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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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Nicaragua

Nicaragua - US Consular Information Sheet
December 22, 2008
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
Nicaragua’s fragile democracy remains under stress.
Following municipal elections in November 2008, in which opposition leaders have charged massive fr
ud took place, political tensions have increased significantly.
The economy remains among the poorest in the hemisphere.
Crime has increased significantly in recent months.

The national language is Spanish, although many residents of the Caribbean coastal areas also speak English and indigenous languages.
The climate is hot and humid, with the “summer” dry season running mid-November through mid-May and the “winter” rainy season running from mid-May through mid-November.
Terrain ranges from the hilly and volcanic to coastal beaches and tropical jungles.
Geological faults run throughout the country, along which active volcanoes are situated.
Earthquakes are common, but the last major earthquake, which destroyed the city of Managua, occurred in 1972.

Nicaragua lacks tourist infrastructure.
Except in the cities and major thoroughfares, most roads are unpaved.
Public transportation is unsafe and there are no sidewalks.
Most essential services are sporadic.
Most hospitals are substandard.
Hotels in Managua are adequate, but primarily are oriented to serve a business or government clientele.
Potential tourists may want to obtain information from the National Tourism Institute (INTUR), the governmental agency responsible for developing, regulating, and promoting tourism in Nicaragua at http://www.intur.gob.ni/.
Read the Department of State Background Notes on Nicaragua for additional information.

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:
A valid U.S. passport is required to enter Nicaragua.
Although there is a bilateral agreement that waives the six-month validity passport requirement, U.S. citizens are urged to ensure that their passports are valid for the length of their projected stay in the country before traveling.
U.S. citizens must have an onward or return ticket and evidence of sufficient funds to support themselves during their stay.
A visa is not required for U.S. citizens; however, a tourist card must be purchased for $5 upon arrival.
Tourist cards are typically issued for 30 to 90 days.

A valid entry stamp is required to exit Nicaragua.
Pay attention to the authorized stay that will be written into your entry stamp by the immigration inspector.
Visitors remaining more than the authorized time must obtain an extension from Nicaraguan Immigration at http://www.migracion.gob.ni/.
Failure to do so will prevent departure until a fine is paid.

There is also a $32 departure tax.
Many airlines include this tax in the price of the ticket.
If the tax is not included in the ticket, payment can be made at the airline counter upon departure.

Per Nicaraguan law, individuals should exit Nicaragua with the same passport with which they entered the country.
Dual national minors who entered Nicaragua on their Nicaraguan passports will be subject to departure requirements specific to Nicaraguan children under the age of 18, even though they may also be citizens of other countries.
More information on these requirements can be found on the U.S. Embassy web site at http://nicaragua.usembassy.gov/dual_nationality.html.

According to Nicaragua’s Laws for Foreigners, foreigners must be in possession of a valid identity document at all times while in Nicaragua and may be required to show it to Nicaraguan authorities upon request.
Acceptable identity documents are: (1) a permanent residency card, (2) temporary residency card, or (3) valid passport or travel document accompanied by an entry stamp.

In June 2006, Nicaragua entered a “Central America-4 (CA-4) Border Control Agreement” with Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador.
Under the terms of the agreement, citizens of the four countries may travel freely across land borders from one of the countries to any of the others without completing entry and exit formalities at Immigration checkpoints.
U.S. citizens and other eligible foreign nationals, who legally enter any of the four countries, may similarly travel among the four without obtaining additional visas or tourist entry permits for the other three countries.
Immigration officials at the first port of entry determine the length of stay, up to a maximum period of 90 days.
Foreign tourists who wish to remain in the four-country region beyond the period initially granted for their visit are required to request a one-time extension of stay from local Immigration authorities in the country where the traveler is physically present, or travel outside the CA-4 countries and reapply for admission to the region.
Foreigners “expelled” from any of the four countries are excluded from the entire “CA-4” region.
In isolated cases, the lack of clarity in the implementing details of the CA-4 Border Control Agreement has caused temporary inconvenience to some travelers and has resulted in others being fined more than one hundred dollars or detained in custody for 72 hours or longer.

For the most current information about visas to visit Nicaragua, visit the Embassy of Nicaragua web site at http://www.cancilleria.gob.ni.

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

SAFETY AND SECURITY:
Municipal elections took place across Nicaragua on November 9, 2008.
Violent demonstrations followed as opposition groups questioned the authenticity of the results.
Activities observed during protests included but were not limited to tear gas, rubber bullets, setting off fireworks, rock-throwing, tire burning, road blocks, bus and vehicle burning, and physical violence between law enforcement and protestors and between political rivals.
Political demonstrations and strikes continue to occur sporadically, are usually limited to urban areas, and occasionally become violent.
U.S. citizens are advised to monitor local media reports, to avoid crowds and blockades during such occurrences and to exercise caution when in the vicinity of any large gathering.

U.S. citizens are cautioned that strong currents and undertows off sections of Nicaragua's Pacific coast have resulted in a number of incidents of drowning.
Powerful waves have also resulted in broken bones, and injuries caused by sting rays are not uncommon in popular resort bathing areas.
Warning signs are not posted, and lifeguards and rescue equipment are not readily available.
U.S. citizens contemplating beach activities in Nicaragua's Pacific waters should exercise appropriate caution.

Hiking in volcanic or other remote areas can be dangerous and travelers should take appropriate precautions.
Hikers should have appropriate dress, footwear, and sufficient consumables for any trek undertaken.
Individuals who travel to remote tourist or other areas for hiking activities are encouraged to hire a local guide familiar with the terrain and area.
In particular, there have been instances of hikers perishing or losing their way on the volcanoes at Ometepe Island.
While they may look like easy climbs, the terrain is treacherous and heavily overgrown.

Although extensive de-mining operations have been conducted to clear rural areas of northern Nicaragua of landmines left from the civil war in the 1980s, visitors venturing off the main roads in these areas are cautioned that the possibility of encountering landmines still exists.
Domestic travel within Nicaragua by land and air, particularly to the Atlantic side can be dangerous.
Domestic airlines use small airstrips with minimal safety equipment and little boarding security.
For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs’ web site at http://travel.state.gov, where the current Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts, as well as the Worldwide Caution, can be found.
Up-to-date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll-free in the U.S. and Canada, or for callers outside the U.S. and Canada, a regular toll line at 1-202-501-4444.
These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).

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

CRIME:
Violent crime in Managua is increasing and petty street crimes are very common.
Gang activity also is increasing, though not at levels found in neighboring Central American countries.
Pick-pocketing and occasional armed robberies occur on crowded buses, at bus stops and in open markets like the Oriental and Huembes Markets.
Gang violence, drive-by shootings, robbery, assault and stabbings are most frequently encountered in poorer neighborhoods, including the Ticabus area, a major arrival and departure point for tourist buses.
However, in recent months it spread to more upscale neighborhoods and near major hotels, including the Zona Hippos.
In 2008, a U.S. citizen was critically injured in a gang-motivated drive-by shooting that occurred in the San Judas area.
Another U.S. citizen was kidnapped and left for dead in the Villa Fontana area of Managua.

U.S. citizens are increasingly targeted shortly after arriving in the country by criminals posing as Nicaraguan police officers who pull their vehicles – including those operated by reputable hotels -- over for inspection.
In each case, the incidents happened after dark and involved gun-wielding assailants who robbed passengers of all valuables and drove them to remote locations where they were left to fend for themselves.
Some assailants employed threats of physical violence.
While the traditional scene of these attacks has been the Tipitapa-Masaya Highway, this activity has recently spread to the Managua-Leon Highway.
The U.S. Embassy warns U.S. citizens to exercise extreme caution when driving at night from Managua’s International Airport and to avoid traveling the Tipitapa-Masaya Highway at night.
U.S. citizens should exercise caution when approached by strangers offering assistance.
Several U.S. citizens traveling by bus from San Juan del Sur to Managua have reported being victimized by fellow women travelers who offered to assist them in locating and/or sharing a taxi upon arrival in Managua.
In all cases, upon entering the taxi, the U.S. citizens have been held at knife-point, robbed of their valuables, and driven around to ATM machines to withdraw funds from their accounts.

Violent criminal activities and petty crime are also increasing in the tourist destination of San Juan del Sur.
In 2008, a U.S. citizen family was violently assaulted and kidnapped by several armed men.
Other American citizens have been the victims of armed robberies by assailants wielding machetes, knives, and/or guns along the beaches in and around San Juan del Sur.
U.S. citizens should exercise particular caution when visiting the following beaches: Maderas, Marsella, Yankee, Coco, and Remanso.

Police coverage is extremely sparse outside major urban areas, particularly in Nicaragua’s Atlantic coast autonomous regions.
Lack of adequate police coverage has resulted in these areas being used by drug traffickers and other criminal elements.
Street crime and petty theft are a common problem in Puerto Cabezas, Bluefields, and the Corn Islands along the Atlantic coast.
For security reasons, the Embassy has limited travel by its staff to the North and South Atlantic Autonomous Regions (RAAN and RAAS), including the Corn Islands.
Given the area’s geographical isolation, the Embassy’s ability to provide emergency services to U.S. citizens who choose to travel in the Caribbean costal area is constrained.
Police presence on Little Corn Island is made up of volunteers with little to no formal training, and is minimal on Corn Island and other remote areas.
In late 2007, a U.S. citizen was assaulted and violently raped while on vacation in Little Corn Island.
U.S. citizens have previously been the victims of sexual assault on this island and other beaches in the country.
The Embassy recommends traveling in groups when in isolated areas.
Single travelers should exercise special caution while traveling in the Corn Islands and other remote areas of the country.
Throughout the country, U.S. travelers should utilize hotels and guest houses that have strong security elements in place, including but not limited to rooms equipped with safes for securing valuables and travel documents and adequate access control precautions.

Visitors should avoid walking and instead use officially registered taxicabs.
Radio-dispatched taxis are recommended and can be found at the International Airport and at the larger hotels.
Robbery, kidnapping, and assault on passengers in taxis in Managua are increasing in frequency and violence, with passengers subjected to beating, sexual assault, stabbings, and even murder.
Several U.S. citizens reported brutal attacks in taxis during 2008, particularly around the International Airport area.

Before taking a taxi, make sure that it has a red license plate and that the number is legible.
Select taxis carefully and note the driver's name and license number.
Instruct the driver not to pick up other passengers, agree on the fare before departing, and have small bills available for payment, as taxi drivers often do not make change.
Also, check that the taxi is properly labeled with the cooperativa (company) name and logo.
Purse and jewelry snatchings sometimes occur at stoplights.
While riding in a vehicle, windows should be closed, car doors locked, and valuables placed out of sight.

Do not resist a robbery attempt.
Many criminals have weapons, and most injuries and deaths have resulted when victims have resisted.
Do not hitchhike or go home with strangers, particularly from nightspots.
Travel in groups of two or more persons whenever possible.
Use the same common sense while traveling in Nicaragua that you would in any high-crime area of a major U.S. city.
Do not wear excessive jewelry in downtown or rural areas.
Do not carry large sums of money, ATM, or credit cards that are not needed, or other valuables.
INFORMATION FOR VICTIMS OF CRIME:
The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate for assistance.
The Embassy/Consulate staff can, for example, assist you to find appropriate medical care, contact family members, or friends and explain how funds could be transferred.
Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime are solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed.

See our information on Victims of Crime.

MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:
Medical care is very limited, particularly outside Managua.
Basic medical services are available in Managua and in many of the smaller towns and villages.
However, treatment for many serious medical problems is either unavailable or available only in Managua.
Emergency ambulance services, as well as certain types of medical equipment, medications and treatments, are not available in Nicaragua.
Physicians and hospital personnel frequently do not speak English, and medical reports are written in Spanish.
Patients must have good understand and an ability to speak Spanish in order to navigate the local medical resources.

In an emergency, individuals are taken to the nearest hospital that will accept a patient.
This is usually a public hospital unless the individual or someone acting on their behalf indicates that they can pay for a private hospital.
Payment for medical services is typically done on a cash basis, although the few private hospitals will accept major credit cards for payment.
U.S. health insurance plans are not accepted in Nicaragua.

Dengue fever is endemic in Nicaragua.
Currently, no vaccine or specific medication is available to prevent or treat Dengue fever.
Malaria is endemic in the Atlantic coast region and anti-malarial medication should be taken before and after travel to this region.
Travelers are advised to take a prophylactic regimen best suited to their health profile.
No prophylaxis anti-malarial medication is required for Managua and the western, Pacific coast region.
For both Dengue fever and malaria, the best prevention is the use of DEET insect repellant, as well as the wearing of protective clothing and bed-nets to prevent mosquito bites.

Tap water is not considered safe in Nicaragua.
All persons should drink only bottled water.
Individuals traveling to Nicaragua should ensure that all their routine vaccinations are up to date.
Vaccination against Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, rabies and typhoid is strongly recommended.
A yellow fever vaccination is not required to enter Nicaragua unless the traveler has recently visited a country where yellow fever is endemic.
Travelers taking prescription medications should bring an adequate supply with them when coming to Nicaragua.
Many newer combination medications are not available in local pharmacies.

The U.S. Department of State is unaware of any HIV/AIDS entry restrictions for visitors to or foreign residents of Nicaragua.

Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC’s web site at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/default.aspx.
For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization’s (WHO) web site at http://www.who.int/en.
Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith/en
MEDICAL INSURANCE:
The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation.
Please see our information on medical insurance overseas.

TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS:
Driving in Nicaragua poses many difficulties and risks, including mandatory arrest for drivers involved in accidents that result in death or serious injury until police are able to determine who is at fault.

Driving is on the right side of the road in Nicaragua.
Motorists driving to Nicaragua should use the principal highways and official border crossings at Guasaule, El Espino, and Las Manos between Nicaragua and Honduras and Penas Blancas between Nicaragua and Costa Rica.
Although some of the principal highways connecting the major cities are in generally good condition, drivers should be aware that seasonal, torrential rains take a heavy toll on road beds.
With few exceptions, secondary roads are in poor repair, potholed, poorly lit, frequently narrow, and lack shoulders.
Road travel after dark is especially hazardous in all areas of the country.
Motorists are encouraged to prepare accordingly and may want to carry a cellular phone in case of an emergency.

Some of the major highways and roads are undergoing major repair, repaving, and upgrading.
Be on the lookout for detours and slow traffic on these roads.
In general, road signs are poor to non-existent.
Bicycles, oxcarts, dogs, horses, and vehicles without lights are at times encountered even on main thoroughfares in Nicaragua.
Motorcycles, often carrying passengers, dart in and out of traffic with little or no warning.
Many vehicles are in poor condition, travel very slowly, and break down without warning.
Drivers should be especially careful on curves and hills, as many drivers will pass on blind spots.
Speed limits vary depending on the type of road, but because the government lacks the resources, traffic rules are rarely enforced.
Due to the age and disrepair of many vehicles, many drivers will not signal their intentions using turn indicators.
Rather, it is common for a vehicle operator to stick his hand out the window to signal a turn.
If you do drive in Nicaragua, you need to exercise the utmost caution, drive defensively, and make sure you have insurance.

Nicaraguan law requires that a driver be taken into custody for driving under the influence or being involved in an accident that caused serious injury or death, even if the driver is insured and appears not to have been at fault.
The minimum detention period is 48 hours; however, detentions frequently last until a judicial decision is reached (often weeks or months), or until a waiver is signed by the injured party (usually as the result of a cash settlement).
Visitors to Nicaragua might want to consider hiring a professional driver during their stay.
Licensed drivers who are familiar with local roads can be hired through local car rental agencies.
In case of accident, only the driver will be taken into custody.

The Embassy has received an increasing number of complaints from U.S. citizens who have been stopped by transit police authorities demanding bribes in order to avoid paying fines.
Motorists in rental cars and those whose cars have foreign license plates are more likely to be stopped by transit police.
Transit police have seized driver licenses and car registration documents from motorists who refuse to or are unable to pay.
Subsequently, these drivers have reported difficulties in recovering the seized documents.
U.S. citizens are urged to ensure that their vehicles comply fully with Nicaraguan transit regulations, including being in possession of an emergency triangle and fire extinguisher, and that the vehicle is properly registered.
If transit police authorities demand an on-the-spot payment, drivers should ask for the officer's name and badge number, as well as a receipt, and inform the Embassy of when/where the event took place.
(Reports should be sent via email to ACS.Managua@state.gov.)
Rental car agencies should also be advised if their vehicles have been deemed negligent in meeting Nicaraguan transit regulations.

As noted in the “Crime” section above, several groups of U.S. citizens driving from Managua’s International Airport at night have been robbed and kidnapped by men dressed as Nicaraguan police officers.
While the majority of these crimes have occurred on the Tipitapa-Masaya Highway, recent reports indicate similar activity along the Managua-Leon Highway.
The U.S. Embassy warns U.S. citizens to exercise extreme caution when driving at night from Managua’s International Airport and to avoid traveling the Tipitapa-Masaya Highway at night.

Avoid taking public transportation buses.
They are overcrowded, unsafe, and often are used by pickpockets.
Because of the conditions discussed above, traffic accidents often result in serious injury or death.
This is most often true when heavy vehicles, such as buses or trucks, are involved.
Traditionally, vehicles involved in accidents in Nicaragua are not moved (even to clear traffic), until authorized by a police officer.
Drivers who violate this norm may be held legally liable for the accident.

Regulations governing transit are administered by the National Police.
For specific information concerning Nicaraguan driver’s permits, vehicle inspection, road tax, and mandatory insurance, you may wish to refer to the National Police web site at http://www.policia.gob.ni.
You may also contact the Embassy of Nicaragua or a Consulate for further information.
Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.
Visit the website of the country’s national tourist office and national authority responsible for road safety at http://www.mti.gob.ni
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of Nicaragua’s Civil Aviation Authority as not being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for oversight of Nicaragua’s air carrier operations.
For more information, travelers may visit the FAA’s web site at http://www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa
SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:
Purchasing Property: U.S. citizens should be aware of the risks of purchasing real estate in Nicaragua and should exercise caution before committing to invest in property.
The U.S. Embassy has seen an increase in property disputes over the last several years.
The 1979-90 Sandinista government expropriated approximately 28,000 real properties, many of which are still involved in disputes or claims.
Land title remains unclear in many cases.
Although the government has resolved several thousand claims by U.S. citizens for compensation or return of properties, there remain hundreds of unresolved claims registered with the Embassy.
Potential investors should engage competent local legal representation and investigate their purchases thoroughly in order to reduce the possibility of property disputes.

The Nicaraguan judicial system offers little relief when the purchase of a property winds up in court.
The Embassy is aware of numerous cases in which buyers purchase property supported by what appear to be legal titles only to see themselves subsequently embroiled in legal battles when the titles are contested by an affected or otherwise interested third party.
Once a property dispute enters the judicial arena, the outcome may be subject to corruption, political pressure, and influence peddling.
Many coastal properties have been tied up in courts recently, leaving the ”buyer” unable to proceed with the intended development pending lengthy and uncertain litigation.
In other cases squatters have simply invaded the land while the police or judicial authorities are unable (or unwilling) to remove the trespassers.
Again, the Embassy advises that those interested in purchasing Nicaraguan property exercise extreme caution.
Please note that Nicaraguan law currently prohibits any individual from buying beach-front property (including islands) unless the original land title was registered before the 1917 Nicaraguan Agrarian Reform Law.
Coastal properties with titles pre-dating 1917 are not risk-free, however.
In 1987 the Nicaraguan Constitution established the property rights of indigenous communities over territory they have traditionally occupied.
The Embassy advises extreme caution when considering the purchase of coastal property in Nicaragua.

Currency and Credit Cards: U.S. dollars are widely accepted throughout the country, and major credit cards are also typically accepted in hotels, restaurants, stores, and other businesses in urban and tourist areas.
Visitors who need to change dollars are encouraged to do this at their hotel since this is typically the safest place.
ATM machines are available at banks in addition to some shopping centers and gas stations in urban and tourist areas.
However, individuals should exercise caution when using an automaticteller machine since they are typically in or near uncontrolled areas and criminal elements can easily see them withdrawing cash.
Traveler’s checks are accepted at a few major hotels and may also be exchanged for local currency at authorized exchange facilities ("casas de cambio").
Visitors will also find enterprising individuals - ”Cambistas” - waving wads of cash in the street.
Changing money in this fashion can be dangerous and is not recommended.

The U.S. Embassy has noted an increase in credit card fraud.
Although local police authorities have made several arrests in conjunction with credit card scam operations, the danger for abuse continues.
Illegal use can include “skimming” or making a copy of the magnetic strip on the credit card or simply copying the number for later use.
U.S. citizens who do continue to use credit cards in Nicaragua are advised to check statements frequently to monitor for abuse and/or to ask banks to email them when transactions exceed a certain number or size.

Disaster Preparedness: Nicaragua is prone to a wide variety of natural disasters, including earthquakes, hurricanes, and volcanic eruptions.
General information about natural disaster preparedness is available via the Internet from the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) at http://www.fema.gov
Boundary Disputes:
On the Atlantic side, nautical travelers should be aware that there is an ongoing boundary dispute with Colombia over the San Andres Island archipelago and the surrounding waters, specifically the area east of the 82nd and up to the 79th meridian.
Furthermore, the Government of Nicaragua has also begun to exercise sovereignty over territorial waters that were formerly controlled by Honduras but recently awarded to Nicaragua by the International Court of Justice.
Since October 2007, the Nicaraguan Navy has impounded about a dozen vessels, including two U.S.-owned vessels, for allegedly fishing without a Nicaraguan permit in theses zones.
Maritime boundary disputes also exist on the Pacific side.
In late-2007, the governments of Nicaragua, Honduras, and El Salvador reached an accord regarding shared fishing rights in the Gulf of Fonseca; however, questions remain regarding boundary demarcations in the Gulf of Fonseca.
Commercial fishing vessels should always ensure that they are properly licensed as problems have been reported in the areas off Cabo Gracias a Dios.
As a result of these disputes, in June 2008, the U.S. Coast Guard published a Special Warning on Nicaragua in the U.S. Notice to Mariners, which can be found at http://www.navcen.uscg.gov/Lnm/d1/lnm01242008.pdf (p. 6).

Travelers should also be aware that narcotics traffickers often use both the Caribbean and the Pacific coastal waters.
Customs Regulations: Before excavating archaeological materials, or agreeing to buy artifacts of historical value, all persons are strongly urged to consult with the National Patrimony Directorate of the Nicaraguan Institute of Culture.
Nicaraguan law and a bilateral accord limit the acquisition, importation into the United States and commercialization of said goods.
Severe criminal penalties may apply.
U.S. citizens planning to stay in Nicaragua for an extended period of time with the intention of bringing vehicles or household goods into the country should consult Nicaraguan customs officials prior to shipment.
Please see our Customs Information.

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

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

REGISTRATION / EMBASSY LOCATION:
Americans residing or traveling in Nicaragua are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department’s travel registration website so that they can obtain updated information on travel and security within Nicaragua.
Americans without Internet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in case of emergency.
The U.S. Embassy is located at Kilometer 5 1/2 (5.5) Carretera Sur, Managua; telephone (505) 252-7100 or 252-7888; after hours telephone (505) 252-7634; Consular Section fax (505) 252-7304; Email: consularmanagua@state.gov or ACS.Managua@state.gov; web page: http://nicaragua.usembassy.gov/
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This replaces the Country Specific Information for Nicaragua dated June 3, 2008, to update sections on Country Description, Entry/Exit Requirements, Safety and Security, Crime, Medical Facilities and Health Information, Traffic Safety and Road Conditions, and Special Circumstances.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Thu, 25 Oct 2018 22:17:34 +0200

Montreal, Oct 25, 2018 (AFP) - Canadian tour operator Transat has cancelled all flights to Nicaragua this coming winter over the crisis that has left more than 320 dead in the Central American country, the company said Thursday.   This decision was made "because of the ongoing civil unrest and (the) weak demand that arises," Air Transat spokeswoman Debbie Cabana told AFP.   Air Transat would have offered three direct flights weekly form Toronto or Montreal to Managua from December 20 until the end of March.   "Customers who have reservations at the destination can change their booking or get a full refund," Cabana said.

Protests that began in April against a pension reform in Nicaragua grew into a movement demanding the departure of President Daniel Ortega and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo, who are accused of authoritarianism.    The protests have been severely repressed by police and paramilitaries, and the government proclaimed the situation normalized.   Canada continues to advise its nationals "to avoid any non-essential travel to Nicaragua."
Date: Fri, 7 Sep 2018 19:57:24 +0200

Managua, Sept 7, 2018 (AFP) - Many shops, banks and gas stations were closed Friday in a 24-hour strike in Nicaragua called by the opposition in protest at "political prisoners" and the rule of President Daniel Ortega's government.   In Mercado Oriental, one of the capital Managua's main trade districts, most of the 20,000 shops and businesses were shut, while few people were out on the streets.   "It's an excellent strike, this is how we are supporting those who were taken, who are being tortured, who have no business being in jail just for protesting," shopkeeper Geidy Areas, 38, told AFP.   The normally busy road south from Managua to Masaya, where many shops operate, appeared more desolate than normal.   Friday's strike, the first since July, was called by the opposition Civil Alliance for Justice and Democracy.   More than 300 Nicaraguans have been charged with crimes for taking part in protests, including 85 who are accused of terrorism.   The Alliance is demanding dialogue with Ortega's government after months of turmoil that left more than 300 people dead, according to rights groups.

In Managua, most banks, gas stations, shopping malls and book shops were closed but there were more buses and public transport vehicles running than during previous strikes in June and July.   In an important economic zone north of Managua, many hardware stores, shops and cafes remained open.   "People have to keep struggling because they've got bank debts and need to feed their children," food vendor Johana Blandon, who works in a busy free trade zone to the east of Managua, told AFP.   Government offices were operating as normal.   Nicaragua's descent into chaos was triggered on April 18 when relatively small protests against now-scrapped social security reforms were met with a government crackdown, backed by armed paramilitaries.

Catholic church-brokered peace talks broke down in June after Ortega rejected a key opposition demand to step down and bring forward presidential elections.   Last week, Ortega expelled the United Nations human rights mission after it published a report criticizing the "climate of fear" in the Central American country, one of the poorest in the region.   The UN denounced a wide range of serious violations, including disproportionate use of force by police, which in some cases resulted in extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, arbitrary detention and torture.   Ortega, a former guerrilla leader who has been in power for the last 11 years, denied the claims and described the UN as "an instrument of the policies of terror, lies and infamy."
Date: Thu, 6 Sep 2018 18:06:28 +0200

Managua, Sept 6, 2018 (AFP) - Nicaragua's opposition called a 24-hour strike on Thursday, due to start the next day, in protest against President Daniel Ortega and to demand the release of "political prisoners."   The strike is due to begin at midnight on Thursday, the Civil Alliance for Justice and Democracy, made up of students, businesses and civil service groups, said in a statement.

The opposition is demanding dialogue with Ortega's government after months of turmoil that left more than 300 people dead, according to rights groups.   It called on supporters to "join this national effort from your homes."   "Nicaragua needs an urgent and peaceful solution through dialogue," said the opposition.   "We need to live in security, without kidnappings, without political prisoners, without persecution and without the stigmatization of those who think differently."   Last week, Ortega expelled the United Nations human rights mission after it published a report criticizing the "climate of fear" in the Central American country, one of the poorest in the region.   The UN denounced a wide range of serious violations, including disproportionate use of force by police, which in some cases resulted in extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, arbitrary detention and torture.

Ortega, a former guerrilla leader who has been in power for the last 11 years, refuted the claims and described the UN as "an instrument of the policies of terror, lies and infamy."   In addition to the dead and 2,000 people injured in clashes between anti-government protesters and regime forces back by paramilitaries, more than 300 Nicaraguans have been charged with crimes for taking part in the protests, of which 85 are accused of terrorism.   Two Alliance leaders, Medardo Mairena and Edwin Carcache, are amongst those to have been charged.   The opposition says "dialogue is the only path" to overcome the current political crisis.

Nicaragua's descent into chaos was triggered on April 18 when relatively small protests against now-scrapped social security reforms were met with a government crackdown, backed by armed paramilitaries.   Catholic church-brokered peace talks broke down in June after Ortega rejected a key opposition demand to step down and bring forward presidential elections.   Opposition supporters claimed the last strike in mid-July was 90 percent respected, although government media said businesses had remained open in several trade zones.
Date: Fri, 27 Jul 2018 23:17:00 +0200

Managua, July 27, 2018 (AFP) - More than a dozen doctors, nurses and technical staff in a public hospital in Nicaragua have been sacked because they treated wounded anti-government protesters and were seen backing their cause, medical sources said Friday.

Those fired "without any legal justification" worked at the Oscar Danilo Rosales Hospital in the northwestern city of Leon, surgery and endoscopy department chief Javier Pastora told AFP.   The hospital is run by the health ministry.   The allegation bolstered reports that those perceived to back protest claims calling for the ouster of President Daniel Ortega were being persecuted by his government and sympathizers.

Nicaragua has seen more than three months of unrest as those protests were brutally countered by police and armed pro-government paramilitaries.   More than 300 people have been killed and thousands have fled to neighboring Costa Rica for safety, according to rights groups.   Pastora, who has worked in Nicaragua's public health system for 33 years, said the staff members were fired because they were deemed to support the protesters by treating them.   "They said we were people showing solidarity and support for the people's fight," he said.   Pastora said at least nine medical specialists were among those fired.

- Dismissed in surgery -
"I was in surgery when they came from human resources to tell me I could no longer stay because I was fired," said one of the dismissed medics, cancer surgeon Aaron Delgado.   A dismissed pediatrician, Edgar Zuniga, called the axings "arbitrary."   They were fired "for thinking differently, for saying Nicaragua needs democracy, freedom, that the repression and killings must stop and there has to be dialogue," he said.

The staff and residents in Leon held a protest in front of the hospital demanding the sackings be reversed.   Leon used to be a bastion of support for the Sandinista movement Ortega leads, but as the unrest took hold, there too paramilitaries and anti-riot police have stormed the city several times to crush protests.   Rights groups say more than 2,000 people have been hurt across the country since the clashes erupted mid-April.   Many of them sought medical attention for their wounds from volunteers outside the state health system, which was said to have received orders to turn them away.
Date: Wed, 11 Jul 2018 22:06:35 +0200

Washington, July 11, 2018 (AFP) - The known death toll from a four-month crackdown on anti-government protests in Nicaragua has risen to 264, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights said Wednesday.

"As recorded by the IACHR since the start of the repression against social protests, to date, 264 people have lost their lives and more than 1,800 have been injured," the commission's chief Paulo Abrao told reporters.   He was speaking at a meeting of the Organization of American States -- of which the IACHR is part -- about the situation in the violence-wracked Central American country, where protesters are seeking the ouster of President Daniel Ortega.   The rights body had previously given a toll of 212 dead, although local estimates recently put the toll at about 250.

The influential Roman Catholic church has been mediating between Ortega's government and the opposition to end the unrest, but the process has become bogged down amid continuing violence.   In the latest outburst, at least 14 people died in a weekend raid by a pro-government mob near the opposition bastion of Masaya, in the country's southwest.   The opposition is planning to crank up the pressure on Ortega starting on Thursday with an anti-government protest and general strike.

A former leftist guerrilla, Ortega will next week commemorate the 1979 popular uprising that brought him to power with an annual July 19 march due to start in Masaya.   Once the hero of left-wing revolutionaries, Ortega is now widely viewed as an oppressor.   Having lost a presidential vote in 1990, he was re-elected in 2007 but opponents have accused him -- together with his wife Vice President Rosario Murillo -- of establishing a dictatorship characterized by nepotism and brutal repression.
More ...

World Travel News Headlines

Date: Tue, 10 Dec 2019 10:50:09 +0100 (MET)

Sydney, Dec 10, 2019 (AFP) - The death toll from New Zealand's White Island volcano eruption rose to six late Tuesday, after an injured person died in an Auckland hospital, police said.   "Police can confirm a further person has died following the eruption on Whakaari/White Island, bringing the official toll to six," a police statement said.   Eight more people who remain missing are presumed dead after the volcano erupted Monday.
Date: Tue, 10 Dec 2019 09:27:57 +0100 (MET)
By Andrew BEATTY, with Daniel de Carteret in Gosford

Sydney, Dec 10, 2019 (AFP) - Toxic haze blanketed Sydney Tuesday triggering a chorus of smoke alarms to ring across the city and forcing school children inside, as "severe" weather conditions fuelled deadly bush blazes along Australia's east coast.   Fire engines raced office-to-office in the city centre with sirens blaring, as inland bushfires poured smoke laden with toxic particles into commercial buildings.   Emergency services responded to an "unprecedented" 500 automatic call-outs inside a few hours according to New South Wales Fire and Rescue's Roger Mentha.

A regional fire headquarters miles from the nearest blazes was itself evacuated while throngs of mask-wearing commuters choked their way through thick acrid air and the organisers of a harbour yacht race declared it was unsafe to proceed.   "The smoke from all the fires is just so severe here on the harbour that you just can't see anything, so it's just too dangerous," said spokeswoman Di Pearson of an event that normally foreshadows the famed Sydney-Hobart yacht race. "The vision is just so poor."   Some of the city's commuter ferries were also cancelled "due to thick smoke" and school kids were kept inside at breaktime and sent home early as pollution levels soared far above "hazardous" levels.

For weeks the east of the country has been smothered in smoke as drought and climate-fuelled bushfires have burned. But the scale of the problem on Tuesday shocked even hardened residents.   Bruce Baker -- an 82-year-old who lives in Gosford, north of Sydney -- said he was skipping his daily morning walk because of the smoke.   "This is the worst it's been, for sure," he told AFP. "It dries your throat. Even if you're not asthmatic, you feel it."   Authorities recommended that the vulnerable cease outdoor activity altogether and that everyone stay inside as much as possible, although one couple braved the toxic air to get married on the waterfront in front of Sydney Harbour Bridge shrouded in smog.

A cricket match between New South Wales and Queensland also went ahead, despite a barely visible ball.   Tuesday had been expected to bring strong winds and high temperatures that made for "severe conditions where embers can be blown ahead of the fire into suburbs and threaten properties."   But New South Wales Rural Fire Service said "deteriorating fire conditions have been delayed by a thick blanket of smoke" over the east of the state.   As the day developed there were nearly 100 bushfire incidents in the state of New South Wales alone and dozens more in Queensland.   Total fire bans were put in place across much of the east of the country and in large parts of western Australia.   Temperatures in some inland areas eased past 44 degrees Celsius (111 Fahrenheit).

- The 'big dry' -
To the northwest of Sydney, several fires already burning for weeks have combined to create a "megafire" that has already destroyed 319,000 hectares (788,000 acres) of land, mostly inside national parks.   Prime Minister Scott Morrison  -- who for weeks has not commented on the smoke haze -- defended his government's handling of the fires and said there were no plans to professionalise the countryside's largely volunteer force.    "Our policy is sensible when it comes to addressing and taking action on climate change. Our actions on climate change are getting the results they're intended to get," he said.   Morrison's conservative coalition has been criticised by former fire chiefs for failing to heed warnings about climate change.   The crisis has been propelled by a prolonged drought that has made vegetation tinder dry.

The Bureau of Meteorology has reported that Australia experienced its driest November on record this year.   The "big dry" has left farmers desperate and small towns facing the prospect of running out of water completely.   A swathe of the east of the country has seen "rainfall deficiencies" since early 2017 -- almost three years.   Many dams in New South Wales are empty and almost all are well below capacity.   Firefighters south of Brisbane recently reported 1,000 litres of water were stolen from tanks at their station.   Amid the shortage, Tuesday also saw the toughest water restrictions in a decade being introduced for Sydney -- with curbs on everything from hosepipe use to washing cars.
Date: Tue, 10 Dec 2019 03:09:17 +0100 (MET)
By Allison JACKSON

Sao Paulo, Dec 10, 2019 (AFP) - Gripping the deadly snake behind its jaws, Fabiola de Souza massages its venom glands to squeeze out drops that will save lives around Brazil where thousands of people are bitten every year.   De Souza and her colleagues at the Butantan Institute in Sao Paulo harvest the toxin from hundreds of snakes kept in captivity to produce antivenom.    It is distributed by the health ministry to medical facilities across the country.

Dozens of poisonous snake species, including the jararaca, thrive in Brazil's hot and humid climate.    Nearly 29,000 people were bitten in 2018 and more than 100 died, official figures show.   States with the highest rates of snakebite were in the vast and remote Amazon basin where it can take hours to reach a hospital stocked with antivenom.   Venom is extracted from each snake once a month in a delicate and potentially dangerous process.

Using a hooked stick, de Souza carefully lifts one of the slithering creatures out of its plastic box and maneuvers it into a drum of carbon dioxide.    Within minutes the reptile is asleep.    "It's less stress for the animal," de Souza explains.    The snake is then placed on a stainless steel bench in the room where the temperature hovers around 27 degrees Celsius (80 degrees Fahrenheit).    De Souza has a few minutes to safely extract venom before the snake begins to stir.      "It's important to have fear because when people have fear they are careful," she says.

- Antivenom 'crisis' -
The snakes are fed a diet of rats and mice that are raised at the leafy institute and killed before being served up once a month.   After milking the snake, de Souza records its weight and length before placing it back in its container.    The antivenom is made by injecting small amounts of the poison into horses -- kept by Butantan on a farm -- to trigger an immune response that produces toxin-attacking antibodies.

Blood is later extracted from the hoofed animals and the antibodies harvested to create a serum that will be administered to snakebite victims who might otherwise die.   Butantan project manager Fan Hui Wen, a Brazilian, says the institute currently makes all of the country's antivenom -- around 250,000 10-15 millilitre vials per year.

Brazil also donates small quantities of antivenom to several countries in Latin America.    There are now plans to sell the life-saving serum abroad to help relieve a global shortage, particularly in Africa.    About 5.4 million people are estimated to be bitten by snakes every year, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). 

Between 81,000 and 138,000 die, while many more suffer amputations and other permanent disabilities as a result of the toxin.   To cut the number of deaths and injuries, WHO unveiled a plan earlier this year that includes boosting production of quality antivenoms.   Brazil is part of the strategy. It could begin to export antivenom as early as next year, Wen says.   "There is interest for Butantan to also supply other countries due to the global crisis of antivenom production," she says.
Date: Mon, 9 Dec 2019 14:14:15 +0100 (MET)

Dec 9, 2019 (AFP) - New Zealand, struck by a deadly volcanic eruption Monday, lies in a zone where Earth's tectonic plates collide, making it a hotspot for earthquakes and volcanic activity.   In one of its worst natural disasters, a huge mass of volcanic debris from the eruption of Mount Ruapehu triggered a mudslide in 1953 that washed away a bridge and caused a passenger train to plunge into a river with the loss of 151 lives.  After Monday's eruption on New Zealand's White Island, here is a recap of some of the deadliest volcanic eruptions around the world in the past 25 years.

- 2018: Indonesia -
In December the Anak Krakatoa volcano, a small island in the Sunda Strait between Java and Sumatra, erupts and a section of its crater collapses, sliding into the ocean and generating a tsunami. More than 420 people are killed and 7,200 wounded.

- 2018: Guatemala -
The June eruption of the Fuego volcano, about 35 kilometres (22 miles) from the capital, unleashes a torrent of mud and ash that wipes the village of San Miguel Los Lotes from the map. More than 200 people are killed.

- 2014: Japan -
The sudden eruption in September of Mount Ontake, in the central Nagano region, kills more than 60 people in Japan's worst volcanic disaster in nearly 90 years. The mountain is packed with hikers at the time. In 1991 an eruption of the southwestern Unzen volcano kills 43.

- 2014: Indonesia -
At least 16 people are killed on the island of Sumatra in February by a spectacular eruption of Mount Sinabung, which had lain dormant for 400 years before roaring back to life five months earlier. In 2016 villages are scorched and farmland devastated after another eruption kills seven.

- 2010: Indonesia -
Indonesia's most active volcano, Mount Merapi on Java island, starts a series of explosions in October, eventually killing more than 320 people. An 1930 eruption of the volcano killed 1,300 people and one in 1994 claimed more than 60 lives.

- 2002: DR Congo -
The eruption in July of Mount Nyiragongo in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo destroys the centre of Goma town, along with several residential areas, and kills more than 100 people.

- 1997: Montserrat -
The capital of the small British colony, Plymouth, is wiped off the map and 20 are killed or left missing in avalanches of hot rock and ash clouds when its volcano erupts in June.

- 1995: The Philippines -
At least 70 are killed and another 30 missing after the crater of the Parker volcano in the south of the island of Mindanao collapses. Five years earlier the eruption of Mount Pinatubo, 80 kilometres north of the capital Manila, kills more than 800 people.

- Worst ever -
The explosion of Indonesia's Krakatoa volcano in 1883 is considered the worst ever seen. The eruption sent a jet of ash, stones and smoke shooting more than 20 kilometres (12 miles) into the sky, plunging the region into darkness, and sparking a huge tsunami that was felt around the world. The disaster killed more than 36,000 people.

The most famous eruption in history is that of Mount Vesuvius in modern-day Italy in 79 AD, which destroyed the towns of Herculaneum, Stabiae and Pompeii, wiping out an estimated 10 percent of the population of the three cities.
Date: Mon 9 Dec 2019
Source: Fox 29 Philadelphia [edited]

A total of 31 people have been sickened by salmonellosis at 4 health care facilities in south-eastern Pennsylvania. A majority of those cases occurred after individuals ate pre-cut fruit from New Jersey-based Tailor Cut Produce. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced the salmonellosis outbreak in conjunction with the Pennsylvania Department of Health (DOH) on [Fri 6 Dec 2019]. The North Brunswick distributor has recalled its fruit mix with cantaloupe, honeydew, pineapple and grapes as a result.

Tailor Cut Produce reports that its products may be found in restaurants, banquet facilities, hotels, schools and institutional food service establishments in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York. "We recommend that any facility who use Tailor Cut Produce pre-cut fruit to immediately stop and throw it away," Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine said.

Salmonellosis is an infection caused by _Salmonella_ bacteria that generally affects the intestinal tract. People usually become infected by either eating or drinking contaminated food or water, by contact with infected people or animals, or through contact with contaminated environmental sources.
Date: Mon 9 Dec 2019
Source: Sixth Tone [edited]

Dozens of researchers in northwestern China's Gansu province have been infected with brucellosis, an animal-borne disease that causes flu-like symptoms and, potentially, lingering problems. In a statement [Fri 6 Dec 2019], the Lanzhou Veterinary Research Institute, an affiliated institute of the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, said that the 1st few grad students from the institute's foot-and-mouth disease prevention team tested positive for brucellosis antibodies on [28 Nov 2019]. The labs affected have been closed, the institute said, and national and local health authorities have assembled a team to investigate the outbreak.

Li Hui, an official at the health commission in Lanzhou, the provincial capital, told Sixth Tone on [Mon 9 Dec 2019] that the total number of brucellosis cases at the institute had climbed to 96. None have shown clinical symptoms, according to domestic media, and it remains unclear how they were exposed to the bacteria.

Brucellosis -- also known as Malta, Mediterranean, or undulant fever -- is a zoonotic disease that mainly affects animals, including livestock and dogs, which can in turn transmit the bacteria to humans through direct contact. Symptoms include fever, chills, sweating, lethargy, and aches and pains, according to the WHO. In the absence of early diagnosis and treatment, brucellosis can become a chronic condition that is difficult to cure.

In China, brucellosis is a Class B disease, ranking below a more serious category that includes cholera and plague. Human-to-human transmission has only been known to occur between lactating mothers and their babies. According to state broadcaster China National Radio, the brucellosis outbreak at the Gansu veterinary institute has prompted health checks among local students and staff who fear that they may have come into contact with infected animals.

One of the last brucellosis outbreaks in China occurred in 2011, when an agricultural university in the northeastern Heilongjiang province reported 28 cases stemming from infected goats being used in lab research. The school publicly apologized, fired 2 administrators, and offered each of the students' affected monetary compensation.

Scientific labs are subject to different experimental standards depending on their biosafety level, according to a researcher surnamed Yang at the Shanghai Institutes for Biological Sciences, an affiliate of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

"If the protection levels don't keep pace (with biosafety levels), there will be a risk of infection," Yang, who studies viruses and works in a Biosafety Level 2+ lab, told Sixth Tone. As a result, labs generally require researchers to undergo safety training or even pass an exam to earn a certification, said Yang, who only used her surname because she was not authorized by her employer to speak to media.

The Lanzhou Veterinary Research Institute describes itself as "China's only authorized research center for working with the live virus that causes foot-and-mouth disease," a highly contagious disease affecting livestock. The institute is reportedly also one of the few in China with Biosafety Level 3 labs, which are required for _brucella_ pathogen studies, according to the National Health Commission.

As the local agriculture department tries to ascertain the source of the recent infections, Lanzhou's health commission said [Fri 6 Dec 2019], it is implementing precautionary measures so that brucellosis does not pose a threat to neighbouring communities. [Byline: Yuan Ye]
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[An earlier report suggested that 4 persons were clinically ill but this is not confirmed here.  Brucellosis (<http://www.medicinenet.com/brucellosis/article.htm>) is a disease that is thought to have existed since ancient times, as it was 1st described more than 2000 years ago by the Romans and Hippocrates. It was not until 1887 that a British physician, Dr. David Bruce, isolated the organism that causes brucellosis from several deceased patients from the island of Malta. This disease has had several names throughout its history, including Mediterranean fever, Malta fever, Crimean fever, Bang's disease, and undulant fever (because of the relapsing nature of the fever associated with the disease).

The symptoms and signs of brucellosis may develop from days to months after the initial exposure to the organism. While some individuals may develop mild symptoms, others may go on to develop long-term chronic symptoms. The signs and symptoms of brucellosis are extensive, and they can be similar to many other febrile illnesses, so recognition of potential exposure -- from ingestion of unpasteurized milk or cheese, employment as a veterinarian or veterinary student, in a slaughter house or meat processing plant, or working in a microbiology lab -- is vital. In this outbreak, it is not clear what symptoms the students had or whether they were just seropositive. ProMED would like more information about this episode. - ProMED Mod.LL]

[HealthMap/ProMED map available at:
Gansu Province, China: <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/333>]
Date: Tue 3 Dec 2019
Source: Outbreak News Today [edited]

In late November [2019], Uganda health authorities notified the World Health Organization of a fatal Rift Valley fever (RVF) case from Obongi district.  The case was a 35-year-old man from South Sudan who was living in the Palorinya Refugee camp in Obongi district, Uganda. The case had travel history to South Sudan between 12 and 19 Nov 2019 to harvest cassava. While in his home country, he developed fever and other symptoms and was treated for malaria; however, his condition got worse.  He later returned to the refugee camp in Uganda and his symptoms progressed and he was hospitalized. Viral hemorrhagic fever was suspected. Samples were collected and sent to the Uganda Virus Research Institute; however, the patient died. A safe and dignified burial was performed on 22 Nov 2019. As of 24 Nov 2019, a total of 19 contacts were recorded during the active case search including 10 healthcare workers.
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[The circumstances and specific location under which the man became infected with Rift Valley fever (RVF) virus in South Sudan is not mentioned. It is worth noting that there was an RVF outbreak in the Eastern Lakes region of South Sudan during the 1st 3 months of last year (2018). At the end of that outbreak, the OIE's follow-up report no. 3 reported: "The event cannot be considered resolved, but the situation is sufficiently stable. No more follow-up reports will be sent. Information about this disease will be included in the next 6-monthly reports."

There were more human cases than animal ones in that outbreak, prompting Mod.AS to comment: "Unfortunately, during the recent South Sudan RVF event, as in most -- if not all -- previous RVF events in other African countries, humans served as sentinels. Improved surveillance in animals is desperately needed in Africa, to allow timely measures applied, predominantly preventive vaccination, before the development of a full-blown epizootic involving secondary infection in humans." Intensified surveillance is needed in South Sudan in those localities where the affected man had been prior to his return to Uganda.

It is likely that RVF virus has persisted in this area in transovarially infected eggs of _Aedes_ mosquito vectors. These eggs can remain viable for long periods of time and hatch when flooded during future rain events, with the subsequent emergence of infected females ready to transmit the virus. This risk provides justification for maintaining livestock of the area well vaccinated into the future. This may have accounted for the reappearance of RVF in South Sudan in 2018, after nearly 2 years without additional reported cases in humans or livestock and again with this human case in 2019. - ProMED Mod.TY]

Obongi district, Uganda is located approximately 50 km (30 mi) from the South Sudan border.
HealthMap/ProMED-mail maps:

According to OIE's data, a total of 2 outbreaks of RVF affecting animals have been reported from Sudan during the event. The 1st outbreak started in the Arabaata dam area, Red Sea state, on 25 Sep 2019, affecting goats. The 2nd (and, so far, last) outbreak started 10 Oct 2019 in the River Nile state, affecting sheep and goats. Both outbreaks have been declared as 'resolved' on 14 Nov 2019.

Outbreak summary:
Total outbreaks = 2 (Submitted)
Species / Susceptible / Cases / Deaths / Killed and disposed of / Slaughtered
Goats / 1700 / 37 / 7 / 0 / 0
Sheep / 1550 / 37 / 5 / 0 / 0

According to the recent (5 Dec 2019) OCHA (UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) update, the (human) RVF situation in Sudan, as of 26 Oct 2019, was the following: "a total of 345 suspected RVF cases -- including 11 related deaths -- reported in the states of Red Sea (128), River Nile (212), Khartoum (1), White Nile (1), Kassala (2), and Gedaref (1). The most affected age group is 15 to 45 years, which accounts for 83% of the total suspected cases. The male to female ratio is 2.6, with a high proportion of the cases being farmers (37.5 per cent). RVF is endemic in Sudan and 3 outbreaks affecting people have been documented in 1973, 1976, and 2008. During the outbreak in 2008, a total of 747 laboratory-confirmed cases were reported, including 230 deaths."

Egypt suffered its 1st RVF outbreak in 1977/78 with serious human disease and death as well as severe losses in livestock; several additional events have been recorded since. A recent historical review paper [1] concluded: "due to the availability and abundance of the potential vectors, the suitability of environmental conditions, continuous importation of livestock's from Sudan, and the close association of susceptible domestic animals with humans, the RVF virus could possibly occur and circulate in Egypt."   (https://tinyurl.com/whz3pz5)

Reference
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1. Kenawy MA, Abdel-Hamid YM, Beier JC. Rift Valley fever in Egypt and other African countries: Historical review, recent outbreaks, and possibility of disease occurrence in Egypt. Acta Trop. 2018; 181: 40-49; <https://doi.org/10.1016/j.actatropica.2018.01.015>  - ProMED Mods.AS/TY]
Date: Fri 6 Dec 2019 5:53 PM MST
Source: CTV News [edited]

A syphilis outbreak is worsening in Alberta [Canada], and the majority of new cases are in the Edmonton zone. Edmonton saw 1186 of the 1753 infectious syphilis [primary, secondary and early latent syphilis] cases reported in Alberta in 2019, a total of 68 per cent.

Alberta Health Services [AHS] declared an outbreak in July 2019, saying cases had 'increased dramatically' in the province since 2014. The number increased again in July [2019]  [<https://edmonton.ctvnews.ca/alberta-declares-province-wide-syphilis-outbreak-1.4510737>].

AHS sent a new public health alert to doctors on [27 Nov 2019], asking for their help to control the outbreak [<https://www.albertahealthservices.ca/assets/info/hp/phys/if-hp-phys-moh-ez-syphilis-outbreak.pdf>]. "It's very significant," said Dr Ameeta Singh, a clinical professor in infectious diseases. "That's an alarming rise in new syphilis cases in Alberta." She said it's the highest number of cases the province has seen since the 1940s.

According to Dr Singh, the increase in cases being reported is partially due to a greater number of people getting tested. "We know more people are coming in to get tested, but if we look a bit closer at the data we have, we do see there's, in fact, a [bigger] rise in the number of cases than we would expect to see," said Singh.

Another factor could be the rise in methamphetamine use in Edmonton. "I believe this is a major factor. Meth also stimulates risky sexual behaviour and increases the chance people will engage in multiple, usually casual or anonymous partners as well and not use precautions such as condoms to protect themselves during sex," she said.

What's also alarming, Singh said, is the spike in cases of congenital syphilis, where the disease is passed on to newborns. According to AHS, there have been 38 cases of congenital syphilis in 2019, 31 of which were in the Edmonton area. That accounts for more than half of the 61 cases of congenital syphilis reported since 2014.

"Those are not numbers we should be talking about in Canada ever...in a country that has universal access to health care, in a major city in Canada where syphilis testing is offered to all pregnant women who access prenatal care," she said. "What we're seeing with the congenital syphilis cases is many of the women are not accessing prenatal care until they come into the hospital to deliver and then the tests are being done."
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[A recent ProMED-mail post (Syphilis - Canada (04): (AB) RFI http://promedmail.org/post/20190718.6574300) reported a rise in "infectious syphilis" cases over a 4-year period: from 2014 to 2018 but made no mentioned of contributing factors. As illicit drug use has been cited as a contributing factor to recent increases in syphilis cases in the Canadian provinces of Ontario and Manitoba, I questioned in this prior ProMED-mail post if use of illicit drugs, in particular, methamphetamine, could similarly be contributing to the rise of syphilis cases in Alberta. The news article above reports that the rise in methamphetamine use in Edmonton, as well as increased testing for syphilis, are thought to be contributing factors in Alberta.

Methamphetamine can be swallowed, snorted, smoked or injected by needle and syringe

When methamphetamine is injected, transmission of syphilis may occur as a consequence of sharing a needle/syringe contaminated with infected blood from somebody who has primary or secondary syphilis (<https://ucsdnews.ucsd.edu/archive/newsrel/health/04-28TransmissionSyphilis.asp>); but syphilis can also be acquired by direct contact with an infected lesion during oral, vaginal, or anal sex when the drug is taken by any route of administration. Methamphetamine use is associated with sexual behaviors that increase the risk for acquiring syphilis and other sexually transmitted diseases, including having multiple sex partners, inconsistent condom use, and exchange of sex for drugs or money (<https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/68/wr/mm6806a4.htm>).

The linkage of methamphetamine use and syphilis transmission is reminiscent of the increase in syphilis among heterosexuals during the crack cocaine epidemic of the 1980s and 1990s, when the practice of trading sex with multiple partners for drugs, especially crack cocaine, played a major role in the transmission of syphilis. Under these circumstances, the identities of sex partners are often unknown, which weakens the traditional syphilis-control strategy of partner notification.

Bacteremia due to _Treponema pallidum_, the cause of syphilis, which occurs during primary, secondary, and latent syphilis, can result in transplacental transmission of this organism to the fetus during pregnancy and cause congenital syphilis. An increase in the incidence of syphilis in women in the population is commonly accompanied by increasing rates of congenital syphilis.

Edmonton, with a population of 932 546 residents in 2016, is the capital of the Canadian province of Alberta
(<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edmonton>).

A map showing the location of Edmonton can be found at
<https://goo.gl/maps/Rfq6XC2vvwi19ypb6>. - ProMED Mod.ML]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of Alberta, Canada:
9 December 2019
https://www.who.int/bangladesh/news/detail/09-12-2019-cholera-vaccination-campaign-launched-to-protect-635-000-people-in-cox-s-bazar

Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh

Over 635,000 Rohingya refugees and Bangladeshi host community will be vaccinated against cholera in a 3-week-long campaign beginning today at the refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar and nearby areas, to protect vulnerable population against the deadly disease amidst increasing number of cases of acute watery diarrhoea (AWD).


The Oral Cholera Vaccination (OCV) campaign will be implemented in the refugee camps from 8-14 December to reach 139,888 Rohingya aged 1 year and less than 5 years. In the host community, the campaign will take place from 8-31 December and aims to reach any person older than 1 year (495,197). In total, 635,085 people are expected to be reached.

Led by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, with support of the World Health Organization (WHO), UNICEF and other partners, the campaign aims to reach people who missed some or all previous cholera vaccination opportunities. The campaign, including operational costs, is funded by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance.

“We want to equip these populations with more protection against diarrheal diseases. Despite the progresses made to ensure access to quality water and sanitation, such diseases remain an issue of concern: approximately 80% of host community living near the camps have not been targeted in previous OCV campaigns and are still vulnerable”, says Dr Bardan Jung Rana, WHO Representative in Bangladesh.

Earlier rounds of cholera vaccination, which have taken place since the beginning of the emergency response in 2017, have helped prevent outbreaks of the disease. To this date, over 1 million people were vaccinated against cholera.
6th December 2019
https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/dec/06/flooding-hits-new-zealand-tourist-hubs-of-wanaka-and-queenstown

Heavy rain has led to rivers bursting their banks, forcing the closure of shops and restaurants

Streets in the South Island tourist towns of Wanaka and Queenstown were slowly going under water on Friday, after Lake Wanaka and Lake Wakatipu burst their banks earlier in the week, flooding businesses and sewerage systems.

Water and large debris closed the main street of Wanaka, a popular spot with Instagrammers thanks to its famous tree that appears to have grown out of the lake. On Friday businesses were sandbagging as heavy rain continued to fall.

Sewerage systems in the town were also at risk of contaminating the lake, with the Queenstown Lakes District council taking the precautionary measure of shutting down the sewer connection to a handful of premises.

Wanaka residents were told to be on “high alert” with heavy rain predicted all weekend.

The streets of the usually bustling tourist town were largely empty, and the popular cafes and restaurants on the lake shore were closed.