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Bulgaria

Bulgaria US Consular Information Sheet
September 20, 2007
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION: Bulgaria is a quickly developing European nation undergoing significant economic changes.
Tourist facilities are widely available, although conditions vary and
ome facilities may not be up to Western standards.
Goods and services taken for granted in other European countries may not be available in many areas of Bulgaria.
Read the Department of State Background Notes on Bulgaria for additional information.
ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:
A United States passport is required for U.S. citizens who are not also Bulgarian nationals.
As of September 1, 2006, U.S. citizens who enter the country without a Bulgarian visa are authorized to stay for a total of 90 days within a six-month period.
This law is strictly enforced.
An application to extend one’s stay beyond the original 90 days can be filed for urgent or humanitarian reasons, but must be submitted to regional police authorities no later than five days prior to the end of the original 90-day period.
Travelers who have been in the country for 90 days, and then leave, will not be able to reenter Bulgaria before the six-month period expires.
Travelers using official or diplomatic passports must secure visas prior to arrival.
Upon entering the country, Bulgarian immigration authorities request that all foreigners declare the purpose of their visit and provide their intended address.
U.S. citizens intending to live or work in Bulgaria for more than 90 days within six months (or more than six months within a year) must obtain a “D” visa prior to arrival.
The practice of switching from tourist status to long-term status when already in Bulgaria is no longer allowed.
Those wanting to do so must leave Bulgaria and apply for a “D” visa at a Bulgarian embassy or consulate.
This procedure takes from two to four weeks.
American citizens who marry Bulgarian nationals and want to switch to long-term status must also leave the country, present their marriage license at a Bulgarian embassy or consulate in a neighboring country, and apply for a “D” visa.

The Bulgarian authorities do not consider presentation of a copy of the passport sufficient for identification purposes.
Visitors should carry their original passports with them at all times.
For further information concerning entry requirements, travelers should contact the Embassy of the Republic of Bulgaria at 1621 22nd St. N.W., Washington, D.C. 20008; http://www.bulgaria-embassy.org; tel. (202) 387-7969 (main switchboard (202) 387-0174), or the Bulgarian Consulate in New York City at 121 East 62nd Street, New York, NY 10021; http://www.consulbulgaria-ny.org; tel. (212) 935-4646.
See our Foreign Entry Requirements brochure for more information on Bulgaria and other countries.
Visit the Embassy of Bulgaria web site at http://www.bulgaria-embassy.org for the most current visa information.
Traveling with Bulgarian minors: Bulgarian authorities are particularly strict in matters involving the travel of Bulgarian children.
Adults, other than a child’s parents, departing Bulgaria with a Bulgarian national (including dual or multi-national Bulgarian) child, must present to authorities a certified/legalized declaration signed by the child’s parents authorizing custody for travel purposes.
This holds true even if the adult is otherwise related to the child.
If the declaration is signed in Bulgaria, certification by a Bulgarian notary public is required.
If signed in the U.S., the declaration must be certified by a notary public and the court in the jurisdiction where the notary is licensed.
The declaration must then be legalized with an apostille issued by the individual state's Department of State or the Governor’s office.
Please note Bulgarian authorities do not require such documentation for minors who are not Bulgarian.
Find more information about dual nationality and the prevention of international child abduction on our web site. For further information about customs regulations, please read our Customs Information.

SAFETY AND SECURITY:
Bulgaria’s accession to the European Union has enhanced the overall security environment for tourist and business travelers.
However, the country still suffers from many of the ills of a former Eastern Bloc country in transition.
Organized crime groups and criminals who specialize in petty crimes and credit card fraud are highly prevalent in Bulgaria’s largely cash economy.
Petty criminals such as pick-pockets and purse snatchers operate in crowded public areas and on public transportation.
Also, technology exists in Bulgaria to clone credit cards and trap ATM cards for later retrieval.
Suspected organized crime members often travel in convoys of late-model SUVs and luxury sedans, accompanied by armed men, and frequent expensive restaurants, hotels, and nightclubs.
For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department’s Internet web site at http://travel.state.gov, where the current Worldwide Caution Public Announcement, Travel Warnings and Public Announcements 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:
Petty street crime, much of which is directed against persons who appear to have money or to be foreign, continues to be a problem.
Pocket picking and purse snatching are frequent occurrences, especially in crowded markets and on shopping streets.
Con artists operate on public transportation and in bus and train stations.
Credit cards and ATMs should be used with caution.
Be wary of people who approach you at an ATM and offer assistance.
Do not give your PIN number to anyone under any circumstances. (See the Special Circumstances section below.) Travelers should be suspicious of "instant friends" and should also require persons claiming to be government officials to show identification.
There have been incidents in which tourists have been drugged or assaulted and robbed after accepting offers of coffee or alcoholic beverages from "friendly” individuals met by “chance” at hotels, the airport, or at bus or train stations.
Travelers should be wary of unfamiliar individuals who encourage them to drink or eat products, as these may be tainted with strong tranquilizers (such as valium) that can lead rapidly to unconsciousness.
Reporting a crime immediately to the police has helped recover money and valuables on more than one occasion and is recommended.
To avoid becoming a victim of more serious crimes, one should use the same personal safety precautions that they would use in large urban areas of the United States.

Travelers should pay special attention to the drink prices at high-end bars and nightclubs.
There have been instances of travelers being charged exorbitant prices, especially for champagne and hard alcohol.
Bills have been as high as several thousand dollars for drinks, and in some establishments the management may use force to assure payment.

On occasion, taxi drivers overcharge unwary travelers, particularly at Sofia Airport and the Central Train Station.
We recommend travelers use taxis with meters and clearly marked rates displayed on a sticker on the passenger side of the windshield.
Travelers should be aware that there is no official commission that sets taxi cab rates.
Taxi drivers are within their full rights to charge passengers any price they want, provided that it corresponds with the price shown on the windshield sticker.
At the airport, there is a clearly marked booth within the arrivals terminal, which arranges for metered taxis at a fair rate.
Finding reputable taxis at the Central Train Station is more difficult.
It is recommended to inquire about the fare first, to avoid excessive payment if a metered taxi cannot be found.
Always ensure that you have and account for all luggage, packages and hand-carried items before you pay and release a taxi.
The likelihood of retrieving articles left behind in a taxi is remote.
Because pilferage of checked baggage may occur at Sofia Airport, travelers should not include items of value in checked luggage.
Automobile theft is a concern, with four-wheel-drive vehicles and late model European sedans the most popular targets.
Very few vehicles are recovered.
Thieves smash vehicle windows to steal valuables left in sight.
Break-ins at residential apartments occur as frequently as in major cities everywhere.
Persons who plan to reside in Bulgaria on a long-term basis should take measures to protect their dwellings.
Long-term residents should consider installation of window grilles, steel doors with well-functioning locks, and an alarm system that alerts an armed response team.

Travelers should also be cautious about making credit card charges over the Internet to unfamiliar websites.
As recent experience has shown, offers for merchandise and services may be scam artists posing as legitimate businesses.
A recent example involves Internet credit card payments to alleged tour operators via Bulgaria-based web sites.
In several cases, the corresponding businesses did not actually exist.
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.
See our information on Victims of Crime.
MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:
While Bulgarian physicians are trained to a very high standard, most hospitals and clinics, especially in village areas, are generally not equipped and maintained to meet U.S. or Western European standards.
Basic medical supplies and over-the-counter and prescription medications are widely available, but highly specialized treatment may not be obtainable.
Pediatric facilities are in need of funding and lack equipment.
Serious medical problems requiring hospitalization and/or medical evacuation to the United States may cost thousands of dollars.
Doctors and hospitals often expect immediate cash payment for health services.
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 Internet 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.
All foreign citizens traveling to Bulgaria should be prepared to present valid evidence of health insurance to the Bulgarian border authorities in order to be admitted into the country.
The insurance should be valid for the duration of the traveler’s stay in Bulgaria.
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 Bulgaria is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
The Bulgarian road system is largely underdeveloped.
There are few sections of limited-access divided highway.
Some roads are in poor repair and full of potholes.
Rockslides and landslides may be encountered on roads in mountainous areas.
Livestock and animal-drawn carts present road hazards throughout the country, especially during the agricultural season.
Travel conditions deteriorate during the winter as roads become icy and potholes proliferate.
The U.S. Embassy in Sofia advises against driving at night because road conditions are more dangerous in the dark.
Some roads lack pavement markings and lights, and motorists often drive with dim or missing headlights.
Driving in Bulgaria is extremely dangerous.
Aggressive driving habits, the lack of safe infrastructure, and a mixture of late model and old model cars on the country’s highways contribute to a high fatality rate for road accidents.
Heavy traffic conditions have led to a significant increase in “road-rage” accidents.
Motorists should avoid confrontations with aggressive drivers in Bulgaria.
In particular, drivers of late-model sedans (BMW, Mercedes, Audi) are known to speed and drive dangerously.
Motorists should exercise caution and avoid altercations with the drivers of such vehicles, which may be driven by armed organized crime figures.
In some cities traffic lights late at night blink yellow in all directions, leaving rights-of-way unclear and contributing to frequent accidents.
Heavy truck traffic along the two-lane routes from the Greek border at Kulata to Sofia and from the Turkish border at Kapitan Andre to Plovdiv creates numerous hazards.
Motorists should expect long delays at border crossings.
A U.S. state driver's license is valid in Bulgaria only when used in conjunction with an International Driving Permit.
For information on how to obtain a permit, please see our road safety information.
If pulled over by a police officer, motorists should remember that, under Bulgarian law, police officers may not collect fines on the spot; they may only issue a ticket with the fine to be paid at the motorist’s local regional tax office.
Buses, trams, and trolleys are inexpensive, but they are often crowded and of widely varying quality.
Passengers on the busiest lines have reported pick pocketing, purse slashing, and pinching. The use of seat belts is mandatory in Bulgaria for all passengers, except pregnant women.
Children under 10 years of age may ride in the front seat only if seated in a child car seat.
In practice, these rules are often not followed.
Speed limits are 50 km/h in the cities/towns, 90 km/h out of town, and 130 km/h on the highways.
For motorcycles, speed limits are 50 km/h in the cities/towns, 80 km/h out of town, and 100 km/h on the highways.
Motorcyclists must drive with helmets and with lights on at all times.
At crossings that are not regulated, the driver who is on the right has the right-of-way, but this rule, too, is frequently ignored.
Drivers may be charged with driving under the influence of alcohol with a blood level as low as 0.05 percent.
Right turns on red lights are not permitted unless specifically authorized.
The penalties for drivers involved in an accident resulting in injury or death range from a 25 U.S. Dollar fine up to imprisonment for life.
A new law requires the use of headlights day and night from November 1st through March 31st.
The most generally encountered local traffic custom is a driver flashing high beams, which usually means that a traffic police post is ahead.
In case of emergency, drivers should contact the police at telephone number 166 and/or Roadside Assistance at telephone number 146.
For an ambulance, please call 150.
The fire department can be reached at 160.
For specific information concerning Bulgarian driving permits, vehicle inspection, road tax, and mandatory insurance, please contact the Bulgarian Embassy via the Internet at http://www.bulgaria-embassy.org.
Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.
Visit the web site of the country’s national tourist office at http://www.bulgariatravel.org/eng/index.php and the web site of the Bulgarian national authority responsible for road safety at http://www.kat.mvr.bg.
[Note: the latter web site is available in the Bulgarian language only.]
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of Bulgaria’s Civil Aviation Authority as not being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for the oversight of Bulgaria’s air carrier operations.
For more information, travelers may visit the FAA’s Internet web site at http://www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa.

SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:
Bulgaria is still largely a cash economy.
Due to the potential for fraud and other criminal activity, credit cards should be used sparingly and with extreme caution.
There have been reports of false ATM fronts on bona fide machines that capture cards and PINs for later criminal use, including unauthorized charges or withdrawals.
In connection with such scams, travelers should be extremely wary of friendly bystanders near ATMs who offer assistance.
Any time a card is not returned the traveler should immediately report the card as lost/stolen to the card-issuing company.

Visitors may exchange cash at banks or Exchange Bureaus, but they should know that Exchange Bureaus sometimes post misleading rate quotations that confuse travelers.
People on the street who offer high rates of exchange are usually con artists intent on swindling the unwary traveler.
Damaged or very worn U.S dollar bank notes are often not accepted at banks or Exchange Bureaus.
Major branches of the following Bulgarian banks will cash travelers' cheques on the spot for Leva, the Bulgarian currency, or another desired currency:
Bulbank, Bulgarian Postbank, Biochim, First Investment Bank, and United Bulgarian Bank (UBB).
UBB also serves as a Western Union agent and provides direct transfer of money to travelers in need.
There are also many Western Union branches in major towns and cities.
Most shops, hotels, and restaurants, with the exception of the major hotels, do not accept travelers' cheques or credit cards.
Only some local banks can cash U.S. Treasury checks and the payee may need to wait up to a month to receive funds.
Corruption remains an important concern of the Government.
The Commission for Coordinating of the Activity for Combating Corruption manages the efforts of each government agency’s internal inspectorate in fighting public corruption and engages in public awareness campaigns.
Complaints of public corruption can be made to it at the Ministry of Justice, 2A Knyaz Dondukov Blvd., 1055 Sofia, Bulgaria, email: acc@government.bg, 359-2-980-9213, 359-2-923-7595, 359-2-940-3630 or to the Ministry of Finance hotline: 0800180018.
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 Bulgaria’s laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Bulgaria 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 Bulgaria are encouraged to register with the U.S. Embassy through the State Department’s travel registration web site, and to obtain updated information on travel and security within Bulgaria.
Americans without Internet access may use a public computer at the U.S. Embassy to register.
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 16, Kozyak St., Sofia1407; tel.: (+359 2) 937-5100; fax (+359 2) 937-5209; web site: http://sofia.usembassy.gov/.
Questions regarding consular services may be directed via email to: niv_sofia@state.gov (for non-immigrant visa matters); iv_sofia@state.gov (for immigrant visa matters) and acs_sofia@state.gov (for American Citizen Services matters).
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This replaces the Consular Information Sheet dated March 28, 2007, to update the sections on Entry and Exit
Requirements, Safety and Security, Crime, Traffic Safety and Road Conditions, Children’s Issues, and Registration/Embassy.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: 30 Aug 2018
Source: Euro Surveillance [summarized, edited]

In June 2018, Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever (CCHF) was diagnosed in a Greek construction worker who returned home after becoming ill with fever and haemorrhagic symptoms in south-western Bulgaria. Here, we describe the case along with the epidemiological investigation and phylogenetic analysis.

On 30 May 2018, a Greek male in his late 40s returned to Greece after spending 23 days in a forested area in Blagoevgrad province, south-western Bulgaria, where he was working in bridge construction. Three days earlier (27 May 2018, day 1), while in Bulgaria, he developed fever, severe headache, myalgia (mainly in the lower extremities), malaise and loss of appetite; on 28 May 2018 he visited a local hospital and received symptomatic treatment as an outpatient. As his condition deteriorated (onset of photophobia and abdominal pain) he returned to his permanent residence in northern Greece. On 31 May 2018 (day 5), the patient was admitted to a local hospital.

He was transferred to the university hospital in Alexandroupolis the next day because he presented severe thrombocytopenia and leukopenia; elevated levels of liver enzymes, creatine phosphokinase (CPK) and lactate dehydrogenase (LDH); and prolonged activated partial thromboplastin time (aPTT) (Table). On day 6, his headache was resolved, but his fever (38.2 C [101 F]), malaise and myalgia were ongoing. The main laboratory findings were thrombocytopenia, prolonged aPTT (82 s) and increased level of aminotransferases. His laboratory parameters indicated rhabdomyolysis (CPK 1739 U/L) and slightly elevated urea and creatinine levels (Table). A bone marrow biopsy showed haemophagocytosis. ...

Based on the patient's clinical presentation, and as he was bitten by a tick in an area of Bulgaria where CCHF cases have been reported previously, CCHF was highly suspected. Typically, the incubation period of CCHF after a tick bite is short (1-3 days), but the exact date of the bite was unknown in this case. The treating physician contacted the National Reference Centre for Arboviruses and Haemorrhagic Fever Viruses in Thessaloniki, and the suspected case was immediately notified to the Hellenic Center for Disease Control and Prevention (HCDCP). ...

The HCDCP investigated the case immediately after the diagnosis of CCHF (through telephone interviews with a close family member and with the patient, after recovery, to confirm the dates) and his contacts while he was ill (household members, co-workers, roommates in Bulgaria and relatives who visited him in the hospitals). Close contacts were tested for CCHF and monitored for 14 days for any symptom development. The risk for further transmission was also assessed. The HCDCP promptly informed the Bulgarian health authorities about the case; they also informed the patient's Greek co-workers in Bulgaria about prevention and proper management of tick bites (informative material in Greek was sent to them) advising them to seek medical care in case they develop symptoms.

No other cases were reported among the patient's co-workers in Bulgaria, up to the end of July 2018. The regional and local public health authorities were also informed about the case, and they performed further contact investigation in Greece. No secondary cases were detected. The HCDCP raised awareness for CCHF among health professionals working in local health centres and hospitals in northern Greece, especially in areas with populations travelling to Bulgaria for occupational reasons.

The patient and his laboratory samples, apparel, waste and cleaning procedures were managed in accordance with the national guidelines for viral haemorrhagic fevers (available in Greek from HCDCP website: <http://www.keelpno.gr/>). In particular, upon the suspicion of CCHF (day 8), the patient was immediately isolated, and strict barrier precautions were utilised (waterproof gowns, gloves, FFP3 respiratory masks, goggles), and personal protective equipment was used by healthcare workers (HCWs) and visitors; however, visitors were discouraged from entering the isolation room. The HCDCP sent guidelines for contact tracing and active surveillance of symptoms in HCWs possibly exposed to CCHFV. Patients who were hospitalised in the same room with the patient before the suspicion of CCHF (2 patients in the 1st hospital (days 5-6), and 3 patients in the 2nd hospital (days 6-8)), were also monitored for symptoms for 14 days after their last contact with the patient. No secondary cases were observed. ...

Discussion
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CCHF was 1st recognised in Bulgaria in 1952; since then, several cases have been reported. Genetic characterisation of the Bulgarian strains showed that they cluster into the clade Europe 1. Our patient was infected in an area that was considered at low risk for CCHF outbreaks up to 2008, when a cluster of cases was observed in the region. Although the seroprevalence in the human population in Blagoevgrad province is low (1 percent), a seroprevalence of 41.9 percent in livestock was reported recently. Since CCHFV is transmitted mainly by bites of infected Ixodid ticks, persons living in rural areas are at increased risk for acquiring the infection. This was the reason that information about preventive measures was sent to our patient's Greek co-workers in Bulgaria, and all related public health authorities were informed about the case.

Regarding Greece, no other imported cases have been reported so far, and the only autochthonous CCHF case was observed in 2008. A review of travel-associated CCHF cases published during 1960-2016 reported 21 cases; 2 imported cases have been reported within Europe: Bulgaria to Germany in 2001 and Bulgaria to the United Kingdom in 2014.

Due to the high pathogenicity of CCHFV, the absence of a specific drug treatment or vaccine, and the risk of person-to-person transmission, rapid diagnosis is crucial to ensure that appropriate infection control measures (e.g. isolation of patient and barrier precautions) can be implemented in a timely manner. A detailed medical history of the patient, including travel history and possible risk factors, is important for the timely diagnosis of the disease. In our case, information regarding the tick bite was not provided immediately, and this, in combination with the non-specific initial symptoms, meant that CCHF was 1st suspected on day 8 of illness. Despite this delay, the patient fully recovered, and no secondary cases of CCHF have been reported. Since the northern part of Greece is close to CCHF-endemic countries, HCWs in this region should be made aware of CCHF, including the provision of training to better help them address questions from patients about travel history (to identify potential risk of exposure). Physicians should include CCHF in the differential diagnosis for patients with haemorrhagic syndromes, especially if patients report a tick bite, outdoor activities, or occupation in rural areas and recent travel to an endemic area.
=======================
[The above report provides an excellent example of CCHF transmission in a case with no history of conventional professional contact with infected cattle, such as cattle rearing or butchering. History of travel to a location that has reported human cases, presence of the vector, and the clinical picture should raise suspicions in health care providers, with appropriate diagnostic tests conducted as soon as possible. - ProMED Mod.UBA]

[HealthMap/ProMED maps available at:
Date: Thu, 8 Mar 2018 12:10:48 +0100
By Diana SIMEONOVA

Bansko, Bulgaria, March 8, 2018 (AFP) - "Unlimited Ski and Fun!" promises a pamphlet touting the Bansko ski resort, a magnet for bargain-hunting holidaymakers in southwest Bulgaria.   But nature lovers are demanding limits to the growth of the bustling resort carved into the majestic pine forests of Pirin National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1983.

The clearance of more than 160 hectares (400 acres) of centuries-old forest to build the ski zone already prompted UNESCO in 2010 to remove the area from the World Heritage designation, labelling it a "buffer zone".   Now a much larger area could come under threat after a government decision in December opened 48 percent of the park's 40,000 hectares for construction, sparking weekly protests attended by thousands across the country.

Protestors accuse the government of favouring business interests in a country ranked by watchdog Transparency International as the EU's most graft-prone, with one huge banner at a recent rally in the capital Sofia reading: "Corruption! Save Pirin".   But the resort is the area's biggest employer and locals have responded with their own demonstrations in favour of expansion.   At issue in particular is a plan to build a second ski lift to ease persistent queues at the sole six-person lift, which currently takes 2,200 skiers per hour up to the 75 kilometres (46 miles) of runs.

- 'Horrific' queue -
British holidaymaker Carolyn Bennett, 30, is among the skiers who come in droves to Bansko from Britain, Russia and Bulgaria's Balkan neighbours, attracted by the cheap food and lift passes as well as budget flights.   But even on a supposedly quiet day, she was among scores of people at the foot of the ski lift, where queues form from early morning and waits can last up to three hours.

"Another gondola is going to have a huge impact environmentally but I imagine coming here in peak season, that queue would probably be horrific," she shrugged in the crammed gondola cabin.    "With a daily lift pass costing 28 euros ($34), Bansko is the cheapest resort of its capacity in Europe, and even if our queues have become notorious, people keep pouring in," Bansko's marketing chief Ivan Obreykov told AFP.   Daily lift passes at ski resorts in France and Austria typically cost twice as much.

Bansko hosts some 35,000 to 40,000 visitors per month during the winter season. On a busy day, up to 7,000 people could hit the ski lift at the same time in the mornings.   Booming construction in the once quiet town of 9,500 inhabitants has seen its two-storey houses and cobbled streets surrounded by hotels and luxury apartments with space for 18,000 guests.   While ugly concrete skeletons of a number of hotel projects abandoned after the 2008 financial crisis mar the landscape, pressure is mounting to expand both the town and the ski zone.

- Trojan horse claim -
Obreykov praised the government's green light for the second ski lift, adding that its construction was the resort's "first and most pressing task".   But those opposed to the plan say it is a Trojan horse to cover up previous unauthorised building and encourage even more expansion.   "If they wanted to do just a second gondola, they would not have opened almost half of the territory of Pirin National Park for construction," WWF's Konstantin Ivanov said at a rally in Sofia.   "We don't buy their promises that nothing more will be built there," he added.   WWF claims the ski zone has already grown to cover 60 percent more territory than initially agreed and points to as yet unapproved plans for huge expansion of the resort.    Obreykov denied the charge, adding that new ski runs could be built only within the current area of the ski zone.

A recent study for the WWF concluded that the resort has already inflicted "irreparable damage" on the reserve, calling for UNESCO to inscribe Pirin on its List of World Heritage in Danger if new construction begins.    A report by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in November also said the conservation outlook for Pirin National Park -- home to bears, chamois and wolves -- was of "significant concern" and just one step away from the final "critical" stage.   IUCN also underlined the "threats of disturbance and fragmentation of the site associated with the exclusion of the skiing areas as incompatible with its World Heritage status."

- 'Deepening mistrust' -
For economist Petar Ganev, of the Sofia-based Institute for Market Economics, the row is an example of "deepening mistrust in Bulgaria's institutions".   On the one hand, Ganev said Bansko is "a positive example of a very poor place which grew into a prosperous resort" and that building a second ski lift could be justified for that reason.   But, he added, suspicions that development is not being regulated fairly will "continue to bring people out on the streets".   "The problem is not the second gondola but the corruption in the country," Ganev said.
Date: Fri 1 Dec 2017 15:26
Source: Focus News Agency [edited]

The hepatitis A outbreak in the Kosharnik, an all-Roma neighbourhood of Montana, is spreading, the number of people infected has reached 15, Dr. Mariya Kamenova, Deputy Director of Montana Regional Health Inspectorate (RHI) told FOCUS Radio . Another 8 cases were registered for the period from [Fri 27 Oct 2017] until the end of November 2017, adding up to the 7 cases registered by [Thu 26 Oct 2017]. Those 1st 7 cases were children under 14, while the newly infected are 4 children under 4 years of age, 2 children aged 5 to 9, and 2 children aged 15 to 19.

A 51-year-old male from the neighborhood is also probably hepatitis A infected, but his tests are pending. The Montana municipality has taken measures and the streets in Kosharnik and the yards of the infected families have been disinfected every month. The RHI has said that they will continue to monitor the situation.
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[The location of Montana in Bulgaria is north and west of Plovdiv where HAV is being reported in the Roma community there. Montana's location can be seen on a map at <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Montana,_Bulgaria>. Since most ca es of
HAV in children are unrecognized, being either asymptomatic or anicteric (without jaundice), the total number of cases are likely to be much higher. - ProMED Mod.LL]

[A HealthMap/ProMED-mail map can be accessed at:
Date: Thu 23 Nov 2017 10:13
Source: Sofia News Agency [edited]

There is a boom of infected patients with hepatitis A in Rakovski. There are sick children in several schools and kindergartens. The 1st diseases have been since the beginning of September 2017. Everyone has gone through the infectious clinic in Plovdiv, say the city's health
inspection.

"This is an infection that is transmitted by faecal-oral route and the problem is that the incubation period of the disease is quite long -- up to 45 days, a person is infectious before he becomes yellow," health inspectors warn.

In the Roma neighbourhood of Rakovski, almost every house has a hepatitis A sufferer. Residents of the neighbourhood admit they do not know how to protect themselves. There are a total of 35 reported cases of infected children at Hristo Smirnenski School in Rakovski. Parents of students are worried and threaten to stop their children from school if no action is taken.
****************************
Date: Fri 24 Nov 2017 15:30
Source: Focus News Agency [edited]

>From the beginning of July 2017 to the end of October 2017, there have been 2 outbreaks of type A viral hepatitis with a total of 144 cases in the municipality of Rakovski, said minister of health Kiril Ananiev during [Fri's 24 Nov 2017] parliamentary control session, FOCUS News Agency reports.

"The 1st outbreak started on [Sun 23 Jul 2017] and included a total of 50 cases from the villages of Belozem, Shishmantsi and Chalakovi. The infection was transmitted from the village of Milevo, where in April 2017, 16 cases were reported. The 2nd outbreak was reported on [Wed 16 Aug 2017], and up to now there have been 62 cases in the town of Rakovski. In addition, in the village of Katunutza, Sadovo municipality, from [Fri 18 Aug 2017] to date, a total of 32 cases have been reported. Out of a total of 144 cases from Rakovski and Sadovo, 105 or 72.9 per cent are children under 15 with mild symptoms.

Since the beginning of 2017, 568 cases of viral hepatitis A have been reported in the region of Plovdiv. The infection was caused by inadequate sanitation and poor personal hygiene, not by unsafe water or food," the minister said.
==================
[The source in this outbreaks is unclear but appears related to general defects in poor sanitary conditions. Hepatitis A infection in children is primarily asymptomatic or anicteric (without jaundice). With a spate of children recognized with the acute infection, it is certainly likely that many more cases will have occurred. - ProMed Mod.LL]

[A HealthMap/ProMED-mail map can be accessed at:
Date: Thu, 7 Sep 2017 16:05:20 +0200

Sofia, Sept 7, 2017 (AFP) - Other European holiday spots may be getting fed up with tourists, but not Bulgaria, where the government is sending thank-you postcards to some of the record numbers of visitors to the country this year.   The "Thank you for choosing Bulgaria!" cards, showing the Thracian tomb in Kazanlak or the Rila Monastery, will be sent to 400,000 tourists chosen randomly from the five million who visited as of July 31.

Tourism Minister Nikolina Angelkova said on her ministry's website that the cards would be personally signed by her as a sign of her "gratitude". The addresses were obtained from hotels.   Bulgaria is a cheap winter and summer holiday hotspot bordering Greece and the Black Sea, and tourism accounts for 13 percent of its economic output.   The country, the European Union's poorest member, posted a 7.2 percent rise in visitors through July 31.
More ...

Panama

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

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

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

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

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

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

Information about dual nationality or the prevention of international child abduction can be found on our web site. For further information about customs regulations, please read our Customs Information sheet.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Fri 4 Jan 2019
Source: WHO Emergencies preparedness response [edited]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Public health response

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

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

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

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

WHO advice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

National Reference Laboratory, Gorgas Memorial Institute,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Maps of Panama:

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

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

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

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

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

These rodents live in and around agricultural areas and adjacent houses and buildings. They can be persistently infected with the virus and shed it in urine, feces and saliva, the source of human infections. - ProMED Mod.TY]
 
[Maps of Panama: <http://www.lib.utexas.edu/maps/americas/panama.jpg>
and <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/41725>]
Date: Wed 25 Apr 2018, 12:15 PM
Source: Crítica [in Spanish, trans. ProMED Mod.TY, edited]
<https://www.critica.com.pa/provincias/nuevo-caso-de-hanta-512666>

An 11 year old girl is currently in the paediatric section of the Joaquín Pablo Franco Hospital with hantavirus fever. With this case, the number of hantavirus cases rises to 26 in Los Santos province, with the last 3 from El Bebedero and Llano Afuera, in the El Cocal area. Carlos Muñoz, MINSA [Ministry of Health] regional epidemiology coordinator, indicated that the 3 most recent cases affected with [hantavirus] fever are a 79-year-old woman from El Bebedero, a 33-year-old young man from El Bebedero and the 11-year-old girl from the Llano Afuera community.

The statistics reflect that to date, 16 cases have been registered in the Tonosi district, 6 in the Las Tablas district, 1 in Guararé, 2 in the Los Santos district and 1 in Pocrí. Since the disease was 1st recognized, 289 cases have been registered of which 243 have survived the disease. [Byline: Zenaida Vásquez]
=========================
[The number of cases of hantavirus infection continues to increase in the province this year (2018) and has now reached 26. Hantavirus infections occur in Los Santos province relatively frequently. The specific situations in which these patients acquired the infection are not mentioned. There is no indication of which hantavirus is involved in this or in previous cases in Panama.

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

The rodent host of Choclo virus is the pygmy rice rat (_Oligoryzomys fulvescens_), a photograph of which can be accessed at
<http://www.medwave.cl/medios/perspectivas/Hantavirus/Actualiz/Fig2.jpg>.

These rodents occur in and around agricultural areas and adjacent houses and buildings. They can be persistently infected with the virus and shed it in urine, faeces, and saliva. - ProMED Mod.TY]
 
[Maps of Panama:
<http://www.lib.utexas.edu/maps/americas/panama.jpg>
<http://healthmap.org/promed/p/41725>]
Date: 20 Jan 2018
Source: QCostarica [edited]

The National Animal Health Service has issued an alert for Canoas de Corredores, in the Southern Zone. The Servicio Nacional de Salud Animal (Senasa) -- National Animal Health Service -- says it has detected the 1st bovine paralytic rabies outbreak of the year [2018].

The finding was made in Canoas de Corredores, in the Southern Zone, specifically, in the Guayabal farm, where 5 cattle died due to the disease.

The affected farm has an exposed population of 40 animals. Senasa established sanitary and quarantine measures on the affected farm. In addition, the Senasa has begun the capturing of vampire-bats to lower the existing population of this flying mammal, which transmits rabies.

The exposed animals (cattle and dogs) are being protected through vaccination.

Senasa is also coordinating with the Corredores Hospital and the area Ministry of Health office to vaccinate people who were in contact with the infected animals.

Rabies is a viral disease affecting the central nervous system of warm-blooded animals, including humans. It causes lack of coordination, difficulty walking, salivation, paralysis of the legs that prevents getting up, twisting of the neck, and, finally, death.

Once a person begins showing signs and symptoms of rabies, the disease is nearly always fatal. For this reason, anyone who may have a risk of contracting rabies should receive rabies vaccines for protection.
Seek immediate medical care if you're bitten by any animal, or exposed to an animal suspected of having rabies. The 1st signs of rabies may be very similar to the flu and may last for days. Later signs and symptoms may include:

Fever
Headache
Nausea
Vomiting
Agitation
Anxiety
Confusion
Hyperactivity
Difficulty swallowing
Excessive salivation
Fear of water (hydrophobia) because of the difficulty in swallowing
Hallucinations
Insomnia
Partial paralysis

It occurs with certain periodicity as part of the dynamics of the sylvatic cycle of the disease. Senasa applies established protocols to respond to outbreaks.

Specialists recommend avoiding contact with sick animals with nervous signs, burying animal carcasses, vaccinating animals and immediately reporting any suspicious cases to the nearest Senasa office.

In 2017, Senasa detected 2 outbreaks of bovine paralytic rabies in San Vito de Coto Brus.

In other health alerts, Senasa issued on 9 Jan 2018 an alert case of Venezuelan equine encephalitis in Palmira, Carrillo, Guanacaste.
=====================
["Rabies transmitted by the common vampire bat (_Desmodus rotundus_) is a major public health concern in subtropical and tropical areas of Latin America. Infected vampire bats can transmit rabies to domestic mammals and humans through their haematophagous behaviour." (<https://www.aphis.usda.gov/wildlife_damage/nwrc/publications/12pubs/anderson121.pdf>)

"Vampire bats preferentially prey on livestock. Livestock and horses are generally larger than indigenous wildlife prey species, are more abundant and tend to stay in the same location for extended periods. Once a colony of vampire bats has located a herd of animals, they are then able to return to the same herd on subsequent nights. This is particularly true for cattle.

Humans have also provided vampire bats with roosting sites in the form of buildings, bridges, and wells. This in turn has contributed to an increase in the number and size of vampire bat colonies, and enlarged the population that can act as a reservoir for rabies virus. Deforestation, a consequence of land clearance for logging and modification for agriculture has simultaneously reduced the numbers of natural prey species and brought vampire bats into contact with livestock and man.

Bovine rabies in Latin America is commonly called derriengue, a Spanish word for a fatal paralytic disease. The infected animals exhibit signs of restlessness or excitement with sudden onset of hind limb paralysis. This progresses to the fore limbs. Overt salivation is commonly observed but is believed to be due to difficulties in swallowing rather than excess saliva production. Emaciation in animals that survive for any length of time is observed but the disease is invariably fatal.

There are 3 species of blood feeding or hematophagous bats found exclusively in Latin America. Only one of these, the common vampire bat _Desmodus rotundus_, is a well-known reservoir for rabies.

Vaccination of cattle is a very successful way of preventing rabies in cattle."
Extracted from <http://www.mdpi.com/1999-4915/6/5/1911/pdf>. - ProMED Mod.TG]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail maps:
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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].
==========================
[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.
=======================
[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]
===========================
[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]
==================
[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of Hong Kong: