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Greece

Background
Greece offers a great variety of attractions for the international traveller. A beautiful climate linked with great beaches, a vibrant nightlife and historical monuments to rival any other location throughout the world. All of this located
within western Europe and a short flight away from many of the cooler northern destinations - like Ireland. Travellers from these regions descent on Greece in very significant numbers each year and for the vast majority of them they will have a splendid and healthy time. However for some this may not be the case and serious illness and accidents are regularly reported. Following some commonsense rules would go a long way to avoiding disaster and ensuring that this trip is truly one to be remembered for all the right reasons.
Climate
Situated in southern Europe the country enjoys mild winters but very hot summers. There may be occasional cool breezes (meltemia) but these can serve only to fool the traveller into thinking that they are unlikely to burn. Rain is very uncommon during the height of summer (July and August) and all travellers should be advised to use very adequate sun-block lotion at all times.
Slip, Slop, Slap
Following the Australian mantra of Slip, Slop and Slap makes perfect sense. Slip on a shirt, slop on sunscreen and slap on a hat when out and about during the day and this should help protect against the intense suns rays. Nevertheless, despite all their best intentions, travellers get burnt. This is particularly a problem in the first few days after their arrival when they do not realise the intensity of the suns rays and how easily they can be exposed. Falling asleep beside the hotel's swimming pool or on the beach is a very common problem and must be avoided against. The tips of the ears, shoulders (especially along the bra-strap line, ankles and behind the knees are commonly exposed and forgotten areas.
After Sun care
To treat significant sunburn it is important to increase fluid intake but also to take extra salt on your food (unless medically contraindicated for some specific condition like high blood pressure etc). Soothing water soluble lotions (especially ones containing a mild anaesthetic and/or steroid cream) are probably best but certainly avoid any of the ones which paste the skin with a thick layer - which is almost impossible to remove without causing serious pain! The more severe sunburn cases may need medical care and even hospitalisation which really ruins a holiday.
Food & Water
As a European destination Greece has a good level of food and water hygiene. Unfortunately this can vary - especially as you move away from the main tourist destinations and also as the summer temperatures rise and food goes 'off' more quickly. Eating hot food, avoiding cold foods (side-salads, lettuce etc) and never eating undercooked bivalve shellfish (mussels, oysters, clams etc) makes perfect sense. Eating food or taking fruit juice drinks from street vendors is a risk just not worth taking.
Insect bites
There may be both mosquitoes and sandflys about so having good repellents (DEET based ones) is worthwhile. The biggest problem will be early in the morning and towards the end of the daylight hours. However sitting in the shade while having lunch may be nice and cool but it is also often a place where these insects tend to hover looking for their next meal. Just don't allow that meal to be the blood in your unguarded ankle!
Seeing the Monuments
As mentioned previously Greece is covered with ancient monuments and these attract many thousands of tourists each year. The ruins are often not the most hospitable places for sun-sensitive tourists so taking care against the suns rays is essential - especially while standing carefully listening to the tour guide explain some complicated piece of history while the back of your legs get roasted! The other issue, for those trekking through the ruins, is the distinct possibility of a nasty twisted ankle.
Laser Night shows
Many of the ancient sites have beautiful night shows which depict something of the past splendour and are definitely worth seeing. However it is wise to wear good shoes as stumbling across loose stones is a particular problem at night and also bring a small torch, if possible, to guide your way. Getting separated from your travelling companions, or not being able to find your return bus, can lead to some understandable panic so listen carefully to any instructions and look out for some land marks before you get too far away into the night time crowd.
Animal bites
Some tourists may forget that rabies is a problem in many countries throughout the world and, even though Greece is regarded as rabies-free', there is always a problem if someone should get bitten. The possibility that this animal could have been recently smuggled into the country cannot be out ruled and so many would advise full post exposure treatment should this contact occur. Children may be at particular risk due to their inquisitive nature.
Swimming
Sunburn and swimming go hand in hand but drowning can also occur all too frequently within this region. Strong currents, swimming after meals (or alcohol) and the ever popular romantic midnight swim are all serious risk factors. Also children running around the deep end of the pool may lose their footing and topple in without warning. Unfortunately a very small child sinks instantly with very little sign of the emergency to those close by. Parents need to keep aware of this risk at all times.
The summer working holiday
Many of our students head towards Greece for 2 to 3 months during the summer to work. The attractions are obvious but commonsense and sensible life-style choices are needed throughout their stay to lessen the risk of illness or them returning home with an infection they had not bargained for. Unfortunately many return home with life-long illnesses which have been contracted from a single unprotected sexual contact.
Vaccinations for Greece
As a general rule the usual travel vaccines are not recommended for most short-term travellers to this region. However for the student planning to spend a more prolonged period it would be sensible to consider cover against both Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B and also to check that their Tetanus cover is up-to-date.
Summary
This is still one of the most popular destinations for northern European travellers and, in the vast majority of cases, they will have a fantastic time with only good memories. Unfortunately some less prepared folks will end up with serious sunburn and other illnesses or diseases which perhaps are frequently associated with their own lack of care and protection rather than anything specific to this beautiful country.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Wed, 26 Feb 2020 09:33:48 +0100 (MET)

Athens, Feb 26, 2020 (AFP) - Greece has announced a broad shutdown of public areas and travel restrictions, to be activated in case of a coronavirus outbreak.   The measures, formalised in a decree late on Tuesday, include temporary travel bans to and from countries with a large number of infections.

The decree also permits the requisitioning of beds in hotels and private clinics.   It also foresees the temporary closure of "indoor public gathering areas" such as schools, places of worship, cinemas, theatres, sports halls and businesses.   "We are ready to do whatever is necessary to protect public health," government spokesman Stelios Petsas told reporters.   The country has so far registered no confirmed cases of the virus.   Greece's health ministry has earmarked 13 hospitals nationwide equipped to handle virus cases.

A health ministry spokesman earlier this week noted that owing to the virus' long gestation period, health checks at ports and airports had minor chances of success.   On Monday, the Greek Olympic Committee said it had discussed alternative plans for the Olympic Flame lighting ceremony for the Tokyo 2020 Games in case of a virus outbreak.

The flame for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics is scheduled to be lit on March 12 in ancient Olympia and, following a torch relay on Greek soil, will be handed to the Tokyo organisers at a ceremony on March 19 at the Panathenaic Stadium in Athens.
Date: Tue, 18 Feb 2020 09:07:42 +0100 (MET)

Athens, Feb 18, 2020 (AFP) - Greece was hit with a 24-hour strike Tuesday over a pension reform encouraging people to stay longer in the workforce.   The labour action paralysed public transport in Athens, intercity trains and ferry ship services.   Civil servants are also walking off the job and journalists will stage a three-hour work stoppage against the pension reform.   "This bill is practically the continuation of (austerity) laws introduced in 2010-2019," civil servants' union ADEDY said.

Unions will hold street protests in Athens, Thessaloniki and other major cities later in the day.   The new conservative government says the reform, to be voted by Friday, will make the troubled Greek pension system viable to 2070.   The labour ministry says the overhaul -- the third major revamp in a decade -- will contain pension increases and reduce penalties for pensioners still working.

Successive governments have attempted to reform the pension system, whose previously generous handouts are seen as one of the causes of the decade-long Greek debt crisis.   Chronic overspending and the inaccurate reporting of the budget deficit spooked creditors in 2010, and required three successive bailouts by the European Union and the International Monetary Fund to avert a Greek bankruptcy.   In return for billions of euros in rescue funds, Greece had to adopt unpopular austerity reforms and pension cuts.
6th December, 2019
HSE Health Protection Surveillance Centre

On 27/11/2019, a possible case of diphtheria was reported to the Department of Epidemiological Surveillance and Intervention through the Mandatory Notification System in Greece. It concerned an 8 years old boy of Greek nationality, who was hospitalized in the ICU of General Children's Hospital  where he died.  This child had underlying conditions (severe pulmonary hypertension) and was admitted to ICU  on 22/11/2019 with clinical presentation of laryngitis (without the presence of characteristic pseudo membranes) and pneumonia, immediately intubated, covered with double antibiotic regimen and died due to deterioration of his clinical presentation on 26/11/2019.
 
According to the epidemiological data given , there is no travel history, group living, no connection to another case and the child does not belong to a specific population group. Regarding his immunization status, the child was vaccinated with at least 3 doses against diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis.
 
Laboratory investigation of bronchial exudate isolated Corynebacterium diphtheriae via VITEK. Further laboratory testing was performed by the Public Health England  reference Laboratory for Corynebacteria. On Thursday 5/12/2019, the National Public Health Organization was informed that multiplex PCR testing was positive for C. Diphtheriae and positive for the diphtheria toxin gene. The Elek test was also positive for toxin production. The results of the child's post-mortem exam are pending.

Contact tracing and management is ongoing and has identified most of the close contacts of the patient. The National Public Health Organization provided recommendations on obtaining nasopharyngeal cultures in close contacts to evaluate carriage as well as the necessary preventive measures to protect the child's close contacts as well as the medical staff involved in direct patient care (i.e. awareness for potential compatible with diphtheria symptoms and administration of antibiotic prophylaxis together with booster or complete vaccination series as appropriate) according to the WHO’s Diphtheria Surveillance Standards (September 2018). In addition we have initiated the procedure for the procurement of a limited stockpile of DAT.
Date: Wed, 27 Nov 2019 09:20:47 +0100 (MET)

Athens, Nov 27, 2019 (AFP) - A strong 6.1-magnitude undersea earthquake shook the Greek island of Crete on Wednesday and was felt in other parts of the country, officials said.   "It was a major earthquake, the whole island shook but fortunately so far no damage has been reported," Crete regional governor Stavros Arnaoutakis told state TV ERT.   The Athens observatory said the quake struck at 9:23 am (0723 GMT) and had a depth of over 70 kilometres (44 miles).

The tremor occurred a day after a 6.4-magnitude earthquake in Albania that has left more than 20 dead and hundreds injured.   Shortly after the Albania tremor, a 5.4-magnitude shock hit Bosnia, the European-Mediterranean Seismological Center reported on Tuesday.   Greece lies on major fault lines and is regularly hit by earthquakes but they rarely cause casualties.   In July 2017, a 6.7-magnitude earthquake killed two people on the island of Kos in the Aegean sea, causing significant damage.
Date: Wed, 2 Oct 2019 12:31:30 +0200 (METDST)

Athens, Oct 2, 2019 (AFP) - Greek workers staged a fresh 24-hour strike Wednesday against government plans to deregulate the labour market, paralysing road and rail transport, closing banks and shutting down news outlets.   Buses and trams stayed in their depots, the Athens metro was shut down and ferries serving islands on both sides of Greece stayed in port. The action also hit rail services, including to Athens airport.   Banks were closed Wednesday and Poesy, the journalists' union, said there would be no news bulletins over the 24-hour strike period.

The strike caused long traffic jams in Athens as the GSEE, the largest union representing private-sector workers, organised a rally in the city centre to protest the planned legislation.    It denounced "the suppression of collective conventions" and what it said was an assault on the unions.   This was the second strike in a week against the planned reforms of conservative Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, which he argues will open the way to investment and encourage growth of more than two percent.   A strike last week hit transport, hospitals, schools and the courts.   The unions say the proposed reforms will undermine collective agreements and make it harder to organise strikes.

The proposed law would require a more-than 50 percent turn-out of the workforce in any strike vote for it to be valid.   Union leaders have also denounced a law passed in August which they say makes it easier to sack people in the private sector.   Adedy, the federation of public-sector unions, which organised last week's strike, called on its members to join Wednesday's action.   Mitsotakis came to power in July, replacing the left-wing government of Alexis Tsipras.
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Bahamas

The Bahamas Consular Information Sheet
July 14, 2005

COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
The Bahamas is a developed, English-speaking Caribbean nation composed of hundreds of islands covering a territory approximately the size of California.
To
rism and financial services comprise the two largest sectors of the economy. Independent from the United Kingdom since 1973, The Bahamas is a Commonwealth nation with a centuries-old democratic tradition.
The capital, Nassau, is located on New Providence Island.
Read the Department of State Background Notes on The Bahamas at http://travel.state.gov for additional information.

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:
On December 31, 2005, the U.S. Government will begin to phase in new passport requirements for U.S. citizens traveling in the Western Hemisphere.
By December 31, 2007, all U.S. citizens will be expected to depart and enter the United States on a valid passport or other authorized document establishing identity and U.S. citizenship.
The Department of State strongly encourages travelers to obtain passports well in advance of any planned travel.
Routine passport applications by mail take up to six weeks to be issued.
For further information, go to the State Department's Consular website: http://travel.state.gov/travel/cbpmc/cbpmc_2223.html.

U.S. citizens must present original proof of U.S. citizenship (valid U.S. passport or certified U.S. birth certificate with a government-issued photo ID) and a return ticket. A passport is recommended as it eases processing upon return to the United States.
Voter registration cards, Social Security cards, driver's licenses, affidavits, and other similar documents are not acceptable as proof of U.S. citizenship. U.S. citizens do not need to obtain visas for stays of up to one month. Travelers arriving via private watercraft are charged docking fees.
See our Foreign Entry Requirements brochure for information on entry to The Bahamas and other countries.
U.S. citizens may also contact The Embassy of The Bahamas at 2220 Massachusetts Ave., NW, Washington, DC 20008 (tel: 202-319-2660), its Consulates in Miami and New York, or by email at bahemb@aol.com.

For entry and exit requirements pertaining to dual nationality and the prevention of international child abduction, read our information at http://travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/cis/cis_1469.html.
For Customs Information see http://travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/cis/cis_1468.html.

SAFETY AND SECURITY:
The water sports and scooter rental industries in The Bahamas are not carefully regulated.
Visitors should rent equipment only from reputable operators, and should insist on sufficient training before using the equipment.
Every year, people are killed or injured by the improper use of scooters, jet-skis, and personal watercraft or by the careless or reckless operation of such equipment by others.
You should insist on seeing proof that operators have sufficient medical and liability insurance. Travelers should also invest in low-cost traveler's insurance that includes medical evacuations, as most American insurance companies do not cover this.

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 Travel Warnings and Public Announcements, including the Worldwide Caution Public Announcement, can be found.

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

The Department of State urges American citizens to take responsibility for their own personal security while traveling overseas.
For general information about appropriate measures travelers can take to protect themselves in an overseas environment, see the Department of State's pamphlet A Safe Trip Abroad at http://travel.state.gov/travel/tips/safety/safety_1747.html.

CRIME:
While The Bahamas has a relatively low crime rate, visitors should exercise caution and good judgment. Although most criminal incidents take place in a part of Nassau not usually frequented by tourists (the "over-the-hill" area south of downtown), crime and violence has moved into more upscale tourist and residential areas.
Criminals also target restaurants and nightclubs frequented by tourists.
The most common approach for criminals is to offer victims a ride, either as a "personal favor" or by claiming to be a taxi, and then robbing and/or assaulting the passenger once they are in the car. Visitors should take care to ride only in licensed taxis, identifiable by their yellow license plates.

In the last year the U.S. Embassy has received several reports of sexual assaults, including against teen-age girls. Most assaults have been perpetrated against intoxicated young women, some of whom were reportedly drugged. To minimize the potential for sexual assault, the Embassy recommends that young women stay in groups, consume alcohol in moderation or not at all, ride only in licensed taxis, and not accept rides or drinks from strangers.
Travelers should avoid walking alone after dark or in isolated areas, and avoid placing themselves in situations where they are alone with strangers. Be cautious on deserted areas of beaches at all hours. Hotel guests should always lock their doors and should never leave valuables unattended, especially on beaches.
Visitors should store passport/identity documents, airline tickets, credit cards, and extra cash in hotel safes. Avoid wearing expensive jewelry, particularly Rolex watches, which criminals have specifically targeted. Use only clearly marked taxis with yellow license plates and make a note of the license plate number for your records.

The legal age in the Bahamas for consumption of alcoholic beverages is 18. Parents should be aware, however, that enforcement of the drinking age is weak.
It is easy for teenagers to obtain alcoholic beverages and underage drinking is prevalent.
Many of the arrests, accidents and violent crimes suffered by U.S. citizens in The Bahamas involve alcohol.

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 understand the local criminal justice process and find an attorney if needed.

See our information on Victims of Crime at http://travel.state.gov/travel/tips/emergencies/emergencies_1748.html.

MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:
High quality medical care is generally available, but expensive, in Nassau and Freeport. Medical care is limited outside of Nassau and Freeport. Bahamian doctors and hospitals do not usually accept U.S. medical insurance policies and typically expect immediate cash payment for professional services. It is the patient's responsibility to seek reimbursement later from their insurance companies. Serious health problems requiring hospitalization and/or medical evacuation to the United States can cost thousands of dollars. Persons with serious or life-threatening conditions who wish to return to U.S. medical facilities for treatment normally must be airlifted.
There is a chronic shortage of blood at Princess Margaret Hospital in Nassau, where most emergency surgery is performed.
Travelers with rare blood types should know the names and locations of possible blood donors should the need arise.
The Lyford Cay Hospital has a hyperbaric chamber for treatment of decompression illness.
Ambulance service is available, but may not be able to respond quickly in the event of a major emergency or disaster.

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); fax 1-888-CDC-FAXX (1-888-232-3299), or via the CDC's Internet site at http://www.cdc.gov/travel.
For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization's (WHO) website at http://www.who.int/en.
Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith.

MEDICAL INSURANCE:
The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation.
Please see our information on medical insurance overseas at http://travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/cis/cis_1470.html.

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 The Bahamas is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.

Traffic in The Bahamas moves on the left side of the roadway. Roads in Nassau and Freeport are generally adequate, but traffic congestion in those cities is endemic.
Rural roads can be narrow, winding, and in poor repair.
Flooding frequently occurs on roads in low-lying areas throughout The Bahamas, including Nassau and Freeport.
Drivers should be alert for unmarked construction zones throughout The Bahamas.
Travel by moped or bicycle can be quite hazardous, especially in the heavy traffic conditions prevalent in Nassau and Freeport. Travelers should exercise appropriate caution when renting motorbikes. Accidents involving U.S. tourists on motorbikes have caused severe injuries and fatalities. Those who choose to ride a moped or bicycle should wear helmets and drive defensively.
Pedestrians need to remember that vehicular traffic comes from the right.
Pedestrians have been hit by cars after failing to check properly for oncoming traffic.

Emergency ambulance service is generally available and can be reached by dialing 911. Roadside assistance is also widely available through private towing services, listed in the phone book.

For specific information concerning driver's permits, vehicle inspection, road tax, and mandatory insurance in The Bahamas, please contact The Bahamas Tourist Board in New York at http://bahamas.com, (tel:
1-800-823-3136).

Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information at http://travel.state.gov/travel/tips/safety/safety_1179.html.
Visit the website of the country's national tourist office and national authority responsible for road safety.

AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT:
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of The Bahamas as being in compliance with ICAO international aviation safety standards for oversight of The Bahamas' air carrier operations.
For more information, travelers may visit the FAA's Internet web site at http://www.faa.gov/avr/iasa/index.cfm.

SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:
CUSTOMS:
The Bahamas customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation into or exportation from The Bahamas of firearms. It is advisable to contact the Embassy of The Commonwealth of The Bahamas in Washington or one of the Bahamian consulates in the U.S. for specific information regarding customs requirements. Tourists who arrive by private boat are required to declare firearms to Bahamian Customs and leave firearms on the boat while in The Bahamas. Please see our information on customs regulations at http://travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/cis/cis_1468.html.

BOATING/FISHING:
Boaters should be aware that long-line fishing in Bahamian waters is illegal. All long-line fishing gear is required to be stowed below deck while transiting through Bahamian waters. Fishermen should note that stiff penalties are imposed for catching crawfish (lobster) or other marine life out of season or in protected areas.

TIME-SHARES:
U.S. citizens should exercise caution when considering time-share investments and be aware of the aggressive tactics used by some time-share sales representatives. Bahamian law allows time-share purchasers five days to cancel the contract for full reimbursement. Disputes that arise after that period can be very time-consuming and expensive to resolve through the local legal system.
HURRICANES:
The Bahamas, like all countries in the Caribbean basin, is vulnerable to hurricanes. Hurricane season officially runs from June 1 to November 30, although hurricanes have been known to occur outside that time period. Visitors to The Bahamas during hurricane season are advised to monitor weather reports in order to be prepared for any potential threats. General information about disaster preparedness is available via the Internet from the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) at http://www.fema.gov.

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 The Bahamas' laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in The Bahamas are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines.
Engaging in illicit sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime, prosecutable in the United States.
For more information visit http://travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/cis/cis_1467.html.

CHILDREN'S ISSUES:
For information on international adoption of children and international parental child abduction, see the Office of Children's Issues website at http://www.travel.state.gov/family/family_1732.html.

REGISTRATION / EMBASSY LOCATION:
Americans living or traveling in The Bahamas are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy through the State Department's travel registration website, https://travelregistration.state.gov, and to obtain updated information on travel and security within The Bahamas.
Americans without Internet access may register directly with the U.S. Embassy.
By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy to contact them in case of emergency.
The U.S. Embassy is located next to McDonald's restaurant on Queen Street in downtown Nassau; telephone (242) 322-1181, after hours: (242) 328-2206.
Consular Section hours are 1:00 p.m. - 4:00 p.m. Monday-Thursday and 10:00-12:00 on Fridays. The Embassy is closed on local and U.S. holidays.
You may wish to visit the Embassy's website at http://bahamas.usembassy.gov/ or contact the Consular Section by e-mail at acsn@state.gov .

The U.S. Embassy is also responsible for consular services in the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCIS), a United Kingdom (British) overseas territory.
U.S. citizens may obtain updated information on travel and security in TCIS from the U.S. Embassy in Nassau or the Consular Information Sheet for the Turks and Caicos.
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This replaces the Consular Information Sheet dated October 15, 2004, to update Sections on Country Description, Entry/Exit Requirements, Safety and Security, Crime, Traffic Safety and Road Conditions, Special Circumstances, and Registration/Embassy Location; to include a Section on Information For Victims of Crime; and to combine and update the Sections on Medical Facilities and Health Information.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Mon, 2 Sep 2019 11:42:27 +0200 (METDST)

Geneva, Sept 2, 2019 (AFP) - Hurricane Dorian has caused "extensive damage" across the Bahamas, the Red Cross said Monday, warning that as many as 13,000 houses may have been severely damaged or destroyed.   "We don't yet have a complete picture of what has happened," Sune Bulow, head of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies' Emergency Operation Centre in Geneva, said in a statement.   "But it is clear that Hurricane Dorian has had a catastrophic impact," he said, adding that "we anticipate extensive shelter needs, alongside the need for short-term economic support, as well as for clean water and health assistance."

Hurricane Dorian battered the Bahamas with ferocious wind and rain on Sunday, the monstrous Category 5 storm wrecking towns and homes as it churned on an uncertain path toward the US coast where hundreds of thousands were ordered to evacuate.   There was no immediate word on casualties in the low-lying islands.   But IFRC said that up to 13,000 houses may have been severely impacted.

The organisation also warned that extensive flooding on the island of Abaco was believed to have contaminated wells with saltwater.   IFRC said it had released 250,000 Swiss francs ($252,000, 230,000 euros) from its Disaster Relief Emergency Fund to bolster the initial response to the crisis, and to provide some 500 families with emergency shelter assistance.   Packing sustained winds of 185 miles per hour (295 kilometre per hour), Dorian crashed onshore in the Abacos Islands, in the northwest of the Bahamas, as the strongest storm ever to hit the Caribbean chain.

After days of nerve-wracking uncertainty surrounding the storm's path, the southeastern US states of Florida, Georgia and South Carolina finally ordered coastal residents to evacuate in a mass exodus set to affect hundreds of thousands of people.    The American Red Cross estimated that some 19 million people live in areas that could be impacted by the storm, with as many as 50,000 people in Florida, Georgia and South Carolina potentially in need of emergency shelter, depending on the impact.   IFRC said that hundreds of Red Cross volunteers, emergency response vehicles and more than 30 truck loads of relief supplies were being mobilised to help people living in the path of the hurricane.
Date: Mon, 2 Sep 2019 00:55:48 +0200 (METDST)
By Leila MACOR

Riviera Beach, United States, Sept 1, 2019 (AFP) - Hurricane Dorian blasted the northern Bahamas as a monster Category 5 storm on Sunday, pummeling the low-lying island chain with torrential rains and winds of a violence unprecedented in its history.   Packing winds of 185 miles per hour (295 kilometers per hour), Dorian made landfall twice in the Bahamas' Abaco Islands, and was tied for the second most powerful hurricane ever in the Atlantic basin, the National Weather Service said.

Footage posted on social media showed major destruction. There was no immediate word on casualties.   Parts of the Abaco Islands were reported to be under water as forecasters warned it was facing a towering 18 to 23 foot storm surge. Winds were gusting over 220 mph, the National Hurricane Center in Miami said.   Video posted on the website of the Bahamian newspaper Tribune 242 showed water up to the roofs of wooden houses in what ppeared to be a coastal town. Capsized boats floated in muddy brown water dotted with wooden boards, tree branches and other debris.

In other social media footage of what appears to be an inland area, cars were smashed or turned over, telephone poles and trees were snapped like twigs and debris filled the yards of severely damaged homes. AFP could not immediately confirm the authenticity of any of this footage.   Bahamas Prime Minister Hubert Minnis broke down in tears as he addressed a news conference, calling it "probably the most sad and worst day of my life," the Nassau Guardian reported.   "We're facing a hurricane... one that we've never seen in the history of the Bahamas," he said.

Footage shot in Cooper's Town, Abaco and obtained by AFP showed waves crashing violently onshore, sending up huge clouds of spray along the coastline.   Local radio reported that people were calling for help after winds blew the roof off the Island Breezes Hotel in Marsh Harbour, a commercial hub in the Abacos.   "Things are really starting to rock and roll," a post on the Facebook page of the Hope Town Bulletin in Abacos said at 10:00 am local time.    As of 2200 GMT, the storm was 75 miles (120 kilometers) east of Freeport on the island of Grand Bahama and moving slowly west.   In Grand Bahama, thousands have evacuated to get out of Dorian's predicted path.   "It feels like we are standing in a line waiting for a beating," Yasmin Rigby, a resident of Freeport, the island's main city, told AFP.

- Strongest storm to hit Bahamas -
The NHC said Dorian had become "the strongest hurricane in modern records for the northwestern Bahamas."   Describing "catastrophic" conditions in the Abacos Islands, it said the storm was "heading with all its fury towards Grand Bahama," where it was expected Sunday night into Monday.  NHC director Ken Graham on Facebook Live said the Bahamas would be under major hurricane conditions for a punishing 30 hours or more.   "That's major hurricane winds, that's storm surge of 10 and even 20 feet in some of those areas," he said. "That's also torrential rainfall of 15 to 20 inches, isolated 30 inches."

In Washington, US President Donald Trump met with his emergency management chiefs and declared "this looks monstrous."   "We expect that much of the eastern seaboard will be ultimately impacted and some of it very, very severely," he said.   Tropical storm warnings were in effect for parts of the Florida coast, and residents up and down the Atlantic coast braced for a brush with danger.   Florida issued its first evacuation orders in parts of Palm Beach, home of Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort, and Martin Counties.

- 'Very great danger' -
Kevin McAleenan, acting homeland security secretary, said hurricane force winds could hit Florida, followed by a prolonged rain event combined with a storm surge.   "That's going to be very difficult as the storm starts to move northward, mostly like, up the coast of Florida and toward Georgia and South Carolina," he said on ABC's "This Week."   While Miami appeared likely to be largely spared, 30-year-old David Duque, picking up sandbags there on Saturday, noted that "everything could change... I know it could be a scare, but better prepare instead of doing nothing."   The Florida National Guard said roughly 2,000 service members had been mobilized, with another 2,000 poised to join them.

- 'Absolute monster' -
Trump has declared a federal state of emergency in Florida, authorizing US assistance to supplement state and local efforts.   Following a similar state order in Florida, South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster declared a state of emergency Saturday, saying, "Given the strength and unpredictability of the storm, we must prepare for every possible scenario."   Neighboring North Carolina also declared a state of emergency, and Georgia announced a state of emergency for 12 counties.   Orlando International Airport was to protectively halt commercial flights at 2:00 am (0600 GMT) Monday, and Florida's NASA Kennedy Space Center said it was moving an enormous mobile rocket launcher inside to protect it.
Date: Wed 25 Jul 2018
Source: Eyewitness News [edited]

Cases of reported conch poisoning are on the rise in the capital, according to Minister of Health Dr. Duane Sands. The health minister confirmed Tue 24 Jul 2018 that over 3 dozen persons have sought medical attention for conch poisoning since the Ministry of Health announced the new outbreak in New Providence nearly a month ago.

Luckily, there have been no reports of conch poisoning in the Family Islands. Dr. Sands confirmed that the outbreak has been isolated to New Providence. "We can now confirm 25 clinical cases with laboratory testing," he said. "There are an additional 15 clinical cases that meet the definition but are still awaiting finalization of their laboratory data, so there may be as many as 40 clinical cases that might have been presented to the hospital. There are some people who get conch poisoning but it's not severe enough for them to come to the hospital for treatment."

The health minister continued to issue warning to patrons and vendors. "I continue to say that this is a preventable problem, so to the vendors, you have to wash the conch in fresh water. To the patrons, it is a good idea to insist that [the conch] is washed in fresh water."

Conch poisoning occurs when raw conch meat is not thoroughly washed in fresh water. Bacteria that resides on the skin of conch is what leads to the treacherous poisoning. The most recent major outbreak of conch poisoning in the Bahamas dates back to the 1990s.  [Byline: Theo Sealy]
=====================
[The aetiology is _V. parahaemolyticus_, a bacterium in the same family as those that cause cholera. It lives in brackish saltwater and causes gastrointestinal illness in humans. Symptoms include watery diarrhoea, abdominal cramping, nausea, vomiting, and fever and chills. Usually these symptoms begin within 24 hours of exposure. Illness is usually self-limited and lasts approximately 3 days. Severe disease is rare and occurs more commonly in persons with weakened immune systems.

Infections with this organism, which can be normal microflora in seawater, have been associated with the consumption of raw, improperly cooked, or cooked and recontaminated fish and shellfish. A correlation exists between the probability of infection and warmer months of the year. Improper refrigeration of seafood contaminated with this organism will allow its proliferation, which increases the possibility of infection. ProMED-mail covered a large 2005 outbreak in Chile. It was impressive in its size (more than 10 000 cases), continued to spread despite early recognition, and involved clams and mussels rather than the classical oyster vehicle. - ProMED Mod.LL]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map:
New Providence Island, New Providence, Bahamas:
Date: 5 Jul 2018
Source: The Nassau Guardian [edited]

The Ministry of Health warned yesterday of a recent outbreak of conch poisoning. Health authorities yesterday [4 Jul 2018] confirmed 4 cases of conch poisoning stemming from Potter's Cay in the past 72 hours but said the outbreak of _Vibrio parahaemolyticus_ could easily be prevented by vendors washing their conch supplies in fresh water.

_V. parahaemolyticus_ is a bacterium found in brackish saltwater, which, when ingested, causes symptoms including abdominal cramps, vomiting, headache, diarrhea and fever. "This is a preventable illness that requires basic hygiene as it relates to conch preparation," said Minister of Health Dr. Duane Sands during a press conference at the Ministry of Health of Meeting Street. He continued, "I think there is no reason why we can't say we will ensure that every single vendor is reminded of the requirement to wash the conch with copious amounts of fresh, clean water. To those in the purchasing public, if your vendor does not have access to fresh tap water or distilled water, and is only washing the conch in seawater, until we get the all clear, don't buy from that vendor."

The 4 patients with confirmed cases of vibriosis are Bahamians. There were at least 6 more people exhibiting symptoms awaiting confirmation of conch poisoning.

Sands assured the public that health officials, who received reports of the cases yesterday morning [4 Jul 2018], have mobilized in conjunction with the Ministry of the Environment to take the necessary steps to protect the health of those affected and, through targeted interventions, prevent further cases. The minister also advised all conch vendors will be required to take a food-handling course and maintain fresh potable water at their stalls.

As it relates to the unconfirmed cases, Sands said those patients, who were admitted to the Emergency Room at Doctors Hospital and Princess Margaret Hospital in the past 24 hours with gastroenteritis, were awaiting lab results. "Bear in mind that gastroenteritis can occur for a number of reasons," he said, "And so, to ascribe a case of gastroenteritis to vibrio would require confirmatory testing."

Sands said one of the priorities of the ministry is to have the conversation with the public early and spread awareness. "The 2nd thing we would like to do and we have started to do is to ensure the environmental health teams speak directly with the vendors, but throughout New Providence [Bahamas] and anywhere else we may suspect a possibility of exposure," the minister said. "We learned back in the 1990s this is easily controlled if people practice very simple techniques of washing conch with fresh water, which minimizes, if not eliminates, the possibility of transmission. And so, we just redouble those efforts combined with public education."

Additionally, Sands advised conch purchasers to ask vendors and restaurants whether the conch has been washed in fresh water before purchasing and eating it. "If the answer is affirmative, then you ought to feel reasonably comfortable you can eat it," he said. "If the answer is no, then I wouldn't suggest you eat or purchase it." No vendor has been closed down as a result of the cases presented. Sands said that would be premature, noting that conch poisoning from _V. parahaemolyticus_ can be easily prevented.

Thousands of visitors frequent Potter's Cay and other venues to sample conch in the variety of ways it is prepared, such as conch salad, in which the conch is consumed raw with vegetables, pepper and lime. According to health officials, cooking the conch removes the chance of it being contaminated.

There were 223 cases of vibriosis in New Providence [Bahamas] in 2003. In 1991 and 1999, there were also outbreaks of conch poisoning with a combined 1100 cases, Sands said.

Regarding testing, Sands was asked whether the ministry has periodically tested random conch batches from vendors. "This is not an issue of the meat itself," he responded. "Vibrio is a bacteri[um] ordinarily living in sea water and is a part of the surface of the conch. The conch meat itself is not infected with _V. parahaemolyticus_, so you can wash it off. Testing the conch meat itself is not the issue."

Sands continued, "We have learned historically you can eliminate this problem by washing the conch in fresh water. If you are washing the conch with _Vibrio_-containing water, you are not going to solve the problem, even though the conch may appear clean on the surface." Sands said while this is a breaking matter and the ministry has a strategic plan, it has not gotten to the stage of testing batches of conch and the storage water, but "that does not mean that we won't get there."

Symptoms of conch poisoning from _V. parahaemolyticus_ can persist for 72 hours, and some patients may require hospitalization for treatment of dehydration. Those experiencing symptoms are asked to contact the ministry's surveillance unit at +1-242-502-4790 between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. EDT.  [Byline: Torrell Glinton]
====================
[There is now confirmation the agent involved in the conch poisoning situation is the bacterium _Vibrio parahaemolyticus_. I apologize for the error regarding identification of the agent. Laboratory confirmation is always appreciated. [ProMED would like to thank Mr. Ryan Burke for bringing the laboratory confirmation to our attenttion. - ProMED Mod.JH]

_V. parahaemolyticus_ is a bacterium in the same family as those that cause cholera. It lives in brackish saltwater and causes gastrointestinal illness in humans. Symptoms include watery diarrhea, abdominal cramping, nausea, vomiting, and fever and chills. Usually these symptoms begin within 24 hours of exposure. Illness is usually self-limited and lasts approximately 3 days. Severe disease is rare and occurs more commonly in persons with weakened immune systems <http://www.health.state.mn.us/divs/idepc/diseases/vibrio/basics.html>.

Additional information regarding _V. parahaemolyticus_ may be found on the CDC fact sheet <https://www.cdc.gov/vibrio/faq.html> - ProMED Mod.TG]

[Infections with this organism, which can be normal microflora in seawater, have been associated with the consumption of raw, improperly cooked, or cooked and recontaminated fish and shellfish. A correlation exists between the probability of infection and warmer months of the year. Improper refrigeration of seafood contaminated with this organism will allow its proliferation, which increases the possibility of infection. ProMED-mail covered a large 2005 outbreak in Chile. It was impressive in its size (more than 10 000 cases), continued spread despite early recognition, and the involvement of clams and mussels rather than the classical oyster vehicle. - ProMED Mod.LL]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map: <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/11584>]
Date: Thu 5 Jul 2018
Source: EW News [edited]

With 4 confirmed cases of conch poisoning in New Providence, [Bahamas], the Ministry of Health cautioned Bahamians against consuming the delicacy in the wake of this latest outbreak. Health Minister Dr. Duane Sands confirmed the 4 Bahamians suffering from the illness. The earliest case, he said, dates back to [Sat 30 Jun 2018].

Dr. Sands revealed that an additional 6 persons have been hospitalized with symptoms of conch poisoning. He said even though the number of cases is considered minimal, the ministry's warning is a proactive measure to prevent future cases. The ministry, he said, is expected to begin dialogue with local vendors to ensure they are utilizing proper cleaning methods in the preparation of conch dishes.

"Conch should be washed with fresh water, and not salt water, to ensure that all bacteria is removed from the conch meat," suggested Dr. Sands. He urged Bahamians to ask local vendors about the processes they employ during the preparation of conch dishes. "If they do not wash the conch in fresh water during the process of preparing it, then do not purchase the conch," he warned.

The early onset of conch poisoning is said to be accompanied by watery diarrhoea and extreme abdominal cramps. Some cases, the health minister said, are severe and can lead to dehydration and subsequent hospitalization.

The last major outbreak of conch poisoning dates back to the 1990s, according to Dr. Sands.  [Byline: Theo Sealy]
=========================
[The group of conchs that are sometimes referred to as "true conchs" are marine gastropod molluscs in the family Strombidae, specifically in the genus _Strombus_ and other closely related genera. For example, see _Lobatus gigas_, the queen conch, and _Laevistrombus canarium_, the dog conch (<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conch>).

In ciguatera poisoning, the poisonous ingredient is ciguatoxin. This is a poison made in small amounts by certain algae and algae-like organisms called dinoflagellates. Environmental conditions are right for other organisms, mollusks, or fish to ingest the algae and dinoflagellates. Smaller organisms may be ingested by larger organisms, thus transferring the toxic agent to the larger animal.

Ciguatera is a foodborne illness (food poisoning) caused by eating fish that is contaminated by ciguatera toxin. Ciguatera toxin, a heat-stable, lipid-soluble compound produced by dinoflagellates and concentrated in fish organs, can cause nausea, pain, and cardiac and neurological symptoms in humans when ingested.

Ciguatera toxin is harmless to fish but poisonous to humans. The toxin is odorless and tasteless, and cooking does not destroy the toxin. The toxin activates voltage-dependent sodium channels, causing symptoms in gastrointestinal, cardiac, and nerve tissues of humans and other mammals.

Symptoms in people generally begin 6-8 hr after eating the contaminated fish but can occur as early as 2 or as late as 24 hr after ingestion. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, muscle pain, numbness, tingling, abdominal pain, dizziness, and vertigo. There is no specific antitoxin available for ciguatera toxin.

Some investigators have suggested vomiting should be induced if the victim is awake and alert and has eaten ciguatera toxin-containing fish within the last 3-4 hr. Ipecac, a substance that causes vomiting, was suggested as the medication to use, but many investigators now think ipecac causes too much dehydration. Currently, some physicians recommend gastrointestinal decontamination with activated charcoal. Activated charcoal may absorb the toxin if administered 3-4 hr after ingestion.

Victims should maintain hydration. Intravenous fluids may be necessary for uncontrollable nausea and vomiting. Although there is no specific antidote available, supportive therapy and time usually is curative.

Portions of this comment were extracted from

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map:
New Providence Island, New Providence, Bahamas:
More ...

World Travel News Headlines

Date: Sun 23 Feb 2020
Source: Q Costa Rica News [edited]
<https://qcostarica.com/costa-rica-is-the-first-country-in-america-where-very-resistant-antibiotic-bacteria-for-meningitis-is-isolated/>

A 50-year-old man and a senior became the 1st 2 people in Costa Rica -- and in the Americas -- found to be infected with the bacteria most resistant to antibiotics used in the treatment of meningitis and meningococcal septicaemia that cause serious brain damage and even death. The Centro Nacional de Referencia en Bacteriolog­a (CNRB) -- National Center of Reference in Bacteriology, of the Instituto Costarricense de Investigacian y Enseaanza en Nutricin y Salud (Inciensa) -- Costa Rican Institute for Research and Education in Nutrition and Health (Incense), issued an alert, in early February [2020], after documenting the circulation of _Neisseria meningitidis_ (_N. meningitidis_) serogroup Y, resistant to penicillin and not sensitive to cefotaxime [and ceftriaxone?], two 3rd generation antibiotics, reports La Nation.
====================
[Invasive meningococcal disease (meningococcaemia and meningitis) is a life-threatening infection caused by _Neisseria meningitidis_ that evolves rapidly, often even when appropriate treatment has been started promptly. Because antimicrobial treatment for invasive meningococcal disease with a 3rd-generation cephalosporin (cefotaxime and ceftriaxone) is the widely accepted standard recommendation (<https://academic.oup.com/cid/article/39/9/1267/402080>), resistance of _N. meningitidis_ to cefotaxime and ceftriaxone is very worrisome.

The news report above says that 2 patients in Costa Rica were infected with _N. meningitidis_ serogroup Y resistant to penicillin and 2 3rd generation cephalosporins, one of which was cefotaxime. The other 3rd generation cephalosporin is not specified, but is perhaps ceftriaxone, the other 3rd generation cephalosporin usually used to treat this disease. We are also not told in the news report above if the 2 patients were epidemiologically linked, nor are we told the extent (that is, MICs [minimum inhibitory concentration] of penicillin or cefotaxime), the mechanisms of resistance, or resistance to any of the other antimicrobial drugs used to prevent or treat this disease.

More information would be appreciated from knowledgeable sources. Reduced susceptibility of _N. meningitidis_ to penicillin has been reported in the past in many countries, including the US (<https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1169190/>), usually due to decreased affinity of target penicillin-binding proteins for penicillin and less commonly to beta-lactamase production (<https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC89938/>, <https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/3134848-relative-penicillin-g-resistance-in-neisseria-meningitidis-and-reduced-affinity-of-penicillin-binding-protein-3/>, and <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC162989/pdf/392577.pdf>).

Meningococcal isolates with reduced susceptibility to penicillin G usually were reported susceptible to 3rd-generation cephalosporins (cefotaxime and ceftriaxone). For example, despite the decrease in susceptibility to penicillin G in 33% of 2888 isolates of _N. meningitidis_, all isolates were susceptible to ceftriaxone in Brazil from 2009 to 2016 (<https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29717974-surveillance-of-antimicrobial-resistance-in-neisseria-meningitidis-strains-isolated-from-invasive-cases-in-brazil-from-2009-to-2016/>). Similar data have been reported for the US (<https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1169190/>).

However, one previous study reported 8 clinical isolates _N. meningitidis_ in Delhi, India in 2006 that were resistant to ceftriaxone and cefotaxime, with most also resistant to penicillin, ciprofloxacin, and chloramphenicol (<https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1698303/>). All of the isolates were identified as serogroup A _N. meningitidis_, but no further details concerning these isolates were given in this report (<https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1865813/>).

Resistance to other antimicrobial agents that may be used for therapy of meningococcal infections or for prophylaxis of case contacts has been reported in several countries. This includes resistance to chloramphenicol, fluoroquinolones, and rifampin. Horizontal exchange of genes that encode resistance for penicillin, rifampin, and the fluoroquinolones from other _Neisseria_ species that share a common ecological niche with _N. meningitidis_ in the nasopharynx has been proposed as one possible mechanism of acquisition of meningococcal antibiotic resistance (<http://jac.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/content/full/49/3/545>). - ProMED Mod.ML]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of Costa Rica: <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/17>]
Date: Tue 25 Feb 2020
From: Anne Laudisoit, PhD [edited]
<laudisoit@ecohealthalliance.org>

A suspect plague outbreak cluster has been noted in the the Godjoka health area as of 19 Feb 2020. The chief medical officer of the Rethy Health zone, the head nurse and the laboratory team from the Rethy General reference hospital investigated the outbreak site. The Godjoka village is located in the Linga health zone, Djugu territory, Ituri province, in the Congo DR (N 02.01'47.9'' and E030.44'56.6'', 1940m) in the plague endemic area.
 
There have been 6 suspected cases of plague, including 5 deaths and 1 recovering patient. The index case is a young boy who died on 19 Feb 2020. His mother, the neighbour and her child all died on 21 Feb 2020 and were buried the night of 24 Feb 2020, under pressure from the villagers. Finally the traditional healer ["tradipraticien"] who took care of the mother (who was the 2nd case) died in turn on 25 Feb 2020, and samples were taken that same day. The rapid diagnostic test was positive for plague.  Because of their rapidly fatal course, pneumonic plague is suspected for one or more of the 5 fatal cases. 

The only survivor has been under treatment at the Godjoka Health center since 22 Feb; he is the 20 year-old brother of the index case. The test on the sputum of this patient was negative.
-------------------------------------
Francoise Ngave Nyisi, Rethy General Reference Hospital, DR Congo
Mandro Michel, Provincial Division of Health, Bunia, DR Congo
Adroba Pascal, Provincial Division of Health, Bunia, DR Congo
Laudisoit Anne, Ecohealth Alliance, New York, USA
=====================
[ProMED thanks Dr Laudisoit and her hardworking Congolese colleagues for this important report.  Thus far the diagnosis of plague rests on the single positive diagnostic test obtained from the traditional healer, as it appears that the first 4 fatal cases were buried before diagnostic tests could be obtained. Following this logic, It is possible that the sole survivor thus far has the bubonic form of the disease, and thus a negative sputum result.  We seek and hope to obtain further information on all of these cases, including age, nature and duration of symptoms, presence or absence of buboes, etc.

This putative plague cluster is in a known historic plague-endemic region, where there were 31 cases and 8 deaths between Jan - Oct 2019, as previously reported by ProMED (Plague - Congo DR (02): (IT) fatal http://promedmail.org/post/20191016.6731137).  The Ituri district, of course, has also been affected by the still smouldering North Kivu-Ituri Ebola outbreak that began in July 2018.  This district has also been, and continues to be, a region of great civil unrest, with multiple armed insurgency groups operating near and across the Ugandan border.

The following background information on plague by Mod.LL is copied from our most recent ProMED post on plague [see below under See Also]:

"The bacterium that causes plague is _Yersinia pestis_. Most cases of plague are due to bubonic plague following the bite of an infected rodent flea causing a swollen and very tender lymph gland. The swollen gland is called a "bubo." Bubonic plague should be suspected when a person develops a swollen gland, fever, chills, headache, and extreme exhaustion, and has a history of possible exposure to infected rodents, rabbits, or fleas. A person usually becomes ill with bubonic plague 2-6 days after being bitten. At this point in the illness, there is no risk of person-to-person spread, so if this was indeed a case of bubonic plague, no isolation or quarantine is necessary.

When bubonic plague is left untreated, plague bacteria invade the bloodstream. As the plague bacteria multiply in the bloodstream, they spread rapidly throughout the body and cause a severe and often fatal condition. Infection of the lungs with the plague bacterium causes the pneumonic form of plague, a severe respiratory illness. The infected person may experience high fever, chills, cough, and breathing difficulty and may expel bloody sputum. If plague patients are not given specific antimicrobial therapy, the disease can progress rapidly to death. At this stage, as appears to have happened in this case, person-to-person spread can occur, causing other cases of "primary" plague pneumonia. - ProMED Mod.LL]

[A ProMED/HealthMap of DR Congo is available at: DR Congo:
Date: Thu, 27 Feb 2020 09:14:05 +0100 (MET)
By Anuj Chopra and Haitham El-Tabei

Riyadh, Feb 27, 2020 (AFP) - Saudi Arabia on Thursday suspended visas for visits to Islam's holiest sites for the "umrah" pilgrimage, an unprecedented move triggered by coronavirus fears that raises questions over the annual hajj.   The kingdom, which hosts millions of pilgrims every year in the cities of Mecca and Medina, also suspended visas for tourists from countries with reported infections as fears of a pandemic deepen.

Saudi Arabia, which so far has reported no cases of the virus but has expressed alarm over its spread in neighbouring countries, said the suspensions were temporary. It provided no timeframe for when they will be lifted.   "The kingdom's government has decided to take the following precautions: suspending entry to the kingdom for the purpose of umrah and visit to the Prophet's mosque temporarily," the foreign ministry said in a statement.   "Suspending entry into the kingdom with tourist visas for those coming from countries, in which the spread of the new coronavirus (COVID-19) is a danger."

The move comes as Gulf countries implement a raft of measures, including flight suspensions and school closures, to curb the spread of the disease from people returning from pilgrimages to Iran.  Even as the number of fresh coronavirus cases declines at the epicentre of the disease in China, there has been a sudden increase across the Middle East.

Since its outbreak, the United Arab Emirates has reported 13 coronavirus cases, Kuwait has recorded 43, Bahrain has 33 and Oman is at four cases.   Iran has emerged as a major hotspot in the region, with 19 fatalities from 139 infections -- the highest death toll outside China, where COVID-19 originated.   While no cases have been reported in Saudi Arabia, one citizen is reported to be infected in Kuwait along with four Saudi women in Bahrain -- all of whom had returned from Iran.

- 'Unprecedented' move -
The umrah, which refers to the Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca that can be undertaken at any time of year, attracts millions of devout Muslims from all over the globe each year.    There was no clarity over how the move would affect the annual hajj pilgrimage due to start in late July.   Some 2.5 million faithful travelled to Saudi Arabia from across the world to take part in last year's hajj -- one of the five pillars of Islam.

The event is a key rite of passage for Muslims and a massive logistical challenge for Saudi authorities, with colossal crowds cramming into relatively small holy sites.   "This move by Saudi Arabia is unprecedented," Ghanem Nuseibeh, founder of London-based risk consultancy Cornerstone Global Associates, told AFP.   "The concern for Saudi authorities would be Ramadan, which starts at the end of April, and hajj afterwards, should the coronavirus become a pandemic."

The holy fasting month of Ramadan is considered a favourable period by Muslim pilgrims to perform the Umrah.   Saudi Arabia's custodianship of Mecca and Medina -- Islam's two holiest sites -- is seen as the kingdom's most powerful source of political legitimacy.     But a series of deadly disasters over the years has prompted criticism of the Sunni kingdom's management of the pilgrimage.

In September 2015, a stampede killed up to 2,300 worshippers -- including hundreds of Iranians -- in the worst disaster ever to strike the pilgrimage.   The pilgrimage forms a crucial source of revenue for the government, which hopes to welcome 30 million pilgrims annually to the kingdom by 2030.   De facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's Vision 2030 reform plan seeks to shift the economy of Saudi Arabia -- the world's top crude exporter -- away from oil dependency towards other sources of revenue, including religious tourism.
Date: Thu, 27 Feb 2020 05:04:04 +0100 (MET)

Kuala Lumpur, Feb 27, 2020 (AFP) - Badminton's German Open will not go ahead next week and the Polish Open has been postponed, officials said as two more Olympic qualifying events fell victim to the coronavirus.   It hasn't yet been decided whether the German Open, originally scheduled for March 3-8, will be postponed or cancelled entirely, the Badminton World Federation said late Wednesday.   New dates are being sought for the Polish Open, which was meant to take place on March 26-29, but it will not now fall in the qualifying period for the Tokyo Olympics.

Both events were in the same month as the All England Open, one of the biggest events in the badminton calendar, although that tournament is currently still set to go ahead.   "The BWF is continuing to monitor all official updates on COVID-19 with no change to the intention to stage other HSBC BWF World Tour or BWF-sanctioned tournaments," said a statement.   This week the Vietnam International Challenge, which also carried rankings points for the Olympics, was shifted from late March to early June.

The loss of qualifying tournaments will pose a problem for many players including two-time Olympic champion Lin Dan, who needs a rapid rise up the rankings to win a place on the Chinese team.   Many of China's players are currently in Britain and have been cleared to play during what is a "critical period" of Olympic qualifying, the Chinese Badminton Association said last weekend.   China have been the dominant force in badminton at recent Olympics, sweeping all five titles at London 2012 and winning the men's singles and doubles gold medals four years ago in Rio.
Date: Thu, 27 Feb 2020 09:58:42 +0100 (MET)

Tallinn, Feb 27, 2020 (AFP) - Estonia reported its first coronavirus case on Thursday, a day after the man returned to the Baltic nation of just 1.3 million people from his homeland Iran.    "The person, a permanent resident of Estonia who is not a citizen, arrived in Estonia on Wednesday evening," Social Affairs Minister Tanel Kiik told public broadcaster ERR.   He said the Iranian citizen is currently hospitalised.

Local media said the man arrived in Tallinn by bus from the Latvian capital Riga.   "For now, there are no plans of putting cities in quarantine following this one case," Kiik said.    "The patient is isolated, there is no risk of the disease spreading, now we have to identify all the people the patient was in contact with."   Iran has announced a total of 19 deaths and more than 130 infections, including the country's deputy health minister.   Iran's coronavirus death toll is the highest after that of China, where more than 2,700 people have died from the disease.
Date: Wed, 26 Feb 2020 19:27:33 +0100 (MET)

Vynnyky, Ukraine, Feb 26, 2020 (AFP) - Ukrainian authorities began the task of destroying 37,000 bottles of illicit adulterated vodka on Wednesday, a national "record" in a country where consumption of illegal alcohol regularly poisons and even kills.    Minister of Justice Denys Malyuska launched the operation in the city of Vynnyky in the central Lviv region where the bottles, holding 14 tonnes of alcohol, have been stored since their seizure in 2014.   "It is difficult to say what is in there but consumption is strictly not recommended," said the minister.    "This adulterated alcohol poses a huge threat to people's health and their lives."    In front of the media, the contents of several bottles were poured into plastic tanks or blue dye was added, to rule out any illegal re-sale of the beverage.

The procedure should last about a week, after which the liquid will be poured into the sewers at a secret location, according to the minister.   "This is the first time this procedure has been used so that everyone can see that the alcohol that has been seized is really destroyed," said Maliouska.   The minister said that in the past there had been "complaints" from the business community that because of corruption within the police, the illicit alcohol had often turned up in shops after being seized.   Cases of poisoning from adulterated drinks are a regular occurence in Ukraine, where the consumption of alcohol, especially spirits, remains high. And they are often fatal.

In 2016, 73 people died from a total of 150 people who were poisoned by adulterated alcohol.    The following year, six poisoning cases killed three people and, according to Ukrainian media, ten poisonings recorded by the authorities in 2018 led to nine deaths.   The tax department of the Lviv region told AFP on Wednesday that the most adulterated alcohol was vodka, which is then sold in shops in small towns or cafes located along the roads.
Date: Thu, 27 Feb 2020 07:21:09 +0100 (MET)

Copenhagen, Feb 27, 2020 (AFP) - Denmark reported its first coronavirus case Thursday, a man who had returned from a skiing holiday in northern Italy which has become a hotspot for the disease.   "The man who came back from a skiing trip with his wife and son on February 24 has been suffering since then from a cough and a temperature," Denmark's public health agency said in a statement.   "The man tested positive, but the results of his wife and son are negative," it said.   The man is relatively well and has returned to his home, where he remains in isolation with his family, it added.   According to public TV station TV2, the man is one of its employees.   Italy has reported 400 coronavirus cases, mostly in the north, and 12 deaths.
Date: Wed, 26 Feb 2020 23:18:10 +0100 (MET)

Bucharest, Feb 26, 2020 (AFP) - Romania reported its first confirmed case of the novel coronavirus on Wednesday -- a man who was in contact with an Italian who visited the country last week.    "The patient, who is in good health and is showing no symptoms, will be transferred to Bucharest's hospital of infectious diseases," Health Minister Victor Costache told a press conference.

Seven other people who live at the same address as the man in the south-eastern Gorj county have all tested negative but will be quarantined for 14 days as a precaution, emergency department official Raed Arafat said.   The Italian believed to be the source of Romania's first diagnosis tested positive for the deadly virus upon returning to Italy after a four-day visit to Gorj.

New cases have been emerging across Europe, many linked to the continent's coronavirus hotspot in northern Italy.    Several governments have advised against travel to Italy, which has now recorded 400 cases and 12 deaths.   The COVID-19 outbreak has killed over 2,700 people and infected more than 80,000 in 34 countries, although the vast majority of cases remain in China, according to the World Health Organization.
Date: Wed, 26 Feb 2020 21:33:56 +0100 (MET)

Oslo, Feb 26, 2020 (AFP) - Norwegian health authorities on Wednesday announced the first case of coronavirus in the Nordic nation in someone who returned from China last week, but said the patient was not "in danger".   "The person is not ill, they are in good health and do not present any symptoms," Line Vold, an official at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, told reporters. "We think it is very unlikely that they have infected" others.   Routine tests had given a "weekly positive result" and detected traces of the new coronavirus, the institute said.
Date: Wed, 26 Feb 2020 20:03:47 +0100 (MET)

Tbilisi, Feb 26, 2020 (AFP) - Georgia on Wednesday announced its first confirmed case of the novel coronavirus in the South Caucasus region.   "A Georgian national has tested positive for the novel coronavirus," Health Minister Ekaterine Tikaradze told a news conference, adding that the infected man has been placed in isolation in a Tbilisi hospital.   "Three different tests of the 50-year-old man's nasopharyngeal smear gave positive results, but he is doing well, he is clinically healthy," head of Georgia's national centre for disease control, Amiran Gamkrelidze told journalists.

The man had arrived in Georgia from Iran via Azerbaijan, Gamkrelidze said.   Tikaradze said Georgia would introduce a two-week ban on Iranian nationals entering Georgia, but flatly dismissed fears of a coronavirus epidemic in the ex-Soviet country "at this point".   On Sunday, Georgia's neighbour Armenia closed its border with Iran and suspended flights as fears over an outbreak of coronavirus in Iran sent neighbouring countries scrambling to contain the outbreak.