Put hundreds of thousands of people in any environment and some are bound to get sick. Surely the 2012 London Olympics will be no exception.
Hence, a Canadian-led team headed by Dr. Kamran Khan is working with British authorities to anticipate and track risk for the games.
The project will integrate research on both the local and global levels.
Usually surveillance efforts focus on the host city and country of a mass event to detect disease and help arrange public health responses. However new technology lets scientists actually look at how people move within a mass gathering and gain insight as to how diseases are spread by crowd behavior.
The team is in part drawing on experience and expertise from colleagues in Saudi Arabia, which hosts the Hajj pilgrimage, the world’s largest annual mass gathering. About 3 million pilgrims make the Hajj each year.
Dr. Khan’s team will use his Bio.Diaspora software (which tracks disease spread in relation to air traffic patterns) and internet-based tools that track the spread of disease in real time (like Google Flu Trends). Their goal is to identify which diseases pose the greatest threat well before the event actually starts.
Dr. Khan explained:
Systems that track infectious diseases at the global level are poorly connected to those at the local level. But by integrating them, we can create a novel and more effective approach to preventing infectious disease risks at mass gatherings, such as the Olympics […] Connecting all the pieces offers us early detection of global outbreak events, an assessment of how likely these events are to enter the mass gathering venue, and an understanding of the local implications of what imported disease might do and how best to mitigate those risks.
The effort will bring researchers from around the world together, including Britain, Saudi Arabia, Canada, the US and others from the World Health Organization.