Five Recent Cases of Avian Influenza


Chicken (via Flickr/Tomasz Nowicki)

On Mar. 17, 2016, an 81-year-old woman in Hong Kong was admitted to the hospital for pneumonia and later transferred after testing positive for the H7N9 strain of avian influenza.  She is currently stable.  She visited a wet market while visiting Kaiping, Guangdong Province, and was exposed to recently slaughtered poultry.

Three other people, a 45-year-old man from Xuancheng and a 43-year-old mother and her 23-year-old son from Ji’an City, contracted H7N9 recently. The man is in critical condition, while the mother and son are stable.

Another case was reported in the Hubei Province with the H5N6 strain. A 35-year-old man checked into the hospital on April 12 and is in critical condition.

Other than the 81-year-old woman, it is unknown how these people were exposed.  However, wet markets, where live or recently slaughtered poultry are sold, are prime suspects, particularly in cities where inhabitants are rarely in contact with farm animals.

The difficulty of controlling exposure in wet markets is well known.  In February 2015, positive tests for H7N9 caused Guangzhou to ban live poultry from wet markets for five days.  The ban was ineffective, as sellers illegally sold birds outside the market or in private homes and apartments.

Buyers cooperate, as they want freshly slaughtered animals and often disbelieve the warnings that have been issued by the government.  The Chinese government needs to increase awareness of the dangers of avian influenza for the poorest segments of the population, who may have limited internet access and poor reading skills.

81-year-old woman

45-year-old man

Mother and son cases

H5N6 case

2015 ban



Portfolio Website and Introductory Video


Home Page Photo of Rachel Higgins (by Rachel Higgins and relatives)

Last week, I worked on and completed the first version of my portfolio website and introductory video.  It focuses on my media experience and it lists my writing and multimedia examples, internship experience and resume.

The main challenge when creating the website was keeping it professional, while at the same time visually appealing.  For this blog, I used lilac and blue-green as theme colors, but I toned it down by using basic black and white for the portfolio.  In addition, I gave it a static home page as the front page rather than the blog page and removed the blogging option entirely.

Other differences include having only a “search” bar, archives and contact info as widgets.  However, one key similarity is the pictures I used with blog posts, as their exclusion made the website seem too plain.

Although the website did not take that long to put together, the introductory video was more difficult.  The weekend I decided to film was windy, so my hair was in the way constantly and even with the wireless microphone, some background noise could be heard.  Originally, I had planned to shoot the video outside with Honors College in the background, but I changed the location to inside the Seretean Performing Arts Center.

The Seretean is one of my favorite places on campus because of the performances and events like the Autumn Arts Gala.  It also has  a calm, dignified atmosphere and is relatively quiet, which is why I decided to film there.

The filming itself took between three and four hours, as I had difficulty speaking in front of the camera.  I usually would either forget part of the script or mispronounce a word. When I finally obtained the footage I needed, most of my work was done and I was relieved.

Portfolio Website

Upcoming Avian Influenza Season


Poultry on family farms could be exposed because of only having bars between them and the wild birds (via Flickr/Joshua Berry).

In 2015, the first case of avian influenza was reported in April.  This year, agricultural specialists are on high alert and want to prevent the disaster of last year.  In one of the worst animal epidemics in recent years, 7.5 million turkeys and 42.1 million chickens died and taxpayers lost $950 million.

This Spring, wild waterfowl are expected to pass through the U.S. on their annual migration route back from the Southern Hemisphere.  Government officials, industry leaders and farmers are working to tighten biosecurity measures before their arrival.

Some measures taken in Iowa, the epicenter of last year’s epidemic, include installing showers near the barns, requiring clothing changes and closing the barns to visitors.  The farmers will also watch for symptoms of avian influenza, such as lethargy, decreased water intake and more birds dying suddenly.  Despite this, contamination could still occur because completely preventing exposure from the outside is impossible.

Dust containing feces from wild birds is widespread, and in areas where biosecurity measures are not enforced or when workers choose not to follow procedures, outbreaks are likely to occur.  However, preventing an outbreak from spreading to other farms should be easier this year because state agricultural departments are more prepared.  They have taken measures to prevent the disaster of last year from reoccurring and plan to do everything in their power to take control of avian influenza epidemics this year.

Avian Influenza Season

Recruitment Video for Oklahoma State University


Boone Pickens Stadium (via Flickr/thecollegerag)

OSU is a high-quality university and it was easy to find things to brag about for my video.  I ended up filming areas that never made it to the final cut, such as the sororities, downtown Stillwater and the Seretean Performing Arts Center. However, since it was impossible to fit everything into a two-minute video, I had to decide what I thought was most impressive.

OSU’s advantages for undergraduates interested in research include Edmon Low Library and scholarships such as the Wentz.  However, for incoming freshmen, the best program is the Freshman Research Scholars, which helps students find a faculty mentor, develop and present a project and awards them a $1,000 scholarship.  Edmon Low Library and the Freshman Research Scholars program were obviously important to include, along with the Honors College, to attract the academically-oriented students.

For students interested in social activities, I wanted to make it clear that not only are there a lot of clubs but also that students can easily form their own. Stillwater is a small town that may come off as boring to some, but I think emphasizing that clubs can provide fun activities helps diminish that disadvantage.  In addition, I wanted to bring up the Student Union as the hub of activity so interested students could see the place they are likely to spend time with friends.

Finally, I wanted students to know that OSU has places to exercise and relax, so I included the Colvin Center and Theta Pond.  One thing I did not include was the sororities and fraternities.

Fraternities have been accused of everything from racism to date rape recently, with OSU having an incident with the confederate flag.  Therefore, I decided not to bring up fraternities, as I feel some high school students would view them as a disadvantage.

OSU Website

Photo License

Creating an Audio Slideshow

Helen Jordan (Photo by Rachel Higgins)
Helen’s pottery (Photo by Rachel Higgins)

I wanted to include today more background on my interview with artist Helen Jordan of the Multi Arts Center of Stillwater, Oklahoma.  Helen, a woman in her early 90s, still gives classes at the Arts Center and was recommended to me by the director.  After calling her, we set a date to meet at her house to talk and take pictures of her art.

Helen told me about what initially made her interested in art.  An art professor at school encouraged students to follow their interests rather than follow the curriculum.  His example encouraged her to continue to be involved in the arts and pursue her interests.

Her main interest in art is clay pottery, and she likes creating useful pieces, such as planting pots and plates.   I noticed she often integrates her favorite theme, nature, with vines and leaf designs.

After the interview, I was introduced to her cat, Shadow, and took pictures of her art.   Later, I went to the Multi Arts Center to take pictures and talked to her as she taught a class on glass work for adults.  She helped me get pictures of some of the students to use in the slideshow.

After gathering all of the material I needed, I used Audacity to edit the ten-minute interview down to five minutes and add some music at the beginning and end.  Then, I used Adobe Lightroom to crop, lighten and rotate photos.

Matching pictures to the audio in iMovie was difficult.  Showing what Helen was speaking about was important, as pottery making and glass work are not familiar to many people.   My hope is that people can enjoy the audio slideshow of a woman in her early 90s who is still vital and interested in producing, teaching and sharing her art.

Multi Arts Center Website

First Human Case of Avian Influenza for 2016


Fresh and Live Chickens Sold at a Market in Laos (Photo via Flickr/Shankar s).

In Suzhou City, China, a 60-year-old man contracted the first known case of the H7N9 avian influenza strain of the year.  He was diagnosed with pneumonia by several hospitals, but eventually testing by Hong Kong’s Public Health Laboratory Services revealed that he had H7N9.  He was moved to Princess Margaret Hospital on Feb. 23, and his wife, son and others close to him are being monitored.

The man reported that he had no contact with live poultry, but it is known that he visited a wet market. These common, traditionally outdoor markets serve the poor in China, and they usually sell fresh meat, produce and live animals. However, some newer indoor wet markets may lack live animals.

It is unconfirmed whether the man visited a market with live poultry or not.  Although he said that he had no contact with poultry, he may consider contact to be physical interaction with live birds and not realize there are alternate methods of contagion.

The most common way that avian influenza can pass to people is through accidental contact with bird feces.  In addition, it is believed that inhaling aerosolized material in wet markets is one of the main ways that humans can get infected. Thus, this man could have been infected by the former or the latter.

Unfortunately, despite yet another case of avian influenza being attributed to wet markets, the practice of selling live poultry is likely to continue in China.  Hong Kong’s government proposed central slaughterhouses for chickens in 2008 but was met with public backlash, as customers want to be able to inspect the birds which they buy.  However, because of the number of cases of avian influenza contracted last year in China, it is possible that the government will institute new policies despite protests.

First Case of H7N9

Bird Flu Outbreak in Bangladesh and Nigeria


(Wild geese in Stillwater. Picture by Rachel Higgins)

Outbreaks of various H5 avian influenza strains have occurred in France, Nigeria, Vietnam and Bangladesh.  H5 strains, particularly H5N1, are dangerous, as they can spread to pigs, mutate and then pass to humans.  Some strains can pass directly to humans and can be lethal for adults.

On Feb. 4, an outbreak of the H5N1 strain of avian influenza in crows was confirmed in Bangladesh and is believed to have spread from France.  Although H5N1 is not the main strain in France currently, the country has been dealing with H5N2 since Jan. 28 and has lost thousands of birds.

In addition, Nigeria and Vietnam have both had recent outbreaks of H5 strains with the H5N6 strain in Vietnam concerning health officials.  H5N6 is a strain that is also found in Laos, Hong Kong and China that can spread to people, although so far only China has reported human infection. Both Nigeria and Vietnam have lost thousands of poultry and are expected to lose more due to poor biosecurity.

Although the United States has not had an outbreak of H5 strains in recent years, it seems likely that it may spread to North America.  Bird flu from Europe seems to be moving into Africa now, and the Asian strains are starting to appear in more countries.  The most likely way for an H5 strain to come to North America is the migration route that passes through Alaska and then the Midwest.

Ducks and Canadian geese that fly along this path often carry various strains of avian influenza and are the main source of the virus in recent years.  They can contaminate water sources with their feces, which indirectly infects poultry.  Currently, only good biosecurity practice can prevent them from spreading the virus.

Outbreaks in Four Countries


Making of a Podcast


(My keyboard and “Puff the Magic Dragon.” Picture by Rachel Higgins)

Last week I posted a podcast in which I interviewed Mrs. Claudia Mornhinweg, a Stillwater piano teacher.  Claudia was an excellent guest speaker and I hope people enjoyed the podcast.   However, with this post I want to describe the production of the podcast.

For the podcast I rented an audio recorder and microphone from the Media Department of OSU.  When I first started the interview, I did not realize that I would need to wear headphones to hear the recording and spent several minutes recording “Hello? Testing.” Fortunately, Claudia was patient and once we started the interview,  there were no issues with her voice being too soft or unclear.

On the other hand, my voice was inadequate, as I was unclear and could barely be heard. When I asked Claudia questions after some of the stories she shared with us, I was laughing,  so what I said would have been hard to understand. I ended up re-recording  most of my lines with Audacity later, splicing them in, and raising the volume so I could be heard.

Of course, raising the volume caused background noise, so I ended up using Audacity to reduce it. Audacity also proved to be useful for cutting out the long pauses that occurred when Claudia and I passed the microphone back and forth, as well as any “uhs.”

My final step with Audacity was to splice in some piano music, and originally, I planned to play “Puff the Magic Dragon” for background music.  Unfortunately, when I tried to reduce background noise with Audacity, it erased parts of the song.  In the end, I found some piano music online, spliced it in, and, with some relief, uploaded the project to SoundCloud before posting it on my blog for listeners.

Piano Podcast on Soundcloud