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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

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.
Date: Thu 12 Sep 2019, 7:54 PM
Source: Ekathimerini [edited]

The death toll from the West Nile virus since June this year has risen to 20, according to this week's report by the National Health Organization (EODY).

Up until [12 Sep 2019], authorities had diagnosed a total of 176 cases of the mosquito-borne virus. Of these, 109 developed illnesses affecting the central nervous system such as encephalitis or meningitis.

EODY is urging the public to spray insect repellent on bare skin and clothing, to install mosquito nets and screens, to remove stagnant water from basins, vases and gutters, to regularly mow lawns and to water plants in the morning.
=============================
[The first report mentions 20 fatal human cases as compared to the latest ECDC update that mentions 19 and the total case number is 176 versus 171 (ECDC report).

West Nile fever is a disease caused by West Nile Virus (WNV), which is a _Flavivirus_ related to the viruses that cause St. Louis encephalitis, Japanese encephalitis, and yellow fever. It causes disease in humans, horses, and several species of birds. Most infected individuals show few signs of illness, but some develop severe neurological illness which can be fatal. West Nile Virus has an extremely broad host range. It replicates in birds, reptiles, amphibians, mammals, mosquitoes and ticks <https://www.oie.int/doc/ged/D14013.PDF>.

The reservoir of the virus is in birds. Mosquitoes become infected when they bite an infected bird ingesting the virus in the blood. The mosquitoes act as carriers (vectors) spreading the virus from an infected bird to other birds and to other animals. Infection of other animals (e.g. horses, and also humans) is incidental to the cycle [as also evident in the ECDC update above] in birds since most mammals do not develop enough virus in the bloodstream to spread the disease.

Key to preventing the spread of West Nile fever is to control mosquito populations. Horses should be protected from exposure to mosquitoes. Likewise, people should avoid exposure to mosquitoes especially at dusk and dawn when they are most active, use insect screens and insect repellents, and limit places for mosquitoes to breed. - ProMED Mod.UBA]

[HealthMap/ProMED maps available at:
Date: Sun, 15 Sep 2019 15:38:29 +0200 (METDST)

Athens, Sept 15, 2019 (AFP) - More than 160 firefighters on Sunday battled to contain a large fire near Athens blazing for a second day amid gale force winds, officials said.   And in another emergency, authorities evacuated dozens of people from two villages and a hotel on the island of Zakynthos after a new fire broke out on Sunday.

The fire department said the blaze near Athens burned in the mountains above Loutraki, a coastal resort some 60 kilometres (35 miles) west of Athens.   "The fire is burning near the top of the mountain," Stefanos Kolokouris, the fire department's deputy chief of operations, told state TV ERT.   "We are trying to create a perimeter but the terrain is very difficult, with ravines," he said.   Four water bombers and six helicopters were participating in operations. Given a lack of roads in the area, two squads of firefighters had to be carried to the mountaintop by Super Puma helicopter, state agency ANA said.   Officials had already evacuated 50 people from a local monastery when the fire broke out on Saturday, but stressed that other inhabited areas were not in danger.

On Zakynthos, officials ordered the evacuation of the villages of Agalas and Keri in the south of the island. Some 120 tourists were also relocated to a safe area.   The Greek fire department on Sunday said it had been called to nearly 80 fires over the past 24 hours.   It has already faced more than 9,600 rural and urban fires this year.
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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).
*

*

*
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: Fri 23 Aug 2019
Source: Ekathimerini [edited]

Two cases of the West Nile Virus [WNV] have been confirmed in Bulgaria, with one of the patients said to have lived in Cyprus during a part of the summer.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Bulgaria has not issued an update as of [Thu 22 Aug 2019] morning, but according to Philenews, the health ministry in Bulgaria had issued a statement regarding a 48-year-old Bulgarian man who was diagnosed with WNV [infection]. The man, said to be from Pazardzhik in southern Bulgaria, is a construction worker who had been living for the last 2 months in Cyprus.

Upon his return to his country, according to Bulgarian officials, the worker started running a fever and generally feeling unwell. He was then immediately admitted to hospital with a known WNV infection.

Other towns were also on alert in Bulgaria, with an official statement saying clinics for infectious diseases in Belgrade and Nis have reported infected people. Most cases were associated with summer flu symptoms while the nervous system was affected in a number of other cases.

Based on additional media reports, there were other places besides Cyprus on the radar of Bulgarian officials regarding possible WNV infections.

According to State Medical Services of the Republic of Cyprus, 9 WNV cases have been confirmed in the south this year up until [16 Aug 2019]. All cases involved the neuroinvasive disease of the virus, with 2 patients remaining critical and 4 others being discharged from hospital.

Earlier this week, one confirmed WNV death was recorded in greater Nicosia with officials saying the patient was very senior.
Date: Mon 5 Aug 2019, 11:33 AM
Source: Novinite.com [edited]

Mosquitoes carry viral meningitis in Bulgaria. There are nearly 1/3 more cases of meningitis since the beginning of the year [2019] than the previous year [2018]. The state has allocated another BGN 2 million [USD 1 783 680] to deal with mosquitoes.

The disease is not typical for Bulgaria's latitudes, but has started to manifest itself with climate change, said Prof. Dr. Tatyana Chervenyakova of the Infectious Diseases Hospital in Bulgaria. The infection is transmitted through mosquitoes, and if there are complications, hospitalisation may be needed. However, the complications are only about 1% of the cases, said Prof. Chervenyakova.

Most of the cases pass the disease slightly - with fever and general malaise. It usually goes away after 2-3 days.

"It is very difficult to control the mosquitoes in these rainfalls. After every rainfall it must be sprayed. We shouldn't think that all mosquitoes are infected with the virus. The individual protection is the availability of repellents, the other is within the reach of the state " Dr. Tatiana Chervenyakova, said in an interview for Bulgaria ON ON AIR.
=======================
[This report deals with mosquito-borne virus infections, but does not indicate which one, nor is the number of cases to date given. There are 2 possible arboviruses involved as the etiological agents of these cases: West Nile virus or Usutu virus. Both have been found in Central Europe. As noted in a previous ProMED-mail post, "West Nile virus (WNV) and Usutu virus (USUV) are phylogenetically closely related mosquito-borne members of the family _Flaviviridae_, and belong to the Japanese encephalitis antigenic complex of the _Flavivirus genus_ (1,2). Both viruses have been isolated from numerous ornithophilic mosquito species, mainly _Culex_ spp. (1,2). In the enzootic cycle of WNV and USUV, avian species are also involved and serve as amplifying hosts. Mosquitoes facilitate virus transmission to humans and equids which then remain incidental hosts as they are not able to produce a level of viraemia sufficient for further virus transmission by mosquito bites (2)." (see  <https://www.eurosurveillance.org/content/10.2807/1560-7917.ES.2019.24.28.1900038>  for complete reference list, including those cited here).

ProMED-mail would appreciate a response indicating which virus or viruses are involved in these cases in Bulgaria. - ProMED Mod.TY]

[HealthMap/ProMED map available at:
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
---------
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.
=====================
[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:
More ...

World Travel News Headlines

Date: Fri, 13 Dec 2019 16:41:23 +0100 (MET)
By Mariëtte Le Roux and Joseph Schmid

Paris, Dec 13, 2019 (AFP) - French commuters gritted their teeth for a ninth day of public transport strikes Friday, with unions vowing to keep up their protest against a pension overhaul through the holidays unless the government backs down.   Officials have said they are ready to negotiate, with Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer meeting teachers' representatives on Friday to try and stave off another day of class shutdowns.   "It was an intense and frank meeting... but we still need details, and maintain our call to strike on Tuesday," Stephane Crochet of the SE-Unsa union said.

Unions are hoping for a repeat of 1995, when they forced a rightwing government to back down on pension reforms after three weeks of metro and rail strikes just before Christmas.   The prospect of a protracted standoff has businesses fearing big losses during the crucial year-end festivities, and travellers worried that their Christmas plans may be compromised.   "Right now it's a catastrophe here, but we're hoping there will be a solution before Christmas," Frederic Masse, a foie gras producer at the huge Rungis wholesale food market south of Paris, told AFP on Friday.

The capital city was again choked by huge traffic jams as most metro lines remained shut, only a handful of buses and trams were running, and one in four TGV trains were cancelled.   "I'm sick of this, and I won't be able to keep working if it goes on," Zigo Makango, a 57-year-old security agent, told AFP onboard a bus in the Bobigny suburb northeast of Paris.   To get home at night Makango said he has to use taxis, but "my boss doesn't reimburse me for that".

- 'Historic reform' -
President Emmanuel Macron on Friday expressed his "solidarity" with people impacted by the strike, "but I want the government to continue its work" in forging a single pension system, a key campaign promise.   "It's a historic reform for the country," he told journalists at an EU summit in Brussels. 

The overhaul unveiled by Prime Minister Edouard Philippe would do away with 42 separate regimes, some of which offer early retirement and other benefits to public-sector employees such as train drivers, dockers and even Paris Opera employees.   But Philippe angered unions further by proposing a reduced payout for people who retire at the legal age of 62 instead of a new, so-called "pivot age" of 64.

They have called for new mass demonstrations for next Tuesday, the third since the action started on December 5 in the biggest show of strength in years by France's notoriously militant unions.   Philippe insisted on Twitter that "My door is open and my hand outstretched".   But Laurent Brun of the hard-line CGT union, the largest among public-sector workers including those at rail operator SNCF, has already warned "There won't be any Christmas truce" unless the government drops the plan entirely.

- France divided -
A poll released Thursday by the Elabe institute found France evenly divided on Philippe's plan, with 50 percent for and 49 percent against.  But 54 percent rejected the mooted 64-year cutoff for a full pension, and 54 percent supported the protest.

Staff at four of France's eight oil refineries were on strike Friday, affecting output and raising fears of shortages down the line.   And both Paris operas, the Garnier and the Bastille, again cancelled Friday performances and others through the weekend.   Macron's government insists the changes will make for a fairer system and help erase pension system deficits forecast to reach as much as 17 billion euros ($19 billion) by 2025.   The average French person retires at just over 60, years earlier than most in Europe or other rich OECD countries.
Date: Fri, 13 Dec 2019 14:05:22 +0100 (MET)

Milan, Dec 13, 2019 (AFP) - More than 300 flights were cancelled Friday in Italy due to a planned one-day strike by workers from Alitalia and Air Italy.   Alitalia said in a statement that 315 flights were cancelled on Friday, with another 40 cancelled Thursday night and Saturday morning. It was not immediately clear how many flights were cancelled at Air Italy.   The 24-hours strike, which involves pilots, flight attendants and ground personnel, was called by three unions to draw attention to what they called "the ongoing crisis at Alitalia and Air Italy."

The strike was felt most in Sardinia, with about 30 flights cancelled.    Money-losing Alitalia has been under special administration since 2017 when employees rejected a restructuring plan that would have laid off 1,700 workers out of an approximately 11,000.   The government has so far looked for buyers without success.    Unions plan to meet on Tuesday with Economy Minister Stefano Patuanelli.    A potential consortium of buyers for the ailing carrier fell apart last month after Atlantia, which operates Rome's airports, pulled out.
Date: Fri, 13 Dec 2019 05:24:44 +0100 (MET)
By Neil SANDS

Wellington, Dec 13, 2019 (AFP) - Adventure tourism is a key part of New Zealand's international appeal but the White Island volcano eruption is a tragic reminder that such activities carry genuine risk that must be better explained to travellers, experts say.   The South Pacific nation offers a wealth of adrenaline-fuelled pursuits, from heli-skiiing on snow-capped mountains to ballooning and blackwater rafting through caves.

Some, such as bungee-jumping, jet-boating and zorbing -- where you hurl yourself down a hill inside an inflatable ball -- were invented or popularised in a country that prides itself on catering to intrepid visitors.   The tourism industry as a whole is among New Zealand's biggest earners, generating about NZ$16.2 billion ($10.7 billion) and attracting 3.8 million international visitors annually.     "Adventure tourism is a massive sector in New Zealand. We are promoting ourselves as the adventure capital of the world," professor Michael Lueck, a tourism expert at Auckland University of Technology, told AFP.

New Zealand is also renowned for its rugged landscapes, which feature prominently films such as Kiwi director Peter Jackson's "Lord of the Rings".   Day-trips to White Island combined both, taking tourists including cruise ship passengers to a desolately beautiful island off the North Island coast where they could experience the thrill of standing on an active volcano.   Instead, at least 16 people are believed to have died and dozens suffered horrific burns when 47 tourists and guides were caught on the island during Monday's eruption.

The disaster has raised questions about why tourists were allowed on a volcano where experts had recently raised threat levels, as well as broader issues about the regulation of risky activities in the tourism sector.   "There will be bigger questions in relation to this event," Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told parliament after the eruption.   "These questions must be asked, and they must be answered."

- 'Slapdash' or world's best? -
The disaster on White Island -- also known as Whakaari -- is not the first mass-fatality accident to affect tourists in New Zealand.   In 2015, seven people were killed when a scenic helicopter flight crashed into Fox Glacier. Two years earlier, a hot-air balloon claimed 11 lives and in 2010 nine died when a plane carrying skydivers plunged into a paddock.

Briton Chris Coker's son Brad, 24, died in the skydive plane crash and since then he has campaigned from afar for tighter regulations in New Zealand's adventure tourism sector.   "In my opinion, the New Zealand authorities... are still slapdash about tourist safety," Coker told news website stuff.co.nz after the White Island eruption.   "To run tourists there is insane. I know they signed a waiver and so on, but it's not really taking care of people."

Trade body Tourism Industry Aotearoa disputes such assessments, saying operators are "working within a world's best regulatory framework", but could not eliminate risk completely.   "Operators put safety first, but adventure activity inherently carries some risk and it's critical that 'adventure' remains in adventure tourism," TIA chief executive Chris Roberts told AFP.   "Operators take all practical actions to minimise the risks and the safety culture of individual operators remains the key factor in preventing accidents."

Roberts said the issue was not tourism operators, but the alert system they relied on at volcanic destinations such as White Island, which attracts about 17,000 visitors a year.   The GeoNet monitoring agency raised White Island's threat level in the week before the eruption but also advised current activity "does not pose a direct hazard to visitors".   "The reviews need to look at the science and specifically the guidance provided about volcanic activity, and whether the operating practices followed for the past 30 years need to change," Roberts said.

- 'Understand the risks' -
Travel companies such as White Island Tours brief customers before setting off and require them to sign a waiver declaring they understand the risk, as well as supplying equipment such as hard-hats and gas masks.   However, some relatives of those affected by the eruption have expressed scepticism that their loved ones truly appreciated the potential danger they faced.   Options for legal redress are limited under New Zealand's Accident Compensation Commission scheme, which covers victims' medical bills and provides modest compensation but does not allow civil suits for damages.

Neither Roberts nor Lueck expected the White Island eruption to hit international arrivals in New Zealand, which have continued to climb despite major earthquakes in 2011 and 2016.   The nature of any review arising from White Island remains uncertain, but Lueck said at the very least tourists needed to be better informed about any risks.   "Operators and tourism boards should have tourists understand what these risks are, and not brush over quickly signing a waiver," he said.   "Only then can tourists make an informed decision and decide whether or not they want to take that particular risk."
Date: Thu, 12 Dec 2019 21:25:36 +0100 (MET)

Kinshasa, Dec 12, 2019 (AFP) - Twenty-three cases of Ebola have been recorded in four days in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, where deadly violence is hampering efforts to end the 16-month-old epidemic, authorities said on Thursday.   Ten cases were recorded on Tuesday alone in Mabalako in North Kivu province, after six on Monday, according to the Multisectoral Committee for Epidemic Response (CMRE).   Three out of the six were practitioners of traditional medicine, it said.

On Wednesday, three cases were recorded in North Kivu, including one in the Biena neighbourhood -- which has had no new Ebola cases for the last 85 days.   More than 2,200 people have died since the epidemic was declared on August 1, 2018.   As of November 22, the rate of new cases had fallen to 10 per week.   CMRE said "security reasons" -- attacks on Ebola health workers and sites by armed groups and angry youths -- had "paralysed" work in the key zones of Beni, Biakato and Mangina.   The attacks led to a pullout of locally-employed Ebola workers in Biakato by the UN's World Health Organization (WHO) and Doctors Without Borders (MSF).
Date: Thu, 12 Dec 2019 15:59:23 +0100 (MET)

Juba, Dec 12, 2019 (AFP) - Devastating flooding in South Sudan following a fierce drought could tip parts of the country into famine in the next few months, the World Food Programme (WFP) warned on Thursday.   According to the UN refugee agency nearly one million people were affected by floodwaters that submerged entire towns, compounding an already dire humanitarian situation after six years of war.

The WFP said that 5.5 million people are expected to be going hungry in early 2020 -- the time at which the population is generally benefiting from their harvest in October and November of the previous year.   An earlier harvest failed due to drought. This time crops have been washed away.    "The number of people in need is likely to increase because of the catastrophic level of destruction caused by floods since October following a drought that hammered parts of the country earlier in the year," the agency said in a statement.

The floods wiped out 73,000 metric tons of potential harvests as well as tens of thousands of cattle and goats, said the WFP.   "We know the problems that we've been having in South Sudan, but the rains and the floods have led to a national disaster and are much worse than anyone could have anticipated," said WFP Executive Director David Beasley.    "In fact, if we don't get funding in the next few weeks and months, we are literally talking about famine. We need support, we need help and we need it now."   The agency estimated its needs at $270 million (242 million euros) for the first half of 2020.   South Sudan declared a "man-made" famine affecting around 100,000 people in 2017. 

The term "famine" is used according to a scientific system agreed upon by global agencies, when at least 20 percent of the population in a specific area has extremely limited access to basic food; acute malnutrition exceeds 30 percent; and the death rate exceeds two per 10,000 people per day for the entire population.   "Famine in South Sudan was defeated after four months in 2017 by a concerted large-scale humanitarian response," said the WFP.   "Experts now say the country's food security outlook has never been so dire."   Political instability is also high as President Salva Kiir and his rival Riek Machar have again delayed their formation of a power-sharing government, this time by 100 days until February 2020.
Date: Wed, 11 Dec 2019 09:33:13 +0100 (MET)
By Holly ROBERTSON

Sydney, Dec 11, 2019 (AFP) - Up to 20,000 protesters rallied in Sydney on Wednesday demanding urgent climate action from Australia's government, as bushfire smoke choking the city caused health problems to spike.   Sydney has endured weeks bathed in toxic smoke as hundreds of blazes have raged across the countryside, with hospitals recording a 25 percent increase in the number of people visiting emergency departments last week.   On Tuesday smoke alarms rang out across Australia's biggest city, with thick haze triggering smoke alarms and forcing buildings to be evacuated, school children to be kept indoors, and ferries to be cancelled.   The devastating fires have focused attention on climate change, with scientists saying the blazes have come earlier and with more intensity than usual due to global warming and a prolonged drought.   Police estimated the crowd size at 15,000, organisers put the figure at 20,000.

Many of the protestors voiced anger at the government's silence in the face of the crisis.   "The country is on fire" said 26-year-old Samuel Wilkie attending his first climate protest. He described politicians' response as "pathetic".    "Our government is not doing anything about it," said 29-year-old landscape gardener Zara Zoe. "No one is listening, no one is doing anything."   Prime Minister Scott Morrison -- a staunch backer of Australia's vast coal industry -- has said little about the smoke since the crisis began, preferring to focus on fire-hit rural communities.   Organiser Chloe Rafferty said that had created anger at the conservative government's inaction.   "I think the wider public can see that we are not expecting the climate crisis in the future but we are facing the climate crisis now," she told AFP.   "People are experiencing it in their day-to-day lives."   As well as a rise in people visiting hospitals with smoke-related health symptoms, the number of emergency calls for ambulances spiked 30 percent last week.    "For most people, smoke causes mild symptoms like sore eyes, nose and throat," top health department official Richard Broome said.   "However, people with conditions like asthma, emphysema and angina are at greater risk because the smoke can trigger their symptoms."

Smoke from bushfires is one of the biggest contributors to air pollution in Australia, releasing fine particles that can lodge deep within people's lungs and cause "severe" health impacts over time, according to scientist Mick Meyer from government-funded scientific research agency CSIRO.   "The impact of smoke on people remote from the fires may, on occasion, substantially exceed the direct injury to people within the fire zone," he wrote in The Conversation.   "But we currently lack the operational tools to understand the extent of these impacts or to manage them."   Six people have been killed and more than 700 houses destroyed in bushfires this fire season.   Though the human toll has been far lower than the deadliest fire season in 2009 -- when almost 200 people died -- the scale of this year's devastation has been widely described as unprecedented.   Three million hectares (7.4 million acres) of land has been burnt -- the size of some small countries -- and vast swathes of koala habitat scorched.   Official data shows 2019 is on track to be one of the hottest and driest years on record in Australia.
Date: Tue 3 Dec 2019
Source: Trinidad Express [abridged, edited]

The number of local deaths from the influenza virus has risen to 24. At the Health Ministry's update last week, 16 fatalities were reported from the flu, with Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh appealing to citizens -- especially those considered at-risk -- to get vaccinated.
Date: Sat 30 Nov 2019
Source: The New Indian Express, Express News Service [edited]

According to official data, 14 swine flu [influenza A/H1N1] deaths across the state were recorded this year [2019] till [17 Nov 2019]. The figure is slightly less than the previous year's [2018] toll of 17. The total number of H1N1 swine flu-positive cases [has] also come down this year [2019] compared with 2018 from 402 to 325. Health officials are setting up isolation wards in hospitals as a preventive measure.

As the winter season has set in and the minimum temperatures are coming down, health officials are instructing the public to take precautions in order to stay away from being infected by swine flu. The health department has initiated steps to set up district-[wide] swine flu testing facilities and isolation wards in every district hospital, area hospital, and community health centre.

As per the requirement of treatment procedure, the government has to set up special isolation wards in all government hospitals and provide protection kits to the healthcare staff, especially to those who will attend to the patients suffering from the flu. Across the state, Visakhapatnam registered the highest number of positive swine flu cases and deaths. Out of 325 positive cases, 180 alone were reported from Visakhapatnam, of which 8 died. West Godavari district registered 3 deaths, and Anantapur, East Godavari, and Srikakulam registered one death case each.

All the district health officials have been instructed to intensify awareness camps and screening centres. As part of the action plan, isolation wards with 5-10 beds are to be set up in every teaching, district, and area hospital. A sufficient stock of drugs, masks, and PPE [personal protective equipment] kits are to be made available. Currently, there are 18 labs eligible for conducting confirmation test in the state. "We are creating awareness by distributing pamphlets and putting up screening centres at bus stops and railway stations," DMHO [district medical and health officer] Dr. TSR Murthy said.

Symptoms of swine flu are generally similar to that of seasonal flu. These include cough, fever, sore throat, stuffiness, runny nose, body aches, headache, chills, fatigue, diarrhoea, and vomiting. Later on, breathlessness, chest pain, drowsiness, low blood pressure, sputum mixed with blood, and bluish discoloration of nails also develops.
Date: Thu 28 Nov 2019
Source: GDN Online [edited]

Two expatriates living in Oman died after contracting the seasonal influenza (H1N1) or swine flu in the governorate of Dhofar -- the 1st in July and the 2nd in August [2019]. They were among 78 confirmed cases of swine flu registered at the Sultan Qaboos Hospital over the first 9 months of 2019 in the governorate.

The hospital authorities reported a total of 599 registered suspected cases of H1N1 between January and last September [2019]. Doctors working at Sultan Qaboos Hospital dealt overall with 1779 cases of respiratory infections during the same period.

Patients most vulnerable to the respiratory viruses are those over 18 years, particularly pregnant women; those suffering from chronic illnesses, kidney and heart diseases, liver problems, diabetes, asthma, blood disorders, and HIV/AIDS; and even health workers, according to Muscat Daily.
Date: Wed 11 Dec 2019
Source: UNICEF/WHO Situation report 11 Dec 2019 [edited]

Highlights
- 5 new human cases reported in the past week
- In response to 1st human vaccine-derived poliovirus type 1 (VDPV1) case from the island province of Basilan, in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), outbreak immunization was conducted
in Maluso, Basilan, with bivalent oral polio vaccine (bOPV) against polio type 1, vaccinating 13 547 children under 10 years old (102% of the target).
- Currently 9 human cases confirmed with circulating VDPV type 2 (cVDPV2), 1 case with VDPV1, 1 case with cVDPV1, and 1 case with immunodeficiency-related VDPV type 2 (iVDPV2).
- A case with VDPV1 from Sultan Kudarat is pending genetic analysis; 1 case of cVDPV1 from Malaysia was confirmed as genetically linked to the Basilan case.
- Synchronized polio vaccination campaign conducted on [25 Nov 2019 - 10 Dec 2019] (including 2 days of extension) vaccinated 4 309 566 children under 5, which is 98% of the target total of 4.4 million children under 5. A total of 1 395 365 children under 5 were vaccinated in National Capital Region (NCR), which is 109% of the target, and 2 914 201 (94%) in Mindanao.
- DOH planning to conduct outbreak immunization with bOPV targeting 710,296 children under 10 in the Sulu Archipelago, Zamboanga City, and Lambayong, Sultan Kudarat, on [6-12 Jan 2020].
- Current polio outbreak resulting from persistently low routine immunization coverage, and poor sanitation and hygiene.
- Philippines is affected by both cVDPV1 and cVDPV2. cVDPV is considered a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC).

cVDPV1
---------
- In response to the 1st human case confirmed with VDPV1 from Maluso, Basilan (BARMM), outbreak immunization was conducted in the area with bOPV for children under 10 years old, vaccinating 13,547 children under 10 years of age (102% of the target).
- A cVDPV1 case in Sabah state, Malaysia, was confirmed to be genetically linked to the Basilan case by the Victorian Infectious Diseases Reference Laboratory (VIDRL) in Australia. Since the 2 viruses are genetically linked, they are both classified as circulating.
- A new VDPV1 case from Sultan Kudarat (Region XII) was confirmed on [6 Dec 2019] and is pending further genetic analysis.
- All 13 cVDPV1 environmental samples found in Manila are genetically linked.

cVDPV2
---------
- All 9 human cases and 17 environmental samples confirmed with cVDPV2 are genetically linked. All human cases were reported from Mindanao (BARMM and Region XII), whereas environmental samples were found in NCR and Davao.
- All samples were tested by the National Polio Laboratory at the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM), whereas sequencing and genetic analysis is done at the NIID in Japan, and additional genetic characterization is provided by the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
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[Given the identification of the cVDPV1 case in Malaysia that is genetically related to the VDPV1 case in Basilan, it is now clear there are at least 2 separate cVDPV outbreaks in the Mindinao region of the Philippines: one of the outbreaks is associated with cVDPV2, and the other with cVDPV1 and one outbreak of cVDPV1 in the Manila Metropolitan area (although only environmental samples have been positive without AFP (acute flaccid paralysis) cases as yet.) What all these areas have in common is pockets of populations with suboptimal vaccination coverages. Clearly, we await further information on the genetic profiling of the newly identified VDPV1 case in Sultan Kudarat, also located in southern Philippines. Note that Basilan Island, Sultan Kudarat, and Sabah state in Malaysia, while all in the same general area, are not contiguous, each being on a different island. In. total, there are 11 cases of AFP in the Philippines that are attributable to infection with a VDPV.

A map showing the provinces in the Philippines can be found at

HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of the Philippines: