Afghanistan: Ticks with CCHF Virus?

Sara Carter of The Washington Times has an exclusive on a rare virus found in Afghanistan (Rare virus poses new threat to troops | Nov 6, 2009):

“U.S. military officials sent a medical team to a remote outpost in southern Afghanistan this week to take blood samples from members of an Army unit after a soldier in the unit died from an Ebola-like virus.”

The report says that Sgt. Robert David Gordon, 22, from River Falls, Ala., died Sept. 16 from what turned out to be Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever after he was bitten by a tick. Read the whole thing here.

According to the CDC, the Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever (CCHF) is caused by infection with a tick-borne virus (Nairovirus) in the family Bunyaviridae. The disease was first characterized in the Crimea in 1944 and given the name Crimean hemorrhagic fever. It was then later recognized in 1969 as the cause of illness in the Congo, thus resulting in the current name of the disease.

Symptoms according to the CDC factsheet:

The onset of CCHF is sudden, with initial signs and symptoms including headache, high fever, back pain, joint pain, stomach pain, and vomiting. Red eyes, a flushed face, a red throat, and petechiae (red spots) on the palate are common. Symptoms may also include jaundice, and in severe cases, changes in mood and sensory perception. As the illness progresses, large areas of severe bruising, severe nosebleeds, and uncontrolled bleeding at injection sites can be seen, beginning on about the fourth day of illness and lasting for about two weeks.

The CDC also says:

  • There is no safe and effective vaccine widely available for human use.
  • Fatality rates in hospitalized patients have ranged from 9% to as high as 50%.
  • Insect repellants containing DEET (N, N-diethyl-m-toluamide) are the most effective in warding off ticks.

The WHO info on CCHF indicates that the length of the incubation period for the illness appears to depend on the mode of acquisition of the virus. Following infection via tick bite, the incubation period is usually one to three days, with a maximum of nine days. The incubation period following contact with infected blood or tissues is usually five to six days, with a documented maximum of 13 days.

This is actually not the first time that CCHF was found in Afghanistan. According to the Federation of American Scientists, 41 deaths
from “a form of hemorrhagic fever”were reported in eastern Afghanistan in 2002. In August 2008, the WHO reported a total of 19 CCHF cases with 5 deaths in the Herat region. Click here for info on previous CCHF outbreaks in the area from the International Society for Infectious Disease.

If you’re heading out that way, don’t forget to pack some DEET insect repellants.

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Confirmed: At Last – Arturo Valenzuela to WHA!

Arturo ValenzuelaImage from OAS

Nominations of Shannon and Solomont still on hold

One of the two administration nominees for the Western Hemisphere has been confirmed. Arturo A. Valenzuela, President Obama’s nominee to be Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere Affairs (WHA) bureau was confirmed by the Senate on November 5. He would succeed Thomas Shannon, whose nomination to be Ambassador to Brazil has also been on hold. Both nominations were reported out of the SFRC last July 28 but were subjected to a Senate hold over the administration’s policies on Honduras.

In its October 31 editorial WaPo calls the U.S. brokered deal A win in Honduras and also says: “[T]he leader of the U.S. delegation in Honduras this week, outgoing Assistant Secretary of State Thomas Shannon, is one of the State Department professionals abused by Mr. DeMint. Having recorded the Obama administration’s biggest diplomatic success so far, Mr. Shannon ought to be allowed to take up his new post as ambassador to Brazil.”

Barely a week later, Reuters reports: “The collapse of an accord to end a four-month political crisis in Honduras leaves egg on the faces of U.S. and regional diplomats who had engineered the deal and puts the November 29 presidential election in jeopardy.”

How much longer the Honduras crisis is going to last, who knows? But it is doubtful that the recent news is going to help much in prying Shannon’s nomination from DeMint’s hold. [This one via Senatus on 11/7 – it seems like Senator George LeMieux (R-FL) has also put a hold on Shannon’s nomination over Cuba on migration and direct mail service. I don’t know if DeMint has actually lifted his hold on this nomination, or if two senators now have a hold on Shannon’s nomination –updated 11/9/09]

Still stuck in Senate holds and jams are the following:

Thomas Alfred Shannon, Jr
., of Virginia, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Career Minister, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Federative Republic of Brazil.

This nomination was reported out of the Committee on Foreign Relations on July 28, 2009; hold placed by Senator Jim DeMint, R-SC over Honduras.

Alan D. Solomont
, of Massachusetts, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to Spain, and to serve concurrently and without additional compensation as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to Andorra.

This nomination was reported out of the Committee on Foreign Relations on September 17, 2009; hold placed by Senator Chuck Grassley, R-IA over the firing of AmeriCorps inspector general Gerald Walpin.

CONFIRMATIONS — (Senate – November 05, 2009)
[Page: S11237] GPO’s PDF

H1N1 Vaccine for Foreign Service Personnel

H1N1 VaccineImage by ghinson via Flickr

At the DPB yesterday, a reporter inquired about provisions for Foreign Service personnel in the H1N1 outbreak:

In regard to the H1N1 outbreak, what provisions are being made by the State Department on behalf of Foreign Service Officers serving at posts overseas? Are vaccines being made available to those serving overseas?

ANSWER: The Office of Medical Services expects the H1N1 vaccine will be available to most of our overseas missions sometime in December.

Because of the extremely limited amounts of vaccine available to the Department of State through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Office of Medical Services is purchasing additional H1N1 vaccine doses from the Department of Defense for shipment overseas to try to address our needs.

The Office of Medical Services already has shipped its initial allotments of the vaccine to Baghdad and Kabul where employees live in barrack-like conditions. The next distribution priority is to hardship posts where local medical care is inadequate, and these shipments have begun.

H1N1 remains sensitive to Tamiflu and Relenza, therefore all posts overseas have been stocked with enough of these anti-viral drugs to treat all individuals at post.

* * *

Would you zap me an email if you don’t get it by December? Excerpt below from U.S. Government Pandemic Policy for Americans Abroad, in case you have not seen it:

It is U.S. Government policy for all overseas employees under Chief of Mission authority and their accompanying dependents to plan for the possibility that they will remain abroad during a severe pandemic. Information for both official and private Americans on how to prepare for this possibility is contained in the flyer “ Options During a Pandemic ,” which urges Americans to maintain adequate provisions for a pandemic wave or waves that could last from two to twelve weeks.

Once the World Health Organization (WHO) confirms a severe pandemic, American citizens (including non-emergency government personnel and their dependents, as well as private citizens) who are residing or traveling overseas should consider returning to the United States while commercial travel options are still available. Americans will be permitted to re-enter the United States, although the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services/Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (HHS/CDC) may quarantine or isolate incoming travelers, depending on their health status and whether they are traveling from or through an area affected by pandemic influenza.

In the event of a severe pandemic, non-emergency U.S. Government employees and all dependents in affected areas will be encouraged to return to the United States while commercial transportation is still available. U.S. Government employees who return to the United States will be expected to work there during the pandemic unless they take leave. Private American citizens should make an informed decision: either remain abroad to wait out the pandemic, as noted above, or return to the United States while this option still exists. Any American (whether overseas in a private capacity or a U.S. Government employee or dependent) who chooses not to return to the United States via commercial means might have to remain abroad for the duration of the pandemic if transportation is disrupted or borders close. Americans should be aware that only in cases of a complete breakdown in civil order within a country will the U.S. Government consider a U.S. Government-sponsored evacuation operation.

Continue reading here:

Related Item:
Fact Sheet: 2009-H1N1, Pandemic Influenza, and H5N1 | HTML
The Atlantic: Does the Vaccine Matter | November 2009

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23 US Officials: Rendered Guilty in Italy

DititleImage via Wikipedia

Jeff Stein who was one of the 44 editorial employees canned by CQ-Roll Call in late September is now blogging at Huffington Post. He currently has a piece in Foreign Policy on the recent conviction of 23 US officials in Italy (FP | Rendered Guilty | November 4, 2009). Excerpts:

The implications of the ruling range from banal to the profound. The CIA operatives and an Air Force officer can forget about spending the summer in Provence, or any European Union country for that matter. But more fundamentally, the case raises questions about diplomatic immunity and the ability of foreign courts to try U.S. officials in cases of supposed human rights and other abuses.
Another CIA operative sentenced in the case was Sabrina DeSousa, who at the time was listed as a U.S. consular official in Milan. DeSousa, 53, has maintained all along that she was a U.S. Foreign Service officer who deserved diplomatic immunity, despite voluminous records gathered by the Italian prosecutor, Armando Spataro, showing her to be a CIA officer with responsibility for liaising with Italian intelligence on the operation. The State Department does not confer diplomatic immunity on consular officials as it does embassy officials. Regardless, DeSousa also maintains that because she was on a Swiss skiing holiday at the time of the abduction, she is innocent of the kidnapping charges laid against her.

DeSousa’s case raised particular questions after she persuaded the U.S. government to pay her legal expenses last summer. She, like Robert Lady, was never granted diplomatic immunity from the kidnapping charges even as the mastermind of the operation, former Italy CIA station chief Jeffrey Castelli, was. Castelli’s documentation shows him as a State Department official in the Rome embassy, granting him immunity.
Indeed, the case sends CIA operatives a reminder that they’re on their own if they take the field without a cloak of full diplomatic immunity.

Read the whole thing here.

International law requires that the host country extend certain privileges and immunities to members of foreign diplomatic missions and consular posts. The purpose of diplomatic and consular immunities is to ensure the efficient and effective performance of the official missions on behalf of their governments. Both types of immunities extend essential protections to diplomats, consuls, their families and their staffs by limiting the ability of host countries to detain, subpoena, arrest or prosecute them.

US Diplomacy has an excellent overview on diplomatic and consular immunity here: The levels of protection vary according to an employee’s role as a diplomatic agent, an administrative and support employee or a consular officer. On consular immunity: Consular immunity offers protections similar to diplomatic immunity, but these protections are not as extensive, given the functional differences between consular and diplomatic officers.

At the DPB in Foggy Bottom on November 5:

QUESTION: Did the State Department invoke diplomatic immunity for the three Americans acquitted in Italy of the 2003 kidnapping of an Egyptian cleric from Milan? What is the current status of the lawsuit brought against the Department by the woman who sought diplomatic immunity in this case but was not granted that status by State?

ANSWER: The Department has been following the proceedings closely in coordination with the Department of Justice and other agencies. We have raised our concerns about the case on numerous occasions with Italian officials, and supported the Italian Government’s challenge of the prosecution before the Italian Constitutional Court. The Department will continue to follow this matter in consultation with the Italian Government. Immunity defenses were raised before the Italian trial court by the lawyers for the defendants. For the status of the civil suit brought against the U.S. Government by Ms. De Sousa, I would refer you to the Department of Justice.

Now talking of the banal — in popular fiction, diplomatic immunity was most famously portrayed in the 1989 action movie, Lethal Weapon 2. The testosterone filled movie has Mel Gibson and Danny Glover on the trail of South African diplomats who are using their immunity to engage in criminal activities:

Arjen Rudd
: [holds up his wallet] Diplomatic immunity!
[Roger slowly rolls his head on his neck, takes aim, and fires – his bullet goes through Rudd’s wallet, and then his head]
Roger Murtaugh: It’s just been revoked!

Life is not always slow-mo as reading a script. Read more here on diplomatic immunity.

Related Item:
Diplomatic and Consular Privileges and Immunities From Criminal Jurisdiction
Summary of Law Enforcement Aspects | from | PDF | HTML

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Quickie: Foreign Service 2009 Promotion Lists

The Foreign Service promotion lists came out staggered this year. The Director General of the Foreign Service, Nancy Powell says that the implementation of a cascade plan for announcing promotion lists is part of recent initiatives at HR.

“As soon as the Boards for a particular class of FS employees finish deliberations, HR releases the decision, resulting in publication of several promotion lists much earlier than anticipated and giving employees more time to prepare bids for onward assignments.”

Apparently, this is part of HR’s effort in “making the Foreign Service selection process more efficient and employee-friendly.”

Meanwhile State VP Daniel Hirsch in AFSANET message dated October 15, 2009 has this item on the promotion lists:

“Many members have expressed distress over the time lags involved in releasing this year’s promotion lists, which play an important role in many members’ decisions regarding bidding for onward assignments. While the lists were all released before paneling began, many members felt disadvantaged. We will be working with management to try to address the underlying causes of these delays. AFSA has also contributed information to an OIG review of the promotion process, which we hope will lead to greater transparency, fairness and accountability.”

Ah, we’ll be in the lookout for that particular OIG review. The promotion lists for 2007 and 2008 are online at AFSA here.

The 2009 promotion lists are here.