Sand Flies Accost Icelanders

sand fly biting midge

Sand flies, also known as biting midge, have been accosting Icelanders earlier this spring than in past years, RÚV reports. The bugs are known to prey on humans and animals while they’re asleep, and their painful bites cause itchy lesions. Insect specialist Erling Ólafsson told Vísir the unseasonably warm weather in South and West Iceland could have something to do with the bugs’ apparent prevalence.

Sand flies are not entirely new to Iceland, though a noticeable spike in their populations was first reported in Fréttablaðið in 2015. The bugs appear to be most established in Southwest and West Iceland, where they tend to stick to sheltered, overgrown locations. Some have attempted to prevent bug bites by installing window screens or running fans in their bedrooms at night, as the insects appear more active in still air. Sand flies are tiny and not easily seen, but their bites are said to be more painful than those of mosquitoes.

Drivers’ Blood Alcohol Limit Lowered

rainy windshield

A bill amending the Traffic Act with extensive changes was passed unanimously by the Icelandic parliament yesterday, RÚV reports. A decrease in the legal blood alcohol limit is one of its changes. Transport Minister Sigurður Ingi Jóhannsson says the amendments have been in the works for 12 years.

Drunk driving ban strengthened

According to the new laws, the maximum blood alcohol level permitted for drivers will be lowered from 0.05% to 0.02%. The bill’s exposition states that drunk driving is the second most prevalent cause of traffic accidents in Iceland, after speeding. Research shows that a blood alcohol level of 0.05% has a significant impact on the motorist’s driving ability and increases the likelihood of accidents. A driver with 0.05% blood alcohol concentration level is 150 times more likely to lose their life in a traffic accident compared to a sober driver.

The bill has several aims, including to increase traffic safety and modernise Icelandic traffic laws. It also aims to further adapt Icelandic traffic laws to international laws. A comprehensive revision of the Traffic Act began in 2017, based on an earlier bill prepared in committee in 2007.

Iceland Ranked Most Peaceful Country Yearly Since 2008

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Iceland is the most peaceful country in the world, according to the 2019 Global Peace Index. The country has held onto the title since the first Global Peace Index launched 13 years ago. Iceland is also the only Nordic country that is more peaceful now than it was in 2008.

“Not a single deterioration was recorded in Iceland’s peacefulness over the last year,” reports Visions of Humanity. “In fact, 78% of Iceland’s indicators showed no change, and 22% improved. The falling homicide rate, the increase in funding to UN peacekeeping, and the decrease in the number of external conflicts are the most significant improvements over the last year.”

The article points out, however, that Iceland is “not immune to conflict and instability. However, the strong institutions, attitudes, and structures of peace that Iceland maintains has bolstered the country’s resilience against small internal shocks.”

Another far-flung island nation takes second place on the 2019 index: New Zealand. Portugal, Austria, and Denmark round out the top five most peaceful nations. The index is carried out by the Institute for Economics and Peace, an independent, non-profit think tank.

E. Coli Found in Icelandic Meat

E. coli was found in 30% of lamb samples and 11.5% of beef samples in a test carried out by the Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority (MAST). The particular strain discovered is known as STEC, or shiga-toxin producing E. coli. This is the first time lamb and beef have been screened for STEC in Iceland.

The testing was carried out on around 600 samples of lamb, beef, pork, and chicken of both Icelandic and foreign origin between March and December 2018. The purpose of the testing was to determine the prevalence of pathogenic micro-organisms in products when they reach the consumer, and for this reason the samples were taken from shops.

Campylobacter and salmonella were not detected in pork or chicken samples, with the exception of a single sample of pork from Spain. MAST attributes this to improved preventative measures in slaughterhouses.

Strain can cause illness

Shiga-toxin producing E. coli is a toxigenic species of E. coli. STEC can cause serious illness in humans. Common symptoms include diarrhoea, but contraction of the bacteria can also lead to a type of kidney damage known as HUS (Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome). People can contract STEC through contaminated food or water, direct contact with infected animals, or from an environment contaminated by infected animals’ feces.

Part of natural flora

The results of the study indicate that STEC is part of the natural microbial flora of Icelandic cattle and sheep. “It is clear that STEC must be studied more closely in meat and preventative measures in slaughterhouses and meat processing must be intensified to reduce the likelihood that STEC enters meat,” reads MAST’s press release on the findings. “The cleanliness of the livestock is also important here, and it is therefore necessary to prevent the slaughtering of unclean livestock in slaughterhouses.”

Consumer prevention

MAST points to several ways consumers can reduce the risk of infection from salmonella, campylobacter, and E. coli, including cooking meat all the way through and taking care to avoid cross-contamination. Most E. coli is found on the surface of meat, and therefore is killed by frying or grilling, but when meat is ground, the bacteria is distributed throughout. Therefore, hamburgers and other types of ground meat should be cooked through.