Why are children in the UK at risk of serious strep A infections?
The UK Health Security Agency issued a rare alert on Friday, telling parents to look out for signs of strep A infection in their children. Since September, eight children in England and Wales have died after becoming unwell with Group A streptococci bacteria. Typically causing illnesses like skin infections, tonsillitis or scarlet fever, very occasionally strep A can become a life-threatening, invasive disease. But why are we seeing such a steep rise in cases in the UK this year? Madeleine Finlay speaks to Chrissie Jones, associate professor of paediatric infection at the University of Southampton, about the significance of this outbreak and the symptoms to be aware of, and asks Shiranee Sriskandan, professor of infectious diseases at Imperial College London, about how the bacteria can evade our immune systems and whether we may one day have a vaccine.. Help support our independent journalism at theguardian.com/sciencepod
‘A possible extinction event’: the UK’s worst bird flu outbreak
The UK is in the middle of its worst outbreak of bird flu. The current strain of H5N1 avian influenza has devastated wild bird populations, killing thousands and affecting threatened species such as puffins and hen harriers. Bird flu has also been wreaking havoc on poultry, and since 7 November, all captive birds in England have been kept indoors to prevent them catching the virus. How are both wild and captive bird populations coping with the current strain of avian flu? And is the UK prepared to deal with another major animal disease outbreak? Ian Sample speaks with Phoebe Weston, a biodiversity writer for the Guardian, and Paul Wigley, a professor in animal microbial ecosystems at the University of Bristol.. Help support our independent journalism at theguardian.com/sciencepod
What are leap seconds, and why have we scrapped them?
At a recent conference in France, scientists and government representatives voted to scrap the leap second by 2035. Leap seconds are added periodically to synchronise atomic time and astronomical time, which get out of sync because of variations in the Earth’s rotation. Madeleine Finlay speaks to JT Janssen, the chief scientist at NPL, the National Physical Laboratory, about the differences between these two times, and what can go wrong when leap seconds are added to our clocks. Help support our independent journalism at theguardian.com/sciencepod
How should we prepare for an ageing global population?
On 15 November the world’s population reached 8 billion, according to the UN. Much of that growth is because we’re living longer. As a species we will continue to age, but eventually stop growing. The UN predicts that in the next century humanity will begin to go into decline. So what happens when societies get older and smaller – a problem some countries are already encountering? Ian Sample speaks to Prof Vegard Skirbekk about how humanity got here, and how we prepare for future demographic change. Help support our independent journalism at theguardian.com/sciencepod
Will the Qatar World Cup really be carbon neutral?
It’s supposed to be the first ever carbon neutral World Cup. Organisers Fifa and host Qatar say they have implemented sustainability initiatives, taken measures to limit carbon output and will offset greenhouse gas emissions by purchasing credits. Fifa has admitted, however, that the tournament’s carbon footprint will bigger than any of its predecessors, and experts believe emissions have been underestimated, calling into question the claim of carbon neutrality. Madeleine Finlay speaks to sports reporter Paul MacInnes about the environmental burden of building stadiums, flying in players and fans from around the world and keeping the pitches green, and asks whether football is really ready to face up to its carbon footprint. Help support our independent journalism at theguardian.com/sciencepod