Date: Wed, 10 Feb 2016 18:51:23 +0100

Beirut, Feb 10, 2016 (AFP) - Swine flu has killed four people in Lebanon since the beginning of the winter season in November, health officials said on Wednesday.   Walid Ammar, the general director of Lebanon's health ministry, told AFP there were "four confirmed H1N1 deaths this winter season."    "The cases that needed emergency care this winter season is up 20 percent compared to last winter," partly due to a more efficient referral system between the hospitals and the health ministry, he said.

Health Minister Wael Abu Faour said the four fatal cases were a child aged three, a 31-year-old woman, a 36-year-old pregnant woman, and a 58-year-old man.    He also said reported cases had increased by 20 percent but that the number of deaths was comparable with the previous winter season, in which five people died of H1N1.    "The solution would be to decrease kissing, unless extremely necessary," Abu Faour said jokingly to journalists.

His comments sparked a new hashtag on Twitter -- #KissForFaour -- that saw Lebanese users post pictures themselves kissing their partners, children, or even pets.    A regional outbreak of swine flu in 2009 sparked warnings from governments and the World Health Organisation.    By August 2010, when the WHO lifted its warning, the virus had killed 18,500 people in 214 countries.
Date: Tue, 8 Sep 2015 15:50:56 +0200 (METDST)

Beirut, Sept 8, 2015 (AFP) - A dense sandstorm engulfing parts of the Middle East left at least two people dead in Lebanon and hundreds suffering from respiratory problems on Tuesday, as officials warned residents to stay indoors.   Large parts of Lebanon, Syria, Israel and Cyprus were shrouded in a thick cloud of dust from the storm that began sweeping into the region on Monday.   In Syria, the storm cut visibility for government warplanes and helicopters, which carried out many fewer strikes than usual, a monitor said.

Among those worst affected were Syrian refugees living in official and informal camps, particularly in Lebanon.   The Lebanese health ministry said two women had died at hospitals in the Bekaa Valley region because of the storm, without specifying their nationality.   "The number of cases of choking and shortness of breath caused by the sandstorm has risen to 750," the ministry said.

Police distributed face masks on city streets as authorities warned people suffering from health problems, the elderly and pregnant women to stay indoors.   The storm was felt particularly in Lebanon's dozens of informal camps where hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees live with limited shelter.   In the Bekaa region, a woman wrapped her headscarf over her mouth as she walked by a makeshift tent in one camp.   Lebanon's weather service said the storm was expected to abate from Wednesday night.

Mouin Hamzeh, secretary general of Lebanon's governmental National Council for Scientific Research, said satellite images "clearly show that the sandstorm came from northern Iraq in the direction of central and northern Lebanon, north and east Syria, and southern Turkey."   "It usually happens twice or even three times a year in Lebanon but during spring, March and April, and the unusual thing today is the density of the storm," he told AFP.

In neighbouring Syria, the storm also swept across much of the country, reducing visibility everywhere from coastal Latakia province to eastern Deir Ezzor.

- Storm impedes Syria strikes -
In the city of Mayadeen in Deir Ezzor, several hospitals were no longer receiving patients suffering respiratory problems after running out of oxygen tanks, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitoring group.   Syria's health minister urged citizens to "avoid prolonged exposure to the outdoors" and said hundreds of people had been treated for cases of asthma and other respiratory problems.

The dust cut visibility for government aircraft, which carried out relatively few strikes during the storm, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor said.   "The sandstorm has paralysed regime airplanes, there were only a few strikes in Damascus province," said Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman.   Thick haze was hanging over Jerusalem and much of Israel and the Palestinian Territories, with officials also warning the vulnerable to stay indoors.

The view from the Mount of Olives -- which normally offers a sweeping panorama of Jerusalem's Old City and the Al-Aqsa mosque compound with its golden Dome of the Rock -- was completely obscured by the dust.   The thick cloud also enveloped parts of the eastern Mediterranean island of Cyprus, where residents were told to limit their time outdoors.   Health officials warned that the concentration of dust particles in the air was many times above normal levels.   Several flights were diverted from the coastal airport of Larnaca as visibility dropped to 500 metres (yards). 

The island was also suffering from a heatwave, with inland temperatures hitting 41 degrees Celsius (106 degrees Fahrenheit).   The interior ministry said that dozens of Syrian refugees who had been rescued from a fishing boat off the coast of Cyprus on Sunday had been moved from a makeshift camp to a better-equipped facility because of the extreme weather.   The effects of the storm had also reached Cairo, where the city skyline was obscured by a thick haze.   Wahid Saudi, a top official at Egypt's weather authority, said the dust had blown in from the eastern Mediterranean region and was expected to clear after several hours.
Date: Wed 22 Apr 2015
Source: Daily Star [edited]

Health officials say that Lebanon has seen a sharp rise in the number of hepatitis A cases over the past 2 years. The contagious viral infection is spread through oral ingestion of contaminated water and food. "We are living now in a current epidemic of hepatitis A. It has been going on for more than 2 years," infectious disease specialist Abdul-Rahman Bizri said. Bizri is part of a team of infectious disease advisers helping the Health Ministry trace and monitor the epidemic.

Those who have monitored the spread of hepatitis A in Lebanon point to a range of factors that facilitated its spread and severity: namely, Lebanon's weak public health infrastructure in the face of a rapid influx of Syrian refugees, a substandard water management system, and a shift in the age of hepatitis A onset among the Lebanese population.

In 2014, there were 2500 recorded cases of hepatitis A, up from 1000 cases in the year prior, Bizri said. "Our regular average used to be around 300 cases per year. Now we are witnessing 5 times the average."

Randa Hamadeh, the Immunization and Essential Drugs Program manager for the Lebanese Health Ministry, described the prevalence of hepatitis A as a "huge problem". Hamadeh pointed to culprits similar to those mentioned by Bizri, namely an overburdened health care system, contaminated water and unhygienic living conditions. "We are trying to work with NGOs and municipalities to enhance hygiene and prevent disease," she said.

The outbreak of war in Iraq, and more recently Syria, has lead to a crisis of mass displacement and the breakdown of regional-level disease prevention measures, Bizri said. "The untold effect of this crisis is not only direct casualties from war, but also the spread of disease, due to the fact that many public health systems in the region have failed."

Nadim Farajalla, faculty research director of the Climate Change and Environment in the Arab World Program at the American University of Beirut, said that both groundwater and surface water in Lebanon are at risk of carrying hepatitis A due to sewage that largely goes untreated "in most areas of Lebanon."

"It is estimated that 80 per cent of the surface water in Lebanon is contaminated with sewage effluent," Farajalla said. In residential buildings across the country, "some people build a well to augment water supply, but it might be contaminated," Farajalla said. Consequently, household water reserves could become a point of cross-contamination, where well water is mixed with the government water supply.

Speaking on water safety deficiencies, Bizri said the recent drought between 2013 and 2014 exacerbated the risk of disease outbreak. "Drought means less water, less water means less hygiene, less hygiene means more disease."

Bizri said the ministry recommends hepatitis A vaccination as part of its official schedule, but implementation is not universal. Private health care providers dominate the health system in Lebanon, and offer the vaccine at a cost. Public health facilities are at a relative disadvantage in their ability to offer the vaccine. "If you go to a private physician you will get the vaccine," Bizri said.

Hamadeh, of the Health Ministry's Immunization and Essential Drugs Program, said the ministry was prioritizing hygiene awareness campaigns over vaccinations in the fight against hepatitis A. But financial limitations prevent the ministry from providing the vaccine to all in Lebanon, she said. "We don't have the capacity, knowing that vaccine was very expensive and no one was able to secure the necessarily funds," Hamadeh said.

Hamadeh said that the Health Ministry has focused on community-based preventive hygiene measures in communities to prevent hepatitis A, specifically in "securing clean water, and [hygiene] at the level of schools." She mentioned that Arsal, an area heavily populated with Syrian refugees in the eastern Bekaa Valley, had previously seen a hepatitis A outbreak, which has since been contained.  [byline: Sarah Weatherbee]
[The following is extracted from

"Hepatitis A is usually spread when the hepatitis A virus is taken in by mouth from contact with objects, food, or drinks contaminated by the faeces (or stool) of an infected person. A person can get hepatitis A through:

person-to-person contact
- when an infected person does not wash his or her hands properly after going to the bathroom and touches other objects or food
- when a parent or caregiver does not properly wash his or her hands after changing diapers or cleaning up the stool of an infected person
- when someone has sex or sexual contact with an infected person (not limited to anal-oral contact)

Contaminated food or water
- Hepatitis A can be spread by eating or drinking food or water contaminated with the virus. (This can include frozen or undercooked food.) This is more likely to occur in countries where hepatitis A is common and in areas where there are poor sanitary conditions or poor personal hygiene. The food and drinks most likely to be contaminated are fruits, vegetables, shellfish, ice, and water. In the USA, chlorination of water kills hepatitis A virus that enters the water supply.

Who is at risk for hepatitis A?
Although anyone can get hepatitis A, in the USA, certain groups of people are at higher risk, such as those who:
- travel to or live in countries where hepatitis A is common
- are men who have sexual contact with other men
- use illegal drugs, whether injected or not
- have clotting-factor disorders, such as hemophilia
- live with someone who has hepatitis A
- Have oral-anal sexual contact with someone who has hepatitis A."

A HealthMap/ProMED-mail map can be accessed at
<>. - ProMED Mod.LL]
Date: Tue, 9 Dec 2014 08:07:32 +0100 (MET)

BEIRUT, Dec 09, 2014 (AFP) - Syrian warplanes carried out air strikes in a border region of eastern Lebanon overnight, killing three people and injuring two others, Lebanon's official news agency said Tuesday.   The National News Agency said the strikes hit the outskirts of the border town of Arsal, which has regularly been targeted by Syrian government air raids and shelling.   Local residents said a house was among the targets of the raids.   The town of Arsal and the area around it are largely Sunni Muslim, and residents sympathise with the Sunni-led uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

The nearby border is long and porous, and has proved an easy crossing point for smugglers, refugees and fighters.   Tens of thousands of Syrian refugees are being hosted in the town, and opposition fighters have bases in the mountainous border area outside Arsal.   The town was overrun briefly in August by jihadists coming from Syria, who withdrew after several days of fighting.   They took with them some 30 Lebanese police and soldiers as hostages, and have since executed four of them.
Date: Sat, 15 Nov 2014 13:31:24 +0100 (MET)

BEIRUT, Nov 15, 2014 (AFP) - Lebanon, a nation fiercely proud of its cuisine, has been left with a case of severe indigestion after a scandal over restaurants and supermarkets selling tainted food.   Health Minister Wael Abu Faour has won plaudits but also faced harsh criticism for publicly naming and shaming establishments that failed food safety tests.  His recent graphic press conferences have horrified a country where it is not unusual to eat out three times a day.   "The Lebanese don't know what they're eating, and it would only be worse if they knew," Abu Faour said at a press conference this week.   "The Lebanese are eating food dipped in sweat and covered with diseases and microbes," he added.

At one unnamed establishment "some of the samples tested showed they contained the remains of human faeces! This cannot be tolerated whatever the cost is."   Over the course of several days, Abu Faour listed some of the country's best-regarded institutions.   Hallab, a famed dessert shop in the northern port city of Tripoli, was cited for spoiled cream, while branches of two popular Lebanese fast food chains -- Kababji and Roadster Diner -- were slammed for bad meat products.   Branches of well-known supermarket chains TSC and Spinneys have faced the same criticism as street corner shawarma joints that do a roaring lunch trade.

The campaign has divided Lebanese, with some describing Abu Faour as a rare example of good governance and others accusing him of a smear campaign that could destroy businesses.   On Twitter, backers showed their support with an Arabic hashtag reading "minister of all of Lebanon."   Roadster Diner thanked Abu Faour for being a "valued customer" and insisted it took "extreme measures" to ensure it met safety standards.    But others accused him of grandstanding, ignoring protocols by failing to privately caution offenders, or even worse.   Economy Minister Alain Hakim reportedly accused Abu Faour of "terrorism against restaurants."   "It is like shooting ourselves in the head, not even in the foot," local media quoted him as saying.

Others took to social media to object to the campaign, including Lebanese pop idol Elissa, who posted a photo of a Roadster burger on her Instagram page with the caption "most delicious chicken burger ever."   Lebanon's media pulled no punches covering the story, with the daily Al-Akhbar headlining its front page "The Lebanese are eating sh**."   The Daily Star ran a picture of ministers insisting Abu Faour personally sign the wrappers of their sandwiches to certify them fit for consumption.   Despite the furore, Abu Faour has insisted the campaign will continue.   "The biggest disaster is in the chicken farms," he said on Friday. "I believe we will be closing down a number of them."
More ...