- Title: VARIOUS: Potential Olympic disease crisis has health officials on alert
- Date: 12th April 2012
- Summary: LONDON, ENGLAND, UNITED KINGDOM (RECENT) (REUTERS) GIANT SCREEN WITH LONDON OLYMPIC LOGO AND HEATHROW AIRPORT WELCOME SIGN
- Embargoed: 27th April 2012 13:00
- Location: Taiwan, Province of China, Usa, Canada, United Kingdom
- Country: Taiwan
- Topics: Health
- Reuters ID: LVABG90BCQTLSUD6SOLMEOF183DE
- Story Text: This summer millions of people will make their way to London either for their summer holidays or to attend the 2012 Olympics.
But with so many people coming from different countries, health officials are warning that there is the potential for bacteria and infectious diseases to cross borders too.
An international team of scientists has been working to establish just what kinds of germs could make their way to London and how to share their intelligence with British health officials so they can be prepared to handle any type of epidemic.
Professor John Brownstein and his team at Harvard Medical School have developed a system called Healthmap. The online tracking system mines real time data from news reports, public health updates and websites to identify disease incidents around the globe.
"We're looking at transportation networks, sales of tickets and a variety of variables to see what places are most connected to London during the Olympics. Number two, we're using the Healthmap technology, we're crawling the web looking at reports via news, social media, and also direct reporting via our iPhone and Android applications, getting direct reports from those places about disease outbreaks that are taking place." said Prof. Brownstein His team have joined up with Toronto based researcher Professor Kamran Khan who has founded an online airline tracking system called Biodiaspora.org. The researchers have integrated the two systems into one web-based program that uses satellite mapping imagery to analyze the movements of travelers to and from London leading up to the games, and then uses the feed of infectious disease reports to identify potential threats.
"We've studied the last three Olympic Games because we wanted to get a sense of how these types of events change travel behaviours, and we can anticipate where people are going to be coming from to London but the reality is until the actual time of the games noone will know for sure exactly how many people are coming in from where." Professor Khan said.
More important than the numbers, says Khan, is the variety of countries from which travellers are coming .
The researchers are monitoring outbreaks of the measles, mumps, H1N1 and other infections like E. coli in all countries.
The UK's Health Protection Agency have been preparing for the 2012 Games by using the information that the Harvard and Toronto teams have been pulling together.
The organisation's regional director of health, Dr. Brian McCloskey, said the speed at which information can be collated and accessed is crucial for stopping the spread of disease.
Dr. McCloskey also said the information is vital in ensuring the correct details reach the public.
"There are things like chikungunya fever which doesn't sound like a nice thing to have, and it's not a nice disease but the thing is, it only spreads by mosquitoes and because we don't have that sort of mosquito in the UK, I think a case of chikungunya fever in the UK is not a big problem. We have to look after the individual patient but they're not a risk to anybody else. So knowing that sort of thing in advance means we can avoid panicking the public."
The researchers say they will be focusing on patterns in countries that will be sending the most athletes and fans to the games. But it's not just about diseases coming in.
They also have concerns about the diseases being taken back out of London after the Olympics are over.
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