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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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Sri Lanka

General Information
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Tourists are now beginning to return to Sri Lanka after years of trouble throughout the country. Since 1983 the civil war between the Tamil Tigers and Government has occasionally
affected tourists. Nevertheless, those who have visited the country usually return home with glowing reports about the beauty of the country and the welcoming pleasant nature of the local population. The recent moves toward developing the peace processes throughout the country are extremely encouraging but it will be important that tourists and business travellers recognise that it is still early days and that care should continue to be exercised at all times.
Climate
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Sri Lanka is situated like a tear drop off the southeastern tip of India close to the equator. The climate is fairly steady throughout the year with temperatures generally above 20c and a moderately high humidity throughout the year - especially along the coastal resorts. Most rainfall tends to fall during April, May and June and again during October and November. It will be important to ensure that the correct clothing is brought to cope with the climatic conditions.
Avoiding Prickly Heat
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The term prickly heat is used in a variety of ways but the cause is generally the same. In a hot climate the body perspires to maintain the internal temperature at a correct level. In the perspiration there will be fluid and also your personal salts. The fluid evaporates but the salt dries against the skin. It is your individual reaction to this salt that leads to the ‘prickly heat rash’. The reaction to these salts can be minimised by removing the salts from the skin surface as soon as possible. Change your clothes regularly, use plenty of talcum powder to absorb the perspiration and dry off well after showering. Sometimes it may be worth considering antihistamines to lessen the irritation.
Safety and Security
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Travellers will seldom visit the main insecure regions of Sri Lanka which are situated in the north and east of the country. The tourist resorts along the beaches in the southwest of the country are generally safe. However, like many other countries it is important to recognise that petty crime remains the most common problem for many tourists. Never flaunt personal wealth and always use the safety boxes in your hotel if they are available. Wandering about the streets at night is unwise. Unfortunately, in a country with such a long history of armed conflict, there are many gangs with guns willing to hold up unwary tourists. Always check with your tour representative on arrival and be sensible enough to avoid obviously risky situations. Having a form of identity with you and the business card from your hotel may be a wise precaution. Don’t easily befriend strangers and single women visitors in particular should take care.
Local Customs
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The Sri Lankan authorities treat any drug offences very seriously. Make sure any medications are clearly marked and never carry any items for another person unless you are certain of the contents. If visiting Buddhist temples remove any head covering and make sure your arms and legs are covered. Don’t take pictures of police, military or any government buildings. Taking pictures of individuals standing next to a statue of Buddha can cause offence.
Road Travel in Sri Lanka
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The traffic in Sri Lanka moves on the left side of the road but the streets are very congested. The maintenance of vehicles may be very substandard and accidents may occur due to faulty breaks, wandering animals or energetically ridden bicycles and mopeds etc. Hiring a car and driving by yourself throughout even the south eastern parts of the country is probably unwise due to the security situation. Hiring a car with a driver from a reputable firm will be a safer option.
Touring the country
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Many tourists want to visit other regions of the country and will aim for places like the Cultural Triangle of Kandy, Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa. These are in the low risk region for malaria and so prophylaxis is not recommended. However, road transport can be hazardous and you should ensure that you are travelling with a reputable guide. There have been a number of incidents involving tourists at the Yala National Park.
Medical Care
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The level of medical care varies greatly throughout the country. It is important to carry any required medications for your trip - though make sure they are clearly marked showing they for your own personal use.
Sun Exposure
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The climatic conditions are such that many tourists will develop significant sun burn if they are not careful. This is particularly true for the first few days as you acclimatise. Use high sunblock creams and take particular care to ensure that the children are well protected while swimming.
Rabies in Sri Lanka
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The transmission of Rabies by warm blooded animals in Sri Lanka is known and so it is essential that all travellers know that any contact with dogs, cats etc should be avoided at all times.
Swimming
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Take care while sea swimming to follow any local advice. There can be dangerous currents and strong rip tides. Watch any children at all times and make sure they don’t get burnt or dehydrated. If possible, eating salted crisps and peanuts may help.
Mosquitoes and Bites
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Fortunately malaria does not occur in the main regions of the country visited by tourists in the southwestern part of the country. However, Dengue Fever (a viral disease transmitted by day-time biting mosquitoes) is a constant problem throughout the country.
Vaccines for Sri Lanka
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Coming from Western Europe there are no vaccines which are compulsory for entry or exit. However, tourists are strongly advised to consider vaccination cover against the following;
*
Tetanus & Polio (childhood booster)
*
Typhoid (food & water borne)
*
Hepatitis A (food & water borne)
Those travelling for longer periods or to more remote regions may need to consider other vaccines including protection against Rabies, Hepatitis B and Japanese B Encephalitis. Malaria prophylaxis may also be required for these particular travellers.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

5 Aug 2019

47 people died and over 200 000 were infected by the dengue virus across Sri Lanka in the 1st 7 months of this year [2019], government figures revealed on Monday [5 Aug 2019]. Until the end of July [2019], a total of 234 078 dengue cases were reported, with the highest number of cases reported from the Colombo district, followed by Gampaha and Kalutara, reports Xinhua news agency.

The government's epidemiology unit said it had identified 5 high-risk districts: Colombo, Gampaha, Galle, Kalutara, and Ratnapura. Medical experts have urged people to seek immediate medical attention if they suffered from high fever, uncontrolled vomiting, abdominal pain, and dizziness.

HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of Sri Lanka:
Date: Wed, 24 Jul 2019 10:03:29 +0200

Colombo, July 24, 2019 (AFP) - Sri Lanka has re-introduced and expanded a visa-free entry scheme for visitors in a bid to revive its flagging tourism sector after the deadly Easter bombings, officials said Wednesday.   The concession for tourists from 39 nations was suspended after Islamists bombed three churches and three luxury hotels in Colombo on April 21 killing 258 people, including 45 foreigners.   "As the security situation has improved, the cabinet of ministers decided to revive the visa-free scheme and also extended it to seven more countries," the government said in a statement.

A tourism official said foreign governments have relaxed travel advisories for Sri Lanka since the attacks.   There has also been a lift in the number of arrivals, which nosedived soon after the bombings blamed on a home-grown jihadist group, the official said.   The new countries added to the expanded scheme -- which already allows travellers from the European Union, Australia and the United States to enter Sri Lanka without a visa -- include China and India.   Visitors still have to obtain a visa on arrival, but the government has waived the $35 fee from August 1.

Sri Lanka initially projected a 30 percent dip in the number of foreign holidaymakers after the attacks.   The following month the number of tourists plunged to 37,800, down from 166,975 in April, according to official figures.   But they improved last month with some 63,000 visitors, although numbers are still down from 146,828 in June 2018.   Sri Lanka welcomed a record 2.33 million tourists in 2018, and was named the world's top travel destination for 2019 by the Lonely Planet travel guide.
Date: Thu, 6 Jun 2019 14:18:11 +0200

London, June 6, 2019 (AFP) - Britain on Thursday relaxed its travel advice on Sri Lanka after earlier warning against "all but essential travel" following the April terror attacks that claimed more than 250 lives. "If you're visiting or resident in Sri Lanka, you should continue to remain vigilant and keep up to date with developments," the Foreign Office said on its website.

Tourists were still warned that "terrorists are very likely to try to carry out attacks.   "Attacks could be indiscriminate, including in places visited by foreigners," it said.   Over 250,000 Britons visited Sri Lanka in 2018, making it the third-highest source of tourism behind India and China, with the two countries retaining strong links since Sri Lanka became independent of colonial rule in 1948.

The suicide bombings against three Christian churches and three luxury hotels were blamed on a local jihadi group, the National Thowheeth Jama'ath.   Police say just over 100 people, including 10 women are in custody in connection with the attacks.   Security forces also detained a further 100 suspects in four days of cordon-and-search operations, according to military officials.
12th May 2019

Sri Lanka - National.
3 May 2019. 15 people have died and over 15,000 infected by the dengue virus across Sri Lanka in the 1st 4 months of this year [2019], the Epidemiology Unit said here Friday [3 May 2019]. Till 30 Apr 2019, a total of 15 407 dengue cases were reported, with the highest number of cases reported from the Colombo district with 3405 cases, followed by Gampaha in the outskirts of Colombo with 2007 cases and Jaffna in the north with 1783 cases.

- National. 23 Apr 2019.Health officials have reported nearly 14,000 dengue through 18 Apr [2019].
Date: Thu, 25 Apr 2019 11:55:34 +0200

Colombo, April 25, 2019 (AFP) - Sri Lanka's government said Thursday it was suspending plans to grant citizens of 39 countries visa-free entry during the country's tourism low season after deadly Easter bombings that killed hundreds.   "Although arrangements were in place to issue visas on arrival for citizens of 39 countries, we have now decided to hold it for the time being in consideration of the current security situation," Tourism Minister John Amaratunga said in a statement.   "Investigations have revealed foreign links to the (Easter) attacks and we don't want this programme to be abused."

Sri Lanka had announced last month a plan to allow visa-free entry to tourists from 39 countries, including EU members, Australia and the United States, during the low season, from May 1.   The scheme did not include China and India, from where many of Sri Lanka's visitors come.   The devastating Easter Sunday suicide bombings against churches and hotels killed 359 people, including dozens of foreigners.   The blasts have rocked the country's burgeoning tourism industry, which is one of the most important foreign exchange earners for the island.   Sri Lanka received 740,600 foreign tourists in the first three months of the year, up 4.6 percent from the same period a year earlier.   It welcomed a record 2.33 million tourists in 2018, and was named the world's top travel destination for 2019 by the Lonely Planet guide book.
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World Travel News Headlines

Date: Thu, 16 Jan 2020 02:59:31 +0100 (MET)
By Nicolas DELAUNAY

Cousin Island, Seychelles, Jan 16, 2020 (AFP) - Giant tortoises amble across Cousin Island as rare birds flit above.   The scene attests to a stunning success for BirdLife International, a conservation group that bought the tiny Seychelles isle in 1968 to save a songbird from extinction.   Thick vegetation smothers ruins that are the only reminder of the coconut and cinnamon plantations that covered the island when the group stepped in to protect the Seychelles Warbler.

Now teeming with flora and fauna and boasting white beaches, Cousin Island is firmly on the tourist map, with managers scrambling to contain visitor numbers and soften their negative environmental impact.    More than 16,000 people visited the island in 2018, compared with 12,000 a decade earlier.   "Tourism is important for Cousin. That's what allows us to finance the conservation projects we run here.    "But 16,000 tourists... that was too much," said Nirmal Shah, director of Nature Seychelles, which is charged with running the special reserve.

Before the island was in private hands, the population of Seychelles Warblers was thought to have shrunk to just 26, barely hanging on in a mangrove swamp after much of their native habitat had been destroyed.    Now, they number more than 3,000 and the greenish-brown bird has been reintroduced to four other islands in the archipelago.   The former plantations have transformed into native forests, teeming with lizards, hermit crabs and seabirds, and the island is the most important nesting site for hawksbill turtles in the western Indian Ocean.   The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) waxes lyrical about the "unique biodiversity and conservation achievements" of Cousin, "the first island purchased for species conservation", a model since replicated around the world.

- Nature first -
Tourists have been allowed onto the island since 1972, but the message is clear: nature comes first.   In a well-oiled routine, every morning a handful of luxury sailboats and small motorboats anchor off the island, where their occupants wait for Nature Seychelles to skipper them ashore on their boats.   "Tourist boats cannot land directly on the island, the biohazard risk is too big," Shah said.   "Non-indigenous animals who may accidently be on board could come to the island and threaten its (ecological) balance."   Too many tourists can also upset this balance.

Nature Seychelles in July increased the price of visits from 33 to 40 euros ($36 to $44) and removed a free pass for children under 15, resulting in a welcome 10-percent reduction in visitor numbers.   "Something had to be done, there was too much pressure on the environment," said Dailus Laurence, the chief warden of the island.   "When there are too many tourists it can bother nesting birds and turtles who want to come and lay their eggs on the island."

One guide said that some tourists, bothered by the island's ubiquitous mosquitos, would "leave the paths, move away from the group and walk where they are not supposed to", putting fragile habitats at risk.   Shah said that if they wanted to increase the number of tourists, it would require hiring more wardens and guides who live on the island, which would also have a negative impact on nature.   "Our absolute priority is nature, and it comes before tourists. If we have to take more steps to protect it and reduce the number of tourists, we will," he said.
Date: Thu, 16 Jan 2020 02:45:27 +0100 (MET)
By Ivelisse RIVERA, con Leila MACOR en Miami

Yauco, Puerto Rico, Jan 16, 2020 (AFP) - Living out in the open, their nerves on edge after a series of earthquakes that have shaken Puerto Rico, some 5,000 people are hoping that their president, Donald Trump, will heed the island's plea to be designated a disaster zone and free up much-needed aid.   Since December 28, more than 1,000 tremors have rattled the US island territory in the Caribbean, which just two years ago was devastated by two powerful hurricanes in quick succession.

In Yauco, one of the areas worst hit by the earthquakes, dozens of people were sitting on cot beds Wednesday in the parking lot of a municipal stadium, sheltered from the sun by white tents and blue tarps handed out by the federal disaster management agency, known as FEMA.  "The most difficult thing is the psychological aspect," said Wilfredo Rodriguez, 31. His house had been fractured by the seismic movement and he has spent a week living with his kids, aged six and 10, under an awning.    "We are living in constant fear of another powerful tremor," he said.

He only returns to his house to wash, then hurries back to the shelter. "We worry that there'll be a more powerful tremor while we are inside the house," he said.   Throughout the day, volunteers arrive to hand out food and toys for the children who fill the shelters: schools have been suspended because the buildings are not sturdy enough to withstand another quake.    The island's earthquake detection system has registered 1,104 tremors in the past two weeks alone, of which 186 could be felt by the population. By comparison, during the whole of 2019 there were 6,442 tremors, of which just 62 could be felt by people on the island.

Further south, in Guanico, Juan Santiago decided to move into a shelter on Saturday after a tremor of 5.9 on the Richter scale hit the island. "The mountain shook and rocks and earth started to come down," said the 30-year-old.  "My house has a crack in it and is about to fall down," he added. His home had weathered the Category Five winds of Hurricane Maria in September 2017 and of Hurricane Irma which followed it just two weeks later.   "It's different to a hurricane. What is happening now is much nastier," he said.

As he was talking the earth shook again, a tremor of 5.2 magnitude. Vehicles rocked like hammocks in the wind, but the quake-hardened victims barely reacted.   The houses in this part of the island are mostly rudimentary constructions built by the people who live in them with scant resources available in the mountains, where no regulations stipulate that buildings should be earthquake resistant.    The government of Puerto Rico said that as of Monday, there were 4,924 people living in 28 shelters in 14 municipalities. There were no figures on how many buildings had been damaged or destroyed.

- Seeking disaster designation -
Puerto Rico's governor Wanda Vazquez Garced called on Trump to declare the earthquake a disaster and clear the way for desperately needed aid. Trump had declared an emergency days before, but the governor wanted more.   The declaration of an emergency frees up to $5 million dollars in aid for the island, although Congress can bump that figure up. But if the situation is designated a disaster, there is no ceiling on funding, a FEMA spokesman said.   On Wednesday, the government said it would release $8.2 billion in delayed hurricane relief that had been stalled after the president threatened to divert Puerto Rico's emergency funds to help pay for his wall on the US-Mexico border.

In the past few days there have been growing calls among Democratic lawmakers for Trump to declare the situation in Puerto Rico a disaster.   It is a delicate subject, as Trump has accused the government of Puerto Rico of incompetence and of siphoning off hurricane relief money, triggering a public spat between the president and the mayor of San Juan, Carmen Yulin Cruz, as well as the former governor Ricardo Rossello, who was forced to step down last summer amid massive protests.   The Puerto Rican leaders accused Trump of treating the population of the island like second class citizens.
Date: Wed, 15 Jan 2020 23:16:11 +0100 (MET)

Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, Jan 15, 2020 (AFP) - Firefighters battled to bring a blaze at Malabo's cathedral under control on Wednesday, as flames engulfed parts of the historic building, considered the most important Christian church in Equatorial Guinea.     Dozens of people gathered in silence near the cathedral in the early evening as the fire service sprayed water jets onto the century-old structure.

It was not immediately known whether anyone was hurt in the fire, in which huge flames consumed part of the facade of the building.       "We have just extinguished the fire, it's finished. The roof is gone, it is a catastrophe," firefighter Alfredo Abeso told AFP.   Another firefighter at the scene said: "The whole roof is gone, the interior is burned."   The cause of the fire is not known but the cathedral has been closed to the public since January 7 for restoration work.    Built in a neo-gothic style between 1897 and 1916, the cathedral is one of the central African country's main tourist attractions.

The blaze brought comparisons to the devastating fire that ravaged the 13th century Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris in April 2019.     The French Embassy in Malabo said the fire was a "cruel reminder" of the fire at Notre Dame.    "We share the emotion of our friends in Malabo and Equatorial Guinea and hope that the fire can be brought under control quickly," it said on Twitter.      Paris engineers are still working to stabilise the 13th century cathedral in the French capital after fire tore through its roof and dramatically toppled its spire last year.
Date: Wed, 15 Jan 2020 21:55:41 +0100 (MET)

Rio de Janeiro, Jan 15, 2020 (AFP) - Widespread complaints over foul-smelling drinking water in Rio de Janeiro have triggered a run on supermarket bottled water, though the public utility denied any health risk Wednesday.   Rio governor Wilson Witzel set alarm bells ringing in a Twitter post on Tuesday, saying the situation -- fuelled by social media rumours -- was "unacceptable" and calling for a "rigorous investigation."

Moving to calm growing fears, public water utility Cedae attributed the problems to the presence of geosmin, a harmless organic compound, insisting the resulting earthy-tasting tap water was safe to drink.   "The results of the analyses show the presence of geosmin, at a rate sufficient to change the taste. But there is no risk to health," Sergio Marques, the official in charge of water quality, told a press conference.   Cedae later said it had fired the head of the Guandu treatment plant, which supplies nearly 80 percent of Rio's drinking water.   It said the supply from Guandu would be treated with carbon in the coming days to get rid of the geosmin.

According to O Globo newspaper, nearly 70 districts of the capital have been affected.   It reported that more than 1,300 cases of gastroenteritis were recorded over the last 15 days in Santa Cruz in the west of Rio, where water quality complaints were rife.   Cedae's president Helio Cabral apologized "to the whole population for the problems in the water supply," which began earlier this month.

The problem has been exacerbated by false rumours circulating on social media that the water was toxic.   Despite assurances, many Rio citizens were taking no chances. In supermarkets, mineral water stocks have been selling out and long queues are formed as soon as they are replenished.   Geosmin is also responsible for the earthy taste in some vegetables.
Date: Wed, 15 Jan 2020 21:25:04 +0100 (MET)

Lima, Jan 15, 2020 (AFP) - Five tourists arrested for damaging Peru's iconic Machu Picchu site will be deported to Bolivia later on Wednesday, police said.   A sixth was released from custody and ordered to remain in Machu Picchu pending trial after paying bail of $910.   The six tourists -- four men and two women -- were arrested for damaging Peru's "cultural heritage" after being found in a restricted area of the Temple of the Sun on Sunday.   They were also suspected of defecating inside the 600-year-old temple, an important edifice in the Inca sanctuary.   "We've got the order. Today the five foreign tourists will be expelled," Cusco police official Edward Delgado told AFP.   "We're going to take them by road to the city of Desaguadero, on the border with Bolivia."   The border town, a nine-hour drive away, is the nearest frontier point to the southern Cusco region where Machu Picchu is located.

The sixth tourist, 28-year-old Nahuel Gomez, must sign at a local court every 10 days while awaiting trial.   He admitted to removing a stone slab from a temple wall that was chipped when it fell to the ground, causing a crack in the floor.   He could face four years in prison if found guilty of damaging Peru's cultural heritage.   Several parts of the semicircular Temple of the Sun are off limits to tourists for preservation reasons.   Worshipers at the temple would make offerings to the sun, which was considered the most important deity in the Inca empire as well as other pre-Inca civilizations in the Andean region.   The group -- made up of a Chilean, two Argentines, two Brazilians, including one of the women, and a French woman -- allegedly entered the Inca sanctuary on Saturday and hid on site so they could spend the night there -- which is prohibited.

A source with the public prosecutor's office told AFP that Nahuel admitted to the damage but said "it wasn't intentional, he only leant against the wall."   The Machu Picchu complex -- which includes three distinct areas for agriculture, housing and religious ceremonies -- is the most iconic site from the Inca empire, which ruled over a large swath of western South America for 100 years before the Spanish conquest in the 16th century.   Machu Picchu, which means "old mountain" in the Quechua language indigenous to the area, is at the top of a lush mountain and was built during the reign of the Inca emperor Pachacuti (1438-1471).
Date: Wed, 15 Jan 2020 20:53:05 +0100 (MET)

Alicante, Spain, Jan 15, 2020 (AFP) - A fire broke out Wednesday on the roof of the airport in Alicante, a city on the eastern Mediterranean coast which is a tourism hotspot, forcing its closure to air traffic.   "The fire is under control but it has not been extinguished. Firefighters are continuing to work," a spokesman for Spanish airport operator Aena told AFP, adding the airport will remain closed to air traffic until noon on Thursday.

Ten flights which were due to land at Alicante were cancelled, as were 12 which were supposed to depart from the airport, he said.    Another four flights which were due to land at Alicante were diverted to other Spanish airports.   The flames were visible from inside the terminal, according to an AFP photographer at the scene.   Passengers and workers stood outside as dense smoke rose from the terminal building.   No one was injured and the authorities are still not sure what caused the fire.

The airport serves the eastern region of Valencia, which is home to several popular resorts such as Benidorm. It handled just under 14 million passengers last year, making it Spain's fifth busiest airport.   Aena recommended in a tweet that passengers contact their airline before heading to Alicante airport to see what the status of their flight was.   "We are coordinating with airlines. Consult your company to know if your flight is cancelled or will operate from an alternative airport," it said.
Date: Wed, 15 Jan 2020 11:12:40 +0100 (MET)

Beijing, Jan 15, 2020 (AFP) - A new virus from the same family as the deadly SARS pathogen could have been spread between family members in the Chinese city of Wuhan, local authorities said Wednesday.   The outbreak, which has killed one person, has caused alarm because of the link with SARS (Sudden Acute Respiratory Syndrome), which killed 349 people in mainland China and another 299 in Hong Kong in 2002-2003.   One of the 41 patients reported in the city could have been infected by her husband, Wuhan's health commission said in a statement on Wednesday.   The announcement follows news that a Chinese woman had been diagnosed with the novel coronavirus in Thailand after travelling there from Wuhan.

No human-to-human transmission of the virus behind the Wuhan outbreak has been confirmed so far, but the health commission said the possibility "cannot be excluded".   The commission said that one man who had been diagnosed worked at Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market, which has been identified as the centre of the outbreak, but his wife had been diagnosed with the illness despite reporting "no history of exposure" at the market.   At a press conference on Wednesday following a fact-finding trip to Wuhan, Hong Kong health officials also said that the possibility of human-to-human transmission could not be ruled out despite no "definitive evidence".

Dr Chuang Shuk-kwan, from Hong Kong's Centre for Health Protection, said there were two family group cases among the recorded cases in Wuhan, including the husband and wife and a separate case of a father, son and nephew living together.   However, he said mainland doctors believed the three men were most likely to have been exposed to the same virus in the market.   The market has been closed since January 1.   The woman diagnosed in Thailand, who is currently in a stable condition, had not reported visiting the seafood market, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Tuesday.

WHO doctor Maria Van Kerkhove said Tuesday that they "wouldn't be surprised if there was some limited human-to-human transmission, especially among families who have close contact with one another".   The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a Level 1 "Watch" alert for travellers to Wuhan after the patient was diagnosed in Thailand, saying they should practice normal precautions and avoid contact with animals and sick people.

Wuhan's health commission said on Wednesday that most of the patients diagnosed with the virus were male, and many were middle-aged or elderly.   In Hong Kong, hospitals have raised their alert level to "serious" and stepped up detection measures including temperature checkpoints for inbound travellers.   Hong Kong authorities said on Tuesday that the number of people hospitalised with fever or respiratory symptoms in recent days after travelling to Wuhan had grown to 71, including seven new cases since Friday.   Sixty of that total, however, have already been discharged. None have yet been diagnosed with the new coronavirus.
Date: Wed, 15 Jan 2020 03:48:17 +0100 (MET)
By Emile Kouton with Celia Lebur in Lagos

Lome, Jan 15, 2020 (AFP) - After he was struck down by malaria and typhoid, Togolese tailor Ayawo Hievi thought he was set to recover when he started taking drugs prescribed by his doctor.   But far from curing him, the medication he was given at the neighbourhood clinic made him far worse -- eventually costing him one of his kidneys.    The drugs were fake.   "After four days of care, there was no improvement, but I started to feel pain in my belly," Hievi, 52, told AFP.

After two weeks of suffering he became unable to walk and was rushed into the university hospital in the West African nation's capital Lome.    "The doctors told me that my kidneys had been damaged... the quinine and the antibiotics used to treat me in the medical office were fake drugs."   Now, over four years later, he remains crippled by chronic kidney failure and has to go to hospital for dialysis regularly.    Hievi's horror story is far from unique in a continent awash with counterfeit medicines.    The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that every year some 100,000 people across Africa die from taking "falsified or substandard" medication.

The American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene estimated in 2015 that 122,000 children under five died due to taking poor quality anti-malaria drugs in sub-Saharan Africa.   Weak legislation, poor healthcare systems and widespread poverty have encouraged the growth of this parallel -- and deadly -- market. Since 2013, Africa has made up 42 percent of the fake medicine seized worldwide.    The two drugs most likely to be out-of-date or poor, ineffective copies are antibiotics and anti-malarials, say experts.    And bogus drugs not only pose a risk to the patient -- they also play a worrying part in building resistance to vital frontline medications.

- 'Difficult to trace' -
In a bid to tackle the scourge, presidents from seven countries -- the Republic of Congo, Gambia, Ghana, Niger, Senegal, Togo and Uganda -- meet Friday in Lome to sign an agreement for criminalising trafficking in fake drugs.    The goal is to bolster cooperation between governments and encourage other African nations to join the initiative.   But even if leaders put pen to paper, the task of stamping out the flows of counterfeit medication is huge.    Medicines spread out on plastic sheets or offered at ramshackle stalls are for sale at markets across West Africa.

Those hawked on the streets are often a fraction of the price of what's available in more reputable pharmacies where controls are stricter and supplies often have to come through official channels.    "It is very difficult to trace where the fake medicines come from," said Dr Innocent Kounde Kpeto, the president of Togo's pharmacist association.    "The countries which are mentioned on the boxes are often not the countries of origin or manufacture of these drugs. The manufacturers cover their tracks so as not to be identified".

It is estimated that between 30 and 60 percent of medicine sold in Africa is fake and Kpeto said most of it comes from China or India.    Efforts to staunch the deadly torrents of counterfeits have made some headway.    Some trafficking hubs have been dismantled, such as Adjegounle market in Cotonou that served as a key gateway for fakes heading to giant neighbour Nigeria.   In mid-November, the police in Ivory Coast made a record seizure of 200 tonnes in Abidjan and arrested four suspects including a Chinese national.

Togo is one of the pioneer countries trying to stop the flow.    It changed the law in 2015 and now traffickers can face 20 years in jail and a fine of some $85,000 (75,000 euros).   In a show of force in July the authorities burnt over 67 tonnes of counterfeit pharmaceuticals discovered between     But even given these recent successes, those in the industry like Dr Kpeto insist that the threat is still grave and involves "highly organised criminal networks".    "The phenomenon remains major," he said.    Traffickers can turn an investment of just $1,000 (900 euros) into a profit of $500,000, he claimed.   The fake medicines are smuggled in the same way as guns or narcotics and often bring higher returns.

- 'Die for nothing' -
Nigeria, Africa's most populous country with a market of 200 million people, is the number one destination on the continent for fake drugs and a showcase of difficulties being faced.    In September 2016 the World Customs Organization seized tens of millions of fake pills and medicines at 16 ports around Africa: 35 percent were intended for Nigeria.    Across the vast nation there are tens of thousands of vendors selling the counterfeits.   Competition between traffickers is fierce and the official agency meant to combat the problem is overwhelmed.

In a bid to improve the situation, Vivian Nwakah founded in 2017 start-up Medsaf and raised $1.4 million to help Nigerians track their medication from producer to user.    "The country doesn't have a reliable and centralised distribution network," she said.    "A hospital sometimes has to deal with 30 or 40 distributors for all the medications it needs. How can you have quality control with so many suppliers?"   As a result, fake or faulty medicine has not just flooded markets but also pharmacies and hospitals -- both state and private.    Sometimes, without hospital administrators even being aware, that means the drugs that reach the patients can be expired, poorly stored or the wrong doses. 

Medsaf works to ensure the quality control of thousands of products at over 130 hospitals and pharmacies in Nigeria. It looks forward to expanding deeper into Nigeria as well as Ivory Coast and Senegal.   The company uses technology, database management and analytics to monitor the movement of medications and verifies their official registration number, the expiry dates and storage conditions.   "Technology we use can help to solve most of the issues related to fake drugs," Nwakah said. "People die for nothing. We can change that."
Date: Mon 13 Jan 2020, 00.45 IST
Source: The Hindu [edited]

A 58-year-old woman from Seegemakki village in Tumari Gram Panchayat limits in Sagar taluk died due to Kyasanur Forest Disease (KFD), also known as monkey fever, at a private hospital in Manipal in Udupi district on [Sat 11 Jan 2020].

The deceased, H, who had complained of high fever and aches in joints was admitted to government sub-divisional hospital in Sagar city for treatment on [Tue 7 Jan 2020]. Her blood tested positive for KFD.

Rajesh Suragihalli, District Health Officer, told The Hindu that as her health condition had worsened, she was shifted to a private hospital in Manipal on [Thu 9 Jan 2020] for advanced treatment. She failed to respond to the treatment and breathed her last on [Sat 11 Jan 2020], he said.

Following the death, the Department of Health and Family Welfare has sounded an alert in Sagar and Tirthahalli taluks from where 7 positive cases have been reported since [1 Jan 2020]. The vaccination drive has been stepped up in the villages from where positive cases are reported. Three advanced life support ambulances have been stationed in government sub-divisional hospital in Sagar to shift KFD patients with health complications to private hospitals in Shivamogga city or Manipal for additional treatment, he said.
====================
[Kyasanur Forest disease (KFD) is an acute febrile illness caused by Kyasanur Forest disease virus (KFDV), a member of the family _Flaviviridae_, characterized by severe muscle pain, gastrointestinal symptoms, and bleeding manifestations. The virus was 1st identified in 1957 after it was isolated from a sick monkey from the Kyasanur Forest in Karnataka state of India. The disease is transmitted to humans following a tick bite or contact with an infected animal, especially a sick or recently dead monkey. There is no evidence of person-to-person transmission (<https://www.cdc.gov/vhf/kyasanur/index.html>).

The case fatality of Kyasanur Forest disease (KFD) is 2-10% and mortality is higher in the elderly and in individuals with comorbid conditions. There is no specific treatment for KFD. Prompt symptomatic and supportive treatment can reduce morbidity and mortality. Surveillance (human, monkey, and tick), personal protection against tick bites, and vaccination are the key measures for prevention and control of KFD (<https://idsp.nic.in/WriteReadData/l892s/60398414361527247979.pdf>).

As per the media report above, 7 confirmed KFD cases have been reported from Sagar and Tirthahalli taluks in Karnataka state so far in 2020. KFD typically occurs during the dry season from November through May, which correlates with the increased activity of the nymphs of ticks. Exposure to adult ticks and nymphs in rural or outdoor settings increases the risk of infection; herders, forest workers, farmers, and hunters are particularly at increased risk of contracting the disease. Vaccination and personal protective measures against tick bites are keys to prevent KFD.

The recommended preventive measures include using tick repellents, walking along clear trails, avoiding contact with weeds, and wearing full sleeved clothes and long pants to reduce exposed skin to reduce contact with ticks and subsequent tick bites. - ProMED Mod.UBA]

[HealthMap/ProMED map available at:
Karnataka State, India: <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/307>]
Date: Mon 13 Jan 2020
Source: Food Safety News [edited]

An emergency committee to control the sale of food has been created in a city in northwest Argentina after a spike in _Salmonella_ cases in early 2020. There have been 51 confirmed cases of salmonellosis in Salta so far in 2020. At least 5 people have been hospitalized but recovered after treatment.

The committee will be responsible for controlling food sold on public roads at street stalls and at commercial premises. It includes experts from the National University of Salta (UNSA) and Catholic University of Salta (Ucasal). Officials hope by increasing controls they can bring the rise in infections under control and minimize the risk to the public. The group, created by the Mayor of Salta Bettina Romero and Undersecretary of Health and Human Environment Monica Torfe, held a meeting with Juan Jose Esteban, manager of the Hospital Senor del Milagro, and teams from the department of epidemiology of the province on preventive measures to tackle the salmonellosis rise this past week.

Norma Sponton, head of the microbiology sector; Teresita Cruz, of the epidemiological surveillance program of the province; Paula Herrera, from the Ministry of Health, and Jose Herrera, from the hospital also participated. Experts from the 2 universities are involved in training the inspectors who will be in charge of carrying out the control tasks.

Food contaminated with _Salmonella_ bacteria does not usually look, smell, or taste spoiled. Symptoms of salmonellosis infection can include diarrhoea, abdominal cramps, and fever within 12 to 72 hours after eating contaminated food. Otherwise, healthy adults are usually sick for 4 to 7 days. In some cases, however, diarrhoea may be so severe that patients require hospitalization.
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[The serotype of _S. enterica_ is not stated and it is not clear what the food reservoir for this ongoing outbreak is. A food diary of affected persons may be helpful.

The city of Salta is located in north-western Argentina in the province of the same name which can be found on a map at

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of Argentina: