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US Consular Information Sheet Italy, Holy See (Vatican City) and San Marino - January 21, 2009 COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
Italy is a developed democracy with a modern economy.
The Holy See is a sovereign entity that serves as the ecclesiastical, gove
nmental and administrative capital of the Roman Catholic Church, physically located within the State of the Vatican City inside Rome, with a unique, non-traditional economy.
San Marino is a developed, constitutional democratic republic, also independent of Italy, with a modern economy.
Tourist facilities are widely available. Read the Department of State Background Notes on Italy, the Holy See, and San Marino for additional information. ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:
Italy is a party to the Schengen agreement.
As such, U.S. citizens may enter Italy for up to 90 days for tourist or business purposes without a visa.
The passport should be valid for at least three months beyond the period of stay.
For further details about travel into and within Schengen countries, please see our fact sheet.
For all other purposes, a visa is required and must be obtained from the Italian Embassy or Consulates before entering Italy.
For further information concerning visas and entry requirements for Italy, travelers may contact the Embassy of Italy at 3000 Whitehaven Street NW, Washington, DC 20008, via telephone at (202) 612-4400 or online at http://www.ambwashingtondc.esteri.it/ambasciata_washington, or Italian Consulates General in Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, Newark, New Orleans, New York, Philadelphia, or San Francisco, accessible through the Italian Embassy web site. Americans staying or traveling within Italy for less than three (3) months are considered non-residents. This includes persons on vacation, those taking professional trips, students registered at an authorized school, or persons performing research or independent study. As of May 2007, under Italian law (http://www.camera.it/parlam/leggi/07068l.htm), all non-residents are required to complete a dichiarazione di presenza (declaration of presence). Tourists arriving from a non-Schengen-country (e.g. the United States) should obtain a stamp in their passport at the airport on the day of arrival. This stamp is considered the equivalent of the declaration of presence. Tourists arriving from a Schengen-country (e.g. France) must request the declaration of presence form from a local police office (commissariato di zona), police headquarters (questura) or their place of stay (e.g hotel, hostel, campgrounds) and submit the form to the police or to their place of stay within eight business days of arrival. It is important that applicants keep a copy of the receipt issued by the Italian authorities. Failure to complete a declaration of presence is punishable by expulsion from Italy. Additional information may be obtained (in Italian only) from the Portale Immigrazione at http://www.portaleimmigrazione.it and the Polizia di Stato at http://www.poliziadistato.it/pds/ps/immigrazione/soggiorno.htm. Americans staying in Italy for more than three (3) months are considered residents and must obtain a permesso di soggiorno (permit of stay). This includes Americans who will work or transact business and persons who want to simply live in Italy.
An application “kit” for the permesso di soggiorno may be requested from one of 14,000 national post offices (Poste Italiane). The kit must then be returned to one of 5,332 designated Post Office acceptance locations.
It is important that applicants keep a copy of the receipt issued by the post office.
Additional information may be obtained from an Italian immigration website online at http://www.portaleimmigrazione.it/.
Within 20 days of receiving the permit to stay in Italy, Americans must go to the local Vital Statistics Bureau (Anagrafe of the Comune) to apply for residency. It generally takes one to two months to receive the certificate of residence (Certificato di Residenza). Information about dual nationality or the prevention of international child abduction can be found on our web site.
For further information about customs regulations, please read our Customs Information sheet. SAFETY AND SECURITY:
There have been occasional episodes of politically motivated violence in Italy, most often connected to Italian internal developments or social issues.
Italian authorities have found bombs outside public buildings, received bomb threats, and were subjects of letter bombs.
Firebombs or Molotov cocktails have been thrown at buildings or offices in the middle of the night.
These incidents have all been attributed to organized crime or anarchist movements.
Americans were not targeted or injured in these instances.
Demonstrations may have an anti-American character.
Even demonstrations intended to be peaceful have the potential to turn into confrontational situations and possibly escalate into violence.
U.S. citizens traveling or residing in Italy should take common sense precautions and follow news reports carefully in order to avoid demonstrations and to be aware of heightened security and potential delays when they occur.
American citizens are encouraged to read the Warden Messages posted on the Embassy’s web site at http://italy.usembassy.gov/acs/demonstration/default.asp. Italy remains largely free of terrorist incidents.
However, like other countries in the Schengen area, Italy’s open borders with its Western European neighbors allow the possibility of terrorist groups entering/exiting the country with anonymity. For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State’s, Bureau of Consular Affairs’ web site, 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., 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 A Safe Trip Abroad. CRIME:
Italy has a moderate rate of violent crime, some of which is directed towards tourists, principally for motives of theft.
Some travelers are victims of rape and beatings.
There are incidents of drinks laced with drugs being used by criminals to rob, and in some cases, assault tourists.
Many of these incidents occur in the vicinity of Rome’s Termini train station and at major tourist centers such as Campo de Fiori and Piazza Navona, as well as in Florence and Naples.
Criminals using this tactic “befriend” a traveler at a train station, bus stop, restaurant, café or bar in tourist areas, then eventually offer a drink laced with a sleeping drug.
When the tourist falls asleep, criminals steal the traveler’s valuables.
There are also instances where the victim is assaulted, either physically or sexually. Americans are urged to exercise caution at train stations and airports, and when frequenting nightclubs, bars and outdoor cafes, particularly at night, because criminals may make initial contact with potential victims in such settings.
Individuals under the effect of alcohol may become victims of crime, including robbery, physical and sexual assault, due to their impaired ability to judge situations and make decisions.
This is particularly a problem for younger Americans visiting Italy, where the age limit on the sale of alcoholic beverages is lower than in the United States.
If you are a victim of such a crime, please file a police report and contact the U.S. Embassy or nearest consulate.
There are also in-country organizations, which provide counseling, medical, and legal assistance to certain crime victims. Petty crimes such as pick-pocketing, theft from parked cars, and purse snatching are serious problems, especially in large cities.
Pick-pockets sometimes dress like businessmen.
Tourists should not be lulled into a false sense of security by believing that well-dressed individuals are not potential pick-pockets or thieves.
Most reported thefts occur at crowded tourist sites, on public buses or trains, or at the major railway stations: Rome’s Termini; Milan’s Centrale; Florence’s Santa Maria Novella; and Naples’ Centrale and Piazza Garibaldi.
Travelers should also be alert to theft in Milan’s Malpensa Airport, particularly at car rental agencies.
Clients of Internet cafes in major cities are also targeted.
Tourists who have tried to resist petty thieves on motor scooters have suffered broken arms and collarbones. Thieves in Italy often work in groups or pairs.
Pairs of accomplices or groups of street urchins are known to divert tourists’ attention so that another can pick-pocket them.
In one particular routine, one thief throws trash, waste or ketchup at the victim; a second thief assists the victim in cleaning up the mess; and the third discreetly takes the victim’s belongings.
Criminals on crowded public transportation slit the bottoms of purses or bags with a razor blade or sharp knife removing the contents.
Theft of small items such as radios, luggage, cameras, briefcases, and even cigarettes from parked cars is a major problem. Carjackings and thefts are reported by occupants of vehicles waiting in traffic or stopped at traffic lights.
Vehicles parked near beaches during the summer are broken into and robbed of valuables.
Robbers take items from cars at gas stations often by smashing car windows. In a scam practiced on the highways, one thief signals a flat tire to the driver of another car and encourages the driver to pull over.
Often, the tire has been punctured by an accomplice, while in other instances, there may, in fact, be nothing wrong with the vehicle.
When the driver stops, one thief helps change the tire, while the other takes the driver’s belongings.
Use particular caution driving at night on highways, when there may be a greater incidence of robbery attempts.
There are occasional reports of break-ins of rental cars driven by Americans when the precautions mentioned above were not followed during stops at highway service areas. On trains, a commonly reported crime involves one or more persons who pretend to befriend a traveler and offer drugged food or drink.
Also, thieves are known to impersonate police officers to gain the confidence of tourists.
The thief shows the prospective victim a circular plastic sign with the words “police” or “international police.”
If this happens, the tourist should insist on seeing the officer’s identification card (documento), as impersonators tend not to carry forged documents.
Tourists should immediately report thefts or other crimes to the local police. The U.S. Secret Service in Rome is assisting Italian Law Enforcement authorities in investigating an increase in the appearance of ATM skimming devices.
These devices are attached to legitimate bank ATMs, usually located in tourist areas, and capture the account information stored electronically on the card’s magnetic strip.
The devices consist of a card reader installed over the legitimate reader and a pin-hole video camera mounted above the keypad that records the customer’s PIN.
ATMs with skimming devices installed may also allow normal transactions to occur.
The victim’s information is sold, traded on-line, or encoded on another card such as a hotel key card to access the compromised account.
Here are some helpful hints to protect yourself and to identify skimming devices: 1) Use ATMs located in well-lit public areas, or secured inside the bank/business 2) Cover the keypad with one hand as you enter your PIN 3) Look for gaps, tampered appearance, or other irregularities between the metal faceplate of the ATM and the card reader 4) Avoid card readers that are not flush with the face of the ATM 5) Closely monitor your account statements for unauthorized transactions Organized criminal groups operate throughout Italy, but are more prevalent in the south.
They occasionally resort to violence to intimidate or to settle disputes.
Though the activities of such groups are not generally targeted at tourists, visitors should be aware that innocent by-standers could be injured. In many countries around the world, counterfeit and pirated goods are widely available.
Transactions involving such products may be illegal under local law.
In addition, bringing them back to the United States may result in forfeitures and/or fines.
More information on this serious problem is available at http://www.cybercrime.gov/18usc2320.htm. According to Italian Law (Law 80 of May 14, 2005), anyone caught buying counterfeit goods (for example, DVD’s, CD’s, watches, purses, bags, belts, sunglasses, etc.) is subject to a fine of no less than EUR 1,000.
Police in major Italian cities enforce this law to varying degrees.
Travelers are advised to purchase products only from stores and other licensed retailers to avoid unknowingly buying counterfeit and illegal merchandise. 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.
Lost or stolen credit cards present risk of identity theft and should be cancelled immediately.
Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed. The local equivalent to the “911” emergency line in Italy is: 113. Please see our information on Victims of Crime, including possible victim compensation programs in the United States. 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 of 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 Italian law, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession, use or trafficking in illegal drugs in Italy are severe and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines.
Engaging in illicit sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime, prosecutable in the United States.
Please see our information on Criminal Penalties. SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:
Strikes and other work stoppages occur frequently in the transportation sector (national airlines, airports, trains, and bus lines).
Most are announced in advance and are of short duration.
Information on strikes may be found at http://www.infrastrutture.gov.it/page/NuovoSito/site.php.
Reconfirmation of domestic and international flight reservations is highly recommended. U. S citizens using public transportation while in Italy are reminded they must adhere to local transportation laws and regulations. Travelers must purchase train tickets and validate them by punching them in validating machines usually located near the entrance of train tracks prior to boarding.
Failure to follow this procedure may result in an on-the-spot fine by an inspector on the train. Travelers must purchase bus tickets prior to boarding and validate them immediately after boarding. Tickets may be purchased at tobacco stores or kiosks. Failure to follow this procedure may result in an immediate fine imposed by an inspector on the bus. If the violator does not pay the fine on the spot, it will automatically double and will be forwarded to the violator’s home address. MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:
Medical facilities are available, but may be limited outside urban areas.
Public hospitals, though generally free of charge for emergency services, sometimes do not maintain the same standards as hospitals in the United States, so travelers are encouraged to obtain insurance that would cover a stay in a private Italian hospital or clinic.
It is almost impossible to obtain an itemized hospital bill from public hospitals, as required by many U.S. insurance companies, because the Italian National Health Service charges one inclusive rate (care services, bed and board). In parts of southern Italy, the lack of adequate trash disposal and incineration sites has led to periodic accumulations of garbage in urban and rural areas.
In some cases, residents have burned garbage, resulting in toxic emissions that can aggravate respiratory problems. The U.S. Navy initiated a public health evaluation in the Naples area in 2008.
Updates on that evaluation can be found at http://www.nsa.naples.navy.mil/risk.
After finding levels of bacterial and chemical contamination of potential health concern, particularly in samples of area well water, the Navy recommended all personnel living off-base in the Naples area use only bottled water for drinking, cooking, ice-making, and brushing teeth.
For more information on safe food and water precautions, see the CDC’s web site below.
The U.S. Department of State is unaware of any HIV/AIDS entry restrictions for visitors to or foreign residents of Italy. 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 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:
While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States.
The information below concerning Italy is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance. Streets in historic city centers are often narrow, winding and congested.
Motor scooters are very popular and drivers often see themselves as exempt from conventions that apply to automobiles. Travelers who rent scooters should be particularly cautious.
Pedestrians and drivers should be constantly alert to the possibility of scooters’ sudden presence.
Most vehicle-related deaths and injuries involve pedestrians or cyclists who are involved in collisions with scooters or other vehicles.
U.S. citizens should remain vigilant and alert while walking or cycling near traffic.
Pedestrians should be careful, as sidewalks can be extremely congested and uneven.
Drivers of bicycles, motorcycles, and other vehicles routinely ignore traffic signals and traffic flows and park and drive on sidewalks.
For safety, pedestrians should look carefully in both directions before crossing streets, even when using a marked crosswalk with a green avanti (“walk”) light illuminated.
Traffic lights are limited, often disobeyed, and a different convention of right-of-way is observed.
Italy has over 5,600 kilometers (3,480 mi.) of Autostrada, or superhighways.
Commercial and individual vehicles travel and pass on these well-maintained roads at very high speeds.
Accidents occur in which contributing factors include excessive speed, alcohol/drug use, and/or sleepiness of long-distance drivers.
Italy has one of the highest rates of car accident deaths in the European Union. In rural areas, a wide range of speed on highways makes for hazardous driving.
Roads are generally narrow and often have no guardrails.
Travelers in northern Italy, especially in winter, should be aware of fog and poor visibility, responsible for multiple-car accidents each year.
Most Italian automobiles are equipped with special fog lights.
Roadside assistance in Italy is excellent on the well-maintained toll roads, but limited on secondary roads.
Use of safety belts and child restraining devices is mandatory and headlights should be on at all times outside of urban areas. U.S. citizens driving in Italy are reminded that they must adhere to the local driving laws and regulations.
Vehicle traffic in some historic downtown areas of cities and towns throughout Italy is limited by a system of permits (called “ZTL” and functioning the same way as an EasyPass system in the United States might on the freeway).
Cameras record the license plates of cars driving in parts of the city that require a permit.
Although most of the automated verification stations are clearly marked, if a driver passes one it is impossible to know at the time that a violation occurred or has been recorded.
Violators are not pulled over or stopped, and there is no personal contact with a police officer.
Whenever possible, the fines imposed for these violations are forwarded to the driver’s home in the United States to request payment.
The fines are cumulative for each time a driver passes a control point.
A similar system of automated traffic control cameras is in place in many parts of the highway system and is used to ticket speeding violations. U.S. citizens driving in Italy should also note that, according to Italian regulation, if a resident of a non-European Union country (e.g. the United States) violates a traffic law, the violator must pay the fine at the time the violation occurs to the police officer issuing the ticket.
If the citizen does not or cannot pay the fine at the time, Italian regulation allows the police officer to confiscate the offender’s vehicle (even if the vehicle is a rental vehicle). For specific information concerning Italian driving permits, vehicle inspection, road tax and mandatory insurance, contact the Italian Government Tourist Board (ENIT) offices via the Internet at: http://www.enit.it, tel: 212-245-4822 or the A.C.I. (Automobile Club Italiano) at Via Magenta 5, 00185 Rome, tel: 39-06-4477.
For information on obtaining international drivers licenses, contact AAA or the American Automobile Touring Alliance. Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.
Visit the web site of the country’s national tourist office at http://www.italiantourism.com and national authority responsible for road safety at http://www.infrastrutturetrasporti.it. AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT:
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) assessed the Government of Italy’s Civil Aviation Authority as being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for oversight of Italy’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. DISASTER PREPAREDNESS:
Several major earthquake fault lines cross Italy.
Principal Italian cities, with the exception of Naples, do not lie near these faults, but smaller tourist towns, like Assisi, do and experience earthquakes.
General information about disaster preparedness is available online from the U.S. Federal Management Agency (FEMA) at http://www.fema.gov.
Detailed information on Italy’s earthquake fault lines is available from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) at http://www.usgs.gov Italy also has several active volcanoes generating geothermal events.
Mt. Etna, on the eastern tip of the island of Sicily, has been erupting intermittently since 2000.
Mt. Vesuvius, located near Naples, is currently capped and not active.
Activity at Mt. Vesuvius is monitored by an active seismic network and sensor system, and no recent seismic activity has been recorded.
Two of Italy’s smaller islands, Stromboli and Vulcano in the Aeolian Island chain north of Sicily, also have active volcanoes with lava flows.
Detailed information on volcano activity in Italy is available from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) at http://www.usgs.gov. CHILDREN’S ISSUES:
For information see our Office of Children’s Issues web pages on intercountry adoption and international parental child abduction.
REGISTRATION / EMBASSY AND CONSULATE LOCATIONS:
Americans living or traveling in Italy are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department’s travel registration web site, so they can obtain updated information on travel and security within Italy.
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 Via V. Veneto 119/A, tel.: 39-06-46741 and fax: 39-06-4674-2217; web site: http://italy.usembassy.gov/english/. The U.S. Consulates are located in: Florence:
Lungarno Amerigo Vespucci 38, tel: 39-055-266-951, consular fax: 399-055-215-550; Milan:
Via Principe Amedeo 2/10, tel: 39-02-290-351, and fax:
39-02-290-35-273; Naples:
Piazza della Repubblica, tel:
39-081-583-8111, and consular fax:
39-081-583-8275. There are U.S. Consular Agents located in: Genoa:
Via Dante 2, tel:
39-010-584-492, and fax: 39-010-553-3033; Palermo:
Via Vaccarini 1, tel:
39-091-305-857, and fax:
39-091-625-6026; Venice:
Viale Galileo Galilei, 30, tel: 39-041-541-5944, and fax: 39-041-541-6654. * * * This replaces the Consular Information Sheet dated June 10, 2008, to update the sections onSafety and Security and Medical Facilities and Health Information.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Tue, 6 Aug 2019 20:52:44 +0200 (METDST)

Rome, Aug 6, 2019 (AFP) - Tourists to the Eternal City will no longer be able to catch their breath on the Spanish Steps, after Rome banned people from sitting on the famous monument.   Police could be seen blowing whistles to order people up and off the Steps in the historic centre on Tuesday, an AFP photographer reported.

The marble steps, one of the architectural jewels of the Italian capital, have long been a place for weary sightseers to stop and watch the world go by -- while possibly scoffing down a quick sandwich or slurping a milkshake.   But in an attempt to crack down on slovenly behaviour, the council issued new rules earlier this summer banning all "camping out" or "sitting" on historic monuments, including the Steps and the "boat" fountain at its feet.   Transgressors could be slapped with a fine of up to 400 euros ($448) for everything from sitting, to going shirtless, bathing in fountains and dragging wheeled suitcases down historic steps.

The landmark, made famous in the United States by the 1953 film "Roman Holiday" starring Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck, underwent a 1.5-million-euro renovation in 2016 financed by upmarket jeweller Bulgari.   The marble had been discoloured by years of pollution but also caked in chewing gum and stained by wine and coffee spills.

The Steps, designed by architect Francesco de Sanctis between 1723 and 1726 and dominated by the Trinita dei Monti church at the top, are a UNESCO site.   Last month, two German tourists were fined 950 euros for making themselves a coffee on the steps of the famous Rialto bridge in Venice and asked to leave the city.
Date: Sat, 20 Jul 2019 11:45:40 +0200

Rome, July 20, 2019 (AFP) - Italy's Mount Etna, Europe's biggest live volcano, erupted overnight with lava flows and explosive burps, vulcanologists said Saturday.   A heavy emission of ash into the sky forced the closure of two airports in Sicily's second-biggest city of Catania. They partially reopened early Saturday.

The activity followed "lively spattering" recorded by the  National Institute of Geophysics and Vulcanology (INGV) in early June and a previous eruption in December last year.   Eruptions are frequent, and the last major one dated back to early 2009.   The institute said this latest eruption was intermittent and the lava was flowing around 1.5 kilometres (one mile) down a desertic escarpment called the Valle del Bove (Ox Valley) from craters situated on the volcano's southeast face.
Date: Wed, 3 Jul 2019 21:26:25 +0200
By Charles ONIANS

Rome, July 3, 2019 (AFP) - A volcano on the Italian island of Stromboli erupted dramatically on Wednesday, killing a hiker and sending tourists fleeing into the sea.   The volcano is known to be active but on Wednesday there were two particularly powerful explosions.   "Unfortunately one man is dead, there are a few injured, but none seriously," emergency worker Calogero Foti told RAI television.   The dead man was a 35-year-old from Messina in Sicily who was walking with a Brazilian companion who was found dehydrated and in a state of shock, the AGI news agency reported.   They were walking below the 400 metre altitude limit above which a guide is required.

- 'Like being in hell' -
A navy boat has been sent to the 12 square kilometre (five square miles) island for a possible mass evacuation, with 70 inhabitants and tourists already evacuated.   "It was like being in hell because of the rain of fire coming from the sky," Italian news agencies quoted local priest Giovanni Longo as saying.   He said it was not known if there were any hikers on the volcano at the time of the eruption, which caused fires around the village of Ginostra.   Stromboli is topped by an active volcano which is a magnet for tourists from early spring each year.   Italian media reported that some tourists had fled into the sea after the eruption, while others had barricaded themselves into homes.

Italy's National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology (INGV) said there were two huge explosions on the central-southern side of the volcano's crater at around 1446 GMT Wednesday, one of the biggest explosions ever recorded on the island.   The explosions were preceded by lava spills "from all the active mouths of the crater terrace," the INGV said, prompting a two-kilometre high plume of smoke.   "It's been a long time since we had an eruption of this magnitude," former local councillor Gianluca Giuffre told RAI news.   "My experience and of those who have been living here for generations leads us to believe that the situation will calm down again but we must be cautious," he said.   A firefighting plane could not put out fires in the area because of the amount of smoke, Italian media reported.   The INGV said it was monitoring the situation.

- Cinematic fame -
A previous massive eruption in December 2002 prompted a tidal wave after magma from a particularly violent eruption cascaded into the sea. Six people were injured.   Piers, boats and some buildings were swept away.   Access to the island was forbidden to outsiders for over a month amid the risk of further landslides and scientists set up electronic observation stations to monitor volcanic activity.   Four-fifths of the island's population of around 500 decided to leave for the Aeolian island administrative centre of Lipari, whose schools have taken on Stromboli's children since the disaster.   Stromboli was made famous in the 1950 film of the same name by Roberto Rossellini, starring Ingrid Bergman and is a major tourist attraction with thousands of people visiting its lava-spitting crater each year.   Stromboli is part of the seven-island Eolian Archipelago just off Sicily in southern Italy.
Date: Sat, 1 Jun 2019 21:20:01 +0200

Rome, June 1, 2019 (AFP) - Mount Etna in southern Italy has burst into life, spitting molten lava high into the sky, though cloud cover Saturday ruined the view for those brave enough to venture up the flanks of Europe's highest volcano.

The National Institute of Geophysics and Vulcanology (INGV) said there was "lively spattering" as fire and hot ash spewed high into the sky in an eruption which began Thursday and had slowed slightly by Saturday but still posed a risk to climbers.

The lava came from two eruptive fissures on the north-eastern and south-south-eastern sides of the New Southeast Crater.   The volcano on the island of Sicily previously erupted in December.   The latest lava show was not expected to pose any problems for nearby residential areas or for flights at the closest airport at Catania.
Date: 23 May 2019
Source: ECDC [edited]

Abstract
"In 2018, there was a large West Nile virus (WNV) outbreak in northern Italy. We observed 5 atypical cases of WNV infection that were characterised by the presence of WNV RNA and WNV IgG at the time of diagnosis, but no IgM response during follow-up. Neutralisation assays demonstrated pre-existing Usutu virus immunity in all patients. Besides challenging diagnosis, the immunological crosstalk between the 2 viruses warrants further investigation on possible cross-protection or infection enhancement effects."
=====================
[WNV and Usutu virus (USUV) are genetically related neurotropic mosquito-borne flaviviruses, which are endemic in several European countries. In their transmission cycle, WNV and USUV share the same mosquito vectors and bird populations as amplifying hosts, and often the 2 viruses co-circulate in the same environment. Most WNV infections in humans are asymptomatic or characterised by influenza-like illness, while less than one percent of cases might evolve to severe and potentially fatal neuro-invasive disease, especially in elderly and immunocompromised individuals. USUV appears to be more pathogenic and lethal than WNV for some bird species, while it rarely causes disease in humans; (J Clin Virol. 2018;107:38-47. DOI: 10.1016/j.jcv.2018.08.007 PMID: 30176404).

According to the paper, the 1st human cases of WNV infection were detected in northern Italy in 2008 with subsequent WNV infection outbreaks reported every year. The 1st human cases of USUV infection were detected in northern Italy in 2009 in immunocompromised patients [Euro Surveill. 2009;14(50):19446.PMID: 20070936]. Seroprevalence studies and retrospective investigations suggested that the prevalence of USUV infection in humans could be higher than WNV infection (estimated to range between 0.3 and 3 percent) in areas where both viruses co-circulate [J Med Virol. 2018;90(10):1666-8. DOI: 10.1002/jmv.25230 PMID: 29797606].

The 2018 transmission season recorded a substantial increase in the number of human WNV infections, with approx. 1500 confirmed cases in European Union countries, with Italy as the most affected country [available from: <https://ecdc.europa.eu/en/west-nile-fever>]. The authors infer that the unprecedented high number of WNV infections recorded in 2018 in the Veneto Region (440 confirmed cases) was perhaps the main factor that led to the identification of the cases of WNV infection with an atypical immune response, which is described in the paper, since the diagnostic process was similar to that of the previous years.

The study concludes: "Further investigation including a larger number of cases is needed to better define the clinical and virological features of WNV infection in individuals with pre-existing flavivirus imunity and to understand if USUV infection provides cross-protection against WNV disease or whether it might increase the risk for more severe disease through antibody-dependent enhancement. Infections from closely related flaviviruses, like WNV and USUV, may pose problems not only because of the induction of cross-reactive antibodies that challenge the differential diagnosis, but also because the immunological crosstalk between heterologous viruses may increase the risk of severe disease through a mechanism of antibody-dependent enhancement of infection." - ProMED Mod.UBA]

[HealthMap/ProMED map available at:
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World Travel News Headlines

Date: Tue, 20 Aug 2019 05:21:07 +0200 (METDST)

Bangkok, Aug 20, 2019 (AFP) - At least 13 Chinese tourists were killed and dozens injured when their bus skidded off the road and plunged 30 metres into a ravine in Laos, a police officer said Tuesday.   The bus was carrying more than 40 Chinese nationals heading towards the tourist town of Luang Prabang when the accident occurred late on Monday.   "At this moment, 13 bodies have been recovered... while two are still missing," police officer Xaiyaphon Chitavong told AFP, blaming brake failure for the accident.   He added that 31 people were receiving medical treatment.    Chinese state media showed photos of rescuers wading through ankle-deep floodwaters.

Traffic accidents in Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Myanmar are common, with safety regulations often flouted and law enforcement low.    The monsoon season from June to October also drenches rural roads with heavy rains creating slippery conditions.   Tourism to communist-run Laos has grown in recent years, and visitors from China increased by 13 percent in the first half of 2019 compared to the year before, according to the state-backed Vientiane Times.
Date: Mon, 19 Aug 2019 20:57:15 +0200 (METDST)

Bukavu, DR Congo, Aug 19, 2019 (AFP) - A child has died from Ebola in DR Congo's South Kivu, health authorities said Monday, the second person to succumb to the virus since the epidemic spread to the eastern province.   The announcement last week of the first confirmed cases in South Kivu revived concerns that the highly contagious disease could cross the porous borders of the central African country, where it has claimed more than 1,900 lives since August last year.   "A seven-year-old child died yesterday (Sunday) of Ebola" in South Kivu's Mwenga region, said Claude Bahizire, communication officer of South Kivu's provincial health division.

The first death in South Kivu was a woman in her twenties who evaded movement controls to travel from the North Kivu town of Beni, the epicentre of the outbreak, to South Kivu's capital Bukavu and then Mwenga.    She died on Wednesday, and her seven-month-old son has been diagnosed with the virus and is receiving treatment.   Bahizire said that "two other suspected cases, two women, have been detected and admitted to Bukavu's transit centre".   The two women "were in contact with the woman who died last week while she was staying in Bukavu on the way to Mwenga," he added.

The outbreak of the haemorrhagic virus began in North Kivu on August 1, 2018 and spread to Ituri province.   The health ministry also announced that "a new health zone had been assigned in North Kivu".   A confirmed case of Ebola has been recorded in North Kivu's Pinga region, in Walikale territory, a source said without providing further details.   According to the latest numbers published on Sunday, 1,934 people have since died, while 862 have been cured.

The latest outbreak is the second-deadliest on record after more than 11,000 people were killed in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia between 2014-2016.   Also on Monday, World Health Organization (WHO) chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus called on the nine countries that share a border with DR Congo to show solidarity to stop the spread of Ebola.   "We now have an Ebola vaccine that is more than 97 percent effective and treatments that are more than 90 per cent effective if used early enough," he said in Republic of Congo capital Brazzaville.
Date: Mon, 19 Aug 2019 19:48:07 +0200 (METDST)
By Alain JEAN-ROBERT

Paris, Aug 19, 2019 (AFP) - French construction workers wearing protective masks returned to the site of stricken Notre-Dame cathedral on Monday after a three-week pause due to the risk of lead contamination.   Labour Minister Muriel Penicaud was given a tour of the scorched monumet wearing a white protective suit while workers could again be seen surveying the structure which was left damaged and weakened in a massive fire in April.

Restoration of the cathedral has yet to begin with efforts focused entirely on securing the building. The culture ministry has warned it is still at risk of collapse.   Efforts to remove lead from the area around Notre-Dame began last week after alarm grew over the presence of the toxic metal.   Hundreds of tonnes of lead in the roof and steeple melted during the April 15 blaze that nearly destroyed the gothic masterpiece, with winds spreading the particles well beyond the church grounds.

Residents have accused the Paris authorities of underplaying the risk from the lead although the culture ministry insists safety is the top priority.   But prefect Michel Cadot, the government's top official for the Paris region, approved the resumption of the works after visiting the site.   "I saw that the different recommendations of the labour inspectors had been implemented," he said, adding the decontamination work would help keep contractors safe.   Securing the structure is required before the restoration work can start.    The culture ministry said that stones had fallen from the nave vault during a heatwave in July.   "It is only the urgency linked to the persistent risk of a collapse that justifies the rhythm of work undertaken" since the fire, it said in a statement Wednesday.

President Emmanuel Macron has set an ambitious target of five years for the restoration to be finished. But the ministry said the work would not even begin until next year.   Paris prosecutors said in June that a poorly stubbed-out cigarette or an electrical fault could have started the fire and opened an investigation into criminal negligence, without targeting any individual.

French investigative news site Mediapart published a report this week accusing the ministry of repeatedly ignoring warnings by labour inspectors about the dangers posed by the lead until work was finally suspended on July 25.   Critics have accused the city of failing to notify the public about the test results, while an environmental group has filed a lawsuit alleging that officials failed to sufficiently contain the contamination.   The ministry rejected Mediapart's allegations it had failed to pay attention to the risks encountered by workers on the site.
Date: Mon, 19 Aug 2019 13:26:06 +0200 (METDST)

Jalalabad, Afghanistan, Aug 19, 2019 (AFP) - Scores of people including children were wounded Monday after a series of explosions shook the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad, as the country's independence day was marred by bloodshed.

As many as 10 blasts were reported in and around the city in Nangarhar province, authorities said, and casualty numbers rose as the day wore on.   "The explosions were caused by IEDs in different parts of the city and as groups of people were celebrating independence day," the Nangarhar governor's spokesman Attaullah Khogyani said, referring to improvised explosive devices.   Jalalabad is the scene of frequent bomb attacks, and the surrounding terrain is home to both Taliban fighters and the Islamic State group's local affiliate.

At least 52 people were wounded, Khogyani said. Zaher Adel, a spokesman for a local hospital, said 66 wounded people had been brought in. An AFP correspondent saw children among the victims.   This year's August 19 celebrations mark 100 years of Afghan independence from British influence.   The day was supposed to be one of national pride and unity, but was overshadowed by an IS suicide attack Saturday on a crowded Kabul wedding hall that killed at least 63 people.

In Kabul, locals took to the streets to wave the black-red-and-green Afghan flag, but several public events to commemorate the date were scrapped as Kabul mourns and due to fears of a fresh attack.    "We postponed the celebrations to honour the victims, but we will definitely take revenge for our people," Afghan President Ahraf Ghani said.   "We will avenge the blood of our people, every drop of it."

Mayhem from Afghanistan's war continues to wreak havoc on Afghans every day, even though the US and the Taliban are in final negotiations for a deal that would see US troops begin to quit Afghanistan and could potentially lead to a reduction in violence.
Date: Wed 14 Aug 2019
Source: Universitat Hohenheim [in German, trans. Britta Lassmann, edited]

The University of Hohenheim and the Bundeswehr Institute of Microbiology [IMB] have detected spotted fever in a hyalomma tick, the 1st time such a tick is suspected to have caused disease in a human in Germany.

This tick feeds on humans and can transmit a form of spotted fever in Germany. What were still unanswered questions about the tropical giant tick hyalomma is now certainty. At the beginning of August [2019], it was suspected that for the 1st time, a human in Germany had contracted a disease with the typical symptoms of rickettsiosis from the bite of a hyalomma tick. Experts from the University of Hohenheim in Stuttgart and the IMB in Munich were able to detect the pathogen _Rickettsia aeschlimannii_ in the tick. The number of hyalomma ticks in Germany increased significantly in 2019 compared to the previous year [2018]. In nearly half of the hyalomma ticks, _R. aeschlimannii_ can be detected. The tick researchers continue to ask the population to send them suspicious ticks.

It was probably no coincidence that this 1st case was in a horse owner. Tropical ticks of the genus _Hyalomma_ feed on large mammals. For several years, these ticks have been on the rise in Germany. Now tick researchers report the 1st suspected case of spotted fever transmitted in Germany. "Not only do we now know for sure that the hyalomma tick is also targeting humans," says Prof Dr Med Ute Mackenstedt, a parasitologist at the University of Hohenheim, "but also that there is the urgent suspicion that the transmission of spotted fever by these ticks is actually possible here in Germany."

The case: At the end of July [2019], the horse owner from near Siegen was bitten by a hyalomma tick. He sent the tick to the tick researcher in Hohenheim. He then presented to the hospital only a few days later with severe symptoms. Spotted fever caused by the bacterium _R. aeschlimannii_ was suspected. The tick was sent by courier service to the IMB in Munich, where the pathogen was detected in the tick. Thereafter, the patient received targeted antibiotic therapy, and his symptoms rapidly improved.

"We are talking about a suspected case, because direct detection of the pathogen from the patient was not possible," explains PD Dr Med Gerhard Dobler, medical doctor at the IMB. "The treatment of the patient came 1st. But the preceding tick bite, the typical symptoms
and, above all, the proof of the pathogen in the tick suggest that the case was spotted fever. The fact that the patient responded to targeted antibiotic therapy further supports this."

_R. aeschlimannii_ causes a feverish infection with headache and muscle pain, extreme joint pain, and a burning sensation. Typical for the disease, however, is the rash that gave the disease its name. This classic sign shows mainly on the extremities. The incubation period is about one week.

"If spotted fever is suspected after a hyalomma bite, a swab should be taken from the bite site and sent for examination," advises PD Dobler. "If there are questions, you are welcome to contact us. Ideally, we would also like to examine the tick."

About half of the hyalomma ticks, the researchers say, are infected with rickettsia. Transmission takes place exclusively via tick bite. "The number of hyalomma ticks in Germany is significantly higher this year [2019] than in the previous year [2018]," reports Prof Dr Med Mackenstedt, referencing the publication in which the situation was presented in 2018. The Hohenheim parasitologist not only cooperates closely with the IMB in Munich, but also with the working group of Prof Dr Med Christina Strube at the Veterinary University (TiHo) Hannover. "Together they already have found 50 such ticks in Germany in 2019. Last year [2018] there were a total of 35." Last year, these ticks had survived the winter in Germany for the 1st time.

"Rickettsia are the only pathogens that we have been able to detect so far," explains PD Dr. Dobler. "We have not found the virus that causes the dangerous Crimean Congo hemorrhagic fever, nor the pathogens _Theileria equi_ and _Babesia caballi_, both of which can be transmitted from ticks to horses."

The research team continues to ask the population for support to further explore the spread and potential dangers. In case of a tick bite, it's best to remove the tick with a tick remover, TickCard, or tweezers. Then send the animal in a small, tightly closed container to:
University of Hohenheim
Prof. Dr. Ute Mackenstedt
Department of Parasitology
Emil-Wolff-Strasse 34
70599 Stuttgart

Background: Tick genus _Hyalomma_
_Hyalomma marginatum_ and _Hyalomma rufipes_ are native to the dry and semi-arid areas of Africa, Asia, and southern Europe. Until recently, they did not occur in central and northern Europe. Their striped legs are striking, and they are much larger than the native ixodes ticks.

The adult ticks feed on large animals. They are active hunters and move quickly towards their host. They cover a distance of up to 100 m [328 ft]. Humans can serve as hosts. In contrast, tick larvae and nymphs mainly infest birds and small mammals and can stay up to 28 days with their hosts. Migratory birds can introduce larvae and nymphs to Germany.

In Eurasia, both _Hyalomma_ species are considered transmitters of the Crimean Congo hemorrhagic fever virus and the Arabic hemorrhagic fever virus (Alkhumra virus). They also transmit the bacterium _Rickettsia aeschlimannii_, which causes a form of spotted fever.

Reference:
Chitimia-Dobler L, et al. Imported _Hyalomma_ ticks in Germany in 2018. Parasites & Vectors. 2019; 12 (134).

More information:
Picture and video material [in German]
Press release: Tropical ticks in Germany: University of Hohenheim asks to send conspicuous tick finds [in German]
Press release: Tropical ticks: New immigrant species winters in Germany for the 1st time [in German]
-----------------------------------
communicated by:
Roland Hubner
Superior Health Council
Brussels
Belgium
====================
[Given that the ticks were found last year (2018) and that they overwintered and were found again this year (2019), it is likely that this genus of tick is becoming established in Germany. Although the species of _Hyalomma_ that infected the man with _Rickettsia aeschlimannii_ was not determined, there is a clear association of this rickettsia with the 2 species of _Hyalomma_ that were tested. The published report cited above states, "35 ticks with an unusual appearance or behaviour were reported to us during summer-autumn 2018. For 17 of them, the description or photos implied that they belong to the hard tick genus _Hyalomma_. The remaining 18 ticks were sent to us and were identified as adult _Hyalomma marginatum_ (10 specimens) or adult _Hyalomma rufipes_ (8 specimens). All ticks tested negative for CCHF virus, _Coxiella burnetii_, _Coxiella_-like organisms, _Babesia_ spp. and _Theileria_ spp. The screening for rickettsiae gave positive results in 9 specimens. The _Rickettsia_ species in all cases was identified as _R. aeschlimannii_." Given that these ticks can be transported by birds migrating from Africa, continued surveillance in Germany for the rickettsia and the other pathogens that were not found currently is prudent. - ProMED Mod.TY]

The first human case of _R. aeschlimannii_ infection was identified in a patient who had fever, rash, and an eschar similar to _R. conori_ infection (Mediaterrian spotted fever) after travel in Morocco (1). _R. aeschlimannii_ infections in humans have been previously confirmed in South Africa, in Algeria, and in Tunisia (2). To our knowledge, the first human case of _R. aeschlimannii_ infection reported in Europe occurred in Greece and was reported in 2013 (3).

1. Raoult D, Fournier PE, Abboud P, Caron F. First documented human Rickettsia aeschlimannii infection. Emerg Infect Dis. 2002; 8: 748-9. doi: 10.3201/eid0807.010480
2. Demoncheaux JP, Socolovschi C, Davoust B, Haddad S, Raoult D, Parola P. First detection of _Rickettsia aeschlimanii_ in _Hyalomma dromedarii_ ticks in Tunisia. Ticks Tick Borne Dis. 2012; 3: 398-402.
3. Germanakis A, Chochlakis D, Angelakis E, Tselentis Y, Psaroulaki A. _Rickettsia aeschlimannii_ infection in a man, Greece. Emerg Infect Dis. 2013; 19: 1176-7.  - ProMED Mod. LL]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of Germany:
Date: Wed 19 Aug 2019, 12:48 PM
Source: Kazakh Telegraph Agency [edited]

A total of 4 anthrax cases have been confirmed in the Akmola region, reports the health care department. "Up to [now] 5 [suspected cases of] anthrax have been recorded; lab tests have confirmed 4. The cause of contamination was cow butchering without a veterinary certificate in a private yard," said the interlocutor.

"Epidemiological situation in the Akmola region and Nur-Sultan is stable," said the department. "The situation is being constantly monitored by the committee," said Ludmila Burabekova, chairfigure of the committee of quality control and goods safety. "Anti-epidemic and anti-epizootic arrangements have been organized in the area," she added.
*****************************
Date: Wed 19 Aug 2019, 12:04 PM GMT
Source: Radio Free Europe [edited]

A village near the Kazakh capital, Nur-Sultan, is under quarantine after lab tests confirmed anthrax infections in several people.

The Health Ministry said on [19 Aug 2019] that 5 residents of the village of Olginka, 100 km [about 62 mi] east of Nur-Sultan, have been hospitalized in recent days with anthrax symptoms, 4 of whom tested positive for _Bacillus anthracis_ -- the bacterium that causes the infectious disease. According to the statement, the situation in the village in the Aqmola region is under the control of the authorities and all necessary measures are being taken to prevent the possible spread of the disease.

In 2016, in nearby Qaraghandy Oblast, 2 people died as a result of anthrax infections.

According to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), domestic and wild animals -- such as cattle, sheep, goats, antelope, and deer -- can become infected by inhaling or ingesting spores in contaminated soil, plants, or water. CDC says all types of anthrax infections can cause death if they are not treated with antibiotics.
========================
[Olginka is in north-central Kazajhstan; see:

There is a measure of rural poverty in northern half of Kazakhstan, with the result that sick and moribund animals get butchered and eaten. Fortunately, as this village is within 100 Km [about 62 mi] of the Kazakh capital the affected have had the advantage of hospital care and proper laboratory confirmation. The coincident 5th person may have just shown a fever when the medical authorities were looking for clinical cases or it may be a false negative.

Folk have a habit of self-treating with antibiotics and this would have reduced the number of circulating vegetative cells available to testing. My friend Benyamin Cherkasskyi, the Soviet anthrax expert, used to tell me that only some 30%-40% of cutaneous cases would test positive. You have to know to insert your needle in under the lesion to draw out the fluid there which will contain cells, blood, and toxins. - ProMED Mod.MHJ]

[HealthMap/ProMED map available at:
Date: Mon, 19 Aug 2019 03:45:54 +0200 (METDST)

Lomo del Pino, Spain, Aug 19, 2019 (AFP) - A raging wildfire on the Spanish holiday island of Gran Canaria forced the evacuation of some 5,000 people, authorities said Sunday, warning it could take days for the blaze to be brought under control.   The fire, which has spread to the mountainous Cruz de Tejeda region popular with tourists for its breathtaking views, is "extremely fierce" and "unstable", said Canary Islands president Angel Victor Torres in a statement.   No fatalities have been reported.

More than 600 firefighters and 14 aircraft battled to contain the flames, hampered by strong winds and high temperatures.   With the temperature set to rise Monday, authorities estimate it could take days before the blaze is brought under control.   "The next few hours will be very important because the weather forecast for the night is not good," Torres said.   The fire broke out days after another wildfire in the same region forced the evacuation of hundreds.

Gran Canaria is the second most populous of the Canary Islands in the Atlantic off the northwest coast of Africa.   The Canary Islands received 13.7 million foreign visitors last year, over half of them from Britain and Germany.   Spain is frequently plagued by huge forest fires because of its arid summer climate.
Date: Sun, 18 Aug 2019 23:01:00 +0200 (METDST)

Lisbon, Aug 18, 2019 (AFP) - Portuguese fuel tanker drivers whose strike has caused fuel shortages at the summer holiday season on Sunday ended their industrial action.   Drivers have been staging a strike since Monday to demand further wage increases in 2021 and 2022, prompting the government to declare an energy crisis.   "Since all the conditions are now in place to negotiate, we decided to end the strike," Pedro Pardal Henriques, spokesman for the National Union of Dangerous Goods Carriers (SNMMP), told reporters.

A meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, the union President Francisco Sao Bento said, adding that the union did not "rule out new strikes being called if Antram (the employers association) adopts an uncompromising attitude".   Police had launched an operation to escort fuel tankers with extra supplies and Portugal also mobilised about 500 members of the security forces to replace the strikers and drive the trucks.   Despite the shortages, Energy Minister Joao Pedro Matos Fernandes said about two-thirds of the country's 3,000 or so petrol stations had not run dry.
Date: Sun, 18 Aug 2019 11:47:26 +0200 (METDST)
By By Emal Haidary and Mushtaq Mojaddidi

Kabul, Aug 18, 2019 (AFP) - Joy and celebration turned into horror and carnage when a suicide bomber targeted a packed Afghan wedding hall, killing at least 63 people in the deadliest attack to rock Kabul in months, officials and witnesses said Sunday.   The massive blast, which took place late Saturday in west Kabul, came as Washington and the Taliban finalise a deal to reduce the US military presence in Afghanistan and hopefully build a roadmap to a ceasefire.   The groom recalled greeting smiling guests in the afternoon, before seeing their bodies being carried out hours later.

The attack "changed my happiness to sorrow", the young man, who gave his name as Mirwais, told local TV station Tolo News.   "My family, my bride are in shock, they cannot even speak. My bride keeps fainting," he said.   "I lost my brother, I lost my friends, I lost my relatives. I will never see happiness in my life again."   Interior ministry spokesman Nasrat Rahimi said at least 63 people had been killed and 182 injured.   "Among the wounded are women and children," Rahimi said. Earlier he stated a suicide bomber carried out the attack.

Afghan weddings are epic and vibrant affairs, with hundreds or often thousands of guests celebrating for hours inside industrial-scale wedding halls where the men are usually segregated from the women and children.   "The wedding guests were dancing and celebrating the party when the blast happened," recounted Munir Ahmad, 23, who was seriously injured and whose cousin was among the dead.   "Following the explosion, there was total chaos. Everyone was screaming and crying for their loved ones," he told AFP from his bed in a local hospital, where he is being treated for shrapnel wounds.

Images from inside the hall showed blood-stained bodies on the ground along with pieces of flesh and torn clothes, hats, sandals and bottles of mineral water. The huge blast ripped parts of the ceiling off.   The wedding was believed to be a Shia gathering. Shia Muslims are frequently targeted in Sunni-majority Afghanistan, particularly by the so-called Islamic State group, which is also active in Kabul but did not immediately issue any claim of responsibility.

Wedding guest Hameed Quresh told AFP the young couple were saying their vows when the bomb went off.    "We fainted following the blast, and we don't know who brought us to the hospital," sobbed Quresh, who lost one brother and was himself wounded.   Another guest told Tolo that some 1,200 people had been invited. With low security, weddings are seen as easy targets.   The attack sent a wave of grief through a city grimly accustomed to atrocities. President Ashraf Ghani called it "barbaric", while Afghanistan's chief executive Abdullah Abdullah described it as a "crime against humanity".

- Withdrawal deal expected -
The attack underscores both the inadequacy of Afghanistan's security forces and the scale of the problem they face. While the police and army claim they prevent most bombings from ever happening, the fact remains that insurgents pull off horrific attacks with chilling regularity.   On July 28, at least 20 people were killed when attackers targeted Ghani's running mate Amrullah Saleh as he campaigned in presidential elections.    The incident showed how even amid tight security and known threats, insurgents can conduct brazen attacks.   The issue also goes to the heart of a prospective deal between the US and the Taliban that would see Washington begin to withdraw its approximately 14,000 soldiers from Afghanistan.

The deal relies on the Taliban providing guarantees they will stop jihadist groups such as Al-Qaeda and IS from using Afghanistan as a safe haven. Saturday's attack suggests any such promise would be tough to keep.   The "Taliban cannot absolve themselves of blame, for they provide platform for terrorists," Ghani said.   Few believe such a deal will bring quick peace.

Many Afghans fear the Taliban could return, eroding hard-won rights for women in particular and leading to a spiralling civil war.   Meanwhile, in the northern province of Balkh, 11 members of the same family were killed when their car hit a roadside bomb, officials said. The provincial governor blamed the Taliban for planting the device.
Date: Sun, 18 Aug 2019 05:28:47 +0200 (METDST)
By Amélie BOTTOLLIER-DEPOIS

Paris, Aug 18, 2019 (AFP) - Seafood lovers who prize the mussel for its earthy taste and succulent flesh may be unaware of its growing potential in the fight against water pollution.   The mussel is the hoover of the sea, taking in phytoplankton for nourishment along with microplastics, pesticides and other pollutants -- which makes it an excellent gauge.

One day, it may also be pressed into service to cleanse water.   "It's a super-filter in the marine world, filtering up to 25 litres of water a day," says marine biologist Leila Meistertzheim.   "It's a real model of bioaccumulation of pollutants generally speaking."   As they pump and filter the water through their gills in order to feed and breathe, mussels store almost everything else that passes through -- which is why strict health rules apply for those destined for human consumption.

Like canaries in a coal mine, mussels have long been used as "bio-indicators" of the health of the seas, lakes and rivers they inhabit.   Little-known pollutants can turn up to join the usual suspects, with increasing attention paid to microplastics containing bisphenol A and phthalates, both thought to be endocrine disruptors.

Meistertzheim heads a study for France's Tara Ocean Foundation using mussels to gauge the health of the estuaries of the Thames, Elba and Seine rivers.   The mussels, placed in fish traps, are submerged in the waters for a month before researchers dissect them to determine what chemical substances lurk in their tissues.   The idea of deploying mussels across the oceans to absorb ubiquitous microplastics is just a dream for now, but for other pollutants, the bivalves are already at work.   "In some places, mussels are used, as well as oysters, to cleanse the sea of pesticides, for example," Meistertzheim notes.

- E. coli busters -
Richard Luthy, an environmental engineer from California's Stanford University, says that, in most cases, mussels harvested from contaminated waters should not be eaten.   But if the contaminant is E. coli, mussels can be thanked for the "removal and inactivation" of the faecal material, he says, calling the service a "public health benefit".   The mussels are edible because they "excrete the bacteria as faeces or mucus," he says.   Mussels living in waterways affected by eutrophication -- often marked by abundant algae -- are also fit for human consumption, researchers say.   The phenomenon is often the result of waste dumped into the waterway containing phosphates and nitrites, such as detergents, fertilisers and sewage.   The nutrients in these substances encourage the proliferation of algae, which in turn starves the water of oxygen, upsetting the ecosystem.

Mussels "recycle" these nutrients by feeding on the algae, says Eve Galimany, a researcher of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Milford Laboratory who has experimented with mussels in the Bronx River in New York.   The recycling principle is already at work in a pilot project titled Baltic Blue Growth in Sweden, Denmark and the Baltic countries which grows mussels to be fed to animals such as poultry, fish and pigs.   "Eutrophication... is the biggest problem of the Baltic Sea, the most urgent one," says project head Lena Tasse. Mussels "could be part of a solution".   Why feed them to animals if they are safe for humans? Because Baltic mussels are too small to be of interest to seafood lovers, says Tasse, adding: "Swedes like big mussels."

Meanwhile, the jury is still out on the effects of microplastics on human health.   A recent report by WWF said that humans ingest an average of five grammes of microplastics a week -- about the weight of a credit card.   A 2018 study published in the journal Environmental Pollution, based on samples from British coastlines and supermarkets, estimated that every 100 grammes (3.5 ounces) of mussels contained 70 tiny pieces of plastic.   Should we be worried? Meistertzheim thinks not.   "I eat them," she says. "A dish of mussels is not necessarily worse than organic hamburger meat wrapped in plastic."