As the world’s athletes limber up for the forthcoming Olympic games in London, infectious-disease experts are preparing for their own trials. Their competition is with the diseases that millions of athletes, officials, media and spectators bring with them as they converge from across the globe on the UK capital.
There is already a body of literature on how large gatherings of people can lead to outbreaks of infectious diseases, from music festivals to religious gatherings. This has led to the establishment of a new and growing branch of research: mass-gathering medicine.
“In advance of these games a huge effort needs to go into public-health preparedness,” John McConnell, editor of The Lancet Infectious Diseases, told the audience at a special session of the European Congress of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases in London.
The man in charge of that preparedness is Brian McCloskey. McCloskey, the London director of the UK Health Protection Agency (HPA), says that although the city is used to hosting ‘mass gatherings’, the Olympics is a special case owing to its scale and international character and the huge scrutiny it draws from the media.