the leathery, sheath-like membrane that grows on the tonsils, throat and in the nose. It was previously considered to be one of the most dreaded diseases, with frequent large-scale outbreaks in the New England colonies between 1735 and 1740. It was said that the disease killed as many as 80 percent of the children below 10 years of age.

Diphtheria is otherwise called the "Strangling Angel of Children" and was a dreaded common childhood illness. Statistics shows that in the 1920s there were an estimated 100 000 to 200 000 cases of diphtheria per year in the United States, with 13 000 to 15 000 deaths. - ProMed Mod.LL]

[A HealthMap/ProMED-mail map can be accessed at:
More ...

World Travel News Headlines

Date: Fri, 15 Mar 2019 19:08:37 +0100
By Joaquim Nhamirre

Maputo, March 15, 2019 (AFP) - Tropical cyclone Idai battered Mozambican coastal city Beira Friday, leaving half a million people virtually cut off after power lines crashed, airport shut and roads were swamped by flooding that killed 66 people nationwide.   "There is no communication with Beira. Houses and trees were destroyed and pylons downed," an official at the National Institute of Disaster Management (NIDM) told AFP.   Authorities had to close Beira international airport after the air traffic control tower, the navigation systems and the runways were damaged by the storm.   "Unfortunately there is extreme havoc," said the official.   "Some runway lights were damaged, the navigation system is damaged, the control tower antennas and the control tower itself are all damaged.    "The runway is full of obstacles and parked aircrafts are damaged."

Late on Wednesday, the national carrier LAM cancelled all flights to Beira and Quelimane, which is also on the coast, as well as to Chomoio, which is inland.    Power utility Electricidade de Mocambique said in a statement that the provinces of Manica, Sofala and parts of Inhambane have been without power since Thursday.   Officials did not report any confirmed deaths, but local Beira station STV reported a child had died in Manica province west of the city, apparently the victim of a falling roof.   "There was no tsunami-type storm but Beira and Chinde (400 kilometres, 250 miles northeast of Beira on the coast) were badly hit," added the NIDM official.

Another official, Pedro Armando Alberto Virgula, in Chinde, said a hospital, police station and seven schools there lost their roofs and four houses were destroyed.   Virgula added that efforts were under way to assess the damage caused after Idai made landfall late on Thursday.   Local officials said that this week's heavy rains claimed 66 lives, injured 111 people and displaced 17,000 people.   The World Food Programme (WFP) said it would move 20 tonnes of emergency food aid to the affected areas.   The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) had warned that the storm could pack winds of up to 190 kilometres per hour (118 miles per hour).

- 'Devastation' -
At least 126 people were killed by the downpour that has struck parts of Mozambique, Malawi and South Africa over the past week, officials said.   Heavy rains in neighbouring Malawi have affected almost a million people and claimed 56 lives, according to the latest government toll.   Authorities there have opened emergency relief camps where malaria and shortages of supplies have led to dire conditions, according to AFP correspondents.

Malawian President Peter Mutharika this week declared a natural disaster.   Mozambique's weather service has warned that heavy rain will continue to batter Beira and surrounding areas until Sunday.   The UN warned of damage to crops, "including about 168,000 hectares (415,000 acres) of crops already impacted by flooding in early March, which will undermine food security and nutrition".   Mozambique and Malawi, two of the poorest countries in the world, are prone to deadly flooding during the rainy season and chronic drought during the dry season.   In neighbouring Zimbabwe, weather services have warned that violent thunderstorms, lightning and strong winds will be experienced in the eastern regions of the country.
Date: Fri, 15 Mar 2019 19:00:39 +0100

Niamey, March 15, 2019 (AFP) - Health authorities in Niger said Friday they had found a fake version of a meningitis vaccine after the country had launched a campaign to innoculate millions of children against the disease.   In a statement, the health ministry asked doctors to be vigilant over a "counterfeit" version of a vaccine called Mencevax ACWY.   The fake drug is marked as having been manufactured in December 2016, with an end-date for use by November 2021, it said.   Niger launched a week-long campaign on March 5 to vaccinate six million children against meningitis, which killed nearly 200 people two years ago.   The country lies in the so-called "meningitis belt" stretching from Senegal in the west to Ethiopia in the east, where outbreaks of the disease are a regular occurrence. 

The vaccination programme is against meningitis A, one of the six groups of meningitis bacteria that can cause epidemics.   The ministry's spokesman told AFP the bogus drug had been discovered during a "routine inspection" of a privately-owned pharmacy in the capital Niamey.   An investigation is underway to try to ascertain how many of the fake vaccines have been used, the spokesman said.   Health workers administering meningitis jabs are being asked to take special care about their supply source, and the public are being urged to scrutinise vaccines clearly, even if they buy them in "licensed" pharmacies.   Fake drugs -- medications that are outright counterfeits or whose active ingredients have been diluted -- are a major problem in West Africa.

In the 2017 outbreak, and in an epidemic in 2015 in which nearly 500 people died, Niger sounded the alarm over purported vials of vaccine that just contained water.   Meningitis is transmitted between people through coughs and sneezes, close contact and cramped living conditions.   The illness causes acute inflammation of the outer layers of the brain and spinal cord, with the most common symptoms being fever, headache and neck stiffness.
Date: Fri, 15 Mar 2019 02:55:29 +0100
By Khaliun Bayartsogt

Bornuur, Mongolia, March 15, 2019 (AFP) - In the world's coldest capital, many burn coal and plastic just to survive temperatures as low as minus 40 degrees -- but warmth comes at a price: deadly pollution makes Ulaanbataar's air too toxic for children to breathe, leaving parents little choice but to evacuate them to the countryside.   This exodus is a stark warning of the future for urban areas in much of Asia, where scenes of citizens in anti-pollution masks against a backdrop of brown skies are becoming routine, rather than apocalyptic.   Ulaanbaatar is one of the most polluted cities on the planet, alongside New Delhi, Dhaka, Kabul, and Beijing. It regularly exceeds World Health Organisation recommendations for air quality even as experts warn of disastrous consequences, particularly for children, including stunted development, chronic illness, and in some cases death.

Erdene-Bat Naranchimeg watched helplessly as her daughter Amina battled illness virtually from birth, her immune system handicapped by the smog-choked air in Mongolia's capital.   "We would constantly be in and out of the hospital," Naranchimeg told AFP, adding that Amina contracted pneumonia twice at the age of two, requiring several rounds of antibiotics.   This is not a unique case in a city where winter temperatures plunge towards uninhabitable, particularly in the districts that rural workers moved to in search of a better life.   Here row upon row of the traditional tents -- known as gers -- are warmed by coal, or any other flammable material available. The resulting thick black smoke shoots out in plumes, blanketing surrounding areas in a film of smog that makes visibility so poor it can be hard to see even a few metres ahead.   Hospitals are packed and young children are vulnerable, common colds can quickly escalate into life-threatening illness.

- Birth defects -
The situation was so bad that doctors told Naranchimeg the only solution was to send her little girl to the clean air of the countryside.   Now aged five, Amina is thriving. She lives with her grandparents in Bornuur Sum, a village 135 kilometres away from the capital.   "She hasn't been sick since she started living here," said Naranchimeg, who makes the three-hour round trip to see Amina every week.   "It was very difficult in the first few months," she said. "We used to cry when we talked on the phone."   But like many parents in Ulaanbaatar, she felt the move was the only way to protect her child.

The levels of PM2.5 -- tiny and harmful particles -- in Ulaanbaatar reached 3,320 in January, 133 times what the World Health Organisation (WHO) considers safe.   The effects are terrible for adults but children are even more at risk, in part because they breathe faster, taking in more air and pollutants.   As they are smaller, children are also closer to the ground, where some pollutants concentrate, and their still-developing lungs, brains, and other key organs are more vulnerable to damage.   Effects to prolonged exposure range from persistent infections and asthma to slowed lung and brain development.   The risks apply in utero, too, because gases and fine particles can enter a mother's bloodstream and placenta, causing miscarriage, birth defects and low birth weights, which can also affect a child for the rest of their lives.   Researchers are now investigating whether pollution, like exposure to tobacco smoke, has health effects that could even be passed down to the next generation.

- 'Terribly afraid' -
Buyan-Ulzii Badamkhand and her husband need to stay in capital for work, but they have decided to send their two-year-old son Temuulen more than 1,000 kilometres away.   The 35-year-old mother-of-three struggled with the decision, even moving from one ger district to another in the hope her son's health would improve.   But successive bouts of illness, including bronchitis that lasted a whole year, finally convinced her to send Temuulen to his grandparents.   Hours after he arrived, she called her mother-in-law to discuss her son's medicines.   "But my mother-in-law asked me 'does he still need medicine? He isn't coughing anymore," she said.   "I tell myself that it doesn't matter that I miss him and who raises him, as long as he is healthy, I am content."   Respiratory problems are the most obvious effect of air pollution, but research suggests dirty air can also put children at greater risk for diabetes and cardiovascular disease later in life.   And the WHO links it to leukaemia and behavioural disorders.   When air pollution peaks in winter, Ulaanbaatar's playgrounds empty and those who are able to are increasingly travelling abroad to wait out the smog.

In desperation, Luvsangombo Chinchuluun, a civil society activist, borrowed money to take her granddaughter to Thailand for all of January.   "We can't let her play outside (in Ulaanbaatar) because of the air pollution, so we decided to leave," she said.   The persistent smog has caused tensions in the city, with those living in wealthier areas blaming the ger residents for the pollution and even calling for the tent districts to be cleared.   But the ger residents say coal is all they can afford.   "People come to the capital because they need sustainable income," said Dorjdagva Adiyasuren, a 54-year-old mother of six.   "It's not their fault," she added.    In a bid to tackle the problem, the local government banned domestic migration in 2017, and a ban on burning coal comes into force from May.   But it is unclear whether the moves will be enough to make a difference.   For Naranchimeg, the problems are serious enough to make her consider whether she wants more children.    She explained: "Now, I am terribly afraid of to give birth again. It is risky to carry a child and what will happen to the child after it is born in this amount of pollution?"
Date: Thu, 14 Mar 2019 18:17:56 +0100

Reykjavik, March 14, 2019 (AFP) - Iceland has blocked the millions of tourists who descend upon the volcanic island each year from visiting a canyon that has been overrun since it was featured in a Justin Bieber music video.   An influx of tourists and a humid winter have disrupted the Fjadrargljufur canyon's fragile ecosystem, so the Environment Agency of Iceland has closed the site to the public until June 1.   "During periods of thaw, the path is completely muddy and is practically unusable for hikers," agency advisor Daniel Freyr Jonsson told AFP on Thursday.   "Because the mud is so thick, visitors step over the fences and walk parallel to the path, which rapidly damages the plant life," he added.

Fjadrargljufur is a gorge about 100 meters (yards) deep and two kilometres (1.25 miles) long, with steep green walls and a winding riverbed. The canyon was created by progressive erosion from water melting from glaciers 9,000 years ago.   The canyon was little known to foreigners until the end of 2015, when Canadian singer Justin Bieber featured the site in his song "I'll Show You".   "Visits to the site have risen by 50 to 80 percent per year since 2016," said Daniel Freyr Jonsson, estimating that around 300,000 people visited the canyon in 2018.   A growing number of tourist sites in Iceland have been closed in a bid to
preserve them.

The popular Reykjadalur valley and its hot springs were temporarily closed in April 2018 and a hiking trail overlooking the Skogafoss waterfall is currently shut.   "The infrastructure is not set up to accomodate so many visitors," said Daniel Freyr Jonsson.    "Tourism in winter and spring, the most sensitive periods for wildlife in Iceland, (was previously) almost unheard of in Iceland."   Since 2010 and the eruption of the Eyjafjallajokull volcano -- which generated a lot of publicity for the island -- the number of visitors has grown by 25 percent per year on average.   Last year, a record 2.3 million people visited Iceland.
Date: Thu, 14 Mar 2019 16:50:58 +0100

Geneva, March 14, 2019 (AFP) - The deadly Ebola outbreak raging in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo should be over within six months, the head of the World Health Organization said Thursday.   Seven months since the outbreak erupted in DRC's violence-torn North Kivu province, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters there were clear signs the spread of the virus was "contracting".   "Our target is now to finish it in the next six months," he told reporters in Geneva, warning though that increased unrest in the affected area could reverse the progress being made.   "It's always good to plan beyond the horizon to prepare for any eventualities," he said, while voicing optimism that massive efforts to rein in the outbreak are working.

The ongoing Ebola outbreak, the 10th in DRC's history, emerged in North Kivu in August 2018 and then spread to neighbouring Ituri province.    It has claimed 584 lives out of nearly 1,000 believed to have been infected, WHO said.   Security in eastern DRC, a region rampant with rebel fighters, has dramatically complicated the response, with numerous attacks on Ebola treatment centres.   The Doctors Without Borders (MSF) medical charity has also sounded the alarm over increasingly "toxic" relations with local communities, whose resistance to Ebola response efforts have also fuelled the spread.   MSF pointed out that 40 percent of deaths from the extremely contagious virus are occurring in communities rather than in Ebola treatment centres.

- 'Contracting' -
"The Ebola response is failing to bring the epidemic under control," MSF chief Joanne Lieu told reporters in Geneva last week.   But Tedros denied Thursday that this was the case.   "That's not true," he said. "You cannot say it's failing when the outbreak is contracting. It's contracting."   He stressed that over the past seven months, the virus had been contained to North Kivu and Ituri.

"It hasn't spread to other parts of the country and it hasn't spread to neighbouring countries," he said, adding that transmission had been halted in a number of places, including in Beni and Mangina.   "So the cases are now shrinking in certain geographic areas," he said.   Tedros also stressed that the number of new cases had been cut in half since January, with an average of 25 new cases reported each week now compared to 50 at the beginning of the year.   He acknowledged though that violence, unrest and community resistance remained a challenge in Butembo especially, which along with Katwa is where the spread of the virus is now concentrated.   "I don't want to undermine the risk, because it may again (resurge) if the security situation continues to deteriorate," he said, acknowledging that there is still a chance Ebola could spread to other parts of DRC and neighbouring countries.
Date: Thu, 14 Mar 2019 03:42:36 +0100

Kuala Lumpur, March 14, 2019 (AFP) - Over 100 schools in Malaysia have been closed after the dumping of toxic waste into a river caused hundreds of people to fall ill, including many children, authorities said.   A lorry is believed to have dumped the waste in southern Johor state last week, sending hazardous fumes across a wide area and causing those affected to display symptoms of poisoning such as nausea and vomiting.

Over 500 people, many of them school pupils, have received medical treatment after inhaling the fumes, with over 160 admitted to hospital, according to official news agency Bernama.    It was unclear what type of poisonous gas had been emitted near the industrial town of Pasir Gudang.   Education Minister Maszlee Malik initially ordered the closure of 43 schools in the area Wednesday, but later announced that figure had more than doubled.

"The ministry of education has decided to close all 111 schools in the Pasir Gudang area immediately," he said in a statement.    "The education ministry is requesting that all parties take precautions."   Three men were arrested earlier this week over the toxic waste dumping. One is expected to be charged in court soon and could face up to five years in jail if found guilty of breaking environmental protection laws.
Date: Tue 12 Mar 2019
Source: Carmelo Portal [in Spanish, trans. Mod. TY, edited]

The departmental health director, Dr Jorge Mota, confirmed for Carmelo Portal the death in our city of a young 17 year old girl from [a] hantavirus [infection]. "In Colonia department, there are on average 3 cases per year. The evolution of the disease is in thirds. One-third of the [infected] people do not have notable symptoms; another third have serious symptoms, especially respiratory symptoms and ones in all the systems, but with adequate treatment, [the infected people] survive, sometimes with sequelae. There is another third that die. It is those few with the virus that die with an evolution so drastic, such as is the case of this girl, sadly," Dr Mota stated.

The department health director said that hantaviruses are not contagious person-to-person. "It is transmitted from an intermediate animal, the field mouse. Only 3% of these mice have [a] hantavirus. To become infected, one must be in contact with an [infected] mouse's secretions that have dried, are mixed with dust, and are in a closed space, away from sunlight and ventilation. A spa, a shed, or a wood pile [are examples of such a space]. The person had to have been moving around there and inhaled the dust," he explained.

Dr Mota spoke about the epidemiological surveillance that is carried out. "We tracked places where the person was, even those that could be identified 2 months before contracting the virus; sometimes we found the place, but sometimes not." As a preventive measure, Mota stated that in these cases, ventilate these closed spaces for at least half an hour. Wet down floors and shelves with water [with 10% bleach]. Use masks [and gloves].
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[The report above does not mention the circumstances under which the infection might have been acquired nor which hantavirus was responsible for this or earlier cases in Uruguay. Hantaviruses that cause hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (with rodent hosts found in Uruguay) include Laguna Negra virus (_Calomys laucha_), Maciel virus (_Necromys benefactus_), Central Plata virus, Lechiguanas virus (_Oligoryzomys flavescens_, complex of rodents), and Anajatuba virus and Juquitiba virus (_Ologoryzomys fornesi_).

The rodent reservoir hosts shed the virus in its saliva, urine, and faeces, contaminating the environment in which they live and breed.

A HealthMap/ProMED-mail map showing the location of Uruguay in South America can be accessed at
<http://healthmap.org/promed/p/28995>.

A map of Colonia department in southern Uruguay is available at
<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Colonia_del_Sacramento>
and <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/27367>. - ProMED Mod.TY]
Date: Wed 13 Mar 2019
Source: Outbreak News Today [abridged, edited]

The number of measles deaths has topped 1100 in Madagascar. In an update on the measles epidemic in Madagascar, UN health officials report 6607 cases of measles, including 41 deaths, in the week ending 24 Feb [2019]. Cases are reported in children aged 1 to 14 years. Of 114 districts in all 22 regions, 104 are in the epidemic phase, officials report.
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[The number of cases and deaths from measles in Madagascar is horrifying, even more so since the disease is vaccine-preventable. There is no information on how the health sector in the country is responding, but clearly the clinics are overburdened during this devastating outbreak. - ProMED Mod.LK]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of Madagascar:
Date: Mon 11 Mar 2019
Source: Focus Taiwan [abridged, edited]

A Taipei resident in her 20s has been confirmed to be infected with measles and is suspected of having had contact with 247 people during the incubation period, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). The woman, who works at a restaurant in the ATT 4 Fun shopping centre in Taipei's Xinyi District might have been infected through coming into contact with foreign tourists in her workplace, said CDC deputy director-general Lo Yi-chun in a statement issued on Mon [11 Mar 2019].

To date, 247 people considered to have had contact with the patient, including her family, colleagues and health care personnel, have been traced. The contact tracing will continue until 27 Mar [2019]. The CDC alerted people who used the same bus and had been to the same places the patient visited to beware of possible exposure to the measles virus. It asked those who might have had contact with the woman to conduct self-health management for 18 days.

The reported new case has brought the total number of confirmed measles cases in Taiwan to 29 since the beginning of this year [2019], 16 contracted at home and 13 from abroad. Among the 16 indigenous cases, 8 have been linked to imported cases, the CDC said.

Lo reminded the public that measles is highly contagious and now is the peak transmission season. Outbreaks in some Asian countries have been growing, including the Philippines, Vietnam, Thailand, China, India and Indonesia, he said. As of 24 Feb [2019], the number of measles cases in Japan has risen to 258, the highest in the same period since 2009, Lo added.  [byline: Chang Ming-hsuan and Evelyn Kao]
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[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of Taiwan:
Date: Thu 14 March 2019
Source: South China Morning Post [abridged, edited]

Health authorities seek passengers on Cathay Pacific Hong Kong-Tokyo flight [1 Mar 2019] after a man [said to be a Cathay Pacific flight attendant] contracted measles, a contagious disease. The man tested positive for the immunoglobulin M antibody that confirms a measles infection. He was admitted to St Paul's Hospital in Causeway Bay after he returned to Hong Kong. He was later declared to be in a stable condition and discharged.

This is the 11th case of measles confirmed in city this year [2019] with at least 7 infections imported. Authorities seek passengers on the Cathay Pacific flight who might have had contact with the 23 year old man.  [byline: Danny Mok]
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[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of Hong Kong: