Tuesday, 22 March 2011

If you go down to the woods today....

Everyone knows that the countryside is a benign place that does you good. Exercise makes your heart healthier, green spaces made your head healthier - it's obvious. But the countryside is full of animals, and just occasionally you might catch something nasty from them - E coli from cowpats, Lyme disease from tick bites, Weil's disease from rat urine. We can hardly blame the land manager on the country estate who puts up warning signs, in an attempt to deflect any legal action, but that may just put you off your picnic without doing any real good. Research from Relu's Assessing and Communicating Animal Disease Risks for Countryside Users project confirms what we all suspected - giving people information simply isn't enough to alter their behaviour. But if we can persuade visitors to make small changes, it would make a big difference in helping them to avoid infection. Achieving that will require a more structured approach - visitors need the right kind of communication, in the right form, at the right time. It's no good seeing a big poster telling you to wear long trousers to avoid tick bites when the whole family has arrived for their day out wearing shorts. They also have to see good practice in action - if the park ranger is wearing long trousers and a long-sleeved shirt they are more likely to follow that example. If someone has been bitten by a tick, they need to know what to do and have the means available - removing the tick promptly with an appropriate pair of tweezers will remove the risk of getting Lyme disease almost completely. In order to provide communication that really will be effective, we need land managers and health authorities to pool their expertise. An authoritative knowledge base, available for all organisations to draw upon, could be a big step forward in protecting the public from zoonotic disease. http://www.relu.ac.uk/news/policy%20and%20practice%20notes/27%20Quine/PPN%2027%20v2.pdf

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