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Georgia

Georgia US Consular Information Sheet
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
Georgia is a constitutional republic with a developing economy.
Tourist facilities outside of Tbilisi are not highly developed, and many of the goods and services taken for granted
in other countries are not yet available.
Read the Department of State Background Notes on Georgia for additional information.
ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:
A passport is required.
U.S. citizens visiting for 90 days or less do not need a visa to enter Georgia.
For further information, please contact the Embassy of Georgia at 2209 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Washington DC, 20008 tel. (202) 387-2390, fax: (202) 393-4537.
Visit the Embassy of Georgia web site at http://embassy.mfa.gov.ge/index.php?lang_id=GEO&sec_id=2&lang_id=ENG for the most current visa information.

Information on 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 civil wars in the 1980s and early 1990s, there are two separatist regions in Georgia that are not under the control of the Government of Georgia:
South Ossetia, in north-central Georgia; and Abkhazia, in northwest Georgia.
Although armed conflict between the separatist regions and the central government has ceased, episodes of violence continue and political relations are tense. Political developments have the potential to result in open hostilities.
Due to the volatility of the political situation, high levels of crime, and inability of Embassy personnel to travel to Abkhazia or South Ossetia, the U.S. Embassy advises American citizens not to travel to these separatist-controlled areas.
Because of the restricted access of U.S. officials to Abkhazia and South Ossetia, the ability of the U.S. Government to assist American citizens in these regions is extremely limited, even in emergencies.
All travelers to these regions, regardless of purpose, should register with the U.S. Embassy. The U.S. Embassy recommends that Americans regularly monitor warden messages on the Embassy web site for the latest information on the security situation throughout Georgia.

Political tensions remain high between the Georgian Government and the South Ossetia separatist regime, based in Tskhinvali.
This situation culminated in sniper and mortar exchanges between South Ossetian and Georgian troops in 2004.
Although the fighting did not escalate into an all-out war, low-level violence continues between the two sides, periodically resulting in deaths, and underscoring the potential for instability in the region.
A tense truce also exists between the Georgian Government and the separatist de facto government of Abkhazia; since April 2008, several incidents have increased the tension to a point where cross-border military actions are a possibility.
Over the past several years, a number of attacks, criminal incidents, and kidnappings have occurred in Abkhazia.
While Abkhaz "border officials" may demand that travelers entering the region purchase "visas" from the so-called "Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Abkhazia," the U.S. Government recognizes the territorial integrity of Georgia.
American citizens in areas of western Georgia, near Abkhazia, are advised to be aware of their surroundings at all times and to avoid straying off main roads or traveling after dark.

American citizens should be aware that they cannot legally cross by land, air, rail, or sea between Russia and Georgia, even if in possession of valid Russian or Georgian visas.
In July 2006, the Russian Government closed the only border crossing between Georgia and Russia under the control of both governments (the only other crossings are through Georgia’s separatist regions).
Russian authorities said the closure, at Verkhny Lars, would be temporary, pending necessary repairs at the crossing, although it remains closed as of June 2008.
On August 6, 2007, a missile was fired from an aircraft near a village between the city of Gori and the separatist region of South Ossetia.
Although this was an isolated incident, it serves as a reminder that the situation near the separatist areas remains unpredictable.

Georgia's armed forces have periodically conducted operations against suspected international terrorists, Chechen fighters, and criminals who have taken refuge in the Pankisi Gorge.
American citizens should avoid all travel to the Pankisi Gorge, north of the city of Akhmeta.
American citizens are also advised to exercise caution when traveling in the northern mountainous areas of Georgia bordering the Russian Federation, especially the Chechnya and Dagestan sectors.

Political demonstrations take place from time to time in the capital city, Tbilisi, and normally take place in front of the Parliament building on Rustaveli Avenue.
While these demonstrations are normally peaceful, confrontational demonstrations have occurred, and we wish to remind all Americans that even demonstrations intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational and possibly escalate into violence.

Regardless of the region in Georgia one is planning to visit, American citizens are urged to review their personal security precautions, increase their levels of awareness, register with the consular section and as appropriate, take increased security measures.

In the past, religious minorities in Georgia have been targets of violent attacks.
The victims were primarily Jehovah's Witnesses, but also include Pentecostals, Baptists, and members of the Assembly of God.
Incidents included the burning of literature, the destruction of private property and the beating (sometimes severe) of believers, including American citizens.
Although Georgian authorities arrested, convicted and imprisoned the ringleader of the group responsible for these attacks in 2005, American citizens should remain cautious when engaging in missionary activity in Georgia.

For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affair’s web site at http://travel.state.gov, where the current Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts, including the Worldwide Caution, can be found.

Up-to-date information on security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S. and Canada, or, for callers outside the United States 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 pamphlet A Safe Trip Abroad.
CRIME:
Crime is a very serious problem in Georgia.
There is a great disparity in affluence between foreigners and most Georgians.
Americans in particular are perceived as being wealthy, and are therefore specifically targeted for economic- and property-based crimes.
Incidents such as residential break-in, carjacking, car theft, petty theft, and armed robbery account for most of the crimes involving Americans that are reported to the Embassy.
Petty street crime, such as pick pocketing, purse snatching, and cell phone theft, is also common throughout the country. Furthermore, violent attacks have become more commonplace.
Because illegal firearms are readily available in Georgia, assailants are likely to be armed with firearms and other weapons.

Crime remains a particularly serious issue in Tbilisi, where criminal activity against foreigners remains at levels disproportionate to other metropolitan areas in Europe and the United States.
Many robberies and assaults have occurred in areas frequented by American citizens and foreigners, such as on side streets near Tbilisi’s city center; trouble spots include areas off the main avenues in the Vake and Vera districts, and Chavchavadze and Rustaveli avenues, as well as the Saburtalo region of Tbilisi.
These crimes often occurred when the victim was alone, after dark, and in unfamiliar surroundings.

Petty theft is also a problem on the Tbilisi metro system and in minivans, or “marshrutkas” used for public transport.
American citizens are advised to use personal vehicles or use taxis from established companies that carry passengers door-to-door.
While the security of overland travel in Georgia has improved, vehicular and rail traffic remains vulnerable to robbery.

The threat of kidnapping exists both within and outside of Tbilisi.
In the past, foreign businessmen have been abducted for ransom, and Americans in the Tbilisi area have received kidnapping threats.
The possibility of similar risk to Americans elsewhere in the country cannot be discounted.

Outside of Tbilisi, criminal activity is also a problem, especially in the separatist regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, due to the reduced capacity of law enforcement in those areas.
Other regions of concern include:
upper Svanetia, Samtskhe-Javakheti, the administrative border with Abkhazia (including Zugdidi city), and areas along the border with Russia.
When visiting or traveling through these regions, American citizens are urged to increase their vigilance, review their personal security precautions, and take appropriate security measures, e.g. traveling with a native Georgian escort familiar with the local area.

Despite much progress in the Georgian Government’s efforts to reform police and fight internal corruption, serious concerns remain as to the police’s ability to deter criminal activity or conduct effective post-incident investigations.
Although police emergency response is good (see below for contact information), criminals continue to have freedom of movement throughout Tbilisi day or night.

In light of the serious crime situation, all American citizens visiting Georgia are again strongly advised to exercise basic security precautions. American travelers should vary times and routes, especially from places of residence to work locations. Americans should maintain a low profile by not carrying large amounts of cash, not wearing excessive amounts of jewelry, and not behaving in a manner that would draw unnecessary attention.
Additionally, Americans should be aware of their surroundings, travel in pairs or groups, and stay on main streets and routes.
The Embassy recommends that those traveling throughout the country do so during daylight hours only and provide a travel itinerary and contact telephone numbers to a friend or business colleague.
Also, Americans should not hesitate to report any unusual incidents or suspicious vehicles or individuals to the Georgian authorities as soon as possible.
Finally, those that do become a victim of crime should not resist their assailant and should cooperate with the assailant as best they can.
Assailants are most interested in money and/or property; cooperation reduces the chance of being assaulted and/or injured.

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, to contact family members or friends and explain how funds could be transferred.
Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed.

The Georgian Ministry of Internal Affairs (MOIA) has established a police emergency hotline.
This service is currently limited to larger cities, but the MOIA is planning to expand this service countrywide.

The local “911” equivalent to contact police in an emergency is: “022”.
Please note that the police dispatcher speaks only Georgian or Russian.

See our information on Victims of Crime.

MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:
Medical care in Georgia is limited.
There is a severe shortage of basic medical supplies, including disposable needles, anesthetics, and antibiotics.
Elderly travelers and those with pre-existing health problems may be at risk due to inadequate medical facilities.
It is recommended that travelers who intend to visit Georgia for at least two weeks get the hepatitis A vaccine and a pre-exposure rabies vaccine.
Travelers are also encouraged to bring medicine to treat diarrhea, which regularly afflicts newcomers.
Georgian doctors and hospitals often expect immediate cash payment before rendering medical services.

Medical Information: Tuberculosis (TB) is an increasingly serious health concern in Georgia.
For further information, please consult the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Travel Notice on TB http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/yellowBookCh4-TB.aspx
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 (CDC) hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC 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 before traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and if 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 Georgia is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.

As in the United States, vehicular traffic in Georgia moves along the right side of roadways.
Speed limits range from 80 to 100 km/hr on highways, and from 30 to 60 km/hr on urban thoroughfares.
Motorists are not permitted to make right turns on red traffic lights.
While legislation mandating seat belt use has yet to be enacted, drivers and passengers are nevertheless strongly advised to buckle up on Georgian roads.
Georgian law requires that children under seven (7) years of age be restrained in child-safety seats.
A driver with any blood alcohol concentration exceeding 0.00% is considered to be driving under the influence of alcohol.

Motorists should exercise extreme caution when driving in Georgia, as many local drivers do not operate their vehicles in accordance with established traffic laws.
Traffic signals and rules of the road are often completely ignored.
Motorists drive erratically, often recklessly, and at excessive speeds.
Motorists may frequently encounter oncoming high-speed traffic attempting to pass other vehicles at blind turns or over hilltops.
Pedestrians enjoy no right-of-way and need to be extremely careful when crossing streets.
The Georgian Patrol Police, who come under the authority of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, are responsible for maintaining traffic safety in Georgia, but enforcement of traffic regulations is haphazard.

Undivided two-lane roads connect most major cities in Georgia.
Roads are generally in poor condition and often lack shoulder markings and centerlines.
In addition, traffic signals may not work because of power outages or poor maintenance.
Driving at night can be especially dangerous.
Travel on mountain roads is treacherous in both rain and snow, and during winter, heavy snowfalls may make some roads impassable.

Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.
Visit the web site of the country’s national tourist office and national authority responsible for road safety at http://tourism.gov.ge/start.php
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: As there is no direct commercial air service to the United States by carriers registered in Georgia, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed Georgia’s Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards.
For more information, travelers may visit the FAA’s web site at http://www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa.

Travelers on regional airlines among the countries of the South Caucasus may experience prolonged delays and sudden cancellations of flights.
In addition to frequent delays, flights are often overcrowded or overbooked.
Basic safety features such as seat belts are sometimes missing.
Air travel to Georgia on international carriers via Europe is typically more reliable.
Ticketed passengers on flights departing from Georgia should reconfirm reservations with the airline 24 hours prior to departure.

SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:
Georgia has been subject to energy crises in the last few years.
During the winter months, frequent and prolonged power outages are common, especially outside of Tbilisi.
The lack of lighting in public places, even when electricity is available, heightens vulnerability to crime (please see the Crime section above for details).

Georgia’s customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning the temporary import into or export from Georgia of items such as alcohol, tobacco, jewelry, religious materials, art or artifacts, antiquities, and business equipment.
Only personal medicines with a doctor’s statement can be imported without the permission of the Georgian Drug Agency section of the Ministry of Health.

American citizens may not import firearms into Georgia; however, hunting weapons may be brought into the country for a two-week period, based on valid Georgian hunting licenses.
While there is no limit to the amount of currency that can be imported, if more money is exported than was declared at the time of entry, the traveler is obligated to prove it was legally obtained.
There are limits on the amount of Georgian currency that may be exported.

American citizens should exercise extreme caution in purchasing property in Abkhazia.
Land for sale in that region rightfully may belong to internally displaced persons forced to leave Abkhazia in the early 1990s and may have improperly been placed on the market by the de facto authorities in Abkhazia.
In such cases, the government of Georgia considers the sale of property in Abkhazia illegal under Georgian law and the property could be reclaimed by original owners at a future date.

The Ministry of Culture, Department of Expertise and Evaluation must license any valuables such as artwork, antiques, jewelry, paintings, etc.
This license describes the object, assesses its value, and provides permission to export it from Georgia.
The U.S. Embassy in Tbilisi can provide more specific information on quantities of items that can be imported duty-free, as well as duties excised for specific items.
It is also advisable to contact the Embassy of Georgia in Washington, DC for specific information regarding customs requirements.
Please see our information on Customs Regulations.

While the Georgian lari is the only legal tender, dollars can be freely exchanged for laris at market rates.
ATMs are also becoming more widespread, but only within the city of Tbilisi.
Credit cards are rarely accepted outside of upscale hotels and restaurants, and travelers’ checks are difficult to cash.
American citizens in Georgia have reported incidents of credit card fraud and identity theft.

CRIMINAL PENALTIES:
While in a foreign country, an American 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 offences.
Persons violating Georgian laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Georgia 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 Georgia are strongly encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department's travel registration web site, https://travelregistration.state.gov, and to obtain updated information on travel and security within Georgia.
Americans without Internet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in case of emergency.
The U.S. Embassy in Tbilisi is located at 11 George Balanchine Street.
Office hours from American Citizens Services are from 2 to 5 pm on weekdays; no appointment is necessary.
The telephone number is (995) (32) 27-70-00, which can also be reached after hours, and the fax number is: (995) (32) 53-23-10.
The U.S. Embassy in Tbilisi’s web site is http://georgia.usembassy.gov/.
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This replaces the Country Specific Information dated October 3, 2007 to update the section on Entry and Exit Requirements, Safety and Security, Crime, Information of Victims of Crime, ion, Traffic Safety and Road Condition, Special Circumstances, and Aviation Safety Oversight.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Sat, 22 Jun 2019 21:45:46 +0200
By Anna SMOLCHENKO with Irakli METREVELI in Tbilisi

Moscow, June 22, 2019 (AFP) - Russia's government on Saturday banned Georgian airlines from flying into its territory, extending restrictions imposed by President Vladimir Putin as part of growing tensions between Moscow and its ex-Soviet neighbour.   Putin had signed a decree late Friday banning Russian airlines from flying to pro-Western Georgia from July 8 in response to anti-Moscow rallies in the Georgian capital Tbilisi.

The protests broke out after a Russian lawmaker addressed parliament from the speaker's seat earlier this week, a hugely sensitive move for two countries whose relations remain tense after a brief war in 2008.   The rallies have morphed into a broader movement against the Georgian authorities while the Kremlin has branded them a "Russophobic provocation".   On Saturday, protesters took to the streets of the Georgian capital for a third day of rallies, with some 3,000 demanding snap elections and electoral reform.   The crowd sang a profanity-laced, anti-Putin chant and some of the demonstrators held up placards insulting the Russian president.   Demonstrators also shot paper airplanes into the sky in response to the Russian bans.

Russia's transportation ministry said that from July 8 two Georgian airlines would be banned from flying to Russia, citing the need to ensure "aviation safety" and debt owned by the Georgian companies.   The Kremlin has said the ban against travel to Georgia was to "ensure Russia's national security and protect Russian nationals from criminal and other unlawful activities."

Authorities recommended travel companies stop selling holiday packages to Georgia and advised Russian tourists to return home.   Russia's travel industry and ordinary Russians hit out at the decision by the Kremlin, saying it was a politically motivated move that has little to do with safety concerns.   "Tourism in Georgia is on the rise, and the decision has shocked the whole industry," Aleksan Mkrtchyan, head of Pink Elephant, a chain of travel agencies, said in a statement.

- 'This is politics' -
The ban during high season is expected to hit the travel industry in both countries hard and become a major nuisance for Russian holidaymakers.   Russia and Georgia fought a brief but bloody war in 2008 and tensions between the two governments remain high.   But Georgia -- known for its picturesque Black Sea resorts, rich national cuisine and generous hospitality -- has emerged as one of the most popular destinations for Russian tourists over the past few years, with more than 1.3 million visiting last year.

Irina Tyurina, a spokeswoman for the Russian Tourism Union, said that most in the industry believed that Georgia was not a dangerous destination.   "Georgians have traditionally treated Russians well," Tyurina told AFP.    It was too early to estimate potential industry losses from the ban, she said.   More than 7,000 people have signed a petition calling on Moscow to resume flights.

Russian tourists in Tbilisi expressed regret at the restrictions.   "We are against the ban," Nina Guseva told AFP in the Georgian capital. "We are not guilty and we do not have to suffer."   Fellow traveller Mikhail Strelkov added: "This is politics and has nothing to do with people on holidays."   In Russia, many struck a similar note.   Elena Chekalova, a prominent chef and culinary blogger, said the latest Kremlin move "shocked" her.   "Why are they deciding for us what we cannot eat, where we cannot fly, who we cannot be friends with?" she wrote on Facebook.

- Simmering discontent -
Moscow has suspended flights to Georgia before -- during a spike in tensions in October 2006 and in August 2008 following the outbreak of the five-day war over the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.   "Putin decided to punish Georgia because there are street protests there," opposition leader Alexei Navalny said on Twitter.   A senior government official in Tbilisi said the Kremlin ban was politically motivated.   "Putin's decision is of course political and has nothing to do with safety concerns," the official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

Analysts say the latest restrictions may further fuel simmering discontent with Kremlin policies.   Since 2014, Russians have been chafing under numerous rounds of Western sanctions over Moscow's role in Ukraine and other crises, with real incomes falling for the fifth year in a row.    During an annual phone-in with Russians this week, Putin dismissed calls to "reconcile" with the West to alleviate economic hardship, saying Moscow needed to protect its interests and "nothing" would change anyway.
Date: Thu, 6 Jun 2019 11:24:00 +0200

Tbilisi, June 6, 2019 (AFP) - Three people died on Thursday when a helicopter owned by one of Georgia's top luxury hotels crashed in a northern mountainous region of the country, emergency services said.   A chopper belonging to the Rooms luxury hotel "crashed in an unpopulated area near the Qulo mountain in the Kazbegi municipality," the spokesman of Georgia's emergency situations department, Rati Mujiri, told AFP.   "All three people onboard have died," he said.  "The helicopter pilot and two staff members of the Adjara Group (which owns Kazbegi Rooms hotel) have been killed in the accident," the company said in a statement.

The Rooms hotel operates Bell 505 Jet Ranger helicopters, according to the hotel's website.   Famed for its spectacular landscapes with snow-capped peaks of the Greater Caucasus mountain range, dramatic rocky gorges, and medieval churches, Kazbegi is a popular tourist destination.
Date: Thu 2 May 2019
Source: PLoS One [edited]

Citation
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Rao S, Traxler R, Napetavaridze T, et al. Risk factors associated with the occurrence of anthrax outbreaks in livestock in the country of Georgia: A case-control investigation 2013-2015. PLoS One. 2019;14(5):e0215228. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0215228

Abstract
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Introduction
Anthrax is considered endemic in livestock in Georgia. In 2007, the annual vaccination became the responsibility of livestock owners, while contracting of private veterinarians was not officially required. Six years later, due to increase in human outbreaks associated with livestock handling there is a need to find out the risk factors of livestock anthrax in Georgia.

Objective
To identify exposures and risk factors associated with livestock anthrax.

Methods
A matched case-control study design was used to recruit the owners of individual livestock anthrax cases that occurred between June 2013 and May 2015, and owners of unaffected livestock from within ("village control") and outside the village ("area control"). We collected data about the case and control livestock animals' exposure and risk factors within the one-month prior to the disease onset of the case livestock (or matched case for the controls). We used logistic regression analysis (univariate and multivariable) to calculate the odds ratios of exposures and risk factors.

Results
During the study period, 36 anthrax cases met the case definition and were enrolled in the study; 67 matched village control livestock and 71 matched area control livestock were also enrolled. The findings from multivariable logistic regression analysis demonstrate that vaccination within the last 2 years significantly reduced the odds of anthrax in cattle (OR = 0.014; 95% Confidence interval = or less 0.001, 0.99). The other factors that were significantly protective against anthrax were 'animals being in covered fence area/barn' (OR = 0.065; p-value = 0.036), and 'female animal being pregnant or milking compared to heifer' (OR = 0.006; p-value = 0.037).

Conclusions
The information obtained from this study has involved and been presented to decision makers, used to build technical capacity of veterinary staff, and to foster a One Health approach to the control of zoonotic diseases which will optimize prevention and control strategies. Georgia has embedded the knowledge and specific evidence that vaccination is a highly protective measure to prevent anthrax deaths among livestock, to which primary emphasis of the anthrax control program will be given. Education of livestock keepers in Georgia is an overriding priority.
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Communicated by
Debby Reynolds
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[The major benefits of this research project were not scientific but instructional in bringing home to all concerned at all levels that livestock anthrax is not inevitable but extremely preventable with many benefits in both animal health and public health. The article conclusions needed to be emphasised: "The control strategies that were recommended for anthrax included a combination of vaccination, quarantine, and proper carcass handling and disposal. Overall, the information obtained from this study has involved and been presented to decision makers, used to build technical capacity of regional and national veterinary staff, and fostered a One Health approach to the control of zoonotic diseases like anthrax, which will optimize prevention and control strategies. For example, a multi-agency anthrax One Health team was established to investigate cases and co-develop educational materials for farmers.

"The investigation process involved a series of trainings and workshops for participants and stakeholders to promote an understanding of epidemiological investigations and the economics of disease control with anthrax as a model. Georgia now has embedded the knowledge and specific evidence that vaccination is a highly protective measure to prevent anthrax deaths among livestock. Hence, primary emphasis for disease prevention will be given to vaccination, with a specific mark/tag for vaccination being desirable. Alternatively, a formal vaccination record given to the owner, or livestock registration is recommended. Education of livestock keepers in Georgia on the importance of vaccination is an overriding priority. Vaccination teams can play an increased role with more attention paid to delivery of standard memorable messages at the time of vaccination and to disseminating public announcements. It is overwhelmingly the case that vaccination of livestock against anthrax is protective and is an effective risk mitigation for anthrax in Georgia."

And if the Georgians can do it, anybody anywhere can do it. And you will note that their last outbreak was in 2017. Our thanks to Debby for forwarding this article. - ProMED Mod.MHJ]

[Maps of Georgia can be seen at
Date: Fri, 16 Mar 2018 16:59:07 +0100

Tbilisi, March 16, 2018 (AFP) - At least eight tourists, including a pregnant woman from Sweden, were injured on Friday when a chair lift ran out of control in the Georgian ski resort of Gudauri, officials said.   Video of the accident showed skiers being flung out of their chairs as they
turned a bend as other resort visitors screamed in terror. 

An emergency stop led to the chairs sliding back at high speed, Economy Minister Dimitry Kumsishvili told journalists, adding that the incident was "allegedly caused by an electricity outage".   "The interior ministry has launched a criminal probe into alleged violation of safety norms," he added.   Health Minister David Sergeenko said the tourists -- who were Georgiain, Russian, Swedish and Ukrainian -- did not suffer serious injuries.

"Two of them - including a pregnant woman from Sweden -- were airlifted to a hospital in (the Georgian capital) Tbilisi," he added.   Video footage (https://www.facebook.com/yanshyn/videos/10210410103119989/) of the accident posted on Facebook has been viewed more than 600,000 times.   The Caucasus nation of Georgia is an emerging ski destination.
Date: Wed 8 Nov 2017 8:36 PM GET
Source: KyivPost, Interfax-Ukraine report [edited]

Georgia's 2nd anthrax fatality this year [2017] has been confirmed. A Poti [Samegrelo-Zemo Svaneti region] resident, aged 28, died from exposure to anthrax, Maka Gabunia, an epidemiologist of the Georgian Healthcare Ministry's Poti regional laboratory, told reporters on [8 Nov 2017].

The tentative cause of death is that the woman sought medical aid too late, Gabunia said. The patient was showing symptoms of the disease when she was admitted to a hospital, she said. "The appropriate medical assistance was provided to the patient, but, unfortunately, doctors were unable to save her," Gabunia said.

Laboratory tests confirmed the diagnosis of anthrax exposure, she said. She said she believes that there are no reasons for panic among residents of Poti.

The 1st anthrax fatality this year [2017] was recorded in Adjara, Georgia, in September. A 58-year-old resident of the village of Akhalsopeli in the Khelvachauri district died following exposure to an infected animal, the Georgian National Center for Disease Control and Public Health told reporters.

The last time an anthrax fatality was recorded in Georgia was in 2013.
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Date: Thu 9 Nov 2017
Source: Rosbalt.ru [in Russian, trans., edited]

A young Poti resident died of anthrax infection. The citizen turned to the doctors late, the Ministry of Health of Georgia informed. The 28-year-old woman died, despite the help she received from epidemiologists.

In September [2017], a man died from anthrax in Adjara.
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Communicated by:
Sabine Zentis
Castleview English Longhorns
Gut Laach
D-52385 Nideggen
Germany
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Date: Fri 10 Nov 2017
From: Ana Kasradze [edited]

Anthrax is an endemic zoonotic disease in Georgia. The majority of cases are cutaneous, generalized forms of the disease are rare; 1-2 gastrointestinal tract anthrax cases were registered in total. From August [2017], the human anthrax cases in the west part of Georgia were related to ongoing epizootics in one of the regions.

In the beginning of November 2017, a 28-year-old female was admitted to the hospital in the west part of the country with high temperature, severe sore throat, neck swelling, predominantly unilateral. Lymph nodes were swollen and a pseudomembranous plaque in the mouth -- predominantly on the right side -- was observed. The hospital suspected diphtheria and notified. For a bacteriological study, the sample was sent to NCDC's [National Center for Disease Control and Public Health] Regional Laboratory. The patient was transferred to the referral hospital in the same city, where the laboratory is located. After 24 hours, the culture was identified as anthrax.

Additional laboratory testing was conducted in the center of Lugar, and the bronchial aspirate sample was PCR positive for anthrax.

The condition of the patient was severe, and despite the specific treatment, she died on the 6th day of hospitalization.

Diagnosis: anthrax, oropharyngeal form.

The case was defined as unusual for Georgia, as no oropharyngeal anthrax cases had been identified before in the country. The suspected source of infection is minced meat, that case bought in the local market. Because of her severe condition, we were not able to interview her, but most likely she tasted the raw minced meat before cooking. The person selling the meat at the local market is a private merchant and the meat is not sold in the food chain. National Food Agency was notified. Environmental samples were collected from the slaughterhouse.
-------------------------------
EpiCore Global Surveillance Project member
Ana Kasradze
National Center for Disease Control and Public Health
=================
[Maps of Georgia can be seen at
and <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/63383>.

According to Wikipedia (<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poti>) Poti is a port city in Georgia, located on the eastern Black Sea coast in the region of Samegrelo-Zemo Svaneti in the west of the country. The city has become a major port city and industrial center since the early 20th century. It is also home to a main naval base and the headquarters of the Georgian navy. Adjacent to the Poti port area is the RAKIA owned Free Industrial Zone.

Poti, a busy city, is distant from the usual rural areas afflicted with livestock anthrax. As the third report notes the patient was confirmed to have oropharyngeal anthrax which is rare in humans though not uncommon in certain livestock. The suggestion that she had sampled the rare minced meat is logical, as we know from hamburgers such is very easy to cook and the cooked surface would have been sterile. The less cooked interior, if eaten, would have possibly resulted in an enteric infection. If the meat had been mixed with some fibrous matter it would have increased the chance of scratching the throat and have facilitated spore entry. Our thanks to Dr Kasradze for her very quick response. - ProMED Mod.MHJ]
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."