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Pakistan

Pakistan - US Consular Information Sheet
October 02, 2008
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
Pakistan is a parliamentary federal republic in South Asia, with a population of nearly 170 million people. Following successful elections in February 2008, Pak
stan has a coalition government led by Prime Minister Yousef Gilani. Pakistan is a developing country, with some tourist facilities in major cities but limited in outlying areas. The infrastructure of areas of Kashmir and the Northwest Frontier Province was devastated as a result of the October 8, 2005 earthquake and is not yet recovered. Read the Department of State Background Notes on Pakistan for additional information.

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ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS: All U.S. citizens traveling to Pakistan for any purpose are required to have valid U.S. passports and Pakistani-issued visas. Further information on entry requirements can be obtained from the Embassy of Pakistan at 3517 International Court Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20008; telephone: 202-243-6500; e-mail: info@pakistan-embassy.org; web site: http://www.pakistan-embassy.org/.

Travelers may also contact one of the Consulates General of Pakistan in:
Boston: 20 Chestnut Street, Needham, MA 02492; telephone: (781) 455-8000; fax: (617) 266-6666; email: pakistan@tiac.net
Chicago: 333 North Michigan Ave., Suite 728, Chicago, IL, 60601; telephone: (312) 781-1831; fax: (312) 781-1839; email: parepchicago@yahoo.com
Houston: 11850 Jones Road, Houston, TX, 77070; telephone: (281) 890-2223; fax: (281) 890-1433; email: parephouston@sbcglobal.net
Los Angeles: 10850 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 1100, Los Angeles, CA 90024; telephone: (310) 441-5114; fax: (310) 441-9256; email: info@pakconsulatela.org
New York: 12 East 65th St., New York, NY 10021; telephone: (212) 879-5800; fax: (212) 517-6987; web site: www.pakistanconsulateny.org
If a traveler plans to stay longer than the time listed on the visa, he or she must extend the stay with the local passport office of the Ministry of Interior. Visit the Embassy of Pakistan web site at http://www.pakistan-embassy.org/ for the most current visa information.

Information about dual nationality or the prevention of international child abduction can be found on our web site. For further information about customs regulations, please read our Customs Information sheet.

SAFETY AND SECURITY:
A number of extremist groups within Pakistan continue to target American and other Western interests and high-level Pakistani government officials. Terrorists and their sympathizers have demonstrated willingness and capability to attack targets where Americans are known to congregate or visit. Terrorist actions may include, but are not limited to, suicide operations, bombing -- including vehicle-borne explosives and improvised explosive devices -- assassinations, carjacking, assault or kidnapping. U.S. Government personnel are not permitted to stay at or frequent major hotels in Islamabad, Karachi, Lahore and Peshawar.

Government personnel have also been advised to restrict the number and frequency of trips to public markets, and to avoid public restaurants in Islamabad, Karachi, and Peshawar.

In September 2008, over fifty people, including three Americans, were killed and hundreds were injured when a suicide bomber set off a truck filled with explosives outside a major international hotel in Islamabad. In August 2008 gunmen stopped and shot at the vehicle of an American diplomat in Peshawar. In March 2008, a restaurant frequented by westerners in Islamabad was bombed, killing one patron and seriously injuring several others, including four American diplomats. On March 2, 2006, an American diplomat, his locally employed driver, and three others were killed when a suicide bomber detonated a car packed with explosives in front of the U.S. Consulate General in Karachi. Fifty-two others were wounded in the attack.

Sectarian and extremist violence has resulted in fatal bomb attacks in Islamabad, Rawalpindi, Karachi, Peshawar, Quetta, Lahore, and other Pakistani cities since 2006. Since 2007, over 1,000 bombings have killed more than 1,000 people throughout Pakistan and injured many more. Rallies, demonstrations, and processions occur from time to time throughout Pakistan on very short notice and have often taken on an anti-American or anti-Western character. Because of the possibility of violence, Americans are urged to avoid all public places of worship and areas where Westerners are known to congregate.

During the Islamic (Shi’a) religious observance of Moharram, rivalries and hostilities often increase.

In 2007 and 2008, several American citizens throughout Pakistan were kidnapped for ransom or for personal reasons. Kidnappings for ransom are particularly common in some parts of Pakistan, such as the Northwest Frontier Province and Sindh Province.

It is best to avoid public transportation. For security reasons, U.S. Mission personnel are prohibited from using taxis or buses. (See the Traffic Safety and Road Conditions section below.)

Women are advised to dress conservatively, with arms and legs covered, and avoid walking around alone. It is unwise for anyone to travel on the streets late at night. Visitors to Pakistan should attempt to maintain a low profile, blend in, be aware of their surroundings, and seek security with their family or sponsoring organization.

Northern Areas – While we continue to discourage non-essential travel to Pakistan, we advise Americans wishing to trek in Gilgit, Hunza or Chitral to use only licensed guides and tourist agencies. While overall crime is low, there have been occasional assaults on foreign visitors.

Northwest Frontier Province - The Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) along the Afghan border, and certain areas within the Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP), are designated as tribal areas and are not subject to normal government jurisdiction. The Government of Pakistan requires all citizens of countries other than Pakistan and Afghanistan to obtain permission from the Home and Tribal Affairs Department prior to visiting these locations. The permit may stipulate that an armed escort must accompany the visitor. Even in the settled areas of the NWFP there is occasional ethnic, sectarian, and political violence. There have been dozens of bombings in Peshawar of varying sophistication since September 2006. Members of the Taliban and Al-Qaida are known to be in the FATA, and may also be in the settled areas.

Kashmir - While direct military hostilities between India and Pakistan across the Line of Control (LOC) are infrequent, militant groups engaged in a long-running insurgency on the Indian side of the LOC are reported to have bases and supporters operating from the Pakistani side. Most of these groups are anti-American, and some have attacked Americans and other Westerners. The Government of Pakistan restricts access to many parts of this region and requires that visitors obtain a permit from the Ministry of Interior before traveling.

Punjab Province - Violence has increased in Punjab Province. Since September 2007, several suicide operations have taken place, including attacks in Rawalpindi and Lahore. As a precaution against these possible dangers, U.S. citizens are cautioned to avoid public transportation and crowded areas. The Wagah border crossing into India near Lahore remains open daily (from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.) for travel to and from India if the passport holder has a valid visa for both countries. Visitors are advised to confirm the current status of the border crossing prior to commencing travel.

Sindh Province - In Karachi and Hyderabad, there has been recurring violence characterized by bombings, violent demonstrations and shootings. An October 2007 suicide attack on former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto killed more than 130 and injured approximately 375 people in Karachi. In the aftermath of her December 2007 death, rioting in Karachi led to multiple deaths and injuries, as well as widespread property damage. In May 2008, clashing groups of lawyers burned buildings and vehicles in several areas of the city, resulting in at least 11 fatalities. Americans and other westerners continue to be a particular target of hostility and occasional anti-Western mob violence. The Consulate General in particular has been the target of several major terrorist attacks or plots in recent years, including the deadly March 2006 suicide attack described above. Non-essential travel to these cities is strongly discouraged. In rural Sindh Province, the security situation is hazardous, especially for those engaged in overland travel. The Government of Pakistan recommends that travelers limit their movements in Sindh Province.

Balochistan Province - The Province of Balochistan, which borders both Iran and Afghanistan, is notorious for narcotics and other forms of cross-border smuggling. Members of the Taliban and Al-Qaida are also believed to be present there. Tribal unrest sometimes turns violent. Because provincial police presence is limited, travelers wishing to visit the interior of Balochistan should consult with the province’s Home Secretary. Advance permission from provincial authorities is required for travel into many areas. Local authorities have detained travelers who lacked proper permission. Quetta, the provincial capital, has experienced an increase in bombings, occasional gun battles in the streets, and the imposition of curfews. Terrorist attacks against Pakistani government installations and infrastructure have been reported throughout 2005 and 2006.

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

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

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

CRIME: Crime is a serious concern for foreigners throughout Pakistan. Carjacking, armed robberies, house invasions, and other violent crimes occur in many major urban areas. Petty crime, especially theft of personal property, is common. American travelers to Pakistan are strongly advised to avoid traveling by taxi and other forms of public transportation, and have members of their host organizations or families meet them at the airport.

In many countries around the world, counterfeit and pirated goods are widely available. Transactions involving such products may be illegal under local law. In addition, bringing them back to the United States may result in forfeitures and/or fines. More information on this serious problem is available at http://www.cybercrime.gov/18usc2320.htm
INFORMATION FOR VICTIMS OF CRIME: The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate for assistance. The Embassy/Consulate staff can, for example, assist you to find appropriate medical care, contact family members or friends and explain how funds could be transferred. Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed.

The local equivalent to the “911” emergency line in Pakistan is: 15
See our information on Victims of Crime.

MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION: Adequate basic non-emergency medical care is available in major Pakistani cities, but is limited in rural areas. Facilities in the cities vary in level and range of services, resources, and cleanliness, and Americans may find them below U.S. standards; facilities in rural areas are consistently below U.S. standards. Medical facilities require prepayment and do not accept credit cards.

Water is not potable anywhere in Pakistan and sanitation in many restaurants is inadequate. Stomach illnesses are common.

Effective emergency response to personal injury and illness is virtually non-existent in Pakistan. Ambulances are few and are not necessarily staffed by medical personnel. Any emergency case should be transported immediately to a recommended emergency receiving room. Many American-brand medications are not widely available, but generic brands from well-known pharmaceuticals usually are. The quality of the locally-produced medications is uneven.

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

MEDICAL INSURANCE: The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation. As noted above, emergency medical care in Pakistan is very limited. Medical evacuations from Pakistan may cost in excess of $45,000 for uninsured travelers requiring emergency assistance. 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 Pakistan is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.

Traffic in Pakistan moves on the left, opposite of U.S. traffic. In addition to this source of potential confusion, travel by road in Pakistan has a variety of other risks. Roads are crowded, drivers are often aggressive and poorly trained, and many vehicles, particularly large trucks and buses, are badly maintained. Donkeys, cattle, horse carts, and even the occasional camel can pose roadside hazards in some areas. Roads, including most major highways, also suffer from poor maintenance and often have numerous potholes, sharp drop-offs and barriers that are not sign-posted. Drivers should exercise extreme caution when traveling at night by road, as many vehicles do not have proper illumination or dimmers nor are most roads properly illuminated or signed. Driving without experienced local drivers or guides is not recommended.

It is best to avoid public transportation. For security reasons, U.S. Mission personnel are prohibited from using taxis or buses. (See Safety and Security section above.)

Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information. Visit the website of Pakistan’s national tourist office at http://www.tourism.gov.pk/ and the national authority responsible for road safety at http://www.nha.gov.pk/.

AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of Pakistan’s Civil Aviation Authority as being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for oversight of Pakistan’s air carrier operations. For more information, travelers may visit the FAA’s web site at http://www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa.

SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:
Pakistan is largely a cash economy. Personal checks are not commonly accepted. Most Pakistanis do not use checking accounts for routine transactions. Outside major cities, even credit cards and travelers’ checks are generally not accepted, and there have been numerous reports of credit card fraud. There are bank branches as well as registered moneychangers in all international airports. ATMs can also be found in major airports. English is widely spoken by professional-level airport staff.

Please see our Customs Information.

CRIMINAL PENALTIES: While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country’s laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating Pakistani laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Pakistan 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 Pakistan are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department’s travel registration web site so that they can obtain updated information on travel and security within Pakistan. 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 Islamabad is located at Diplomatic Enclave, Ramna 5; telephone: (92-51) 208-0000; Consular Section telephone: (92-51) 208-2700; fax: (92-51) 282-2632; website: http://islamabad.usembassy.gov/
The U.S. Consulate General in Karachi, located at 8 Abdullah Haroon Road, closed its public operations indefinitely due to security concerns. U.S. citizens requiring emergency assistance should call the Consular Section in Karachi; telephone: (92-21) 520-4200; fax: (92-21) 568-0496; web site: http://karachi.usconsulate.gov/
The U.S. Consulate in Lahore is located on 50 Sharah-E-Abdul Hamid Bin Badees (Old Empress Road), near Shimla Hill Rotary; telephone: (92-42) 603-4000; fax: (92-42) 603-4200; web site: http://lahore.usconsulate.gov/; email: amconsul@brain.net.pk
The U.S. Consulate in Peshawar is located at 11 Hospital Road, Cantonment, Peshawar; telephone: (92-91) 526-8800; fax: (92-91) 528-4171; web site: http://peshawar.usconsulate.gov/
* * *
This replaces the Country Specific Information dated August 7, 2008 to update the section on Safety and Security.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: 26 Jan 2020
Source: MENAFN [edited]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A good map of Pakistan showing districts and provinces can be found at:
Date: Sat 11 Jan 2020
Source: Samaa TV [edited]

A 3-year-old boy in Thatta's Mirpur Sakhro has been diagnosed with polio in Sindh, bringing the total for 2019 to 25 cases and Pakistan's tally to 135. The Emergency Operation Centre (EOC) for polio in Sindh confirmed the case.

This is not a case from 2020, as the 34-month boy was affected by polio with weakness in the left upper and lower limbs on [26 Dec 2019]. According to his parents, he had received 7 doses of the oral polio vaccine and 3 routine doses plus the IPV were verified by card. An investigation has been opened into these claims.

EOC Sindh's spokesperson said that the long gap in door-to-door campaigns during 2019 created a large pool of vulnerable children. The National EOC and Sindh EOC have started to fight back to eradicate polio and reverse this trend. The 1st step was the successful December [2019] NID, and now areas with recent detections are being targeted in a special response round starting from [13 Jan 2020].

"We will follow this up with 2 NIDs in February and April [2020) with another targeted case response in between," the spokesperson said. Efforts from December [2019] to April [2020] will bridge the immunity gap and lead to a significant decrease in the intensity of virus transmission in the 2nd half of 2020, they said.

Up until this case was detected, Sindh had 24 polio cases in 2019, out of which 6 came from Karachi. There were 134 cases that emerged from all over Pakistan:
- 91 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa
- 24 in Sindh
- 11 in Balochistan
- 8 in Punjab

Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah met the Provincial Task Force on Polio Eradication on Saturday [11 Jan 2020]. The meeting was attended by ministers Dr. Azra Pechuho, Syed Nasir Shah, PSCM Sajid Jamal Abro, Karachi Commissioner Iftikhar Shahalwani, LG Secretary Roshan Shaikh, Health Secretary Zahid Abbasi, all deputy commissioners of the city, all commissioners and deputy commissioners of other divisions and districts via video link.

The details of the 6 polio cases detected in Karachi in 2019:
- 25 Feb: A 3-year-old from Lyari's Shahbaig Lane; she is Baloch and hails from Quetta
- 20 Apr: An 8-month-old in Orangi from a Pashtun family
- 26 Aug: A 16-month-old in Orangi from a Punjabi family from Multan
- 29 Apr: A 6-month-old from Gulzar-e-Hijri from a Pashtun family
- 24 Oct: A 2-year-old at Jacob Lines from a Sindhi family and from Hyderabad
- 29 Oct: A 12-month-old in Keamari from a Baloch family

The polio cases detected from other divisions of the province are:
- 17 Apr: A 3-year-old in Dokri, Larkana from a Seraiki family; she originally belonged to Gadap, Karachi
- 20 Jul: A 1-year-old in Halanaka, Hyderabad, from a Pashtun family who originally hails from Gadap, Karachi
- 23 Aug: A 10-year-old in Latifabad, Hyderabad from a Mohajir family
- 23 Aug: A 3-year-old in Kotri, Hyderabad from a Pashtun family
- 25 Sep: A 3.6-year-old from Sujawal, Thatta-Hyderabad, from a Sindhi family
- 9 Oct: A 1-month-old in Kotri, Jamshoro from a Sindhi family
- 19 Oct: A 3-year-old from Sakrand-Shaheed Benazirabad from a Baloch family who originally belongs to SITE, Karachi
- 27 Oct: An 8.4-year-old from a Sindhi family detected in Rahooja, Sukkur and who hails from Landhi, Karachi
- 2 Nov: A 2-year-old from Wareh, Kambar Shahdadkot
- 9 Nov: A 9-month-old in Dokri, Larkana from a Seraiki family that hails from SITE, Karachi
- 10 Nov: A 2.4-year-old from a Sindhi family detected in Chambar, Tando Allahayar and originally hails from Landhi, Karachi
- 17 Nov: A 3.6-year-old from Digri, Mirpurkhas from a Mohajir family
- 20 Nov: A 6-year-old from a Sindhi family detected in Mirpurkhas and that originally belongs to SITE, Karachi
- 28 Nov: A 6-year-old from a Seraiki family, detected in Matli, Badin
- 1 Dec: A 4-year-old from a Sindhi family in Sindhri, Mirpurkhas
- 1 Dec: A 12-year-old from a Sindhi family detected in Sehwan, Jamshoro
- 6 Dec: A 5-month-old from a Sindhi family detected in Patt, Dadu
- 14 Dec: A 3-year-old from Wareh, Kambar-Shahdadkot from a Sindhi family

The chief minister said that most of the polio cases have links with Karachi; therefore, the health department and its other wings have to focus on Karachi by segregating the areas so that their environmental samples could be made negative. Gulshan, Baldia, SITE, Korangi, Liaquatabad and Saddar have had positive environmental samples throughout 2019. Sukkur, Jacobabad, Hyderabad, Dadu and Kambar-Shahdadkot have also been positive.

Polio vaccine coverage: EOC In-charge Rehan Baloch told the chief minister that there was target of 9 076 523 children:
- 2 293 687 in Karachi
- 2 160 552 in Hyderabad
- 1 514 246 in Larkana
- 785 475 in Mirpurkhas
- 1 093 139 in Nawabshah
- 1 229 424 in Sukkur

He said that 82.1% missed children were also covered and yet 295,704 children were missed. The chief minister was told that 95% coverage has been achieved in 7 days of December 2019 in Karachi and 100% in other divisions.

There are 782 union councils where environmental samples are positive for polio viruses.
========================
[Yet another case of polio confirmed in Sindh, Pakistan with date of onset in 2019, bringing the total to 135 cases in Pakistan. Presumably this is associated with a wild poliovirus or it would not have been grouped with the 134 other WPV1-associated cases.

One disturbing fact is that this child had documented receipt of 7 doses of campaign vaccine, 3 doses of routine vaccination and 1 dose of IPV. Hence, this child should have been protected. This warrants further investigation.

A good map of Pakistan showing districts and provinces can be found at

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map:
Date: Sat 4 Jan 2020
Source: Menafn <edited>

Hepatitis E is spreading rapidly in the Almas area of Ashiri Darra in Upper Dir, and over 60 patients have been diagnosed with the disease during the last one month. Those diagnosed with hepatitis E also include women and children. The local people have expressed grave concern over the outbreak of the epidemic and called upon the government to send health teams to the area to stop the disease from further spreading.

The area people said hepatitis E has affected almost every home in the area, and most of the patients are women. They said the area residents have stopped the use of water available from pipelines, and they are now using water from streams, but still the disease is spreading rapidly.

A local person said while talking to TNN that 5 members of his family have been infected. He said he has no idea how and from what source the disease is spreading so quickly. He said most people in Almas are poor and cannot afford expensive treatment. He said an infected patient needs to be shifted to Timergara, where the treatment cost ranges from INR 10,000 [USD 139] to INR 15,000 [USD 209]. He called upon the government to take immediate steps to stop the spread of disease in the area.

Regional Health Centre (RHC) Incharge Dr Riazullah said hepatitis spreads from polluted water and stool of infected patients. He said the water of the whole area is polluted due to lack of a proper sewerage system, and as a result, the disease is spreading quickly. He advised the area people to use boiled water for consumption.

Hepatitis E is a virus infection that infects a patient's liver, causing it to swell up. According to WebMD, a leading health information website, hepatitis E doesn't usually lead to long-term illness or liver damage like some other forms of hepatitis. However, it can be dangerous for pregnant women or anyone with weak immune systems, including the elderly or people who are ill.

Hepatitis E is more common in areas with poor handwashing habits and lack of clean water. Main symptoms include fever, low appetite, belly pain, skin rash, joint pain, and yellowish skin or eyes. An infected patient must consume more water, eat healthy foods, and rest.
====================
[Hepatitis E is found worldwide, and different genotypes of the hepatitis E virus determine differences in epidemiology. For example, genotype 1 is usually seen in developing countries and causes community-level outbreaks, whereas genotype 3 is usually seen in developed countries and does not cause outbreaks. Acute epidemic hepatitis E is attributable to infection with hepatitis E virus genotypes 1 and 2. Many of the deaths are in pregnant women, characteristic of genotype 1.

The highest seroprevalence rates (number of persons in a population who test positive for the disease) are observed in regions where low standards of sanitation increase the risk for transmission of the virus. - ProMED Mod.LL]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map:
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, Pakistan:
Date: Fri 27 Dec 2019
Source: Pakistan Today [edited]

A total of 4 new polio cases were detected in Pakistan Friday [27 Dec 2019]; 2 of these were from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and 2 from Sindh.

With the new cases, the tally for this year [2019] has risen to 115, said the National Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) for polio. If the vaccine-derived polio cases are also taken into account, the total comes to 127.

The 1st case was a 15-month-old boy from KP's Tank district. He had received no routine dose of the polio vaccine and 7 doses of supplemental immunisation, according to his parents.

The 2nd case was a 17-month-old girl from KP's Bannu district. Her parents said she received 3 routine doses of the polio vaccine and no supplementary dose.

In Sindh, the poliovirus was found in a 7-year-old girl from Sukkur and a 22-month [-old boy] from Tando Allah Yar, confirmed the EOC Sindh. The girl had received one routine dose and 7 supplementary doses. The affected boy has passed away due to severe prior illnesses, which had lasted 2 weeks before the polio diagnosis, said the officials.

"We have just started our battle afresh with the successful December [2019] nationwide campaign -- [the] 1st since January [2019], as the April [2019] attempt was affected by unfortunate Peshawar drama," the National EOC stated.

"Two follow-up national campaigns are planned in February [2020] and April [2020] that, along with efforts for improving routine immunisation coverage, can turn the tide."

They have urged parents to get their children vaccinated in light of the rampant spread of the virus this year [2019]. The December polio campaign was last week, and further campaigns are planned next year [2020] to strengthen coverage.
===================
[The 4 newly reported cases are confirmed on the End Polio Pakistan website (<https://www.endpolio.com.pk/polioin-pakistan/polio-cases-in-provinces>). As mentioned in the above media report, if you add the 12 AFP cases associated with cVDPV2 infection, the total number of poliovirus-associated AFP for 2019 to date (27 Dec 2019) in Pakistan is now at 127 cases. The sobering information is the reminder that there hasn't been a successful national campaign since January 2019 -- clearly a contributing factor in the current polio epidemic.

On the global level, the addition of these 4 cases will raise the global total of WPV1-associated AFP cases to 141 cases.

A good map of Pakistan showing districts and provinces can be found at

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map:
Date: Mon 23 Dec 2019
Source: The News (Pakistan) [abridged, edited]

A man from Tando Allahyar is battling for life at Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre (JPMC) after he was diagnosed with rabies encephalitis, a disease caused by bites of rabid dogs and other animals from which there is no chance of survival if the affected person was not vaccinated on time.

Health officials said [the patient], a 35-year-old man from Tando Allahyar town of Sindh, was brought to JPMC with suspected rabies encephalitis, which was later confirmed.

"The patient has been admitted to the medical intensive care unit, but he is unlikely to survive due to 100 per cent mortality in the case of rabies encephalitis," said Dr Seemin Jamali, the JPMC executive director, as she spoke to The News on Sunday [22 Dec 2019].

As many as 23 people have so far died in Sindh this year [2019] due to rabies.

Dr Seemin, who runs the country's largest dog-bite treatment and vaccination centre in the country at the JPMC, said the patient was brought to the health facility with hydrophobia and delirium and a history of dog-bite. She added that the patient was probably not vaccinated against rabies after he was bitten by a dog.

Officials say that over 250,000 people, mostly women and children, have been bitten by stray dogs in Sindh, including in Karachi, this year [2019].

As the Pakistan People's Party-led provincial government has barred the municipal authorities from culling stray dogs, no other effective measures are being taken against the animals due to which the incidents of dog-bite are being frequently reported.  [Byline: M. Waqar Bhatti]
====================
[Rabies, in areas where dog-rabies is endemic, is presented in the country's annual reports to the OIE as one of country's prominent zoonoses in humans; however, no quantitative information is included. Pakistan is classified among the 3 countries with the highest human rabies incidence in South Asia (the others are India and Bangladesh).

We have recently received several reports from Pakistan describing human rabies cases; e.g.
(published 7 Nov 2019),
(published 3 Nov 2019), and
(published 15 Oct 2019).

According to Pakistan's Health Minister, Dr Azra Fazal Pechuho, (on Fri 8 Nov 2019), dog-bite cases were "mishandled" by citizens, as the victims were often brought to hospitals quite late, and the delay caused their deaths.

A recent study (Ref. 1) highlighted the urgent need to enhance public awareness of rabies.

Ref 1.
Khan A, Ayaz R, Mehtab A et al. Knowledge, attitude & practices (KAPs) regarding rabies endemicity among the community members, Pakistan. Acta Tropica 200 (2019) 1051563. <https://tinyurl.com/u3pmozs>. - ProMED Mod.AS]

[HealthMap/ProMED map available at:
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World Travel News Headlines

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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