12 May 2009

EU Rules, OK?

I have encountered another seemingly pointless example of what I can only imagine to be the result of legislation dreamt up by a bunch of unelected, nameless (and, it would seem, brainless) European Union bureaucrats. Before I tell you about it, let me tell you about another.

Last autumn, we were visited by representatives of BT OpenReach who informed us that our telephone line was attached too low on our house and had to be moved higher. This, so they told us, was because the line passed over a road (albeit a private, or unadopted, one) and EU regulations stipulated a minimum height for such occurrences. The workmen, of course, had to do their job but agreed with me that it was rather a stupid task since the power lines to our house cross the same road (we live in a rural area) very much lower than the telephone line. Interestingly, after they completed the job, the line looked no higher at all. Is someone coming to move the power lines? Perhaps not, because there seems to be an alternative solution to that problem.

My recent encounter was with two new signs that appeared last week at either end of a dirt-track giving vehicular access to the local allotments. It warns people about the danger presented by overhead power lines which, incidentally, are at least twice as high as those attached to our house and which have been there for decades. The sign instructs us not to carry or raise long objects in this vicinity. If I could be bothered to investigate this, I would probably discover that over the last many decades there has been an astonishing number of deaths from electrocution by these power lines; I suspect this astonishing number to be zero. What a waste of time, money and materials. Who in their right mind would carry with them a pole long enough to reach the power lines, never mind attempt to touch them? Interestingly, the power lines are off towards the side of the track over trees (non-conducting ones?) but actually pass over an open area just beyond the now-restricted zone. Presumably, the power lines are not at all dangerous there...

I wonder when a sign will be erected on our road to warn of our overhead cables? I wonder how long it will be before some innocent passing cyclist kills or maims himself by riding into it?

Have you encountered similar pointless stuff?

01 May 2009

I Opened a Window and Influenza

According to New Scientist, the likelihood of a pandemic of Swine Flu has been known about for years 'but research into its potential has been neglected'.

It is not that long ago that we were all sitting watching our TV screens worrying about the threat posed by H5N1 avian flu. What a damp squib that turned out to be - not even a damp tissue; there were thankfully very few human casualties. Obviously, as a vector for disease, with its ability to cross borders unchecked and carrying the viral payload, the bird appears to be a much more serious threat than the pig.

However, (and you will understand that this next bit is completely unscientific) pigs are in some ways quite similar to humans. Apparently, when cooked, we taste the same (cannibal tribes refer to human fare as 'long pig'), and pork, when undercooked, can give us worms which do well in us because our flesh is similar to the pig's. Now, it seems, the pig's version of influenza (H1N1) is much more transmissible to humans than avian flu. Not only that, H1N1 spreads between humans more readily than H5N1 (see information on BBC website). Given our similarities with the pig, should not closer attention have been paid? It would appear so.

So, in the absence of suitable warnings to humans, or of hygiene training for pigs, either someone kissed a pig or a pig failed to use a tissue when sneezing, and thereafter pig flu has been transmitted to other humans by humans. Humans, like birds, have the power of flight and, lo and behold, we have a pandemic literally on our hands (would my cure for the common cold work for the flu?).

Influenza is, of course, no laughing matter. The dreadful pandemic of 1918 (also an H1N1 virus) killed more people than World War I. For some reason, its main victims seemed to be young men. It is ironic that many who survived the all-too-apparent horrors of Flanders almost immediately fell dead in the grip of an unseen enemy. That pandemic also killed pigs. Thankfully, this contemporary strain (which contains elements of a human virus caught from us by pigs) appears to be mild, with the relatively few deaths that have occurred probably down to the greater susceptibility of the unfortunate victims.

The preoccupation with avian flu however, has had a pay-off for the present crisis: whereas we were not prepared for the potential avian flu pandemic, we are prepared for this one. We have national contingency plans, clear advice for the public, and stocks of anti-viral drugs. For that, we can be thankful that the scientific community paid close attention to the plight of our feathered friends, and that the politicians, for once, took notice of our scientists. Fortunately, because the spread has been in small numbers, we have had time to react and mobilise.

It's a good job pigs can't fly...