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Cuba

General:
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Cuba is an independent island country situated in the Caribbean. It is the largest of the islands and covers 42,000sq miles. The climate is sub tropical throughout the year with most of the rainfall in
the northern parts of the country. Temperatures of between 20C to 35C are fairly standard throughout the year. Generally the winter effects of the American continent only last for short periods.
Safety & Security:
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The majority of tourists visiting Cuba will have no difficulty but bag snatching and other street crime appears to be increasing. The old Havana area and other major tourist resorts may be particular areas of concern in this regard. On arrival be careful to only use your recognised tour operator. If you are taking a taxi at any stage make sure it is a registered one and not a private vehicle. It is unwise to carry large quantities of money or jewellery away from your hotel and try not to flaunt wealth with your belongings. Pickpockets are too common an occurrence on buses and trains and at train stations so be careful with your essential documents and credit cards. Valuables should not be stored in suitcases when arriving in or departing from Havana as there have been a number of thefts from cases during the time the cases are coming through baggage handling. There is an airport shrink-wrap facility for those departing Havana which reduces the risk of tampering. Remember to carry a photocopy of your main documents (passport, flight tickets etc).
Road Safety:
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Following a number of serious road accidents involving tourists, you are advised not to use mopeds for travelling around Cuba or in Havana. Also, if you are involved in any accident a police investigation will be required to clear you and this may significantly delay your travel plans. On unlit roads at night there have been a number of accidents associated with roaming cattle (sounds like Ireland!). The traffic moves on the right side of the roads. There is a main highway running the length of the country but many of the country roads are in poor repair.
Local Laws & Customs:
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When arriving into Cuba make sure you are not carrying any items which could be considered offensive. Any illicit drug offense is treated very seriously and Cuban law allows for the death penalty to be used under these circumstances. If you require personal medication for your health, make sure it is in original packing and carry a letter from your doctor describing the medication. Never agree to carry any item for another individual and always secure your cases once they are packed. Taking photographs of military or police installations or around harbours, rail and airport facilities is strictly forbidden.

Currency:
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Since 1993 it is now possible to use US dollars for all transactions within Cuba. Remember, there is a 20$ airport departure tax. Certain travellers cheques and credit cards may not be acceptable within Cuba. This is particularly true of American Express cheques and cards but check your situation with the travel operator before departure.
Health Facilities:
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Generally healthcare facilities outside of Havana are limited and many standard medications may not be available. It is important to carry sufficient quantities of any medications which may be required for the duration of your time in Cuba.
Food & Water:
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The level of food and water hygiene varies throughout the country and between resorts. On arrival check the hotel cold water supply for the smell of chlorine. If it is not present then use sealed bottled water for both drinking and brushing your teeth throughout your stay. Cans and bottles of drinks are safe but take care to avoid pre-cut fruit. Peel it yourself to make sure it is not contaminated. Food from street vendors should be avoided in most cases. Bivalve shellfish are also a high risk food in many countries and Cuba is no exception in this regard. (Eg Mussels, Oysters, Clams etc)
Malaria & Mosquito Borne Diseases:
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Malaria transmission does not occur within Cuba and so prophylaxis is not required. However, a different mosquito borne disease called Dengue has begun to reoccur in the country over the past few years. This viral disease can be very sickening and even progress to death. It is rare for tourists to become infected but avoiding mosquito bites is a wise precaution.
Swimming, Sun & Dehydration:
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The extent of the Cuban sun (particular during the summer months (April to October) can be very excessive so make sure your head and shoulders are covered at all times when exposed. Watch children carefully as they will be a significant risk. Drink plenty of fluids to replace what will be lost through perspiration and, unless there is a reason not to,
take extra salt either on your food or in crisps, peanuts etc. Take care if swimming in the Caribbean to stay with others and to listen to local advice. Never swim after a heavy meal or alcohol.
Rabies Risk in Cuba:
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This viral disease does occur throughout Cuba and it is essential that you avoid any contact with all warm blooded animals. Dogs, cats and monkeys are the most commonly involved in spreading the disease to humans. Don't pick up a monkey for a photograph! If bitten, wash out the wound, apply an antiseptic and seek urgent medical attention.
Vaccinations for Cuba:
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There are no essential vaccines for entry / exit if coming from Ireland. However, for your own personal protection travellers are advised to have cover against the following;
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Tetanus (childhood booster)
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Typhoid (food & water borne disease)
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Hepatitis A (food & water borne disease)
For those planning a longer or more rural trip vaccine cover against conditions like Hepatitis B and Rabies may also need to be considered.
Summary:
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Cuba is becoming a popular destination for tourists and generally most will stay very healthy. However commonsense care against food and water borne disease is essential at all times. Also take care with regard to sun exposure, dehydration and mosquito bites.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Fri, 18 Oct 2019 22:45:46 +0200 (METDST)

Washington, Oct 18, 2019 (AFP) - The US moved to further hurt Cuba's vital tourism industry by tightening the ability of the country's airlines to lease aircraft.   The US Department of Commerce said it was revoking existing licenses for US companies leasing aircraft to Cuban carriers, and will deny future applications for aircraft leases.   The move could make it harder for Cuba to service its rapidly growing tourism sector, a key source of foreign revenue for the poor country.

Washington has stepped up pressure on Havana due to its support for the embattled regime of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.   "This action by the Commerce Department sends another clear message to the Cuban regime -- that they must immediately cease their destructive behaviour at home and abroad," Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross said in a statement.

It was not immediately clear how many aircraft the move would impact.   Cuba's cash-poor carriers depend on aircraft rented from leasing companies or other airlines, which are often very old.   In May 2018, 112 people died in the crash of a 39-year-old Boeing 737 leased by national carrier Cubana de Aviacion from a small Mexican firm, Global Air.

In June of this year, US President Donald Trump announced a US ban on cruise ship stopovers by Americans on the island, forcing Havana to cut its 2019 tourism target by 15 percent to 4.3 million visitors.   Nearly 900,000 tourists visited the island on cruise ships last year, and almost 40 percent were American, according to official figures.   The announcement Friday also expanded restrictions on imports from Cuba and on products with US content that can be sold to the country.
Date: Wed 3 Jul 2019
Source: 660 City News [edited]

A Newfoundland woman is warning travellers to do their research before adventurous excursions abroad after she and several other Newfoundlanders became ill from a mysterious disease traced back to a cave she visited in Cuba. The illness was eventually identified as a respiratory infection called histoplasmosis, or "cave disease," caused by spores from bird or bat droppings in damp soil. [She] of Paradise, NL, travelled to Cuba with her husband on 27 Apr [2019], but her fever-like symptoms didn't appear until 21 May [2019], weeks after she returned home. X-rays showed nodules in her lungs and tests showed low blood counts. Her condition baffled local doctors, who initially thought her lung infection could be some form of pneumonia. The clue to her illness came from a chance meeting she'd made on the trip with a family of Newfoundlanders who had a mutual friend. [She] and her husband had travelled with the group on a tour that included cave diving in the Matanzas province of Cuba.

Back in Canada, a number of their new friends had also fallen ill. [She] and the travellers informed their doctors that they knew each other and were experiencing the same symptoms, and their illness was identified as a respiratory infection called histoplasmosis, or "cave disease." [She] said pinpointing the source of her condition offered some relief from what she called a terrible, alarming health issue that she feared might have been cancerous. "You didn't want to be too excited about the fact that somebody else was sick, but at least cancer was off the table," [she] said by phone Wednesday [3 Jul 2019].

Eastern Health, [her] local health authority, has issued an advisory for travellers heading to the Americas, Africa, East Asia and Australia to avoid contracting the disease. Histoplasmosis is a treatable disease, contracted by breathing in airborne spores where bird or bat droppings are disturbed in damp soil. Eastern Health described its symptoms as including "cough and chest pain, shortness of breath, fever and chills, headaches and flu-like illness." The disease is treatable and most people who contract it never show symptoms, but it can be serious for infants or people with compromised immune systems. The health authority said the advisory was issued after a low number of histoplasmosis cases were confirmed in the Eastern Health region. An exact number of cases could not be provided for privacy reasons, but [the patient] said she's heard of at least 5 others.

While the disease is treatable, it is rare in Newfoundland, making treatment more complicated. [The patient] said she's waiting to receive an anti-fungal medication that had to be approved from outside of the province, and she's been told she'll have to take the drug for treatment for the next 3 months to a year. [The patent] said she's still experiencing fatigue and a persistent cough, and her voice is still scratchy and strained from an illness she contracted from what was one of the most breathtaking excursions on her vacation. "It was absolutely amazing," she said of the cave. "It was so pristine and so nice-looking when we went in."

[She] said she'd advise other travellers to do a thorough background check on the regions they're visiting and any planned excursions. "It's without a doubt that you have to go and you have to research the excursion that you're going on," she said. "You have to know the region, the areas, 100%. [She] wrote a Facebook post about her experience that's been shared thousands of times, and she said people as far as France have written to her about experiencing similar, undiagnosed symptoms after travelling abroad.  [Byline: Holly McKenzie-Sutter]
====================
[_Histoplasma capsulatum_, a dimorphic fungus that grows in a mycelial form at ambient temperatures and as yeast at body temperature in mammals, is found worldwide in soil enriched by bird or bat droppings. Contaminated soil can be potentially infectious for years. Fungal spores become airborne during activities that disturb the contaminated soil, such as spelunking, mining, construction, excavation, demolition, roofing, chimney cleaning, farming, or gardening, which can lead to clusters of cases of histoplasmosis that follow inhalation of the aerosolized spores. The spores can travel distances downstream from the source in currents of air. Because of the presence of bats in caves, cave exploration is a known risk factor for histoplasmosis, which is sometimes known as "cave fever" (<https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10403317>). Physicians should be aware of the association between histoplasmosis and caving when caring for individuals who develop an acute febrile respiratory illness after cave exploration (<http://tinyurl.com/yxjust7x>).

Another disease that has also acquired the name "cave fever" is tick-borne relapsing fever (TBRF). See ProMED-mail posts Tick-borne relapsing fever - Israel: spelunkers, tourists http://promedmail.org/post/20180422.5761531 and Tick-borne relapsing fever - USA: (TX) cave workers, 2017 http://promedmail.org/post/20180420.5759542.

Although birds cannot be infected by the _H. capsulatum_ and do not transmit the disease, bats can become infected by _H. capsulatum_ and may harbor the fungus in their gut (<https://academic.oup.com/jtm/article/15/2/133/1801173>).

In the US, histoplasmosis is endemic in the Ohio, Missouri, and Mississippi River valleys, where it is caused by _H. capsulatum_ var. _capsulatum_. Histoplasmosis has also been reported in Mexico, Central and South America, Oceania, Asia, Africa, and Europe (<https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4535725/>). In Africa, histoplasmosis occurs most commonly in west and central Africa, where it is caused by the _duboisii_ variety, which has yeast cells that average about twice the size of _H. capsulatum_ var. _capsulatum_  (<http://www.reviberoammicol.com/1997-14/155159.pdf>).

Most individuals with histoplasmosis are asymptomatic. Those who develop clinical manifestations are usually immunocompromised or are exposed to a large number of spores. Disseminated disease is especially more common in HIV/AIDS co-infected cases. - ProMED Mod.ML]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail maps:
Newfoundland, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada:
Date: Wed, 5 Jun 2019 03:22:19 +0200
By Paul HANDLEY

Washington, June 5, 2019 (AFP) - The Trump administration clamped down on US tourist visits to Cuba Tuesday, aiming to cut the flow of dollars to a country that Washington accuses of helping prop up Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.

The Treasury Department banned group educational travel, cruise ship and private yacht visits by Americans, taking aim at the most common ways US tourists and Cuban-Americans visit the Caribbean island.   The move could constitute a heavy hit on Cuba, which saw more than a quarter-million US visitors in the first four months of 2019, almost double the figure from a year earlier.   "The United States holds the Cuban regime accountable for its repression of the Cuban people, its interference in Venezuela, and its direct role in the man-made crisis led by Nicolas Maduro," the State Department said in a news release.   "Empowered by Cuba, he has created a humanitarian disaster that destabilizes the region."

White House National Security Advisor John Bolton said the aim was to end what the administration considers "veiled tourism" to Cuba.   "We will continue to take actions to restrict the Cuban regime's access to US dollars," Bolton said on Twitter.   The Cuban government condemned the move, which could cost the country's economy tens of millions of dollars a year in lost income.   "They seek to stifle the economy and damage the standard of living of Cubans to wrest political concessions," said Foreign Affairs Minister Bruno Rodriguez in a tweeted statement. "They'll fail again."

- Reverses Obama's historic opening -
American tourism in Cuba took off after then-president Barack Obama moved to ease the half-century trade embargo against the communist government in 2014 -- even though continuing restrictions kept visits nominally in the realm of cultural and artistic exchanges and business dealings.   Cuba and the US restored ties in 2015 and Obama himself visited Havana in a historic presidential trip in March 2016, meeting with then-president Raul Castro. Weeks later, the ban was lifted on US commercial ship visits, opening the door for the Caribbean cruise ship industry to expand stops in Cuba.

But President Donald Trump came into office attacking the Obama opening, and within months began tightening relations, first by banning individual visits and limiting commercial interactions.   The State Department tied the new ban directly to Havana's support for Maduro -- whose embattled regime faces a direct challenge from US-backed opposition leader Juan Guaido, the self-declared acting president of Venezuela.  "Veiled tourism has served to line the pockets of the Cuban military, the very same people supporting Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela and repressing the Cuban people on the island," the State Department said.

- 'Political grandstanding' -
Collin Laverty, president of Cuba Educational Travel, one of the US agencies which arranges visits to Cuba, accused the Trump administration of playing politics by trying to appease conservative anti-Havana Cuban immigrants in Florida, an important election swing state where they carry significant political weight.   "This political grandstanding aimed at Florida in the run up to the 2020 elections is so unfortunate for the millions of Cubans that will feel the crunch from less US visitors," said Laverty.   "This has nothing to do with empowering the Cuban people and has everything to do with empowering a handful of people in Florida that have never even been to Cuba."   Travel industry officials said that people who are booked on tours now will be able to go, ensuring that advanced-booked cruise ships will likely be operating from Florida to Havana throughout this year.   But Royal Caribbean Cruises said ships leaving Wednesday and Thursday of this week will skip previously scheduled stops in Cuba as the company examines the new US policy.

Norwegian Cruise Lines said they are seeking additional information on the new policy to see how it will affect future travel.   Tessia Aral, the owner of ABC Charters in Miami, said it could have a huge impact on her business, which arranged trips to Cuba for about 10,000 people last year.   She said it will hurt not only companies like hers but also those of the many entrepreneurs in Cuba who have built businesses to serve tourists.   "The people making the rules have never been to Cuba. They don't know how things have changed" in recent years, she said.   "What they are doing is counter-productive. I believe it's really going to hurt the private entrepreneurs in Cuba -- all the private restaurants, all the private homes" who serve tourists.
Date: Sun, 10 Mar 2019 04:13:11 +0100
By Katell ABIVEN

Havana, March 10, 2019 (AFP) - In Havana, there's a shop selling a camera for more than $25,000 -- roughly 850 times the average monthly wage in Cuba.   The eye-popping sum earned predictable scorn on social media, but it begins to make sense when seen through the lens of the island's fledgling bid to tap into the luxury tourism market.

The exclusive camera store and other boutiques featuring A-list brands like Versace and Armani are located in a shopping gallery on the ground floor of the swanky Gran Hotel Manzana.   The mere existence of the shops certainly seems incongruous in a country that has been governed as a one-party communist state since 1959, and where the average wage is $30 a month.   But the hotel isn't exactly looking for locals to buy in -- it attracts "a clientele of private airplanes... princes and celebrities," according to general manager Xavier Destribats.

The Gran Hotel Manzana, the first ever five-star establishment in Havana, opened in 2017 in a sumptuous historic building that was, at the beginning of the 20th century, the island's first shopping mall.   The property run by Swiss group Kempinski is "the first genuine luxury hotel in Havana," said Destribats.   "It's the first hotel with a 1,000-square-meter spa," he said. All the rooms are at least 40 square meters (430 square feet), with prices ranging from $370 for a basic room in low season to $5,000 for the presidential suite.   "There was a certain type of clientele that didn't travel to Havana, or Cuba, because there wasn't the standard of luxury five-star hotel like in cities such as Paris or London," Destribats added.

- 'Feels like Miami' -
The hotel terrace offers stunning views over Havana's colorful historic neighbourhood, where many Cubans live in dilapidated buildings that have fallen into disrepair or have vegetation sprouting from them.   "It really doesn't feel like Cuba, clearly not -- it feels like being in the United States, Miami or Puerto Rico," said Celia Liegeois, a 26-year-old tourist from Paris.   Having traveled around the island nation for three weeks, she and a friend had decided to spend their last few days relaxing by the hotel's rooftop pool.

Nearby, Suki Lu, a recently arrived 28-year-old Chinese television presenter, is impressed at what she sees.   "It's beautiful. Look at the sunset! It's truly addictive," she said.   "I live in Dubai so when you talk about luxury hotels, the level there is really high, but I think I'll like this hotel," she said, while her friend used a drone to get an aerial view of the building.   The largest single group of visitors to the Gran Hotel Manzana -- one-fifth of the total -- are tourists from the United States, although there are plenty of visitors from Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

The Kempinski group, which hopes to open two or three more hotels in Cuba, is of course not the only chain to show an interest in the ultra-luxury market.   In September 2018, Spain's Iberostar opened its second five-star hotel, the Grand Packard.   French hotel giant Accor is planning on opening its own luxury establishment on the Malecon, Havana's famous seaside boulevard, in September.   It will include a chocolate shop on its ground floor and a restaurant and concert space on its roof.   The employees' outfits will be designed by Spanish fashion designer Agatha Ruiz de la Prada.

- US blacklist -
However, there is a slight catch: in every case, the hotels are owned by Gaviota, the Cuban army's branch dedicated to tourism.   The foreign hotel groups are only allowed to run the establishments, all built by French group Bouygues, which has a long-standing local presence.   Authorities don't publish the army's revenues, but this alliance between hoteliers and the military landed the luxury hotels on Washington's blacklist.

US tourists are technically banned from staying in the hotels -- but the restriction can be easily circumvented by either paying in cash or booking through travel agents.   Beyond hotels, developers have more ideas to entice those with deep pockets.   "There's a plan to build golf courses in partnership with real estate groups," said industry expert Jose Luis Perello.   The opening of a luxury hotel means Cuba has turned a corner, he said.   "Since it opened up to international tourism more than 20 years ago, Cuba has focused all its plans and strategies" on "sun and beach tourism" for the masses, Perello said.   That category currently accounts for 73 percent of the 70,000 hotel rooms on offer in Cuba. And those who rent them usually don't spend much money.

The same goes for cruise ship tourists -- while the number of cruises docking in Cuba has exploded, passengers only spend an average of $15 a day on land.   That isn't great news for Cuba, which welcomed 4.7 million tourists in 2018 -- it needs the cash.   The government, which has been subjected to US sanctions since 1962, used to depend on aid from its oil-rich ally Venezuela.   But with Venezuela in turmoil, Cuba is scrambling for other sources of hard currency and its economic growth has stagnated at around one percent -- not enough to cover the population's basic needs.   Opening luxury hotels is "a new stage," but also "a necessity," Tourism Minister Manuel Marrero Cruz says.
Date: Mon, 4 Feb 2019 03:08:04 +0100

Havana, Feb 4, 2019 (AFP) - The number of people killed in the powerful tornado that ripped through part of Havana last week has risen to six, authorities said Sunday.    Public Health Minister Jose Angel Portal Miranda said in state media that "sadly, two people have died among the 13 who were in critical condition." The earlier death toll was four.

The storm which hit Havana area towns including Regla, Guanabacoa, San Miguel de Padron and 10 de octubre late January 27, has been confirmed as a F4 storm, with F5 the strongest.    Its powerful winds overturned trees and homes and cars, and several areas a number of blocks wide were all but wiped off the map.
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World Travel News Headlines

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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