HPA surveillance systems put to the test at the Olympics

To ensure early detection and response to any infectious disease outbreaks

The Health Protection Agency’s (HPA) enhanced surveillance systems were put to the test during the 2012 London Olympic Games and have delivered a strong performance.

The range of world class systems were introduced in the lead up to the Olympic and Paralympic Games to ensure the early detection and response to any infectious disease outbreaks and environmental hazards.

HPA Olympics lead and director for London, Dr Brian McCloskey, said: “While the athletes were winning a raft of medals, we were busy working in the background helping to ensure infectious diseases didn’t stand in the way of their success.”

The enhanced systems include syndromic surveillance of healthcare services to ensure that if excess numbers of people are experiencing symptoms of infectious diseases, the HPA knows know about it quickly.

The HPA has also introduced new rapid laboratory testing for gastrointestinal illness, capable of processing results in less than a day.

McCloskey added: “These systems were put to the test on several occasions and proved effective in responding promptly to issues, including a number of norovirus cases in Olympic athletes in Derby, and the presence of legionella bacteria in a floating hotel on the Thames, where health advice was provided to those staying on board.”

The number and type of illnesses seen during the Games, including gastrointestinal and respiratory illnesses, were at similar rates to other mass gatherings, and in fact, what the HPA would usually see during an average UK summer.

“We expect to see similar patterns during the Paralympics, however we can be confident that the UK has the most comprehensive surveillance system in the world to monitor and respond to any outbreaks or environmental hazards,” he said.

Justin McCracken, chief executive of the HPA, said: “It is very rewarding to know that seven years of preparation is paying off. The success of our enhanced system is a direct result of excellent cooperation between our key partners including 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), as well as healthcare providers across the UK.”

The HPA is reminding visitors to stay vigilant during the Paralympics to help prevent the spread of infectious diseases by continuing to take practical steps such as washing hands thoroughly with soap and warm water, particularly before eating or preparing food, after changing a nappy and after using the toilet; if you become unwell with a stomach bug or flu-like illness, stay at home to avoid spreading the illness to other people; if it’s hot and sunny wear a hat and apply sunscreen to prevent sunburn and heatstroke; and drink plenty of water.

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