London 2012 Olympics puts U.K. at heightened risk for pandemic

New research suggests that England faces an increased risk of a flu pandemic because of the millions of tourists expected to arrive in London for the 2012 Olympics.

A 200 country-study conducted by risk analysts at Maplecroft ranked the U.K. second in the world, after Singapore, in terms of the speed at which an outbreak of avian or swine influenza could spread, according to the Independent.

“South East Asia is the region where an influenza pandemic is most likely to emerge,” Alyson Warhurst, Maplecroft’s CEO, said, the Independent reports. “People traveling 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.

“Such an influx of visitors exacerbates the already substantial risk of influenza spread in the country. It is therefore vital that the U.K. maintains its strong ability to manage outbreaks through strategic approaches, such as U.K. Pandemic Preparedness Strategy 2011.”

Britain’s crowded cities, growing population and large volume of travel provide ideal conditions for the spread of a virus.

“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,” the Maplecroft research said, the Independent reports.

Maplecroft, however, also found that the U.K. has one of the highest capacities to contain a pandemic should one occur.

Health officials in England are already on high alert. The U.K. Health Protection Agency announced that it has increased its surveillance network to detect any signs of new virus emerging. The HPA has created a system for monitoring hospital admissions and has raised its concerns with the country’s general practitioners.

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