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Barbados

General
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Barbados is an island country in the West Indies. This Caribbean Island gained its independence from Britain in 1966 and enjoys a pleasant climate throughout much of the year. The main rainfall occurs betwe
n May to October and it may be affected by hurricanes along with many other Caribbean countries during September or October. The tourism facilities are well developed and Barbadian English is the main spoken language.
Safety & Security
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The level of street crime is low but tourists are encouraged to maintain a close eye on personal processions and to use the hotel safety boxes for any particular valuables. Take care when walking through crowded market places, using a body pouch for your belongings. Ask advice before walking along deserted beaches at nighttime. If necessary, use an authorised taxi at all times to and from nightclubs.
Medical Facilities
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Health care facilities throughout the main tourist regions are good but if travelling around the island you should be aware that these facilities are less developed. It is wise to ensure that you carry sufficient personal medication for the duration of your trip though medical supplies within Barbados are usually excellent.
Road Travel
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The traffic in Barbados travels on the left side of the road and generally the infrastructure is well maintained along the tourist routes. Nevertheless, hiring cars or mopeds is usually not recommended due to the high risk of accidents. Hiring a taxi is usually a safer option.
Local Customs
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Many countries (including Barbados) have strict rules regarding the possession of illegal drugs. Never carry any item for another individual and always make sure your own personal medications are well marked at all times. Sometimes it is wise to have an official letter from your prescribing doctor outlining the reason for your medication.
Swimming
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As always when abroad, make sure you take heed of local advice before swimming in the Caribbean. Strong currents can occur and occasionally passing cruise ships or tankers may pollute the sea. Never swim alone, away from the main tourist resorts or soon after a meal. Take care to watch children at all times even around the hotel swimming pools. If planning to undertake water sports while abroad make sure your travel insurance is sufficient and always check that the company you use has well maintained equipment and that good safety procedures are in place. Talking to other tourists or the hotel representative before booking will help give you a clearer picture of the facilities on offer.
Sun Exposure & Dehydration
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The temperature in Barbados is generally similar throughout the year with levels between 20 to 30C at most times. Sun exposure most commonly occurs in those who do not cover up sufficiently and particularly if asleep beside the pool, exhausted due to jet lag, soon after arrival. Take care that children are kept cool, drink plenty of fluids and take extra salt in their diet (crisps, salted biscuits etc) to help overcome these effects.
Food & Water
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The level of food hygiene in the main tourist resorts is high but care should be taken with regard to the consumption of seafood. Contamination of fish and shellfish has been reported in the past. Ciguatera poisoning associated with consumption of snappers, parrot fish, mackerel, moray eels and barracudas has been reported. Water hygiene is usually excellent though drinking bottled water is usually a wise precaution while abroad.
Rabies risks
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Barbados has been rabies free for over 150 years. Nevertheless, avoiding animal bites is still a wise option and particularly take care that young children do not befriend any animals including birds, monkeys, cats and dogs.
Malaria & Mosquito Bites
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Malaria transmission does not occur within the West Indies including Barbados. However other mosquito borne diseases such as Dengue Fever can be a significant problem. Mosquitoes that tend to bite in urban areas during the daylight hours transmit this disease and so care against insect bites is encouraged throughout the whole day.
Vaccinations for Barbados
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There are no vaccines required for entry to Barbados from Ireland. However, most tourists would be encouraged to consider cover against the following:
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Tetanus (childhood booster)
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Typhoid (food & water borne)
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Hepatitis A (food & water borne)
Those planning a more extensive trip or undertaking adventure sports should also consider cover against Hepatitis B.
Summary
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The majority of tourists to Barbados will enjoy a healthy time on the island with little reason for concern providing they follow some simple commonsense rules regarding seafood consumption, sun exposure and dehydration. Further information, including any recent news reports, is available through the Tropical Medical Bureau at the numbers below.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Fri 17 Aug 2018
Source: Outbreak News Today [edited]

Barbados health officials are reporting an increase in syphilis in pregnant women in recent years. The health ministry is now seeing an abnormally high rate of syphilis in pregnant women and, by extension, an increase in the number of babies born at risk for congenital syphilis.

Statistics show a rise from the average one or 2 cases a year of syphilis in pregnant women to 17 in 2016. According to the Ministry official, preliminary analyses from 2017 show a similarly high rate.

Dr. Anton Best, senior medical officer of health with responsibility for the HIV/STI programme, said that effective prevention and detection of congenital syphilis depends on the identification of the sexually transmitted infection (STI) in pregnant women. He noted that the Ministry of Health and Wellness' guidelines make it clear that all pregnant women should be offered a screening test for syphilis at booking and at 28 weeks gestation.
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[The number of syphilis cases in Barbados was reported to have started to increase in 2012, from 24 in 2011 to 41 in 2012 and to 112 in 2013, and then to have stabilized in 2014 (100 cases), 2015, and 2016 (<http://www.nationnews.com/nationnews/news/98007/stis-major-concern-ministry-health>).  72 percent of new syphilis cases reportedly occurred in men between the ages of 15 and 49 years old, with the average age being 34; more than 95 percent of pregnant women were screened for syphilis during pregnancy, and no increase in syphilis cases in pregnant women occurred during a 4-year study (2011-2014), with only one case of syphilis being transmitted through birth in 2014  (<https://caribbeannewsservice.com/now/syphilis-outbreak-in-barbados/>).

However, the news report above says that, although only one or 2 cases a year of syphilis occurred in pregnant women previously, 17 cases occurred in 2016, and a similar number occurred in 2017, but we are not given the number treated or outcome of these pregnancies.

Syphilis is a bacterial infection caused by the spirochete _Treponema pallidum_. Transmission from mother to fetus occurs via the bloodstream during maternal spirochetal infection. Transmission may also occur during delivery if maternal genital lesions are present. Late abortion, stillbirth, and neonatal death may result from congenital infection in untreated pregnancies. Among survivors, manifestations that develop in the 1st 2 years of life are called "early" and are similar to adult secondary syphilis; manifestations that develop after age 2 years are called "late" and include tooth abnormalities (Hutchinson teeth), bone changes (saber shins), "Clutton's joints" (bilateral painless swelling of the knee joints), neurological involvement, blindness, and deafness.

Control of congenital syphilis is achieved by antenatal screening and treatment of mothers who are infected. Routine serologic screening should be done at the 1st prenatal visit in all pregnant women, and, in communities and populations in which the risk for congenital syphilis is high, serologic testing and a sexual history also should be obtained at 28 weeks gestation and at delivery. Groups at high risk include uninsured women, women living in poverty, sex workers, illicit drug users, women diagnosed with sexually transmitted diseases, and those living in communities with high syphilis morbidity (<http://www.ahrq.gov/clinic/uspstf09/syphilis/syphpgsum.htm>). No mother or neonate should leave the hospital without maternal serologic status having been documented at least once during pregnancy and, if the mother is considered high risk, also at delivery.

Barbados, with a population of 277 821 residents, is a sovereign country and the easternmost island in the Caribbean region of North America; its capital and largest city is Bridgetown  (<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barbados>).

A map showing the location of Barbados can be found at
<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/West_Indies#/media/File:Caribbean_general_map.png>. - ProMED Mod.ML]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map:
Date: Tue, 9 Feb 2016 20:01:58 +0100

Miami, Feb 9, 2016 (AFP) - Barbados on Tuesday confirmed three cases of Zika in pregnant women, bringing to seven the number of people on the Caribbean island with the virus, which is believed to be linked to birth defects.   The women will be given specialized obstetric care, the Ministry of Health said in a statement. The new cases were announced on the Barbados government information services Facebook page.

Zika, a primarily mosquito-borne illness, has spread rapidly through Latin America and the Caribbean. It generally causes mild symptoms but has been blamed for a rapid rise in the number of children born with microcephaly -- abnormally small heads and brains.   Barbados said that link has not been confirmed.    "The situation is still evolving and information is being updated regularly," the Ministry of Health said.   The World Health Organization has declared a global medical emergency to combat Zika and individual countries and regions are beginning to mobilize. With no cure or vaccine for the virus, some countries have taken the extraordinary step of urging women to delay getting pregnant.

According to the Pan-American Health Organization, 26 countries have confirmed cases, spanning 7,000 kilometres (4,400 miles) from Mexico to Paraguay.   The hardest hit country is Brazil, which hosts the Summer Olympics starting in August.   Brazil has warned pregnant women not to travel there but Games organizers have said by the time the Olympics start, the main mosquito season will be over and they don't expect the illness to affect the sporting extravaganza.
Date: Tue, 18 Feb 2014 11:17:11 +0100 (MET)

WASHINGTON, Feb 18, 2014 (AFP) - An earthquake measuring 6.7 struck Tuesday in the Caribbean near the island of Barbados, the US Geological Survey said.   The quake hit at 0927 GMT about 170 kilometers (110 miles) northeast of the town of Bathsheba on Barbados, the USGS said.   It struck at a depth of 172 kilometers (11 miles).   There were no immediate reports of damage or injuries in Barbados media outlets.   The Daily Nation newspaper said people called radio stations to report the quake.
Date: Mon, 8 Jul 2013 11:53:25 +0200 (METDST)

MIAMI, United States, July 08, 2013 (AFP) - Tropical Storm Chantal, which formed in the Atlantic overnight, headed towards the Caribbean Sea on Monday, the US National Hurricane Center reported.   At 0900 GMT Chantal was located about 1,130 kilometers (705 miles) east of Barbados packing maximum sustained winds of 65 kilometers (40 miles) per hour, the NHC said.

The storm is moving in a northwesterly direction at 43 kilometers per hour.   If it continues on its current path it will reach southern Puerto Rico and the island of Hispaniola -- shared by the Dominican Republic and Haiti -- on Wednesday or Thursday, according to the NHC forecast.   Tropical storm warnings are in effect for the French islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe, as well as for Barbados, Dominica and Santa Lucia, the NHC said.

Chantal is expected to strengthen during the next 48 hours and "produce rain accumulations of two to four inches over the Leeward and Windward Islands, with maximum amounts of six inches possible," the NHC said.   Poverty-stricken Haiti, which is still recovering from a devastating earthquake in January 2010, is especially prone to landslides triggered by heavy rain.
Date: Fri, 3 Aug 2012 06:28:26 +0200 (METDST)

MIAMI, Aug 3, 2012 (AFP) - Tropical storm Ernesto, the fifth of the Atlantic hurricane season, threatened Barbados and the Windward Islands Friday as it advanced across the Atlantic with winds of 85 kilometers per hour.

At 0300 GMT, the storm's center was 130 kilometers (80 miles) east of Barbados and 295 kilometers (185 miles) east of St Lucia, the Miami-based National Hurricane Center said. "The center of Ernesto should pass near Barbados later tonight, be near the northern Windward Islands by early Friday and emerge over the eastern Caribbean sea by Friday afternoon," the center said. It said tropical storm warnings were up in Barbados, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Dominica, St Lucia, Martinique and Guadeloupe.

Ernesto formed on Thursday from a tropical depression, becoming the fifth tropical storm of the current hurricane season, which runs from June 1 to November 30. The storm was expected to strengthen somewhat over the next two days, the center said. US weather forecasters have said they expect this to be a relatively mild hurricane season, with nine to 15 topical storms and between four and eight hurricanes.
More ...

World Travel News Headlines

Date: Mon, 27 Jan 2020 01:07:04 +0100 (MET)

Wuhan, China, Jan 27, 2020 (AFP) - China's central government said on Monday that the nationwide total of confirmed infections from a deadly respiratory virus had risen to 2,744, with 769 new cases coming to light.   However, it said no new deaths were confirmed outside of Hubei province, which had earlier reported 24 new fatalities to bring the national total to 80 dead.
Date: Sun, 26 Jan 2020 22:16:28 +0100 (MET)

Beijing, Jan 26, 2020 (AFP) - Chinese authorities have ordered the extension of a public holiday in an effort to contain an epidemic that has killed 56 people and infected nearly 2,000 worldwide, state-run media reported.   A working group chaired by Premier Li Keqiang to tackle the outbreak decided on Sunday "to reduce population flows" by extending the Spring Festival holiday which had been scheduled to end on January 30, state news agency Xinhua said.   It was not immediately clear how long the extension is.

The group also ordered changes to "the starting dates of schools" and "people to work from home by working online."   "The meeting stressed that the country is at a crucial time in the prevention and control of the novel coronavirus outbreak, urging Party committees and governments at all levels to take more 'decisive, powerful and orderly, scientific and well-planned' measures to effective curb the spread," Xinhua reported.   In a bid to slow the spread of the respiratory virus, the government had previously locked down hard-hit Hubei, a province in central China that is at the outbreak's epicentre, in an unprecedented operation affecting tens of millions of people.

The previously unknown virus has caused global concern because of its similarity to the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) pathogen, which killed hundreds across mainland China and Hong Kong in 2002-2003.   Originating in Hubei's capital of Wuhan, the virus has spread throughout China and across the world -- with cases confirmed in around a dozen countries including as far away as the United States.   Several countries were making arrangements to evacuate their citizens from Wuhan, where an eery calm pervades as new restrictions prohibit most road traffic in the metropolis of 11 million.
Date: Sun, 26 Jan 2020 21:47:53 +0100 (MET)

Washington, Jan 26, 2020 (AFP) - US health authorities said Sunday there are now five confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the United States and more are expected.   Nancy Messonnier, head of the respiratory disease section at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said around 100 people in 26 states are being investigated for the virus, which originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan.

Of the confirmed cases, all five people had travelled to Wuhan, Messonier said during a conference call with reporters.   "Every case we have had in the United States is someone who has had direct contact in Wuhan," she said.   Messonier said there are two cases in California and one each in Arizona, Illinois and Washington state. Until now the toll was three.   While Chinese officials have launched an extraordinary emergency response, Messonier insisted that the health risk for Americans in general remains low "at this time."
Date: Sun, 26 Jan 2020 13:44:57 +0100 (MET)

Lagos, Jan 26, 2020 (AFP) - Nigerian health authorities have announced stepped-up emergency measures to tackle a rise in Lassa fever cases after 29 people died this month.   "As at 24th of January 2020, 195 confirmed cases and 29 deaths had been reported in 11 states," the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) said in a statement Saturday.   A national emergency operations centre had been activated to coordinate the response "to the increasing number of Lassa fever cases" across the country.

Endemic to Nigeria, Lassa fever belongs to the same family as the Ebola and Marburg viruses, but is much less deadly.   The virus is spread by contact with rat faeces or urine. It starts with fever and can, in worst case scenarios, lead to severe bleeding and organ failure.   Nigeria declared an outbreak of Lassa fever a year ago and around 170 people died from the virus in 2019.

The number of cases usually climbs in January due to weather conditions during the dry season.    Almost 90 percent of the recent confirmed cases have been in Edo, Ondo and Ebonyi states in southern Nigeria, but their have also been deaths in the north.

The NCDC said that compared to the same period last year the fatality rate had dropped from 23.4 percent to 14.8 percent.    It encouraged Nigerians to "practise good hygiene and take measures to protect themselves and their families".   Nigeria, Africa's most populous nation with a population of some 200 million, has five laboratories with the capability to diagnose Lassa fever.
Date: Sun, 26 Jan 2020 12:18:19 +0100 (MET)

Beijing, Jan 26, 2020 (AFP) - Two Chinese provinces and three cities have ordered citizens to wear face masks in public, to help control the spread of a deadly virus.   The measure is required in the provinces of Guangdong in the south and Jiangxi in the centre, plus the eastern city of Nanjing, Ma'anshan city in Anhui province, and Xinyang city in Henan, according to local authorities.   China's industry and information technology ministry has said it would "spare no effort in increasing supply" after demand for masks skyrocketed.
Date: Sun, 26 Jan 2020 04:03:51 +0100 (MET)

Hong Kong, Jan 26, 2020 (AFP) - Hong Kong's Disneyland announced it was shutting its doors on Sunday until further notice over the deadly virus outbreak in central China, a day after city authorities classified the crisis as an emergency.   "As a precautionary measure in line with prevention efforts taking place across Hong Kong, we are temporarily closing Hong Kong Disneyland park out of consideration for the health and safety of our guests and cast members," the park said in a statement.
Date: 26 Jan 2020
Source: MENAFN [edited]

Two more polio cases have surfaced from Landikotal tehsil in Khyber tribal district, after which the number of reported cases in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has reached 4 this year [2020].

According to the Emergency Operations Centre (EOC), a 2-year-old [male child] from Nekikhel and another child from Torwela have been diagnosed with polio. The samples of these 2 children were sent for laboratory tests in 2019, so these cases will be counted in the tally of 2019, which stands at 141 now.

The 2 cases in Landiktoal were reported 2 days after the emergence of 3 new polio cases in Qambar, Dadu and Sajawal districts of Sindh. Among them, 2 children contracted the crippling disease in 2019, but the cases were confirmed on Friday [24 Jan 2020].

On [21 Jan 2020], the 1st case of polio in Pakistan in 2020 surfaced in Lakki Marwat, the district with the highest number of cases in 2019.

The year 2019 was worse for Pakistan in polio eradication efforts, as 141 cases surfaced in Pakistan, including 96 cases in KP. Most cases in KP surfaced in Lakki Marwat, where 32 children were diagnosed with the crippling disease. In 2018, only 12 cases were reported, while in 2017, 8 cases were reported.

Currently, Pakistan and Afghanistan are the only 2 countries in the world which have not fully eradicated polio. The main cause behind the emergence of so many polio cases is refusal of parents to cooperate with the vaccination teams. According to media reports citing Health Ministry data, over a million parents refused to cooperate with vaccination teams in 2019. Most of the refusal cases were reported in April last year [2019] when rumours spread in Peshawar that many children had fainted after consuming vaccination drops. A total of 1 089 087 parents refused to give vaccination drops to their children in 2019.

The emergence of so many polio cases in Pakistan, particularly in KP, has brought the federal and provincial governments under pressure over their performance and strategy to control the spread of disease.

Experts believe that polio vaccination efforts cannot succeed completely until the refusing parents are convinced to cooperate with vaccination teams.
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[The End Polio Pakistan website has not added all of the media reported cases as yet, so it's a bit difficult to follow at times and know which cases were 2019 onset and which were 2020 onset. The above media report clearly states 2019 onset and puts the tally for 2019 as 141 cases, but the media reports from Friday's [24 Jan 2020] report is less clear (see Poliomyelitis update (10): global, Pakistan (BA, SD) http://promedmail.org/post/20200124.6911971).

A good map of Pakistan showing districts and provinces can be found at:
Date: Fri 24 Jan 2020
Source: SciTechDaily [abridged, edited]

Citation: Amman BR, Bird BH, Bakarr IA, et al. Isolation of Angola-like Marburg virus from Egyptian rousette bats from West Africa. Nat Commun. 2020; 11:510.  <https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-020-14327-8>

Scientists have detected Marburg virus in fruit bats in Sierra Leone, marking the 1st time the deadly virus has been found in West Africa. A total of 11 Egyptian rousette fruit bats tested positive for active Marburg virus infection. Research teams caught the bats separately in 3 health districts.

The presence of Marburg virus, a close relative to Ebola virus that also causes hemorrhagic disease in people, was detected in advance of any reported cases of human illness in Sierra Leone. However, the virus's presence in bats means people who live nearby could be at risk for becoming infected. No outbreaks have been reported to date.

The findings, based on PCR, antibody, and virus isolation data, were officially published today [24 Jan 2020] in the journal Nature Communications. Preliminary findings were announced earlier in December 2018 to ensure rapid notification to the citizens of Sierra Leone and the international health community.

The paper highlights the value of collaborating with government and key stakeholders across human, animal, and environmental sectors to engage at-risk communities about the discovery, address health concerns, and communicate risk-reduction strategies before recognized spillovers occur.

Marburg virus was detected by projects led by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the USAID-funded PREDICT project led by the One Health Institute at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine; Njala University, Sierra Leone; and the University of Makeni, Sierra Leone.

"Finding Marburg virus in bats in Sierra Leone before any known cases in people is a huge success, as public health officials and doctors can now include Marburg virus among the possible causes when diagnosing hemorrhagic fever cases in the region," said Tracey Goldstein, co-principal investigator and pathogen detection lead for the PREDICT project from the UC Davis One Health Institute.

To date, there have been 12 known outbreaks of Marburg virus, with the most recent in Uganda in 2017. The largest and deadliest outbreak occurred in Angola in 2005 when 227 people died. Five of the new strains identified among the Marburg-positive bats in Sierra Leone were genetically similar to the strain that caused the outbreak in Angola. This is the 1st time scientists have detected these Angolan-like strains in bats.

The virus-positive bats were all Egyptian rousette bats, the known reservoir for Marburg virus, which primarily feed on fruit. Infected bats shed the virus in their saliva, urine, and feces. Egyptian rousette bats are known to test-bite fruits, urinate, and defecate where they eat, potentially contaminating fruit or other food sources consumed by other animals or people, particularly children. These bats sometimes serve as a food source for local populations as well. People may be exposed to Marburg virus through bat bites as they catch the bats.

Following the announcement of the preliminary findings by the government of Sierra Leone, the PREDICT team worked with government partners, universities, and other key stakeholders to develop and implement evidence-based public health messaging across national, district, and local community levels in Sierra Leone.  "Over a year ago, we worked with our Sierra Leone government colleagues to inform people across the country as fast as possible of this new health risk and remind people not to harm or come in contact with bats," said Brian Bird from the UC Davis One Health Institute and global lead for Sierra Leone and Multi-Country Ebola operations for PREDICT-USAID. "I'm very proud of that work and our teams now that this full report is available."
----------------------------------------------
Communicated by:
ProMED-mail from HealthMap Alerts
<promed@promedmail.org>
and
Mary Marshall
===========================
[The initial report of this finding, prior to this publication, was posted by ProMED-mail (Marburg virus disease - Sierra Leone (02): bats, additional information http://promedmail.org/post/20181223.6221436) when the virus was detected for the 1st time in fruit bats in Sierra Leone.

According to the CDC (<https://www.cdc.gov/vhf/marburg/index.html>), Marburg virus was 1st recognized in 1967, when outbreaks of hemorrhagic fever occurred simultaneously in laboratories in Marburg and Frankfurt, Germany, and in Belgrade, Yugoslavia (now Serbia). A total of 31 people became ill, initially laboratory workers followed by several medical personnel and family members who had cared for them; 7 deaths were reported. The 1st people infected had been exposed to imported African green monkeys or their tissues while conducting research. One additional case was diagnosed retrospectively.

The reservoir host of Marburg virus is the African fruit bat, _Rousettus aegyptiacus_. Fruit bats infected with Marburg virus do not show obvious signs of illness. Primates (including humans) can become infected with Marburg virus, and may develop serious disease with high mortality.

Ebola virus is closely related to Marburg virus. "Ebola viral RNA fragments were found in an oral swab from a greater long-fingered bat (_Miniopterus inflatus_), captured in 2016 in Liberia's Sanniquellie-Mahn district, which borders Guinea. The bat, which lives in many parts of Africa, roosts in caves and feeds on insects. Scientists had previously found 2 other Ebola species in a related insect-eating bat, _M. schreibersii_. However, most other evidence has pointed to fruit bats as the carriers of Ebola Zaire, Epstein says [J Epstein, veterinary epidemiologist at EcoHealth Alliance in New York City and a member of the PREDICT consortium]. "What it really says to me is that this is a virus that has multiple hosts, and it might be regionally dependent as to which species carries it."

Supporting the variety of bat hosts for Ebola, the bat implicated in the initiation of the West African Ebola virus outbreak in December 2013 was _Mops condylurus_, long-tailed insect-eating bats, that were previously suspected in an outbreak of the Sudan strain of Ebola virus, which is related to the Zaire strain. - ProMED Mod.LK]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map:
Date: Sat, 25 Jan 2020 11:49:16 +0100 (MET)
By Su Xinqi, Jerome TAYLOR

Hong Kong, Jan 25, 2020 (AFP) - Hong Kong on Saturday declared a new coronavirus outbreak as an "emergency" -- the city's highest warning tier -- as authorities ramped up measures to reduce the risk of further infections.   The announcement came as city leader Carrie Lam faced criticism in some quarters over her administration's response to the crisis.

Of the five people who have tested positive for the virus in Hong Kong so far, four arrived via a newly built high-speed train terminal which connects with the mainland.   That led to calls from some medical experts and politicians to limit, or even halt, arrivals from China, the epicentre of the outbreak with 41 people dead.

Lam held emergency meetings with health officials on Saturday morning after returning from Davos.   "Today I declare the lifting of the response level to emergency," she told reporters.   Schools and universities, which are currently on a Lunar New Year break, would remain closed until 17 February, Lam said.   All mainland arrivals to Hong Kong will now need to sign health declaration forms, she added, while public events including a new year gala and next month's marathon, would also be called off.    "We haven't seen serious and widespread infections (in Hong Kong), but we are taking this seriously and we hope to be ahead of the epidemic," Lam said.

- Tragic past -
Hong Kong has a recent experience of deadly viral outbreaks.    Nearly 300 people were killed by SARS in 2003, a tragedy that left a profound psychological impact on one of the most densely populated places on earth.   The city's ability to combat the crisis was hampered by moves in mainland China to cover up and play down the outbreak, leaving a lasting legacy of distrust among many Hong Kongers.   Animosity towards the mainland has intensified in recent years as Beijing tightens political control over the semi-autonomous territory.

The outbreak also comes at a sensitive time for Lam, who currently boasts record low approval ratings after seven months of pro-democracy protests.   "We must stand united so that we can prevent and control the disease," she said, in a nod to the political unrest.   The often violent protests have battered Hong Kong's reputation for stability and helped tip it into recession, with the recent virus outbreak compounding the city's economic woes.

Hospitals are already struggling with the winter flu season, but officials are isolating anyone with a history of travel to central China and those exhibiting respiratory tract infections that look similar to the virus.   So far some 300 people have been tested and monitored for the virus. Quarantine centres have been set up in remote holiday parks for anyone found to have come into close contact with people who tested positive.   On Saturday, officials announced a newly built but still-empty public housing block would be used for medical staff on the frontline who did not want to risk returning to their families.
Date: Sat, 25 Jan 2020 06:46:59 +0100 (MET)
By Mahmut Bozarslan and Fulya Ozerkan in Istanbu

Elazig, Turkey, Jan 25, 2020 (AFP) - A powerful earthquake has killed at least 20 people and injured more than 1,000 in eastern Turkey, as rescue teams searched through the rubble of collapsed buildings for survivors on Saturday.    At least 30 people were missing following the magnitude 6.8 quake on Friday night, which had its epicentre in the small lakeside town of Sivrice in the eastern province of Elazig.   "It was very scary, furniture fell on top of us. We rushed outside," 47-year-old Melahat Can, who lives in the provincial capital of Elazig, told AFP.   President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said all steps were being taken to aid people affected by the quake, which caused widespread fear.   "We stand by our people," Erdogan said on Twitter.

The Turkish government's disaster and emergency management agency (AFAD) said the quake hit Sivrice at around 8.55 pm (1755 GMT). Turkey lies on major faultlines and is prone to frequent earthquakes.    Turkish television showed images of people rushing outside in panic, as well as a fire on the roof of a building.   Interior, environment and health ministers, who were in the quake zone, said the casulties were in Elazig province and in the neighbouring province of Malatya, which lies to the southwest.

At least 20 people died and 1,015 others were wounded, according to AFAD.   "There is nobody trapped under the rubble in Malatya but in Elazig search and rescue efforts are currently under way to find 30 citizens," Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said on Friday.   Rescue teams were searching for survivors trapped in a five-storey collapsed building in a village some 30 kilometres from Elazig, according to AFP journalists at the scene. One person was pulled alive from the rubble.   Emergency staff and people waiting at the scene lit fires in the streets to stay warm in freezing temperatures.   Sports centres, schools and guest houses had been opened to accommodate quake victims in Malatya.

- 'Everybody is in the street' -
Sivrice -- a town with a population of about 4,000 people -- is situated south of Elazig city on the shores of Hazar lake -- one of the most popular tourist spots in the region and the source of the Tigris river.   The lake is home to a "Sunken City", with archaeological traces dating back 4,000 years in its waters.

The tremor was felt in several parts of eastern Turkey near the Iraqi and Syrian borders, the Turkish broadcaster NTV reported, adding that neighbouring cities had mobilised rescue teams for the quake area.   "Everybody is in the street, it was very powerful, very scary," said Zekeriya Gunes, 68, from Elazig city, after the quakes caused a building to collapse on her street.   "It lasted quite long, maybe 30 seconds," added Ferda, 39. "I panicked and was undecided whether to go out in this cold or remain inside."

The US Geological Survey assessed the magnitude as 6.7, slightly lower than AFAD, adding that it struck near the East Anatolian Fault in an area that has suffered no documented large ruptures since an earthquake in 1875.   "My wholehearted sympathy to President @RTErdogan and the Turkish people following the devastating earthquake that has hit Turkey. Our search and rescue teams stand ready to assist," Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis wrote on Twitter.   In Athens, the Greek premier's office said later that Mitsotakis had spoken by phone to Erdogan.   "The Turkish president... said Turkish teams had the situation under control for now and that it would be re-evaluated in the morning," his office added.

In 1999, a devastating 7.4 magnitude earthquake hit Izmit in western Turkey, leaving more than 17,000 people dead including about 1,000 in the country's largest city Istanbul.    In September last year, a 5.7-magnitude earthquake shook Istanbul, causing residents to flee buildings in the economic capital.   Experts have long warned a large quake could devastate the city of 15 million people, which has allowed widespread building without safety precautions.