All entries for February 2007

February 08, 2007

Avoid non–essential journeys

It’s snowing this morning, and has snowed quite a lot overnight (I estimate about two inches, from what I had to scrape off my car this morning). As is traditional in the circumstances, much of the UK’s transport network has ground to a halt. On the plus side, it meant I got a space in the free car park this morning! I don’t usually drive to work at all, but I’m going to Stratford this evening, so needed the car.

Last night, the usual motoring organisations were saying what they always say when significant snow is forecast: “avoid non-essential journeys”. Given it’s a working day, that seems foolish – most people will be out and about anyway, trying to get to work, and public transport will be worse than usual (elsewhere they seem to be able to run trains when it snows, but not in Britain…). What would be better is if they provided advice about driving in the snow: start in 2nd gear not first, leave extra stopping distance, avoid sudden accelleration or braking, etc. Mostly common sense, but it’ll be some time since most UK drivers last drove through any amount of snow, and a reminder would be more use than “don’t bother trying to get to work”!


February 06, 2007

At least the computer is working…

My desktop machine has been running flat-out all day doing some simulations for me (I hope it’ll be done by tomorrow!), which has given me a chance to catch up a bit on administrative matters. The result of which is that I now have a page in the group house-style, which you can find here. It has a little about my research interests, as well as abstracts of my publications so far. Also there is an essay on Questionnaire design. Feel free to point people at it if they send you badly-designed surveys!

As an aside, there’s a solitary duck on the pond outside my office which is quacking its little heart out, for no readily apparant reason. Any zoologists out there care to comment?


February 05, 2007

Bird 'Flu

Unless you have a policy of avoiding the news entirely, you can’t have failed to notice that “Bird ‘flu” is making headlines again. The highly pathogenic H5N1 strain has been confirmed in turkeys on a farm in Suffolk, which is now being culled out. An awful lot of ink (and electrons) has been spilled already on the subject, so I shall try and be concise! Personally, I’ve been pleased to see that the press have been finding epidemiologists to ask about what’s going on rather than just speculating wildly, which is what we’ve tended to see in the past.

The big question, in my opinion, is where this outbreak came from. The affected unit, like most industrial poultry farms, has tight biosecurity, designed to keep wildlife (rodents and birds) out. Speculative reports have suggested a wild bird got into a ventillation shaft (or managed to excrete virus-laden faeces in precisely the right location), but that seems unlikely to me – it’s not really the time of year for birds to be migrating into Suffolk, and any such bird would still have to get into the unit. The only other option would be imported birds which were infected overseas, but the EU has quite serious restrictions on the import of live birds. DEFRA are pursuing the investigation very seriously, and hopefully we’ll have an answer soon.

The risk to human health isn’t high, though. Granted, this strain does have a high mortality rate in people, but it has, so far, proved difficult to catch. Unless you’re working with poultry, you’re unlikely to be exposed to any great extent. Of course, it might yet mutate into a form that is readily transmissible between people, but it hasn’t yet, and I’m inclined to the opinion that it’s not terribly likely to do so in the near future. It is a matter of chance, though, and the more cases in birds, the more people will get infected, and the more opportunity for such a mutation to take place.

DEFRA will be worried about the possibility of H5N1 getting into the wild bird population, which would be a difficult situation – that would put free-range and other outdoor-reared poultry at risk, and be difficult to eradicate.

For more detail on the subject, see DEFRA’s pages here, which include an advice line, and directions for what to do if you find dead ducks, geese, swans or waders.


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