Sound and Salmonella

Sunrise/sunset: 05:47/ 18:06. Daylength: 12hr 19mins

For the first time this winter I have seen ice in Gisundet, the sound that runs between the island of Senja and the mainland. I had wondered whether it would freeze in winter, but this year it hasn’t been cold enough. I could ask someone local, of course, but it’s not the kind of thing that has come up in conversation so far.

Rather than being a sign of impending freezing, this ice appears to be what I have discovered is called brash ice. Brash ice is an accumulation of floating ice made up of smallish fragments, not more than two meters across. It appeared after a long warm day, when the sun was up for twelve hours and the temperature reached five degrees. The heat must have broken up some of the areas of ice that had formed in the bays around the edges of the sound, where the water moves less. Later in the day there was also wind, which was moving the ice along. You can see the the ice in these photographs, some caught along the shoreline in the first picture, and in the second, the flow right along the middle as it passes under the bridge.

Moving back to the topic of work, I have always had a weird fascination with infectious diseases and outbreaks. I confess that last year, when the pandemic began, that I spent far too much time searching the internet for the latest news from Wuhan, then later watching the spread across the world. I had always wondered what it would feel like to live through a pandemic, and though this one has been way less deadly than bubonic plague or Spanish flu, I would now say that living through one is periodically terrifying, with long periods of boredom and frustration. If I survive this one (and I realise my chances are relatively good) then I will be happy if there isn’t another in my lifetime.

That said, my interest remains and I have been watching the news recently as there has been an outbreak of salmonella in Norway. As Mattilsynet is Norway’s food safety authority, it has been involved in trying to trace the source of the infection. When it is a localised outbreak, it is often easy to trace the source. If all the affected people ate at the same hotel or restaurant, or bought food from the same shop, then the situation is generally clear.

This outbreak however, seemed to be spread across Norway and some other countries in Europe. This was confirmed by serotyping the bacteria – assessing the outside surface to check for distinctive structures that allow us to separate them into different groups.

When an outbreak is so widespread, it can be difficult to work out what food it was that caused it. The assessment is made more difficult with a bacterial infection such as salmonella as the time from eating the food to the time when infection causes illness can vary from six hours to six days. Trying to find out what a very sick patient ate almost a week ago can be nigh on impossible, however there can be some indication from examining which groups of people were affected. For example in another recent outbreak, most of the patients were children and that one was eventually narrowed down to chicken nuggets. Earlier outbreaks in Norway have related to chocolate bars, salad and black pepper so you can’t even concentrate only on meat products.

In this case, the infection has been found to come from a batch of beef imported from Germany and processed as mince. Now follows a process of trying to track down any remaining packs. Though they will by now be out of date, a few people might have taken them home and frozen them. Freezing will not kill the bacteria, though thorough heating would. As with any other outbreak, Mattilsynet must now also try to assess whether its internal procedures can be improved from the information collected. We will never stop all outbreaks of illness, but it is part of our job to try to ensure they occur as rarely as possible.

I will end on a more cheery note. It was lovely and sunny this week and I walked down to the little harbour on the edge of Gisundet below where we live. The water was wonderfully still and clear, as was the light and so I took a few photographs. I hope you enjoy them.

1 thought on “Sound and Salmonella

  1. “Brash ice”! I love how many distinctions we learn, when we find ourselves in that context. Snow is snow; ice is ice; banana is banana; rice is rice… but no! Find ourselves in the context, and we are schooled in all the words that make all the further distinctions.

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