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A recent report has raised concerns about the increased risk of a potential flu epidemic during the London Olympics this coming summer. The analysts who conducted the report, Maplecroft, claimed that the density of the cities in the UK combined with the significantly increased numbers of visitors during the Olympics meant an increased risk of an epidemic, which they say is already high.
Concerning as this does indeed seem, the Health Protection Agency has been quick to speak out against the report, stating that they “have done [their] own review and [they] don’t believe that there is a risk”. Speaking for the HPA, Dr Brian McCloskey also made the point to the BBC that the UK hosts festivals every year, such as Glastonbury, which cause hundreds of thousands of people to spend several days packed densely together and that this has never been a cause for concern, even during the H1N1 outbreak in 2009. In contrast, the increased numbers of visitors that the report raises as a concern will not be as densely packed for anything like the same amount of time.
The HPA is making the valid point that, if the swine flu outbreak did not cause problems during an event in which large numbers of people spent several days in continuously close proximity, there is no reason to believe the flu virus would cause any serious problems during the Olympics.
According to the report from Maplecroft, it’s not all bad news: Britain is also considered to be one of the top 10 countries in terms of its ability to withstand such an outbreak. The Department of Health have confirmed that they have a number of contingency plans in place, including those for a flu outbreak, and as such it seems there is very little reason to be concerned. Neither the Department of Health nor the Health Protection Agency have as yet released any form of official health advice for the Olympics, and common sense suggests that they would do this if there was a significant risk. Regular readers of the HealthExpress blog can rest assured that we will post any health advice from these bodies if and when it is released.
So should you let concerns about the flu blight your enjoyment of the Olympics? The sensible answer seems to be no. However, if you know that you fall within a group that is considered to be of a higher risk for flu, for example if you have a particular medical condition or are pregnant, you may wish to speak to your doctor to find out if there are any further steps you should take to ensure you are protected.
To find out more about the influenza virus and what you can do to treat or prevent the flu, you can visit our influenza page.