After a historic 4-0 victory for Spain in the last match of the European soccer championship, the public eagerly awaits the start of the second great athletic event of the summer: the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. Years of planning have effectively prepared the organizers of the Games for the influx of athletes, tourists, and germs that will arrive in London in a mere month’s time.
As an international hub on a normal day, London already lends itself as an ideal epicenter for a worldwide infectious disease outbreak. Hosting the summer Olympics only further increases this risk. As a result, Britain’s Health Protection Agency (HPA) is implementing the “world’s first comprehensive, automated outbreak detection system” to monitor over 3,000 types of infections during the Games.
Professor Paddy Farrington from the Open University began his work on the new system back in the 1990s, during his time at HPA. Since then, it has been a collaborative effort to create a truly innovative system that assesses symptoms before disease onset, as well as other health-related data, to enable effective public health action. This method is called syndromic surveillance.
Already existing detection measures have been updated with modern enhancements to provide a more wide-ranging surveillance system. First, the Emergency Department Syndromic Surveillance System (EDSSS) will provide real-time monitoring of emergency department visits. This will examine the trend of acute and more severe disease events. Additionally, the GP Out of Hours/ Unscheduled Care Syndromic Surveillance System (GPOOHSS) will monitor general practitioner consultations outside of normal working hours – evenings, nights, weekends, and bank holidays – as well as unplanned primary care contacts with the British National Health System. Data provided by the GPOOHSS will compliment previously available data for normal in-hours. Last, health authorities will track social networking sites, such as Facebook and Twitter, for health-related information.
Mass gathering events, such as the Olympics, are ideal for the rapid spread of contagious diseases. This year, the greatest concern appears to be measles, which is on the rise in many parts of Europe. Other threats include food poisoning, Legionnaires’ disease, and influenza. Public health experts advise spectators and athletes to follow personal preventative health measures before and during the Games to impede the spread of disease. Washing hands is one of the most effective and simplest methods to remain healthy. Additionally, everyone should be up-to-date with routine vaccinations.