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Congo, Republic of the

Republic of Congo US Consular Information Sheet
August 29, 2008
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
The Republic of the Congo (Congo-Brazzaville) is a developing nation in central Africa. The official language is French. The largest cities are the capita
, Brazzaville, on the Congo River, and Pointe Noire on the coast. Civil conflict in 1997 and again in 1998-99 damaged parts of the capital and large areas in the south of the country. The last rebel group still engaged in armed struggled signed a cease-fire accord with the government in March 2003. Facilities for tourism are very limited. Read the Department of State Background Notes on the Republic of the Congo (Brazzaville) for additional information.
ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS: A passport, visa and evidence of yellow fever vaccination are required for entry. Additional information on entry requirements may be obtained from the Embassy of the Republic of the Congo, 4891 Colorado Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20011, telephone (202) 726-5500, or from the Permanent Mission of the Republic of the Congo to the United Nations, 14 E. 65th St., New York, NY, 10021, telephone (212) 744-7840. Overseas, inquiries should be made at the nearest Congolese embassy or consulate.
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:
As a result of past conflicts, there is extensive damage to the infrastructure in Brazzaville and in the southern part of the country, and the government is working to reconstruct roads and buildings. Fighting broke out in March and June of 2002 when rebel groups launched attacks first in the Pool region, and later, at the Brazzaville airport. The fighting in Brazzaville was quickly contained and the rebels were repulsed. In March 2003, the rebels and the government signed a cease-fire accord, which remains in effect, although there was some violence in Brazzaville in December 2003.

Occasionally, political unrest in neighboring Kinshasa can affect Brazzaville on the other side of the Congo River. For example, in 2007, stray small arms fire originating in Kinshasa landed in Brazzaville.

Continued security awareness remains a key consideration for all visitors. Night travel outside of cities should be avoided. U.S. citizens should avoid political rallies and street demonstrations and maintain security awareness at all times.
In the event of a fire, call the fire brigade at 81-53-87.
The Department of State suspended operations at the U.S. Embassy in Brazzaville in 1997. The Brazzaville U.S. Embassy interim offices are located in the B.D.E.A.C (Central African Development Bank) building in Brazzaville. A new embassy compound is under construction and slated to open in 2009. While Brazzaville is still not fully open for normal operations, Embassy personnel are present in Brazzaville to provide information and guidance to American citizens. Staff can be contacted through the Embassy’s interim offices (see Registration/Embassy Location section below). The reduced staff in Brazzaville has limited ability to provide emergency services and non-emergency services generally take a few days to coordinate through Embassy Kinshasa.
For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs’ web site at http://travel.state.gov, where the current Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts, as well as the Worldwide Caution, can be found.

Up-to-date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S. and Canada, or for callers outside the U.S. and Canada, a regular toll-line at 1-202-501-4444. These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).

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

CRIME: In the Congo, petty street crime targeting foreigners is rare. Incidents of mugging and pick pocketing happen frequently near the ports in Pointe Noire and Brazzaville, and sometimes in the Congolese neighborhoods surrounding Brazzaville's city center.

Criminal elements are known to target middle-class and affluent residences without 24-hour guards for burglary. Roadblocks and robberies by armed groups targeting travelers occur in the Pool region south of Brazzaville. Travel to the Pool region is discouraged due to these elements.

Travelers should note that in the case of theft and robbery, legal recourse is limited and therefore, they may wish to leave all valuable items at home.

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.

While there is no local equivalent to the “911” emergency line in Republic of the Congo, the Rapid Response Police Team can be reached at 665-4804. However, police resources are limited and response to emergency calls is often slow (15 minutes or longer).

See our information on Victims of Crime.

MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION: Medical facilities are extremely limited. Some medicines are in short supply, particularly outside the larger cities. Travelers should carry their own supply of properly labeled medications.
Malaria is a serious and sometimes fatal disease. Plasmodium falciparum malaria, the type that predominates in the Congo, is resistant to the antimalarial drug chloroquine. Because travelers to the Republic of the Congo are at high risk for contracting malaria, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises that travelers should take one of the following antimalarial drugs: mefloquine (Lariam™), doxycycline, or atovaquone/proguanil (Malarone™). Travelers who become ill with a fever or flu-like illness while traveling in a malaria-risk area and up to one year after returning home should seek prompt medical attention and tell the physician their travel history and what antimalarials they have been taking. For additional information on malaria, including protective measures, see the CDC Travelers’ Health web site at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/yellowBookCh4-Malaria.aspx/.
The U.S. Department of State is unaware of any HIV/AIDS entry restrictions for visitors to or foreign residents of the DRC.

Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC’s web site at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/default.aspx. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization’s (WHO) web site at http://www.who.int/en. Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith/en.

MEDICAL INSURANCE: The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation. Please see our information on medical insurance overseas.

TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS: 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 Republic of the Congo is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
Road conditions are generally poor and deteriorate significantly during the rainy season, November-May. Maintenance of the few paved roads is limited. Overland travel off the main roads requires a four-wheel drive vehicle. Poorly marked checkpoints, sometimes manned by undisciplined soldiers, exist in many areas of the countryside.

Taxis are considered an acceptable mode of transport due to availability and low cost. Registered public transportation vehicles are painted green with white roofs and striping. Security is not generally an issue with taxis but buses are often overcrowded and thus less secure. Mechanical reliability of both vehicle types remains in question.
Traffic safety in general is hazardous due to high speeds, aggressive driving, poorly maintained vehicles and general apathy for pedestrians and cyclists.

Roads are narrow, dangerously potholed, frequently wash out during rainy season and are often full of debris, and pedestrians.
Emergency services are limited. Please refer to the medical section above.
Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.

AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: As there is no direct commercial air service to the United States by carriers registered in the Republic of the Congo, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed the Republic of the Congo’s Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards. For more information, travelers may visit the FAA web site at http://www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa.

SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:
Ferry service between Brazzaville and Kinshasa normally operates from 8 A.M. to 4 P.M. Monday through Saturday and 8 A.M. to 12 P.M. Sunday, but it may close completely with minimal notice. A special exit permit from the Republic of the Congo’s Immigration Service and a visa from the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s embassy/consulate are required to cross the Congo River from Brazzaville to Kinshasa. Passenger travel on the railroad is discouraged, as there are frequent reports of extortion by undisciplined security forces and robberies by criminal elements along the route.
The Congo is primarily a cash economy and uses the Central African Franc (CFA), a common currency with Gabon, Chad, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, and Equatorial Guinea. U.S. dollars may be exchanged for local currency. Traveler’s checks can be cashed for a fee at some hotels. Two hotels in Brazzaville, and several in Pointe Noire, accept major credit cards, but prefer payment in cash. Prices are usually quoted in CFA or Euros. Other businesses do not normally accept credit cards. Personal checks drawn on foreign accounts are not accepted. Western Union has offices in Brazzaville and Pointe Noire, and one bank in Brazzaville has an ATM.
Airport police and customs officials routinely inspect incoming and outgoing luggage, even for internal travel. For a complete list of prohibited items, please contact the nearest Congolese embassy or consulate. Please see our Customs Information.
Local security forces in areas outside Brazzaville and Pointe Noire may detain foreigners to solicit bribes. Detention of U.S. citizens, particularly in remote areas, may not always be promptly reported to the U.S. Government by Congolese authorities. U.S. citizens are encouraged to carry a copy of their passports with them at all times so that, if questioned by local officials, proof of identity and U.S. citizenship is readily available. If detained or arrested, U.S. citizens should always ask to be allowed to contact the U.S. Embassy. Please see the Registration/Embassy Location section below.
In general there are no restrictions on photography; however photographs of government buildings or military installations, port facilities or the airport should not be taken. When photographing human beings in remote areas where populations adhere to traditional beliefs, it is best to request permission first. If permission is refused, the photo should not be taken.
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 Republic of the Congo’s laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Republic of the Congo 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 Republic of the Congo are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department’s travel registration web site so that they can obtain updated information on travel and security within Republic of the Congo. Americans withoutInternet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in case of emergency.

The U.S. Embassy in Brazzaville has interim offices located in the B.D.E.A.C Building, 4th Floor, Place du Gouvernement, Plateau de Centre Ville, Brazzaville. The web site is http://brazzaville.usembassy.gov. The telephone number during regular business hours (7:30 am until 4:30 pm, Monday through Friday) is 242-81-14-81; email is Consular.Brazzaville@state.gov. For after-hours emergencies, call the U.S. Embassy in Kinshasa (see below).

The U.S. Embassy in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is located at 310 Avenue des Aviateurs, Gombe; tel. 243-(0)81-225-5872 (do not dial the zero when calling from abroad into the DRC). Entrance to the Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy in Kinshasa is on Avenue Dumi, opposite Ste. Anne residence. The Consular Section of the Embassy in Kinshasa may be reached at cellular tel. 243-(0)81-884-4609, 243-(0)81-884-6859 or 243-(0)81-225-5872; fax 243-(0)81-301-0560. For after-hours emergencies, use 243-81-225-5872. (Cellular phones are the norm, as other telephone service is often unreliable).
* * *
This replaces the Country Specific Information for Republic of the Congo dated August 20, 2008 to update the section on Safety and Security.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Wed 26 Sep 2018
Source: WHO Relief Web [edited]

The Republic of Congo, in collaboration with the World Health Organization (WHO) and partners, started today [26 Sep 2018] a vaccination campaign to control the spread of yellow fever in the port city of Pointe Noire and surrounding areas. More than one million people from 9 months of age are expected to be vaccinated in this 6-day campaign.

The vaccination campaign uses doses from the global emergency yellow fever vaccine stockpile managed by the International Coordination Group on Vaccine Provision (ICG) and funded by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance. The ICG coordinates the timely and equitable provision of vaccines during outbreaks and maintains an emergency stockpile of 6 million doses of yellow fever vaccine, which is continually replenished. Gavi will also cover operational costs for this campaign.

The immunization drive is a response to a laboratory-confirmed yellow fever case, which tested positive on 21 Aug 2018, after the person visited a rural area. Since then, no other case has been confirmed in the country, but more than 200 suspected cases have been reported since the beginning of the year [2018], with most of these notified by the health authority in Pointe Noire. It is possible that there are also undetected cases, as a large proportion of the Pointe Noire population seeks care in the private system; therefore, the national surveillance system may not be receiving notification.

Yellow fever is an acute viral haemorrhagic disease transmitted by infected mosquitoes that can be deadly but is prevented by an extremely effective vaccine. Urban outbreaks are of particular concern, and Pointe Noire is the country's economic capital, with a population of more than one million people. After declining for many years, yellow fever outbreaks are on the rise globally. The ease and speed of population movements, rapid urbanization and a resurgence of mosquitoes because of global warming have significantly increased the risk of urban outbreaks with international spread.

"Yellow fever has re-emerged as a public health threat in recent years in the African region," said Dr. Ibrahima Soce Fall, WHO's Emergencies Director for Africa. "However, the vaccine is safe and provides life-long immunity. This reactive vaccination campaign is focusing on people who are most at risk and will set up a firewall which will prevent the virus from spreading further."

The neighbouring Democratic Republic of the Congo has shown solidarity with the Republic of Congo by lending more than 700 000 syringes for the vaccination campaign while Pointe Noire health authorities wait for syringes to arrive from the international stockpile next month [October 2018].

The response to this outbreak is part of a comprehensive strategy to eliminate yellow fever epidemics (EYE) globally by 2026. WHO, UNICEF, Gavi, and more than 50 partners are supporting the Government of Congo and 39 other high-risk countries to assess epidemic risk, roll out vaccination campaigns, engage with communities and deliver other response activities, including surveillance and laboratory diagnosis.

Nationwide preventive actions are also needed to ensure the protection of the entire population at risk. Rapid outbreak detection and response and long-term prevention are integral to a sustained control of yellow fever. As part of the EYE Strategy, more than 4 million additional people are expected to be vaccinated in preventive mass campaigns in the Republic of Congo over the few next years.
=====================
[It is encouraging to see that components of a large yellow fever (YF) vaccination campaign have come together to start the effort 2 days ago [26 Sep 2018]. Although there is only one confirmed YF case, considering the 200 suspected cases and the risk of rapid YF virus spread in Pointe Noir, a city with a dense and susceptible human population and abundant mosquito vectors, the vaccination campaign is prudent. A recent report indicated that entomological surveys in the affected area have revealed high densities of mosquito vectors (_Aedes aegypti_) responsible for urban YF transmission, signaling the potential for human-to-human transmission via _Aedes aegypti_ and rapid amplification. Larval sites have been found around the homes of suspected cases, and this situation could worsen with the arrival of the rainy season. WHO is supporting the Ministry of Health and Population in implementing targeted vector control activities for adult mosquitoes and larvae within a 200-metre [660-foot] perimeter of areas where the confirmed case-patient lives and works. YF outbreaks under conditions like these can spread rapidly and get out of control, as occurred in Angola with spillover into the Democratic Republic of the Congo. - ProMED Mod.TY]

[HealthMap/ProMED map available at:
Republic of Congo: <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/166>]
Date: Tue 25 Sep 2018
Source: Africa News [edited]
<http://www.africanews.com/2018/09/25/congo-to-launch-immunization-against-yellow-fever-outbreak-the-morning-call/>

On Thursday [27 Sep 2018], the government of the Republic of Congo will begin what it calls a robust and coordinated response against the yellow fever outbreak recorded in some parts of the country. The planned response follows the health ministry's warning last month [August 2018] of "an emerging event of epidemic proportions." According to the head of the government's epidemics unit, Lambert Kitembo, 186 suspected cases of yellow fever have been detected this year [2018], many of which were reported in the western commercial hub of Pointe Noire. [Byline: Jerry Bambi]
===================
[The numbers of reported yellow fever cases in the Republic of the Congo (RC) is growing, especially in the Pointe-Noire area. Pointe-Noire is a port city and oil industry hub with an international airport and links to other large cities. A previous report indicated that a retrospective search in 16 health centre registers in Pointe-Noire found 69 additional suspected cases during 2018 that meet the clinical case definition for yellow fever; 56 of the suspected cases were already recorded in the national surveillance system. Of these, 2 of the suspected cases reported staying in Angola.

The above report indicates that there are now 186 suspected cases. A recent WHO risk assessment reported that the overall public health risk at the national level is high due to the confirmation of a yellow fever case in the densely populated urban city of Pointe Noire (‎1.2 million inhabitants), with suboptimal immunization coverage in the affected community and the potential risk of spread within the Congo, especially to the capital city of Brazzaville.

The Ministry of Health and Population (MoHP) declared a yellow fever outbreak in Pointe Noire on 22 Aug 2018, and the national committee for outbreak management was promptly activated. WHO was notified on 23 Aug 2018, in line with the International Health Regulations (IHR 2005). A recent report indicated that entomological surveys in the affected area have revealed high densities of mosquito vectors (_Aedes aegypti_) responsible for urban yellow fever transmission, signalling the potential for human-to-human transmission and rapid amplification. Larval sites have been found around the homes of suspected cases, and this situation could worsen with the arrival of the rainy season.

WHO is supporting the MoHP in implementing targeted vector control activities for adult mosquitoes and larvae within a 200-metre [660 foot] perimeter of areas where the confirmed case-patient lives and works. It is difficult to assess the risk of an ongoing outbreak without knowing the proportion of the unvaccinated population in the areas where the cases occurred. One hopes that the planned vigorous vaccination campaign will be initiated as planned this week. Yellow fever outbreaks can quickly get out of hand, as occurred in Angola and the DRC in 2016-2017.

Frequent movement of individuals across borders of neighbouring countries and beyond underscores the need for prompt action to prevent spread. - ProMED Mod.TY]

[HealthMap/ProMED map available at: Republic of Congo: <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/166>]
Disease outbreak news
7 September 2018

Event Description
On 5 July 2018, a 20-year-old male living in Bissongo, Republic of the Congo, visited Bissongo health centre in the Loandjili District of Pointe-Noire City, with a fever he had developed the previous day. On 9 July, due to the onset of jaundice and persistent fever, he returned to the same health facility. The patient did not have a history of yellow fever vaccination or haemorrhagic symptoms. The patient had previously travelled to Ngoyo and Tchiamba Nzassi districts two weeks prior to symptom onset; Tchiamba Nzassi is a rural district in Pointe-Noire located along the border with Angola.

He was admitted to the health facility and received antimalarial and antibiotic treatments. As yellow fever was also suspected as a differential diagnosis, a blood sample was collected on 10 July and sent to Institut National de Recherche Biomédicale (INRB) in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo, for testing; on 26 July, the sample tested positive for yellow fever by serology. On 30 July, INRB sent a sample to Institut Pasteur de Dakar for confirmation; on 21 August, the sample tested positive for yellow fever by seroneutralization with a high titre.

Following the confirmation of yellow fever, an investigation was conducted in the affected area. A retrospective search in 16 health centre registers in Pointe-Noire found 69 additional suspected cases during 2018 which meet the clinical case definition for yellow fever; 56 of the suspected cases were already recorded in the national surveillance system. Two of the suspected cases reported staying in Angola. Samples were collected from 43 of these cases and sent to INRB; all samples tested negative for yellow fever. Entomological surveys in the affected area have revealed high densities of mosquito vectors (Aedes aegypti) responsible for urban yellow fever transmission, signalling the potential for human-to-human transmission and rapid amplification. Larval sites have been found around the homes of suspected cases, and this situation could worsen with the arrival of the rainy season.

Public health response

The Ministry of Health and Population (MoHP) declared a yellow fever outbreak in Pointe-Noire on 22 August 2018 and the national committee for outbreak management was promptly activated. WHO was notified on 23 August 2018 in line with the International Health Regulations (IHR 2005).

WHO is supporting the country in the preparation of an emergency response plan and an International Coordinating Group (ICG) request for supplies for a reactive mass vaccination campaign targeting the Pointe-Noire area, which has a population of approximately one million people. WHO is also supporting resource mobilization activities, as the country is not eligible for Gavi support.

WHO is supporting the MoHP in implementing targeted vector control activities for adult mosquitoes and larvae within a 200-metre perimeter of areas where the confirmed case-patient lives and works. WHO is also providing technical support to strengthen surveillance at points of entry, case management, and public awareness, as well as recommending the use of mosquito nets during the day time.

WHO risk assessment

The overall public health risk at the national level is high due to the confirmation of a yellow fever case in a densely populated urban city of Pointe-Noire (‎1.2 million inhabitants), with suboptimal immunization coverage in the affected community and the potential risk of spread within the Congo, especially to the capital city of Brazzaville. Entomological surveys in the affected area revealed high densities of Aedes aegypti, responsible for urban transmission of yellow fever, signalling the potential for rapid amplification. The approaching rainy season may potentially increase this risk. Thus, the risk of an urban epidemic needs to be mitigated urgently, although there is no indication of active urban transmission according to the information available.

The risk at the regional level is considered to be moderate due to the lack of information to describe the scope and the dynamics of the outbreak, as well as because of cross-border movements, particularly between to and from Gabon and Cabinda in Angola. Pointe-Noire is a port city and oil industry hub with an international airport and links to other large cities. Angola and the Democratic Republic of the Congo have recently conducted mass preventive and reactive yellow fever vaccination campaigns, respectively. However, population immunity levels in the Democratic Republic of the Congo are low in the zones not targeted by the 2016 reactive campaigns, such as the areas neighbouring Pointe-Noire. No other yellow fever cases related to the outbreak in Pointe-Noire have been reported outside the country at this stage.

The risk at the global level is considered low. Risks need to be closely monitored and regularly reassessed.

WHO Recommendations

Vaccination is the primary means for prevention and control of yellow fever. In urban centres, targeted vector control measures are also helpful to interrupt transmission. WHO and partners will continue to support local authorities to implement these interventions to control the current outbreak.

WHO recommends vaccination against yellow fever for all international travellers above nine months of age going to the Republic of the Congo, as there is evidence of yellow fever virus transmission. The Republic of the Congo also requires a yellow fever vaccination certificate for all travellers aged 9 months or older . Yellow fever vaccination is safe, highly effective and provides life-long protection. In accordance with the IHR (2005), the validity of the international certificate of vaccination against yellow fever extends to the life of the person vaccinated. A booster dose of yellow fever vaccine cannot be required of international travellers as a condition of entry.

WHO encourages its Member States to take all actions necessary to keep travellers well informed of risks and preventive measures including vaccination. Travellers should also be made aware of yellow fever symptoms and signs and instructed to rapidly seek medical advice when presenting with these. Viraemic returning travellers may pose a risk for the establishment of local cycles of yellow fever transmission in areas where the competent vector is present.

WHO advises against the application of any restrictions on travel or trade to the Republic of the Congo in relation to this outbreak, based on the information currently available.
Date: Fri 31 Aug 2018
Source: Business Insider [edited]

Congo Republic will launch a country-wide vaccination campaign to control an outbreak of yellow fever near the border with the Angolan enclave of Cabinda, the health ministry said on Friday [31 Aug 2018].

Earlier this week, the authorities said over 180 suspected cases and one confirmed case of the sometimes deadly mosquito-borne virus had been identified this year [2018], many in the western commercial hub of Pointe Noire.

"Congo (Republic) declared a yellow fever epidemic at Pointe Noire on 24 Aug [2018]," the ministry said in a statement.

In response, it said: "The Health and Population Ministry will organize, in collaboration with partners, a national vaccination campaign." It did not specify when the campaign would begin. The vaccinations will be free of charge. Only children under 9 months, pregnant women and mothers breastfeeding infants under 6 months will not be vaccinated, the statement added.

No deaths have yet been reported in the outbreak.

The disease causes fever, body aches and nausea and can quickly spread in areas with large unvaccinated populations.

A major outbreak in 2016 in Angola and Democratic Republic of Congo killed more than 400 people and was believed to have infected thousands more before it was brought under control through an extensive vaccination campaign.  [Byline: Alessandra Prentice]
======================
[The case numbers and locations are essentially the same as reported in the earlier ProMED-mail post, with no increase in the numbers of suspected cases. A country-wide vaccination campaign is planned in response to these cases. As noted in previous posts, this outbreak is fairly widely distributed geographically across 5 health districts. The dates on which these suspected cases were diagnosed are not given, so we do not have a picture of the timeframe of this outbreak. None of these cases resulted in deaths.

It is difficult to assess the risk of an ongoing outbreak without knowing the proportion of the unvaccinated population in the areas where the cases occurred. One hopes that the planned vigorous vaccination campaign will be initiated as soon as possible. Yellow fever outbreaks can quickly get out of hand, as occurred in Angola and the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2016-2017. - ProMED Mod.TY]

[HealthMap/ProMED map available at:
Republic of Congo: <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/166>]
Date: Tue 28 Aug 2018
Source: Reuters [edited]

Congo Republic has confirmed a case of yellow fever near the border with an Angolan enclave, the health ministry said on Tuesday [28 Aug 2018], and has warned of "an emerging event of epidemic proportions."

In all, 186 suspected cases have been detected this year [2018], many of which were in the western commercial hub of Pointe Noire, the head of the government's epidemics unit, Lambert Kitembo told Reuters.

He said 8 blood samples were sent to Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) for testing last month [July 2018], one of which came back positive. It was then officially confirmed last week at a laboratory in Senegal.

The sometimes deadly mosquito-borne virus causes fever, body aches and nausea and can quickly spread in areas with large unvaccinated populations.

A major outbreak in 2016 in Angola and the DRC killed more than 400 people and was believed to have infected thousands more before it was brought under control through an extensive vaccination campaign.

The confirmed victim in the case of yellow fever in Congo Republic had traveled in Tchiamba Nzassi district, which lies along the border with the Angolan enclave of Cabinda, 2 weeks prior to the onset of his symptoms, the World Health Organization (WHO) said in a weekly report.

No deaths have been reported, but the situation is being taken seriously by health officials, Kitembo said. He did not say whether authorities had plans to test other blood samples.

"Congo, in general, and the departments of Pointe Noire and Koulou in particular are experiencing since the start of 2018 an emerging event of epidemic proportions," the health ministry said in a statement dated last week.

The WHO said that the confirmed case was detected early last month [July 2018] at a health centre in Pointe Noire, where the patient with fever and jaundice was admitted for treatment.
======================
[The number of suspected cases has gone up from 70 yesterday [27 Aug 2018] to 186 mentioned above. There is now one laboratory confirmation. As noted in the previous post, this outbreak is fairly widely distributed geographically across 5 health districts. The dates on which these suspected cases were diagnosed are not given, so we do not have a picture of the time frame of this outbreak. None of these cases resulted in deaths.

It is difficult to assess the risk of an ongoing outbreak without knowing the proportion of the unvaccinated population in the areas where the cases occurred. One hopes that a vigorous vaccination campaign will be initiated as soon as possible. Yellow fever outbreaks can quickly get out of hand, as occurred in Angola and the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2016-2017. - ProMED Mod.TY]

[HealthMap/ProMED map available at:
Republic of Congo: <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/166>]
More ...

World Travel News Headlines

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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