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Health Protection Agency fit for Olympics challenge

The Health Protection Agency (HPA) today announced it is ‘Games ready’ for the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, after an ongoing programme of work over the past seven years.

The agency will play a key role during the Games to ensure the health of those visiting and participating is protected from infectious diseases and environmental hazards.

HPA Olympics lead and director for London, Dr Brian McCloskey, said: “In preparation for London 2012 we have put in place world class systems to monitor and respond rapidly to any outbreaks of infectious diseases or environmental hazards.

“This builds on existing tested, high quality capacity within the UK public health system and we have worked closely with the Department of Health, the World Health Organization, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, the London Organising Committee for the Olympic and Paralympic Games (LOCOG) and other partners to achieve this.”

The key new systems include:

  • Rapid laboratory testing: A new gastrointestinal test has been developed to rapidly detect viruses, bacteria and parasites which cause vomiting and diarrhoea. As a result of this new diagnostic tool, laboratory tests for gastrointestinal illnesses can be processed within 24 hours rather than several days.
  • Enhanced syndromic surveillance: The HPA’s current syndromic surveillance systems record the number of people with symptoms of infectious and other acute diseases attending GP surgeries or calling NHS Direct. These systems have been enhanced to include services more likely to be used by international visitors such as emergency departments, walk-in-centres and out-of-hours GP services.
  • Undiagnosed Serious Infectious Illness (USII) surveillance: A new system has been introduced in paediatric and adult intensive care units in a number of UK hospitals to detect potentially new and emerging infections. The system allows clinicians to report directly any cases of USII using a customised web-based reporting tool. It will be used in cases which are thought to be due to infections but where initial laboratory tests do not establish a diagnosis, and the illness does not fit with a recognisable clinical picture, or the patient is not responding to standard therapy.
  • Dr McCloskey continued: “These new and enhanced systems will provide the first indication of emerging infections in the community and hospitals if they are to occur. Our experts will analyse surveillance data daily to identify issues of public health significance that could have implications for the Games. We will be providing expert advice to clinicians, the Olympic organisers and Government on how to respond to and limit any threat to public health.

“It’s important to note that our risk assessments indicate that there is only a slight increased risk of infectious disease during the Games, such as gastrointestinal and respiratory illnesses, and the reality is that serious outbreaks at Olympic and Paralympic events are rare, ” McCloskey continued.

“We are however taking all precautions, and are writing to healthcare professionals across the UK reminding them to be alert for unusual presentations and report symptoms of infectious diseases promptly.”

McCloskey also advised visitors to the games to follow simple measures to prevent the spread of infectious disease such as following good hand hygiene practices, if they become unwell with a stomach bug or flu-like illness, stay at home to avoid spreading the illness to other people and ensuring visitors are up-to-date with routine vaccinations as recommended by their home country.

Justin McCracken, chief executive of the HPA, said: “We want everyone to enjoy the Games safely and by taking practical steps like ensuring good hand hygiene, being up-to-date with routine vaccinations, it will help to ensure everyone stays healthy during this worldwide spectacle.”

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