Via The Independent: New research warns of Olympics flu pandemic risk. Excerpt:
The millions of tourists coming to London for the Olympics will dramatically increase the risk that a flu pandemic in Britain might spread, according to new research to be published this week.
For Britain is ranked second in the world, after Singapore, in terms of the risk of an avian or swine flu outbreak spreading, according to a new study of more than 200 countries by the risk analysts Maplecroft.
Experts warn that the scale of the threat is vast. “There is little pre-existing natural immunity to H5N1 infection in the human population. Should the virus improve its transmissibility, the entire human population could be vulnerable to infection,” states the research - citing previous warnings from the World Health Organization.
Britain is at ‘medium risk’ of a pandemic emerging here where avian or swine flu jumps the species barrier and can be spread from person to person. South East Asia poses the highest risk in terms of the actual emergence of a strain of influenza, with countries such as Cambodia, China and Vietnam rated as ‘extreme risk’.
But factors such as crowded cities, a growing population, and the sheer amount of travel in and out of the UK provide ideal conditions for a virus to spread if it makes it to the UK.
In 2011, more than 69 million people used Heathrow Airport, while nearly 100,000 a day flew in and out of Gatwick.
During the Olympics, almost 800,000 people will use London’s public transport system each day.
Alyson Warhurst, chief executive of Maplecroft, said: “South East Asia is the region where an influenza pandemic is most likely to emerge. People travelling from these high risk countries for the London Olympic Games, have the potential to heighten the risks for the UK if an outbreak were to occur.”
She warned: “Such an influx of visitors exacerbates the already substantial risk of influenza spread in the country. It is therefore vital that the UK maintains its strong ability to manage outbreaks through strategic approaches, such as UK Pandemic Preparedness Strategy 2011.”