Date: Wed, 10 Jul 2019 15:47:59 +0200
By Jan HENNOP

The Hague, July 10, 2019 (AFP) - Millions of tiny caterpillars that shoot toxic hairs have triggered a health scare in the Netherlands, with hundreds of people seeking medical help for symptoms including severe skin irritation and asthma attacks.   The plague has caused at least two school closures and sporting event cancellations, prompting a meeting of Dutch agriculture officials on Wednesday to discuss how to dispose of them.

The problem has got so bad that an elderly Dutch woman in the town of Enschede attacked what she called the "rotten beasts" with a heat gun, in a video that has gone viral in the Netherlands.   "It's actually the first time that we're experiencing a plague of such proportions," Bastiaan Meerburg, director of the Dutch Pest and Wildlife Expertise Centre, told AFP.   "In some places, the caterpillars have more than tripled."    Complaints after coming into contact with the creature's venomous barbs, called setae, range from skin rashes and ugly blotches to shortness of breath and vomiting.

The infestation has become so bad that Dutch Agriculture Minister Carola Schouten ordered the creation of a government website to answer questions about the pesky crawlers.   It has more than 100 frequently asked questions ranging from what to do when pets come in contact with the hairs, to why the Dutch army is not being deployed to combat the infestation.   Two primary schools were temporarily closed near the port city of Rotterdam after pupils and teachers came into contact with the oak processionary caterpillars.

Hockey clubs in the central town of Veenendal meanwhile called off local tournaments due to nearby caterpillar nests.   The oak processionary caterpillar has always been in the Netherlands, but especially due to climate change it has proliferated and steadily made its way from the southern Limburg province to the north over the last two decades.   "The only places now not infested are the Wadden Islands, which lies off the northern Dutch coast," said Meerburg.

More oak trees have also been planted over recent years, while experts also believe a decline in the caterpillars' natural enemies like other predatory insects may have played a role.   There is however some relief on the horizon: by mid-July the caterpillars are expected to go into cocoons to become moths, meaning no more creepy crawlies capable of producing a million microscopic hairs over two months.   But the nests and the hairs -- which can last for up to seven years and withstand temperatures of up to 600 degrees Celsius -- remain and needed to be removed by being sucked up with a special industrial vacuum cleaner.   "It's a problem that's not going to go away," said Meerburg.
Date: Tue, 25 Jun 2019 15:49:33 +0200

The Hague, June 25, 2019 (AFP) - Dutch health authorities said Tuesday they are dealing with a measles outbreak in a devout Protestant fishing village where vaccination rates are among the lowest in the country.   Nine children and one adult have been diagnosed with the disease in the village of Urk, part of the so-called "Bible Belt" in the northern Netherlands, the Flevoland province health service said.

The health service said it was "actively monitoring the situation" and examining whether it was necessary to vaccinate or administer antibodies to people who have been in contact with the infected patients.   "In 2013 and previously, the disease occurred more often on Urk. Many people on Urk have experienced this disease and that means that a natural defence has built up," it said.   Only 61.1 percent of people are vaccinated against measles in Urk, one of the lowest rates in the Netherlands, where the national average is 92.9 percent, according to the National Public Health and Environment Institute.

Urk is regarded as one of the most devout of the villages in the "Bible Belt" of conservative Protestant communities running from Zeeland in the south of the Netherlands across the country to the north west.   Ninety-four percent of people in Urk regularly go to church, according to the Dutch Central Bureau of Statistics, compared to one in six of all Dutch people.

Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf said that in this devout community of Urk people believe that life and death are in God's hands, and so vaccinations are not permitted.   Urk is considered a "closed' community because of its fisheries culture and Protestant orthodox religion," a European Commission report from 2010 said.

The UN warned in April of a global resurgence of measles -- a highly contagious viral infection that can prove fatal -- amid a growing "anti-vax" movement worldwide.   The WHO says cases of the once all-but-eradicated disease surged 300 percent in 2018 across the globe.   The anti-vax phenomenon has adherents across Western countries but especially in the United States, where it has been fuelled by the spread on social media of claims that the jab could cause autism, which medical officials have found are baseless.
Date: Tue, 28 May 2019 11:27:14 +0200

The Hague, May 28, 2019 (AFP) - A strike by public transport workers in the Netherlands forced the cancellation of dozens of flights at the country's main airport on Tuesday as passengers faced difficulties reaching the airport.   "Several airlines cancelled their flights," said Willemeike Koster, spokeswoman of Amsterdam's Schiphol airport.

Dutch carrier KLM, along with budget airlines Ryanair and EasyJet, were among the airlines cancelling some 80 flights overall. Several other flights were delayed.   "It's busy on the roads to the airport due to the strike because there is very limited train traffic between Schiphol and Amsterdam," she said. "There are four trains per hour today instead of the usual 25."

Once passengers reach the airport, services are functioning normally, she added.   Dutch trade unions called the strike to secure better pension benefits and to call for the country's retirement age to be fixed at 66 years.   The FNV, the largest trade union in the Netherlands, also plans for brief strike actions among security and cleaning staff at Schiphol airport on Wednesday.
Date: Sun, 26 May 2019 18:19:48 +0200

The Hague, May 26, 2019 (AFP) - A Dutch judge Sunday ruled against plans by the country's largest trade union to allow train drivers serving Amsterdam's busy Schiphol airport to join a country-wide strike.   Thousands of bus, train and tram drivers are expected strike on Tuesday in
protest at government plans to raise the retirement age from 66 and to demand higher pension payments.

"Our right to call a 24-hour strike remains, with the exception of a limited number of trains running to and from Schiphol," the FNV union said in a statement.   "There will be four trains an hour between Schiphol and Amsterdam Central station... in order to guarantee public order at the airport," the FNV said.   Last year, Schiphol was Europe's third-busiest airport with 71.5 million passengers, behind London Heathrow and Paris-Charles de Gaulle, according to figures by the Airports Council International Europe (ACI).   Apart from being the gateway to Amsterdam, Schiphol is also a major transit hub for flights from all around the globe.

The decision by the judge comes after negotiations between Schiphol Airport's management and the FNV broke down earlier on Sunday "despite intensive talks," the FNV said.   Schiphol, in a statement, warned of "traffic congestion, limited train access and no buses" during Tuesday's strike.   "If you're travelling to or from Schiphol Airport on 28 May, please note that travelling by train is limited and trains and stations will be crowded," the airport said.   Although no figures re available, FNV spokeswoman Mariette van Dijk told AFP that "thousands of bus, train and tram drivers, as well as ferry boat captains" were expected to join the strike.

Tuesday's day-long strike follows similar industrial action in March, when public transport was shut down for 66 minutes -- symbolic of the current retirement age.   But the government led by business-friendly Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte's Liberal VVD party accelerated plans to increase the retirement age to 67 years in 2021 and 67 years and three months in 2022.   "People are healthier and they live longer," the Dutch government said on its pensions website.   "The higher life expectancy makes working for longer and a gradual increase in the state pension age possible," the Dutch government said.
Date: Tue 2 Apr 2019
Source: Dutch News.nl [abridged, edited]
<https://www.dutchnews.nl/news/2019/04/three-cases-of-measles-at-creche-in-the-hague-children-not-vaccinated/>

Three children at a creche in The Hague have come down with measles, and a 4th child may have the disease, public broadcaster NOS reports. The children involved had not been vaccinated, and one of them may have caught the disease when on holiday, the broadcaster said. One of the children is over the age of 14 months, when it should have been vaccinated against the disease, but the others are younger.

The children in The Hague bring the total measles cases in the Netherlands to 12 so far this year [2019], compared with an average annual infection rate of 10-20.

The RIVM public health institute said that at the moment no link can be made between The Hague cases and the drop in the number of children being vaccinated in the Netherlands. Currently, 90.2% of Dutch children are vaccinated against potentially serious illnesses such as measles, polio, and whooping cough. This is below the level of 95% the World Health Organisation considers safe.

Vaccine uptake has been declining, prompting a government information campaign, while daycare centres have been demanding the right to refuse children who have not been vaccinated. At the moment this is not yet legally possible.

The last measles epidemic in the Netherlands hit the Dutch Bible belt in 2013. In total, 2600 people were diagnosed with measles, and the outbreak was concentrated in families with young children who had not been vaccinated for religious reasons. One girl, who had not been vaccinated, died.
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[HealthMap/ProMED map of Netherlands:
<http://healthmap.org/promed/p/104> - ProMED Mod.MPP]
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