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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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Malaysia

General
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Malaysia consists of two separate components; peninsular Malaysia (which is situated between Thailand and Singapore) and Borneo (which has the states of Sabah and Sarawak.) The total population is o
er 20 million and it has a very diverse cosmopolitan culture. Bahasa Malaysia is the official language though English is very widely spoken. The entire country has an equatorial climate with rainfall throughout most of the year. However there are two distinct rainy seasons – March to May and September to November. The costal regions may also experience monsoon conditions. Info: http://www.visitmalaysia.com
Safety & Security
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Violent crime against tourists is rare though petty incidents like bag snatching, burglaries and car break-in crimes are increasing. It is wise to take special care of your personal belongings when walking through some of the crowded market places or along the curb. Credit card fraud is becoming a serious problem so don’t let your card out of your sight at any time. Travelling out from the main tourist destinations on Borneo may lead to a higher risk of personal danger. Kidnapping from Pandanan Island and Sipadan (both diving resorts) show how there is a need for increased vigilance when visiting parts of coastal Sabah near to the islands. Drug offences of any kind are treated very seriously in Malaysia and may result in disruption of travel plans or imprisonment. Never carry drugs for another individual unless you are certain that there is no risk involved whatsoever.
Climate
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All over Malaysia the climate tends to be very humid though this can vary from location to location and throughout the year. Being so close to the equator, the sun is strong and proper care against sun burn must be constantly taken. Dehydration and loss of salt through perspiration are two other common problems for the unprepared traveller. Drink plenty of fluids and replace your salt loss. Make sure you pack clothing suitable for a warm humid climate.
Long Haul Flight & Jet Lag
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On the plane make sure you exercise your calf muscles and drink plenty of fluids. Female travellers on the contraceptive pill should be aware of the higher risk of venous clotting. After your long haul flight it is essential to allow your body catch up and so try to ensure that you have sufficient time to rest on the first day after arrival. (Make sure you don’t fall asleep beside the pool after arrival and then awaken with sunburn.)
Food & Water
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Generally the level of food hygiene throughout the country is high. Nevertheless avoidance of bivalve shellfish meals is a wise precaution. Food from street vendors should also be treated with suspicion though unpeeled fresh fruit or various well-cooked foods should be fine. Adding ice to your drinks is probably unnecessary and potentially harmful and should be avoided. The menus will usually be in English so that should make meal selection somewhat easier!
Mosquitoes
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Due to the constant humid climate mosquitoes tend to be present throughout the year. In Malaysia there are a number of diseases transmitted by mosquitoes and so care to avoid their bite is to be encouraged at all times. The three most significant diseases transmitted by mosquitoes are Malaria, Dengue Fever and Japanese B Encephalitis. In the case of Dengue Fever the mosquito responsible tends to prefer to live in the towns and cities throughout both Borneo and Peninsular Malaysia. This mosquito usually bites during the day-light hours. The transmission of Japanese B is usually in the rural regions of the country seldom visited by tourists. Most cases occur in Sarawak. Both of these viral diseases can be very serious and even life threatening and so avoidance of mosquito bites is essential.
Malaria Risk
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The risk of malaria for most tourists visiting Peninsular Malaysia is extremely small. There is insignificant risk in Kuala Lumpur, Penang etc and so many tourists opt not to use prophylaxis. However in Sarawak and Sabah the risk of malaria is present throughout the year. Even in these regions the risk is mainly off the coastal plains and towards the border areas. Generally prophylaxis is recommended for those visiting Sabah or Sarawak.
Water Sports in Malaysia
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Many tourists will undertake some water sports while in Malaysia and so make sure your insurance policy will cover this eventuality. Before you agree a contract with a provider check that their equipment appears to be well maintained and that they have good safety instructions. If you are unsure do not take part. Never swim alone or after a heavy meal (or excess alcohol intake) and always listen to local advice regarding sea currents etc.
Vaccinations for Malaysia
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Travelling directly from Ireland there are no vaccines which are essential for entry into Malaysia. However for most tourists the following vaccines are recommended for personal protection.
*
Poliomyelitis (childhood booster)
*
Tetanus (childhood booster)
*
Typhoid (food & water borne disease)
*
Hepatitis A (food & water borne disease)
For those undertaking a more adventurous trip further vaccines may need to be considered such as Hepatitis B, Rabies, Japanese B Encephalitis and Meningitis. The need for Malaria prophylaxis will depend on your proposed itinerary.
Summary:
**************************************
Malaysia is becoming a more common destination for holidays and also as a stop-off for those travelling on to Australia. With commonsense and care you should be able to have a very enjoyable safe time. If you do develop any unusual health problem after your trip (skin rash, bowel disturbance, influenza symptoms etc) make sure you attend for urgent medical attention.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Sun, 8 Dec 2019 14:43:06 +0100 (MET)

Kuala Lumpur, Dec 8, 2019 (AFP) - Malaysia has reported its first polio case in 27 years, health authorities said Sunday, announcing a three-month-old baby had been diagnosed on Borneo island.   The Malaysian health ministry's director-general, Noor Hisham Abdullah, said the baby from Tuaran in eastern Sabah state had been admitted into intensive care after experiencing fever and muscle weakness.   "The patient is currently undergoing treatment in an isolation ward and is in a stable condition but needs respiratory support," Noor Hisham said, adding that the infant was diagnosed on Friday.

Polio is a highly infectious viral disease which has no cure and can only be prevented with several doses of oral and injectable vaccines. It affects the nervous system and spinal cord and can be fatal in rare cases.   Over the past three decades the world has made great strides in the battle against polio. The World Health Organization said only 33 cases were reported worldwide last year.   Malaysia was declared polio free in 2000. The last case in the country occurred in 1992.

The diagnosis comes after the Philippines, which shares a close sea border with Sabah, was hit in September by its first polio case in nearly two decades.   Noor Hisham said test results showed that the Malaysian child was infected with a strain that shared genetic links to the virus detected in the Philippines.   Public health expert  T. Jayabalan told AFP that he was not surprised by the polio outbreak because immunisation was not mandatory in Malaysia.   "This first case probably is the tip of the iceberg. There is a very high possibility of a rising trend," he warned.   Jayabalan said there was a small group of people who refuse vaccination on account of misinformation.

In recent years, Malaysia had recorded a number of deaths among children from diphtheria, a vaccine-preventable disease, because they did not receive immunisation.   Noor Hisham said investigations found that 23 children under the age of 15 who lived close to the infected baby had also not received the polio vaccine.   "This is a frustrating situation because the spread of the disease... can only be stopped with polio immunisation."   Vaccination activities and monitoring will be carried out to try and contain the spread of the disease, he added.
Date: 8 Dec 2019
Source: The Star [edited]

A polio case has been confirmed in the country, the 1st in Malaysia in 27 years.  The Health Ministry confirmed that a 3-month-old Malaysian boy from Tuaran, Sabah had been admitted into a hospital's Intensive Care Unit after experiencing fever and weakness of limbs. Health director-general Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah said the last polio case in Malaysia occurred in 1992, and in 2000, the country was declared as being polio-free.

In the recent case, the child was confirmed to be infected with the vaccine-derived poliovirus type 1 (VDPV1) on [6 Dec 2019] this year.  "The patient is currently undergoing treatment in an isolation ward and is in stable condition but needs respiratory support," he said in a statement Sunday [8 Dec 2019]. He added that the VDPV1 is classified as a circulating vaccine-derived poliovirus (cVDPV) type 1.

"The cVDPV originates from a poliovirus that has been weakened by the orally-administered polio vaccine. Those who have been vaccinated will be protected from infection. The weakened virus has been excreted from the body through the faeces. However, in unsanitary environments, the virus can infect others who have not been immunised against polio and will thus spread in communities whose polio immunisation rates are less than 95%. The longer the virus spreads in the community, it will undergo genetic mutation until it once again becomes an active virus," he said.

Dr Noor Hisham said test results showed that the virus has genetic links to the polio virus that was detected in a recent outbreak in the Philippines. The Philippines in September this year [2019] declared an outbreak of polio, caused by VDPV1.

He added that up until [5 Dec 2019], investigations at the vicinity of the polio-infected child's residence found that 23 out of 199 people aged between 2 months to 15 years have not received the polio vaccine.  "This is a frustrating situation because the circulation of a cVDPV can only end with a polio immunisation. "After explaining the importance of polio immunisation, the parents of the children have agreed to have them vaccinated," he said.

He added that surveillance for acute flaccid paralysis (AFP) -- a clinical syndrome which is characterised by weakness of the muscles of respiration and swallowing -- will be conducted in the area. "As of [5 Dec 2019], as many as 646 people have been checked, and symptoms of AFP have not been detected. "To ensure that the polio virus does not continue to spread in Malaysia and infect those who are not immunised, vaccination activities will be continued in the area of this case and will be expanded to other risk areas," he said.

He urged members of the public to immediately seek treatment if they have AFP symptoms or to inform the Health Ministry if they know of other cases.  "The success in eradicating the disease previously was due to prevention efforts through the polio vaccination, which was introduced in the National Immunisation Programme in 1972. The programme was made even more effective when the vaccine was changed from being administered orally to being administered through injection," he said.

Polio, or poliomyelitis, is a potentially deadly infectious disease caused by the poliovirus and can cause paralysis by invading a person's brain and spinal cord. The disease has no cure and can only be prevented through vaccination.  [Byline: Clarissa Chung]
===================
[As the media report states, this is the 1st case of polio reported from Malaysia since 1992, 27 years ago. According to the genetic profile of the isolated cVDPV1, it is related to the cVDPV1 identified in the Philippines. It is not mentioned whether this is related to the cVDPV1 identified from environmental samples in the Manila metropolitan region or whether it is related to the paralytic case confirmed with VDPV1 in the Mindinao region (see below for details).

It is curious that cVDPV1 seems to be affecting mostly countries in Eastern Asia (Myanmar, Malaysia) and Western Pacific (Papua New Guinea and Indonesia) this year (2019). Since 2015, the countries reporting cVDPV1 associated AFP cases include Philippines, Myanmar, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Laos, Madagascar and Ukraine  (<http://polioeradication.org/polio-today/polio-now/this-week/circulating-vaccine-derived-poliovirus/>).

This now brings the total number of cVDPV associated acute flaccid paralysis (AFP) cases in the past 2 years to 24.

Tuaran, Sabah state is located on the northwest coast of Borneo island (<https://www.mapsofworld.com/malaysia/malaysia-political-map.html>). Of interest is that Basilan island, where the VDPV1 case has been reported, is one of the southernmost islands of the Philippines.

The HealthMap/ProMED map of Malaysia:
Date: Thu 3 Oct 2019
Source: European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) News & events [edited]

[Authorities in] Denmark has reported a travel-related case of malaria caused by _Plasmodium cynomolgi_ in a Danish traveller returning from a visit to forested areas in peninsular Malaysia and Thailand during August-September 2018.

_P. cynomolgi_ is a parasite causing disease among macaque monkeys across Southeast Asia but rarely infects humans.

The traveller was admitted to hospital with the suspicion of malaria. Routine initial tests for malaria (rapid diagnostic test and microscopy) and more in-depth tests (malaria-specific loop-mediated isothermal amplification test and Sanger sequencing) were required to diagnose malaria caused by _P. cynomolgi_. After receiving treatment, symptoms resolved on the 2nd day and the patient recovered fully.

ECDC wants to raise awareness about the possibility of more human cases due to the presence of _P. cynomolgi_ in macaques across Southeast Asia and the volume of tourists visiting these areas, including national parks. Since the diagnosis is challenging, advanced detection and identification techniques should be performed when all other tests show negative results.

Travellers to the region are advised to apply preventive measures against malaria such as taking chemoprophylaxis and using mosquito nets and insect repellents, wearing long sleeved shirts and trousers, and sleeping in air-conditioned rooms.
=====================
[It is well known that _P. cynomolgi_ can be transmitted from monkeys to humans just as it is seen for _P. knowlesi_ (Eyles DE, Coatney GR, Getz ME. _Vivax_-type malaria parasite of macaques transmissible to man. Science. 1960; 131: 1812-3; Coatney GR et al. Transmission of the M strain of _Plasmodium cynomolgi_ to man. Am J Trop Med Hyg. 1961; 10: 673-8). Thus, it is not surprising that _P. cynomolgi_ is seen in humans visiting areas where the simian host is abundant and the _Anopheles_ vectors are present, as is the case for _P. knowlesi_. As far as we know, neither _P. cynomolgi_ nor _P. knowlesi_ can be transmitted between humans. - ProMED Mod.EP]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail maps:
Date: Tue, 17 Sep 2019 15:38:37 +0200 (METDST)

Jakarta, Sept 17, 2019 (AFP) - Massive forest fires in Indonesia that have caused a toxic haze to spread as far as Singapore and peninsular Malaysia are also seriously affecting endangered orangutans and their habitat, a rescue foundation said Tuesday.   Jakarta has deployed thousands of troops as temporary fireman and deployed dozens of water-bombing aircraft to battle blazes that are turning pristine forest into charred landscape in Sumatra and Borneo islands.   The fires -- usually started by illegal burning to clear land for farming -- have unleashed a choking haze across parts of southeast Asia.

The Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation said Tuesday that the haze was affecting hundreds of great apes in its care at rescue centres and wildlife re-introduction shelters.   "The thick smoke does not only endanger the health of our staff... but also it affects the 355 orangutans we currently care for", the foundation said in a statement, referring to just once cetre in Kalimantan   "As many as 37 young orangutans are suspected to have contracted a mild respiratory infection," it added.   Conditions were so bad at their Samboja Lestari facility in East Kalimantan that outdoor activities for the animals had been restricted to a few hours a day.

Orangutans have been particularly vulnerable to commercial land clearances and have seen their natural habitat shrink dramatically in the last few decades.   The population of orangutan in Borneo has plummeted from about 288,500 in 1973 to about 100,000 today, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature.   The toxic smoke caused by the forest fires is an annual problem for Indonesia and its neighbours, but has been worsened this year by particularly dry weather.   On Borneo island, which Indonesia shares with Malaysia and Brunei, pollution levels were "hazardous", according to environment ministry data.   Hundreds of schools across Indonesia and Malaysia were shut.
Date: Mon, 9 Sep 2019 11:49:46 +0200 (METDST)

Kuala Lumpur, Sept 9, 2019 (AFP) - Malaysia prepared to seed clouds after air quality in parts of the country reached unhealthy levels due to smog from forest fires in neighbouring Indonesia, an official said Monday.   Smog regularly blankets parts of Southeast Asia during the dry season when burning is used to clear Indonesian land for palm oil, paper plantations and other crops, sparking ire from regional neighbours.   In the latest outbreak, parts of Malaysia's eastern state of Sarawak on Borneo island have been blanketed over the past few days.

The pollutant index in some places has reached "very unhealthy levels", said Gary Theseira, special functions officer with the environment ministry.   "It is extremely severe in Kuching," Theseira told AFP, referring to a city of half a million people.   He said Malaysia is prepared to carry out cloud seeding to induce rain in an effort to ease the smog.   "The moment the cloud situation is right, the chemicals will be loaded and the aircraft will take off and proceed with the seeding," he said.

Some countries conduct seeding during prolonged dry spells to induce rain and clear the air by releasing certain chemicals into the clouds, although some experts have questioned its efficacy.   Boo Siang Voon, a 47 year-old engineer in Kuching described the skies as "hazy, hot with smoky smell".   "This year the smog is getting worse. Residents are using face masks. We should not pay the price of our health for the open burning. We want a solution," he told AFP.   The Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur and neighbouring Singapore were also experiencing hazy conditions on Monday, with the air laced with the smell of burning foliage, although the pollutant index remained at moderate levels.   Some Kuala Lumpur residents complained about eye and throat irritation.

Malaysia's meteorological department Sunday warned that hot conditions will prevail for another week, and the monsoon season is only expected to arrive at the end of September or early October.   The ministry of science, technology and innovation on Friday said it would lodge a complaint with Indonesia for the haze and called for quick action to be taken to put out the fires.   Indonesian authorities have deployed thousands of extra personnel since last month to prevent a repeat of the 2015 fires, which were the worst for two decades and choked the region in haze for weeks.   Under pressure from neighbours, Indonesian leader Joko Widodo last month warned that officials would be sacked if they failed to stamp out forest fires.
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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).
=======================
[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: