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Cayman Islands

CAYMAN ISLANDS US Consular Information Sheet
October 02, 2008

COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
The Cayman Islands are a British dependent territory consisting of three main islands with a total area of approximately 100 square miles and located a
out 500 miles west of Jamaica. There is an international airport located in Grand Cayman, and facilities for tourists are widely available. The U.S. Embassy in Kingston, Jamaica, has consular responsibility for the Cayman Islands. Read the Department of State Background Notes on the Cayman Islands for additional information.

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS: All Americans traveling by air outside of the United States are required to present a passport or other valid travel document to enter or re-enter the United States. This requirement will be extended to sea travel (except closed-loop cruises), including ferry service, by the summer of 2009. Until then, U.S. citizens traveling by sea must have government-issued photo identification and a document showing their U.S. citizenship (for example, a birth certificate or certificate of nationalization), or other Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) compliant document such as a passport card for entry or re-entry to the U.S. Sea travelers should also check with their cruise line and countries of destination for any foreign entry requirements.
Applications for the new U.S. Passport Card are now being accepted and have been in full production since July 2008.The card may not be used to travel by air and is available only to U.S. citizens. Further information on passport cards is available at http://travel.state.gov/passport/ppt_card/ppt_card_3926.html and upcoming changes to U.S. passport policy can be found on the Bureau of Consular Affairs web site at http://travel.state.gov/travel/cbpmc/cbpmc_2223.html. We strongly encourage all American citizen travelers to apply for a U.S. passport well in advance of anticipated travel. American citizens can visit travel.state.gov or call 1-877-4USA-PPT (1-877-487-2778) for information on how to apply for their passports.
Visas are not required for U.S. citizens traveling to the Cayman Islands for short-term visits. U.S. citizens traveling to the Cayman Islands for work must obtain a temporary work permit from the Department of Immigration of the Cayman Islands, telephone (345) 949-8344. There is a departure tax for travelers age 12 and older, which is regularly included in airfare. For further information travelers may contact Cayman Islands Department of Tourism offices in Miami at (305) 599-9033, New York (212) 889-9009, Houston (713) 461-1317 and Chicago (630) 705-0650; or via the Internet at http://www.caymanislands.ky.

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:
The Cayman Islands are considered politically stable and enjoy a high standard of living. There have been no reported incidences of terrorism or threats made against Americans or American interests in the Cayman Islands.
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 Public Announcements, including 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 other callers, 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 pamphletA Safe Trip Abroad.
CRIME: The crime threat in Cayman Islands is generally considered low, although travelers should always take normal precautions when in unfamiliar surroundings. Petty theft, pick-pocketing and purse snatchings occur. A few cases involving sexual assault have been reported to the Embassy. Police in the Cayman Islands rigorously enforce laws against illegal drugs. The majority of arrests of American citizens in the Cayman Islands over the past two years have been for possession, consumption, or intent to sell marijuana, cocaine or other illicit drugs. American citizens should avoid buying, selling, holding or taking illegal drugs under any circumstances.
INFORMATION FOR VICTIMS OF CRIME: The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate for assistance. The Embassy/Consulate staff can, for example, assist you to find appropriate medical care, contact family members or friends and explain how funds could be transferred. Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed.

The local equivalent to the “911” emergency line in the Cayman Islands is “911.”
See our information on Victims of Crime.
MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION: The quality of medical care in the Cayman Islands is generally comparable to that available in the United States; however, some procedures and cases requiring critical care may require medical evacuation to the United States. Several American citizens each year drown or suffer cardiac arrest while snorkeling or scuba diving in the Cayman Islands. These deaths may be attributed in part to tourists attempting to do more than they are trained to do or to poor physical conditioning or preexisting medical conditions that are exacerbated when snorkeling or diving. A hyperbaric chamber is available for treatment of decompression illness. Doctors and hospitals often expect immediate payment for health services.
Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC’s 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.

Although there are no express HIV/AIDS entry restrictions exist for visitors to the Cayman Islands, persons suffering from HIV/AIDS can be denied permission to land if a Health Officer certifies that their entry to the Islands would be dangerous to the community pursuant to Section 82 (c) of the Cayman Immigration Law (2007 Revision), which states:

“The following persons, not being Caymanian or permanent residents, are prohibited immigrants – a person certified by a Health Officer to be suffering from a communicable disease that makes his entry into the Islands dangerous to the community.”
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 the Cayman Islands is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
As in Great Britain and its other colonies, vehicles in the Cayman Islands travel on the left-hand side of the road (the opposite side compared with driving in the United States). Due to their size, the Caymans have little highway infrastructure to maintain. Local driving standards, the risk of accidents, the availability of emergency roadside service, quality and frequency of signage, and enforcement of traffic laws, generally meet the standards of the United States. Visitors must obtain a temporary driver's license, easily granted upon presentation of a valid state driver's license and payment of a small fee, at a car rental agency or a police station. Laws against driving while intoxicated are strictly enforced, with a legal maximum blood alcohol level set at 100 milligrams per 100 milliliters of blood. Seatbelt laws are also enforced and require the driver and all passengers to wear seatbelts while in motion. Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information. Visit the website of the country’s national tourist office at www.caymanislands.ky
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of the Cayman Islands’ Civil Aviation Authority as being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for oversight of the Cayman Islands’ 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:
Cayman Islands customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation into or export from the Cayman Islands of items such as firearms of any kind, spear guns (or pole spears or Hawaiian slings), live plants and plant cuttings. Raw fruits and vegetables are also restricted. Visitors from the United States should be aware that products made from farmed green sea turtles at the Cayman Turtle Farm Ltd. are offered for local consumption; however, the importation of genuine sea turtle products is strictly prohibited by the United States, as well as other countries that have signed the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. In addition, U.S. Customs prohibits the transshipment of turtle products through the United States and any products discovered will be confiscated. It is advisable to contact the Collector of Customs (345) 949-2473 for specific information regarding customs requirements. Please see our Customs Information.

The Cayman Islands, like all Caribbean countries, can be affected by hurricanes. Hurricane season runs from June 1 to November 30 each year. The Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM) has put measures in place in the event of an emergency or disaster. General information is available on the subject via the Internet from the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) at http://www.fema.gov/.

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 the Cayman Islands’ laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in the Cayman Islands are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines. Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime, prosecutable in the United States. Please see our information on Criminal Penalties.

CHILDREN'S ISSUES: For information see our Office of Children’s Issues web pages on intercountry adoption and international parental child abduction.
REGISTRATION / EMBASSY LOCATION:
Americans living or traveling in the Cayman Islands are encouraged to register with the U.S. Embassy in Kingston, Jamaica through the State Department's travel registration web site, and to obtain updated information on travel and security within the Cayman Islands. Americans without Internet access may register directly with the U.S. Consular Agency in George Town, Grand Cayman or the U.S. Embassy in Kingston, Jamaica. By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy or Consular Agency to contact them in case of emergency. The U.S. Consular Agency in the Cayman Islands is located at 222 Mirco Center, North Sound Road, Georgetown, Grand Cayman. Its phone number is (345) 945-8173. Office hours are Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from 08:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.

American citizens requiring assistance in Cayman may also contact the American Citizen Services Unit of the U.S. Embassy in Kingston, Jamaica at (876) 702-6000. The Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy is located at 142 Old Hope Road,, Kingston 6. Office hours are Monday through Friday (except Jamaican and U.S. holidays), 7:15 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., with window services 8:30 to 11:30 a.m. Both the Consular Agency and Embassy may provide updated information on travel and security within the Cayman Islands. The Embassy web site is http://kingston.usembassy.gov/
* * *
This replaces the Country Specific Information for the Cayman Islands dated December 3, 2007, to update sections on entry/exit requirements, crime, and medical facilities.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Mon 19 Feb 2018
Source: Cayman Compass [edited]

An outbreak of hand-foot-mouth disease that surfaced a few weeks ago is still affecting some schools on Grand Cayman.

The disease is not uncommon on the island and typically affects children under 10 and especially those aged 5 and younger. Children with the virus typically have a fever, sore throat, a red rash on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet, mouth sores, and loss of appetite. There is no specific treatment other than to let the illness run its course. The best prevention is practicing good sanitation and hygiene.

Tim McLaughlin, an epidemiologist with the Public Health department, said the 14 cases reported from 4-10 Feb 2018 were the most he has seen in a single week. Figures for last week [week of 12 Feb 2018] are not yet available, but Mr McLaughlin said it looked as though the spread of the disease had slowed down. Most children were out of school last week and that may be a factor, he said

"14 in a week is a lot," Mr. McLaughlin said. "It also tells me there are more cases out there."

As a consequence, he said, he is more closely monitoring the spread of the disease, which is not uncommon this time of year. If need be, he said, "We'll sound the alarm."

At the Department of Education Services, director Lyneth Monteith said she was unaware of any public schools currently being affected by the disease. But preschools are seeing the problem.

Bri Bergstrom, the owner of the Montessori School of Cayman, said 3 of her students came down with the illness 3.5 weeks ago. It was the 1st such outbreak at the school, she said, adding that no other students have since been affected.

"It seems to be going around," Ms Bergstrom said. "It's almost impossible to avoid sometimes, things coming into the school."

She and others operating schools and preschools said that they have increased their efforts to keep classrooms and play areas sanitary by cleaning more often and doing thorough deep cleaning.

"Even when the flu is going around, we always amp up the sanitation," Ms Bergstrom said.

At the Treasure Garden, a preschool with 35 students, teacher Tonie-Ann Broomfield said 6 pupils have contracted the disease over the past 2-3 weeks. Some of the students, she said, showed no outward symptoms, such as a fever, before breaking out in a rash. She said the staff is being more vigilant.

"As soon as we check their temperature and it's above 100 deg F [37.8 deg F], we call the parents and ask them to take them to the doctor," Ms Broomfield said, adding that the child is kept isolated from other children until they are picked up.  [Byline: Mark Muckenfuss]
========================
[Hand-foot-mouth disease is caused by viruses that belong to the _Enterovirus_ genus (group), which includes polioviruses, coxsackieviruses, echoviruses, and other enteroviruses. - Coxsackievirus A16 is typically the most common cause of hand-foot-mouth disease in the United States, but other coxsackieviruses can also cause the illness. - Enterovirus 71 has also been associated with cases and outbreaks (<https://www.cdc.gov/hand-foot-mouth/outbreaks.html>) of hand-foot-mouth disease, mostly in children in East and Southeast Asia. Less often, enterovirus 71 has been associated with severe disease, such as encephalitis.  - Several types of enteroviruses may be identified in outbreaks of hand-foot-mouth disease, but most of the time, only 1 or 2 enteroviruses are identified.

Generally, a person with hand-foot-mouth disease is most contagious during the 1st week of illness. People can sometimes be contagious for days or weeks after symptoms go away. Some people, especially adults, may become infected and not develop any symptoms, but they can still spread the virus to others. This is why people should always try to maintain good hygiene, such as frequent handwashing, so they can minimize their chance of spreading or getting infections. (Excerpted and edited from <https://www.cdc.gov/hand-foot-mouth/about/transmission.html>). - ProMED Mod.LK]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map
Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands: <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/7955>]
Date: Fri 2 Feb 2018
Source: Cayman News Service [edited]

The [Cayman Islands] Public Health Department is issuing an alert for travellers after at least 2 cases of measles were confirmed in the Caribbean and Central America that appear to have been imported from Europe. There have been no cases of measles in the Cayman Islands since 1990. Local immunisation coverage against the disease is around 90% among 15-month-old children and about 97% by the time they reach school age. But officials are urging anyone who becomes unwell after returning from the UK and Europe as well as parts of the US to visit a doctor.

People who are experiencing a sudden high fever accompanied by a rash should seek medical attention immediately and provide their travel history to the doctor for necessary investigation.

"If you are travelling to any of the affected areas where measles has been confirmed, safeguard yourself and your family by ensuring that your and your children's immunisations against measles are up to date," advised Nurse Angela Graham, manager of the Health Services Authority's Expanded Programme on Immunisation. "Unprotected children are at the greatest risk of contracting this virus, should a case be imported to the Cayman Islands. It is the responsibility of parents and guardians, alike, to ensure that their children are protected."

Dr Samuel Williams-Rodriguez, Acting Medical Officer of Health, said that while there has been great progress in the fight against measles regionally, there is a risk of spread and sustained transmission in areas with susceptible populations.

"Vaccination with at least 2 doses remains the most effective measure," he said. "I emphasise that measles can be reintroduced as we have many residents and visitors travelling to and from the Americas and European countries. We should therefore remain vigilant."

He added, "The 1st sign of measles is usually a high fever which begins about 10-12 days after exposure to the virus. A runny nose, cough, along with red and watery eyes and small white spots inside the cheeks, can develop in the initial stage followed by a rash on the face and upper neck, eventually reaching the hands and feet."

Measles is caused by a virus which grows in the cells that line the back of the throat and lungs. It is a human disease and is not known to occur in animals. Close contact with other people following the onset of rash must be avoided 7 for days.

For complete protection, children older than 12 months should have 2 doses of MMR (measles mumps and rubella) vaccine. Children between 6 and 11-months, who are travelling abroad, are recommended to have one dose of MMR vaccine.
====================
[Maps of the Caribbean and Central America can be found at
Date: Thu 17 Apr 2014
Source: cayCompass.com [edited]

More than 400 feral chickens in Bodden Town have died of botulism, according to a post-mortem examination carried out by the Department of Agriculture. The birds began dying more than 2 weeks ago, residents in the area said. Brian Crichlow of the Department of Agriculture said a post-mortem exam on one of the birds revealed botulism. The bird was also tested for avian flu, with negative results. Mr Crichlow said botulism is not spread by direct contact with affected chickens, but there is a "low potential for spreading to humans and other animals through consumption of dead chickens" contaminated with the botulism toxin.

Botulism is a micro-organism that occurs naturally in the soil and in decaying flesh. Since chickens are scavengers, they likely ate a dead animal and got sick, said Mr. Crichlow.

The Department of Environmental Health was expected to begin removing the birds from the site, near the Bodden Town Mission House, on Wednesday afternoon [16 Apr 2014], according to the department's director, Roydell Carter. "We are aware of the situation. We were notified by the Department of Agriculture about it. We went on site today [Wed 16 Apr 2014] and we will be assisting them in getting the birds removed and disinfecting the area," he said. "We're putting together the resources we need -- there are so many [dead chickens] all over the place ... We will go in and help. There could probably be public health implications as well [if the carcasses are not removed]. We don't want all these dead birds lying around ... where other animals might feed on their carcasses," he added.

On Wednesday [16 Apr 2014], many of the dead chickens could be seen around the Mission House and Harry McCoy Park, and under the home of an elderly couple nearby. Mr Crichlow advised that if the dead or dying birds are not removed and disposed of properly, other chickens will feed on the carcasses and the maggots from the dead chickens, leading to more chickens contracting botulism. Botulism is also known as "limberneck," he said, reflecting the neck paralysis typically seen in affected birds. [The son] of the couple under whose home many of the decaying carcasses were seen, said he had picked up as many as he could, but those under the house would have to stay there until he had help removing them.

"The chickens just get crippled, lie down and die," said [the man], who often fed the chickens. For the past 2 weeks, the chickens have been "dropping off like flies," he said.

The feral chickens roam the neighborhood and are considered pests by many in the area. Mr Crichlow said there had been no reports of domestic flocks of chickens owned by local farmers being affected by botulism. However, he said the department had seen similar episodes before of local wild chickens dying, adding that botulism is common in feral chickens in Cayman and elsewhere. Over the past 2 years, his department has responded to deaths of feral chickens in George Town, West Bay and Bodden Town districts, he said.

Karen Rosenthal, a St. Matthews Veterinary School veterinarian who studies birds, said, "It is not so easy for people to get botulism the same way chickens do. But you would never eat the eggs or meat from a chicken with botulism," she said. "What we should worry about is if the people are using the same water source as the dead birds."

Kiran Kumar, medical officer of health at the public health department, said botulism from dead chickens does not spread to human beings through the air, and there is also no evidence of it spreading to humans by consumption of chickens with botulism. However, he advised against eating infected chickens to "prevent any rarest possibility of such occurrence."   [Byline: Jewel Levy]
========================
[Avian botulism is much more often seen in wild ducks and other water birds. But we do have a prior report of an Australian incident which is very similar to this Cayman report. The Australians ascribed it to a buildup of the causative organism, _Clostridium botulinum_, in the soil. - ProMed Mod.MHJ]

[A HealthMap/ProMED-mail map can be accessed at:
<http://healthmap.org/promed/p/38613>.]
Date: Fri 17 Jan 2014
Source: Businessweek [summ., edited]

The 1st known outbreak of the chikungunya virus in the western hemisphere has Caribbean governments working to prevent the disease from spreading and damaging the region's tourism-dependent economies.

About 280 cases of chikungunya [virus infection; many more cases than this, see other reports - ProMed Mod.TY], which can cause severe joint pain, fever and headaches, have been reported since early December [2013] in Dutch and French Saint Martin, Saint Barthelemy, Martinique, Guadeloupe, Dominica, the British Virgin Islands, and French Guiana. Officials from Venezuela to the Cayman Islands have warned of the potential for the mosquitoborne virus, 1st identified from a patient in Tanzania in 1953, to spread. There is no treatment, and the illness is rarely fatal.

"The worst case scenario would be that the impact would be significant and slow down the whole economy in the Caribbean," James Hospedales, the executive director of the Caribbean Public Health Agency, said by telephone. "The Caribbean is the most tourism-dependent region in the world, so if it spreads like wildfire you could scare away tourists."   [byline: Isabella Cota and Elizabeth Lopatto]
=====================
[This report is a good illustration of potential adverse economic effects when a new disease appears in a major tourist destination. Although dengue fever poses greater health risks, the addition of a 2nd virus disease to the area increases concern on the part of the traveling public. - ProMed Mod. TY]
Date: Mon 17 Sep 2012.
Source: Cay Compass [edited]

The Cayman Islands Mosquito Research and Control Unit and Oxitec have cited an 80 per cent reduction in the numbers of _Aedes aegypti_ mosquitoes in Grand Cayman after introducing genetically modified mosquitoes into the environment as a control measure. This finding, which was officially published in a report in Nature Biotechnology, was previously reported in the 17 Jan 2012 edition of the Caymanian Compass.

One of the main reasons the report said led to the Cayman Islands "having a need the need for alternative measures of control" was the high level of resistance to insecticide shown by _Aedes aegypti_ mosquitoes in Grand Cayman. The report references research done by MRCU Entomologist Angela Harris and Hilary Ranson of the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, who in their findings, "Pyrethroid Resistance in Aedes Aegypti," stated: "The Grand Cayman population of _Aedes aegypti_ is highly resistant to DDT and pyrethroid insecticides."

In an interview with the Caymanian Compass, Dr. Harris said, "For our experiments regarding the issue of resistance to insecticides we used mosquitoes that have been in a secure environment for over 30 years in a colony that was bred repeatedly over time and then compared those with the mosquitoes from the Grand Cayman. The results indicated that those found here are much more resistant and could be exposed to DDT for up to 8 hours."

Ms Harris added that the _Aedes aegypti_ mosquito has only been in the Cayman Islands since 2002 and could have likely acquired its resistance from its places of origin, which have not been determined. She also surmised that their resistance level could be as a result of cross-resistance from a pyrethroid resistance. In any event, much of Dr. Harris' research going forward will be to substantiate the theory that the mosquitoes came to the Cayman Islands with the resistance as opposed to developing it here. The Cayman Islands has never used DDT in its mosquito control efforts.

However, the Mosquito Research and Control Unit of the Cayman Islands was scrutinised in the foreign press for using genetically modified _Aedes aegypti_ mosquitoes to combat the spread of dengue fever. It was the 1st time the method was being used in a real world test area.

At the time, Bill Petrie, director of MRCU, said the initiative was essentially a new spin on an old technique in which males that were made sterile were released. He added that the difference here is that the male mosquitoes' genes were altered, as opposed to their sterility being chemically induced by radiation.

"MRCU along with Oxitec of Oxford University ran the trial for 6 months," Mr. Petrie said. "We chose a small isolated area in East End. This was done in 3 blocks; one block was where the method was introduced, while nothing was done in another block and the 3rd block was used to monitor the natural population of the _Aedes aegypti_ mosquito.

"Once the team perfected the technique, monitoring was done by traps. The final statistical analysis has shown a significant reduction in the population of this potential dengue carrier," he added.

Mr. Petrie said the male _Aedes aegypti_ mosquito cannot bite and lives a short life-span and since their eggs will not survive using this new method of control, the population of the species has decreased, as did the probability of dengue fever transmission.  Since the Cayman Islands' success using the genetic modification technique, several other jurisdictions are following suit.

"Dengue is a dangerous and debilitating disease, which affects up to 100 million people each year. The incidence of dengue has grown very rapidly in recent years: it is now a serious threat to global health, and the only means of prevention is to target the mosquitoes which carry it. We need new tools in the fight against these dangerous pests, and today's publication shows that Oxitec's approach can provide that," Mr. Petrie said.   [Byline: Stuart Wilson]
======================
Reference:
Harris AF, Nimmo D., McKemey AR, Kelly N, Scaife S, Donnelly CA, Beech C, Petrie WD, Alphey L. Field performance of engineered male mosquitoes. Nat Biotechnol 2011 Oct 30;29(11):1034-7.

[This is an interesting field experiment that produced an 80 per cent reduction in the _Aedes aegypti_ population through release of genetically modified mosquitoes into a population of native mosquitoes resistant to 2 common pesticides. The release of genetically modified mosquitoes will be considered controversial and opposed by some, but alternatives such as increasing use of pesticidal chemicals have been of limited success in medium- to long-term vector population reduction efforts. It will be interesting to see how successful the release of these genetically modified mosquitoes will be in other locations. An effective, commercially available dengue virus vaccine is still several years away. Meanwhile, vector control is the only way to prevent dengue virus transmission. - ProMed Mod.TY]

[A HealthMap/ProMED-mail map showing the location of the Cayman Islands in the Caribbean can be accessed at: http://healthmap.org/r/1IG3.]
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World Travel News Headlines

Date: Thu, 15 Nov 2018 04:25:14 +0100
By Javier TOVAR

Paradise, United States, Nov 15, 2018 (AFP) - The toll in the deadliest wildfires in recent California history climbed to 59 on Wednesday as authorities released a list of 130 people still missing.   Most of those unaccounted for are from the Butte County town of Paradise, in northern California, which was virtually erased from the map by the so-called "Camp Fire" blaze that erupted last week.   Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea told journalists Wednesday evening that 461 search and rescue personnel and 22 cadaver dogs were involved in the effort to locate those missing and DNA testing was being expedited to identify the victims.

"Beginning Thursday, anyone who believes a family member perished can provide a DNA sample" to the sheriff's office, Honea said.    Paradise, a town of around 26,000 in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains, was popular with retirees and many of those reported missing by the sheriff's office are elderly -- in their 70s, 80s and 90s.

Virtually every home in Paradise, located 80 miles (130 kilometers) north of the state capital Sacramento, was destroyed by the fast-moving fire fueled by high winds.   At least 59 deaths have been reported so far from the devastating wildfires and body recovery teams were going house-to-house with cadaver dogs in Paradise on Wednesday.   "We are in the midst of a catastrophe," Governor Jerry Brown told a press conference. "The fire was unprecedented, overwhelming, so a lot of people got caught."

Brock Long, head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), said Paradise was looking at a "total rebuild" with many homes, businesses and infrastructure destroyed.   "This is going to be a very long and frustrating event for the citizens of Paradise," Long said. "We're going to have to find a new normal."   "You're not going to be able to rebuild Paradise the way it was."   An AFP reporter in Paradise on Wednesday saw crews removing trees, repairing fences along roads and towing away cars.    Authorities said livestock owners were being allowed in to restricted areas for brief periods to feed the animals but it was unclear when residents would be allowed back in.

- Tales of courage, survival -
Fifty-six deaths have been reported from the "Camp Fire," mostly in Paradise, while three people have died in the "Woolsey Fire."   Honea said that of the 56 human remains found in his county, 47 had been identified.   While the cause of the "Camp Fire" is still under investigation, a lawsuit has been filed against the local power company, PG&E, by fire victims claiming negligence by the utility.

The complaint alleged that the fire began on November 8 when a high voltage transmission line failed, igniting a vegetation fire.   As thousands of firefighters fought the fires, incredible tales have emerged of courage and survival.   A man who asked to be identified by only his first name, Scott, told the San Francisco Chronicle that when the "Camp Fire" surrounded his home in Concow in Butte County he and his family plunged into a reservoir along with a 90-year-old neighbor, Bruno.   "Bruno was saying, 'Just leave me. I can't do this,'" Scott, 51, told the newspaper. "I said, 'Bruno, we're not going to leave you. And I'm not going to burn, so you better hurry.'"   They remained in the cold water as flames licked the shore and made their way to a small island in the reservoir after finding a pair of rowboats.

- 'I was terrified' -
Allyn Pierce, a nurse in Paradise, told The New York Times and CNN how his life was saved by a bulldozer driver as he fled the town in his pickup truck along with other residents on Thursday.   Pierce said cars were catching fire around him and he dictated a goodbye message to his family, expecting his vehicle to catch fire next.   "I stayed calm but I was terrified," Pierce said.   "Then all of a sudden this bulldozer comes out of nowhere and knocks this burning truck out of the way," he said.   Instead of fleeing to safety, however, Pierce turned around and went back to the Adventist Health Feather River Hospital, where he works as an intensive care nurse, and helped evacuate patients to the hospital's helipad.   Pierce displayed pictures of his Toyota pickup truck which he said was still working despite lights which had melted and a rear passenger door which had been welded shut by the heat from the fire.

The "Camp Fire" has ravaged 135,000 acres (54,632 hectares) of land and is 35 percent contained, according to Cal Fire.   It has destroyed some 7,600 homes and 260 commercial properties. Battling the blaze are more than 5,600 fire personnel, some from as far away as Washington state and Texas.   The "Woolsey Fire" has razed 97,620 acres (39,505 hectares) and has been 47 percent contained.    Cal Fire said more than 3,500 fire personnel were battling the "Woolsey Fire," which has destroyed the Malibu homes of several celebrities including Miley Cyrus, Neil Young, Robin Thicke, Shannen Doherty and Gerard Butler.
Date: Wed, 14 Nov 2018 18:14:50 +0100

Kinshasa, Nov 14, 2018 (AFP) - A cholera epidemic in the Democratic Republic of Congo has claimed 857 lives since the start of the year, the World Health Organization (WHO) said Wednesday.   Health authorities have so far recorded 25,170 cases, occurring in 21 out of the country's 26 provinces, the WHO's office in the DRC said.

The provinces of East Kasai and Lomami, in the centre of the country, and South Kivu, Tanganyika and Upper Katanga in the east, are those most affected.   Last year, the country had 55,000 cases of cholera, resulting in 1,190 fatalities.   Cholera is a highly contagious bacterial infection, which can kill within hours if left untreated. It thrives in conditions of poor sanitation and contaminated water or food.    The DRC is also battling an outbreak of Ebola in two eastern provinces, North Kivu and Ituri, that has killed 212 people since August.
Date: Wed, 14 Nov 2018 18:00:49 +0100

Madrid, Nov 14, 2018 (AFP) - The Spanish government declared war on alternative medicine like acupuncture or homeopathy Wednesday, announcing it plans to eliminate from health centres what it considers a health risk.   The plan, unveiled by the science and health ministers, aims to avoid the "potential harmful effects" of these practices "when they are used as an alternative or a complement to treatment" which itself is based on "proof and scientific rigour," the government said in a statement.   It did not detail what it included as alternative medicine, but gave the examples of acupuncture and homeopathy.   "Many people still believe that some treatments work despite there being no scientific proof available," it read.   According to a 2016 poll, "59.8 percent believe that acupuncture is of therapeutic use and 52.7 percent think that homeopathic products work," the plan read.

The government said it wants to "eliminate" alternative medicine from health centres where all treatment must be given by "recognised" professionals.   The plan also wants to avoid alternative medicine being taught in Spanish universities by developing alliances with deans, chancellors or Spanish regional authorities to not give out diplomas linked to these practices.   Madrid also wants to modify legislation to fight "false advertising" with regard to alternative medicine online.   The issue has taken centre stage in Spain recently, with health and science professionals pressuring the health ministry to take action after several high-profile deaths.

One such case, as reported by Spain's Association to Protect Patients against Pseudo-scientific Therapies, involved 21-year-old Mario Rodriguez who died after dropping his hospital treatment for leukemia in favour of a supposed naturopath who said he could cure cancer with vitamins.   "Dad, I made a mistake," his father Julian Rodriguez quoted him as saying on his deathbed.   The association has a long list of treatment it considers alternative medicine, which includes aromatherapy, acupuncture -- in use in China for centuries -- and even psychoanalysis as created by Sigmund Freud.
Date: Mon 12 Nov 2018, 9.54 AM EST
Source: The Guardian [edited]

A Briton has died after contracting rabies while visiting Morocco, public health officials have said. The UK resident was infected with the disease after being bitten by a cat, Public Health England (PHE) said on [Mon 12 Nov 2018]. PHE did not release any further details but reassured the public there was no wider risk. It said health workers and close contacts of the deceased were being assessed and offered vaccination where necessary.

Jimmy Whitworth, the professor of international public health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, told the Press Association: "My understanding is that this is somebody who had contact with a cat that was behaving abnormally and sought care, I believe in Morocco and in the UK, but unfortunately didn't receive vaccination until it was too late. I believe that the cat bit this person a few weeks ago."

He said that symptoms typically took 2 to 3 months to appear but could materialise in as little as a week. "That's why seeking prompt care and getting vaccination is so important," he said. "In this tragic case the person didn't get the vaccine in time." Given the lack of information, Whitworth said it was impossible to know whether the delay was in the UK or Morocco but it illustrated the importance of health workers being aware of the possibility of the disease.

There are no documented instances of direct human to human transmission of rabies. The disease does not circulate in either wild or domestic animals in the UK, although some species of bats can carry a rabies-like virus.

[Rabies] is common elsewhere, including in parts of Asia and Africa. PHE said the case was a reminder to travellers to rabies-affected countries to avoid contact with dogs, cats and other animals wherever possible, and seek advice about the need for a rabies vaccine prior to travel.

Dr Mary Ramsay, the head of immunisations at PHE, said: "This is an important reminder of the precautions people should take when travelling to countries where rabies is present. If you are bitten, scratched or licked by an animal you must wash the wound or site of exposure with plenty of soap and water and seek medical advice without delay."

It is only the 6th case of human rabies in the UK since 2000, all but one caused by animal exposure overseas. The last was in 2012, when a woman in her 50s died in London after being bitten by a dog in South Asia. She was reportedly turned away twice by doctors at a hospital in Kent before she was finally diagnosed.  [byline: Haroon Siddique]
======================
[According to another media source, the victim, a 58 year old man from Aylesbury Bucks, was staying 30 miles away from the Moroccan capital Rabat, visiting family, when he was infected with the disease. He did receive treatment but allegedly was not given anti-rabies serum in time;  <https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-6382379/PICTURED-British-father-two-died-rabies-UK.html>.

The following statistics on rabies in animals were submitted by
Morocco for 2016 (last available annual report):
Official vaccinations in dogs: 71 759
Rabies outbreaks: 76

species / cases / deaths / killed
dogs / 41 / 28 / 13
cats / 12 / 11 / 1
bovine / 71/ 62 / 9
equine / 44/ 38/ 6
ovine / 6 / 5 / 1

The numbers of human cases, as reported to the OIE for the years 2010-2015, were 19, 18, 19, 24, 20, and 19, respectively. The number of human cases during 2016 (the most recent available data) was 17.

The tourism industry is well developed in Morocco; in 2017, Morocco was Africa's top tourist destination, with 10.3 million tourist arrivals, most of them from Europe, predominantly France and Spain. In the past, cases of rabies in animals illegally introduced from Morocco with returning visitors were recorded in France

The event is being investigated. - ProMED Mod.AS]

[HealthMap/ProMED maps available at:
England, United Kingdom: <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/279>
Date: Tue 13 Nov 2018
Source: BC Centre for Disease Control [edited]

The BC [British Columbia] Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC) is alerting British Columbians to discard or return to the place of purchase any Little Qualicum Cheeseworks' Qualicum Spice cheese that they currently have at home. Products in the marketplace have a best before date up to and including 24 Apr 2019.

A total of 5 people in BC have been affected by an _Escherichia coli_ outbreak between August and October 2018. Qualicum Spice cheese samples were tested and found to be contaminated with _E. coli_. The investigation is ongoing to determine the source and extent of contamination.

Qualicum Spice is an unpasteurized cheese. It is distributed throughout BC and sold in grocery stores, farmers' markets, wineries, restaurants, and at the Little Qualicum Cheeseworks farmgate store. Little Qualicum Cheeseworks has voluntarily recalled the affected product. Little Qualicum Cheeseworks produces several other types of dairy products. No other products are being recalled at this time and consumers do not need to discard them.

People who become ill from _E. coli_ can have a wide range of symptoms. Some may have no symptoms and some may become seriously ill and be hospitalized. The following symptoms can appear within 1 to 10 days after infection:
- severe stomach cramps;
- diarrhea or bloody diarrhoea;
- vomiting;
- headache; and
- little or no fever

If you have eaten this product but have no symptoms, there is no need to do anything. If you become ill after consuming this cheese:
- practice good hand washing with warm water and soap to prevent the spread of illness;
- drink lots of clear fluids to stay hydrated;
- anyone who has bloody diarrhea or is concerned about their symptoms should see a health care provider or call HealthLinkBC at 811;
- antibiotics and anti-diarrhoea medications should not be used to treat this infection unless prescribed by your health care provider.
====================
[Although not specifically stated, the link to unpasteurized cheese and the description of the symptoms make it clear that the pathogen here is a member of the enterohemorrhagic _E coli_ pathotype.

Unpasteurized dairy products remain a potential risk for a variety of pathogens including enterohemorrhagic _E. coli_, either the prototypic serotype or one of the other serotypes. In analyzing the genetic and phenotypic profiles of non-O157 groups of EHEC [enterohemorrhagic _E. coli_], it has been found that they belong to their own lineages and have unique profiles of virulence traits different from the prototypic O157 strain (1). The serogroups appearing to be most prominent are O26, O111, O128, and O103 (2). As noted in the post, suspected cases of EHEC should not be treated with antimicrobials.

The following was extracted from Lutwick LI. Enterohemorrhagic _E. coli_ infections. In: Confronting emerging zoonoses: the One Health paradigm. Yamada A, Kahn LH, Kaplan B, Monath TP, Woodall J, Conti LA (editors). Tokyo, Japan: Springer, 2014, 77-112:

Risk factors for the subsequent development of HUS after EHEC include children less than 10 years of age, elevated white blood cell counts, persistent low platelet counts without reversal and the use of either antimicrobial agents or antimotility agents during the diarrhea stage before or after bloody diarrhea develops. Since fever is generally not part of the presentation but significant abdominal pain is, patients with diarrhea, significant abdominal pain and no fever should be considered to have EHEC infection, and antimicrobial or antimotility agents should be avoided. Additionally, certain strains -- for example, the so-called clade 8 and the chimeric organism _E. coli_ O104:H4 -- can be associated with a higher risk of HUS.

HUS itself is a thrombotic illness primarily caused by the effects of the EHEC produced Shiga toxin acting on the vascular endometrium of organs where the toxin's receptors are expressed, particularly the kidney and brain. The syndrome consists of the combination of prominent low platelet counts (thrombocytopenia), intravascular red blood cell destruction (hemolysis) and diminished kidney function that can require hemodialysis. Neurological involvement occurs mostly in those who develop renal failure and the central nervous system involvement portends much higher mortality. Indeed, most of the acute mortality relates to neurological disease. Most patients will recover, but some, perhaps 10 percent, remain with renal failure and require chronic hemodialysis.

References
----------
1. Schmidt H, Geitz C, Tarr PI, et al. Non-O157:H7 pathogenic Shiga-toxin producing _Escherichia coli_: phenotypic and genetic profiling of virulence traits and evidence for clonality. J Infect Dis. 1999; 179(1): 115-23; available at <https://academic.oup.com/jid/article/179/1/115/877122>.
2. Bettelheim KA. Role of non-O157 VTEC. Symp Ser Soc Appl Microbiol. 2000; (29): 38S-50S; abstract available at <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10880178>. - ProMED Mod.LL]

[HealthMap/ProMED map available at:
British Columbia Province, Canada:
Date: Sun 4 Nov 2018
Source: Nigeria Center for Disease Control (NCDC) [edited]

Highlights
===========================
- In the reporting week 44 (29 Oct-4 Nov 2018) 5 new confirmed cases were reported from Edo (3), Ondo (1) and Ebonyi (1) state with 2 new deaths in Edo (1) and Ebonyi (1).
- From 1 Jan-4 Nov 2018, a total of 2950 suspected cases have been reported from 22 states. Of these, 553 were confirmed positive, 17 probable, 2380 negative (not a case).
- Since the onset of the 2018 outbreak, there have been 143 deaths in confirmed cases and 17 in probable cases. Case fatality rate (CFR) in confirmed cases is 25.9%.
- 22 states have recorded at least one confirmed case across 90 Local Government Areas (Edo, Ondo, Bauchi, Nasarawa, Ebonyi, Anambra, Benue, Kogi, Imo, Plateau, Lagos, Taraba, Delta, Osun, Rivers, FCT, Gombe, Ekiti, Kaduna, Abia, Adamawa and Enugu); 18 states have exited the active phase of the outbreak while 4; Edo, Ondo, Ebonyi and Delta states, remain active - figure 1 [see source URL above].
- In the reporting week 44 (29 Oct-4 Nov 2018), one new health care worker was affected; 42 health care workers have been affected since the onset of the outbreak in 7 states - Ebonyi (16), Edo (15), Ondo (6), Kogi (2), Nasarawa (1), Taraba (1) and Abia (1) with 10 deaths in Ebonyi (5), Kogi (1), Abia (1), Ondo (2) and Edo (1).
- 82% of all confirmed cases are from Edo (46%), Ondo (23%) and Ebonyi (13%) states.
- 10 patients are currently being managed at Irrua Specialist Teaching Hospital (ISTH) treatment Centre (4), Federal Medical Centre (FMC) Owo (4), and Federal Teaching Hospital Abakiliki (2).
- A total of 8587 contacts have been identified from 22 states. Of these 512 (6%) are currently being followed up, 7946 (92.5%) have completed 21 days follow up while 15 (0.2%) were lost to follow up. 114 (1.3%) symptomatic contacts have been identified, of which 36 (0.4%) have tested positive from 5 states (Edo - 20, Ondo - 8, Ebonyi - 3, Kogi - 3, Bauchi - 1 and Adamawa - 1).
- National RRT team (NCDC staff and NFELTP [Nigeria Field Epidemiology and Laboratory Training Program] residents) deployed Ondo state to support response.
- Lassa fever international Conference registration, abstract submission and travel scholarship now open to the public on the conference website <www.lic.ncdc.gov.ng> with the date for abstract submission extended to the 14 Nov 2018.
- Lassa fever national multi-partner, multi-agency Technical Working Group (TWG) continues to coordinate response activities at all levels

Figure 1 [map]: Distribution of confirmed Lassa fever cases in Nigeria as at 4 Nov 2018.
Figure 2 [map]: Distribution of suspected and confirmed Lassa fever cases in Nigeria by LGA.
Figure 3 [graph]: Epicurve of Lassa fever confirmed (548) and probable (17) cases in Nigeria week 1-44, 2018.
Figure 4 [graph]: Weekly trends of Lassa fever confirmed cases in Nigeria, 2016-2018, week 44.
Figure 5 [graph]: Confirmed Lassa fever cases in Nigeria with state-specific case fatality rates (CFR) as at 4 Oct 2018.
=======================
[Although the graphs in the above report clearly show that the Lassa fever virus transmission peak has passed, the 5 new confirmed cases and 2 new deaths indicate that Lassa fever virus transmission continues, and a few more cases might occur. Unfortunately, one health care worker was infected during this reporting period. This outbreak has been widespread, occurring in 22 states and 90 local government areas. It would be interesting to know whether the prevalence of Lassa fever virus has been increasing in populations of rodent hosts in this area.

Images of the rodent reservoirs of Lassa fever virus can be seen as follows:
For _Mastomys natalensis_, see
For _M. erythroleucus_ and _Hylomycus pamfi_, see

The maps and graphs in the report above are interesting and provide a good picture of how the outbreak has progressed over time. They can be accessed at the source URL above.

Maps of Nigeria:
Date: Mon 12 Nov 2018
Source: OIE, WAHIS (World Animal Health Information System), weekly
disease information 2018; 31(46) [edited]

Anthrax, Namibia
----------------
Information received on [and dated] 12 Nov 2018 from Dr Adrianatus Florentius Maseke, chief veterinary officer, Veterinary Services, Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry, Windhoek, Namibia

Summary
Report type: immediate notification
Date of start of the event: 25 Oct 2018
Date of confirmation of the event: 1 Nov 2018
Reason for notification: recurrence of a listed disease
Date of previous occurrence: 13 Feb 2018
Manifestation of disease: clinical disease
Causal agent: _Bacillus anthracis_
Nature of diagnosis: clinical, laboratory (basic)
This event pertains to a defined zone within the country

New outbreaks (3)
Outbreak 1: Omiriu, Opuwo, Sesfontein, Kunene
Date of start of the outbreak: 25 Oct 2018
Outbreak status: continuing (or date resolved not provided)
Epidemiological unit: village
Affected animals
Species / Susceptible / Cases / Deaths / Killed and disposed of / Slaughtered
Goats / 537 / 25 / 23 / 2 / -
===================
[The location of the outbreaks can be seen on the interactive map included in the OIE report at the source URL above. Kunene is in north west Namibia, and Kavango East is between Angola & Botswana in the north east.
========================
[Remember it is summer in the southern hemisphere, which means that it is now their anthrax season. Livestock anthrax is sporadic in Namibia but a constant concern in their national parks. - ProMED Mod.MHJ]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of Namibia:
Date: Tue, 13 Nov 2018 20:01:56 +0100

Tampa, Nov 13, 2018 (AFP) - Puzzled by a rise in US children with sudden paralysis in their arms or legs, health officials said Tuesday they are probing whether a virus or auto-immune disorder may be to blame.   A total of 252 cases of the disorder known as acute flaccid myelitis (AFM) are currently under investigation nationwide, an increase of 33 since last week, said Nancy Messonnier, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

With 80 confirmed cases so far this year, 2018 looks to be on pace with prior peak years like 2014 (120 cases) and 2016 (149 cases), Messonnier said.    More than 400 cases have been confirmed through lab tests since 2014, the first year the syndrome emerged.   A couple dozen cases were confirmed in 2015 and 2017.   Messonnier said she understands parents' alarm but stressed that the disorder remains "rare."   Most cases involve children aged two to eight. Almost all complained of fever and respiratory illness three to 10 days before suddenly experiencing paralysis in their arms or legs.   For some, the paralysis went away, but at least half have not recovered, said Messonnier.

The CDC has tested 125 spinal cord fluid samples, and half were positive for rhinovirus or enterovirus, which commonly cause symptoms like fever, runny nose, vomiting, diarrhea and body aches.    Yet scientists are still stumped about the precise cause of the sudden paralysis, since these viruses are common but AFM is not.   "We are trying to figure out what the triggers are that would cause someone to develop AFM," Messonnier told reporters.   "It may be one of the viruses we have already detected. It may be a virus that we haven't yet detected. Or it could be that the virus is kicking off another process that is actually triggering -- through an auto immune process -- AFM," she said.    "CDC is a science-driven agency. Right now, the science doesn't give us an answer."

Perhaps most frustrating for parents, there is no way to prevent it, and no targeted therapies or interventions.   "Parents and caregivers are urged to seek immediate medical care for a child who develops sudden weakness of the arms or legs," said the CDC latest report on AFM, released Tuesday.    Messonnier said the CDC has not been tracking every case of AFM since 2014, leading to gaps in the federal agency's knowledge of the illness, which experts are now trying to fill.   One child with AFM is reported to have died in 2017.
Date: Mon, 12 Nov 2018 15:54:12 +0100

London, United Kingdom, Nov 12, 2018 (AFP) - A Briton has died after being bitten by a cat with rabies in Morocco, officials said Monday, only the seventh known case in the United Kingdom since 2000.   England's health service issued a reminder Monday for travellers to avoid coming into contact with animals when travelling to rabies affected countries, particularly those in Asia and Africa.

Rabies has been effectively eradicated in Britain, although they do still spread among some bats.   "There is no risk to the wider public in relation to this case but, as a precautionary measure, health workers and close contacts are being assessed and offered vaccination when necessary," said Mary Ramsay, the health service's chief of immunisation.   The Press Association news agency said the person was bitten a few weeks ago and not given potentially life-saving treatment early enough.

Rabies is a viral disease that causes an inflammation of the brain. It is usually fatal by the time the first symptoms emerge.   England's health service said that no cases of humans acquiring the disease from any animal other than a bat have been recorded within the country since 1902.   One person acquired it from a bat in Scotland in 2002, and five people contacted while travelling between 2002 and 2017, the health service said.
Date: Tue, 13 Nov 2018 07:02:37 +0100

Hanoi, Nov 13, 2018 (AFP) - Vietnam's newest carrier Bamboo Airways has been granted a licence to fly, officials and the airline said, paving the way for its inaugural flight in a region crowded with competitors.    Run by one of the country's richest men, Bamboo will compete with well-established heavy hitters such as national carrier Vietnam Airlines and budget carrier Vietjet to serve a mushrooming middle class with growing appetites, and budgets, for travel.    Vietnam's Transport Ministry said Bamboo's official aviation license had been approved and that it would aim to operate 100 routes, including to lesser-travelled destinations in Vietnam and elsewhere in Asia, with plans to eventually fly to North America.   "The first domestic flights... are aimed at reducing pressure on aviation infrastructure in major cities, strengthening regional links (and) promoting tourism to Vietnam," the Transport Ministry said in a statement Tuesday.

The airline is owned by Trinh Van Quyet, who heads the FLC property empire that includes lush beachside resorts, golf clubs and luxury condos across Vietnam, a country still under one-party communist rule.   Bamboo has already signed up to buy 20 of Boeing's 787 Dreamliners worth $5.6 billion and committed a further $3.2 billion to buy 24 Airbus A321neo planes.    The airline said its inaugural flight, originally scheduled for last month, should take place before the end of the year.    "We have conducted a flight test, the results show that the aircraft fully meets technical specifications (and is) ready to go into operation," CEO Dang Tat Thang said in a statement.

Bamboo is hoping to steal customers from competitors by luring them to off-the-beaten-path destinations in Vietnam such as Quy Nhon and Thanh Hoa and by offering bundled travel packages to FLC resorts.   But analysts say the outdated model may not work in an era where most travellers can easily tailor holidays online, and wonder whether Bamboo's big bet will pay off in Southeast Asia's busy aviation market.    Quyet told AFP in an interview earlier this year that he is certain the airline "will be huge" and expects to make a profit soon after launch.   Born to a poor rural family near Hanoi where life among bamboo trees inspired the airline's name, he now runs FLC Group with a market capitalisation of around $200 million.

Vietnam's aviation sector has soared in recent years, with passenger numbers jumping to 62 million last year from 25 million in 2012.   There are already six commercial aviation licenses granted in Vietnam, including for a chartered helicopter service and a seaplane carrier.   Faced with increasingly squeezed airport capacity and tough competition across the region, in particular from budget airlines like AirAsia and TigerAir, the market has shown signs of cooling.    In 2009, Vietnam's first operational private airline Indochina Airlines ceased operation after just one year in the market due to financial troubles.