With around 500,000 spectators estimated to descend on London for the Olympic Games, the risk of passing on infectious diseases is likely to shoot up. In fact, as a precaution, there has been a major public health campaign in the UK and other countries around the world to help guard against epidemics of infectious diseases during London 2012. Olympic arenas are already being monitored to ensure there's no danger of Legionnaires’ disease—new empty buildings are potential breeding grounds for the Legionella bacteria—and the Health Protection Agency has been testing rapid alert systems to identify anyone reporting unusual flu-like symptoms (the symptoms of Legionnaires disease), so that A&E departments, GP surgeries and NHS Direct can act immediately to find the source of the disease. So, what can you do? “Crowded places, like stadia, provide ideal conditions for spreading many acute respiratory infections like the common cold and influenza,” says GP, Dr Anne Hogg. “To protect yourself, adopt the usual precautions such as washing your hands thoroughly after being in a crowded place and on public transport.”
One of the biggest health worries for large gatherings at festivals and sporting events is heat exhaustion, according to analysis in medical journal The Lancet. With 80,000 people inside the Olympic stadium alone, many more visitors in the surrounding park, and 190,000 staff, volunteers and athletes milling around, you need to be extra cautious to avoid heatstroke. Heat exhaustion and heatstroke are major risks, especially for the young and elderly. It occurs when the body is unable to regulate its temperature, which rises rapidly. The sweating mechanism fails, and the body is unable to cool down. Watch out for symptoms of dizziness, fainting, muscle cramps, excessive sweating, feeling cold and clammy, headaches, rapid heartbeat and nausea. If you do experience these, get out of the heat and into a less crowded space, and seek immediate medical help because heat exhaustion can lead to heatstroke, which is far more serious.
Food poisoning risks
With a carnival atmosphere, street stalls and high temperatures, London during the Olympics will be great fun. But, an increased risk of food poisoning at the Olympics is also on the cards, with organisers at previous Olympic and Paralympic Games pointing to the higher risk of food- and water-borne conditions such as diarrhoea and food poisoning.
So, what can you do?
• Only buy food from reputable and official places, such as cafes, burger vans, and drinks and snack stalls.
• If you're buying bottled water, check for sealed caps and buy labels you know.
• If you stick to formal-looking outlets you should be safe, as all food venues throughout East London will be subject to spot checks on food hygiene and water quality during the Olympics.
Along with the excitement of being at an Olympic event there's the inevitable stress overload of sitting into city traffic jams, waiting in long queues and keeping an eye on the kids in the busy crowds. Whether you’re a tourist or a Londoner, it pays to know how to cope in practical terms.
Firstly, know the Olympic hotspots and when to avoid them. For a detailed map of busy areas and travel routes likely to be congested, head to the London 2012 Web site.
As for coping with the stressful crowds, life coach Melissa Cooper suggests:
• have a schedule and stick to it so you feel in control of the situation
• be ready to step out and ask for help if you feel overwhelmed by your stress
• if you're stuck in a crowded place you can’t readily get out of, practice taking deep breaths to control your breathing.
London’s leading scientists have warned that high pollution levels in the Olympic boroughs could jeopardise the health of visitors. According to Dr Ben Barratt, an analyst at the London Air Quality Network (LAQN), Olympians and visitors alike could suffer from the pollution if there are long periods of warm sunny weather and easterly winds.
Travellers with asthma could find things especially difficult, with two-thirds of people with the condition saying that fumes and congested areas can make their asthma worse, according to Asthma UK.
So, if you do suffer from asthma, it’s important to check the latest UK air pollution broadcast before you go out, which you can find on the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) website.
If your asthma reliever doesn’t help, then Asthma UK advise staying indoors whenever possible.
Don't let the bedbugs bite
No matter how posh your hotel, bedbugs can be a problem. A report by pest control firm Rentokil says that bedbug infestations are rife. The company has seen a 24 per cent increase in call-outs, which it puts it down to increased international travel. This is bad news for Olympic travellers because bedbugs are notoriously difficult to eliminate, and while they don’t spread disease, they can drink seven times their own weight in blood in a single night, leaving itchy welts on your skin. When you check in, try to look out for the tiny insects in bed headboards, wooden bed frames, around the bed and on the mattress. (netdoctor.co.uk) The bugs tend to be nocturnal so you need to look for signs of infestation. This includes pellets of faeces, yellowing cast-off skins and a distinctively sweet, sickly smell. If you spot these, your best bet is to change hotels (not just rooms) because bed bugs will attach to suitcases and clothes and then infest your house when you're back home.
Dehydration on the tube
London’s not known for its searing climate, but even our temperate weather can lead to heat waves in the depths of the London Underground. Some stations have registered temperatures up to 40°C, due in part to the large number of people, lack of ventilation, and crowded trains—which can cause dehydration and even fainting.
To keep yourself cool, try:
• carrying a bottle of water with you when you travel
• not boarding a train if you feel unwell
• if you do feel ill, getting off at the next stop and asking staff for help (netdoctor.co.uk)