London Olympics faces serious disease risk, say doctors

Jan 16, 2012

Public health officials warn that influx of foreign athletes and visitors could create a hotbed of disease

DOCTORS have warned that London faces a potential public health emergency during the 2012 Olympics. Thousands of visitors and athletes from around the world could bring a variety of diseases to the capital from their home countries that Britain is ill-prepared to deal with.

A series of reports in Lancet Infectious Diseases has set out the implications associated with mass gatherings that put unusual pressure on the local infrastructure.

Visitors from 200 separate countries are expected to converge on London this summer. Professor Ibrahim Abubakar of the University of East Anglia warned that there is a risk from diseases being brought to the United Kingdom by visitors - and a risk to foreigners who find themselves susceptible to conditions that are prevalent in this country but not in their home nation.

One of the reports, according to the BBC, warns of the "potentially serious implications to health, security, and economic activity worldwide" that could ensue.

Prof Ziad Memish of Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Health - and a co-author on all six reports said: "Conventional concepts of disease and crowd control do not adequately address the complexity of mass gatherings.

"Mass gatherings have been associated with death and destruction - catastrophic stampedes, collapse of venues, crowd violence and damage to political and commercial infrastructure."

Meanwhile, The Sunday Times reported that public health officials are enacting a massive campaign to combat any epidemics of infectious diseases that occur during the Olympics. The early-warning system will allow the to detect the first signs of any unusual illnesses.

The Health Protection Agency (HPA) will aim to educate foreign visitors about how to best use the NHS - so as not to overwhelm the service.

"By and large it will be business as usual in terms of the public health services and people should just get on and enjoy the games," said Brian McCloskey, London director of the HPA, who is in charge of its Olympics operations. He confirmed that there would be no need for a vaccination programme ahead of the games.

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