U.K. health officials are increasing their surveillance for any
potential disease outbreaks that could disrupt the London Olympics
An estimated 3 million visitors are expected to descend on the
city during July and August, bringing with them viruses and
bacteria from around the world.
At a meeting Tuesday of international disease experts, some said
even though an outbreak was unlikely, officials couldn’t take the
risk of not being prepared for the Olympics, which are taking place
from July 27 to Aug. 12.
”No news will be good news,” said John McConnell, editor of
the Lancet Infectious Diseases, which co-sponsored the meeting on
health in mass gatherings.
He said large sports events like the Olympics typically have not
had major outbreaks in the past.
But to get ready, British health authorities are boosting checks
for infectious diseases and increasing labs’ capacity to test
samples. During the games, officials will get daily health reports
on potential trouble spots and first-aid clinics will operate at
Britain’s Health Protection Agency said it will mostly be
looking for ailments like flu, diarrhea and respiratory illnesses
but its surveillance system should be able to pick up rarer
Scientists from Saudi Arabia shared their experiences from
monitoring the Hajj, the world’s largest annual mass gathering,
which draws more than 2.5 million religious pilgrims to Mecca every
year. Nearly 200,000 people come from developing countries, and the
event helped spread polio outbreaks several years ago from Nigeria
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises
Americans planning to travel to Britain to ensure they’re up to
date on their routine vaccinations, including measles. Europe has
yearly outbreaks of the highly infectious disease.
Last month, the top doctor for Britain’s Olympic team advised
athletes not to shake hands to avoid catching any diseases.
McConnell dismissed that advice as ”utterly unrealistic,”
noting infections were passed on just as easily by touching
”You are just as likely to catch something by touching a dirty
handrail … so there’s no reason not to shake hands,” he
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