One of my new Cabinet responsibilities is trading standards, and as such I now receive rather apocalyptic officer emails regarding the latest danger to assail mankind.
Just in - bird 'flu (after the outbreak in Suffolk). For those of you confused by some of the wilder reporting of the story, here's a sober assessment;
Avian Influenza is a highly contagious viral disease that can probably infect most species of bird. The severity depends upon the strain of the virus and the type of bird infected.
Humans can only be infected by the disease through close contact with live infected birds. However, there is a concern that the virus may change (reassort or mutate) to emerge as a new virus that is transmissible between people, and capable of causing disease in people, birds and other animals.
The highly pathogenic H5N1 Avian Influenza strain involved in most of the Asian outbreaks during the past 18 months has shown the ability to jump the species barrier occasionally and cause severe disease, with high mortality, in humans. It has not shown the ability to move easily between humans.
Whilst it's DEFRA and the State Vetinary Service who take the lead in outbreaks, local councils have a key role to play too - from local emergency planning to co-ordinating other services and managing the highway and footpath network.
When I first became a councillor, I was told that the then Chief Executive kept a revolver in his desk drawer in case of civil emergencies. Let's hope current CE Ada Burns doesn't have to come out "all guns blazing" over this problem...