In the event of people being exposed to communicable diseases or toxic chemicals, it’s vital that information is gathered quickly to reduce or eliminate further risk. The recent Alexander Litvinenko/Polonium-210 incident in the UK is a case in point. At the forefront of monitoring and containing such incidents is the UK’s Health Protection Agency (HPA). Its role is to provide an integrated approach to protecting public health through the provision of support and advice to the UK’s National Health Service (NHS), local authorities, emergency services and other bodies.
The HPA has a network of around 3,000 staff across the UK, with the Greater Manchester Health Protection Unit (GM HPU), part of HPA North West, covering the Greater Manchester area. The Unit’s specialises in epidemiology – the scientific study of factors affecting the health and illness of populations – and has the task of monitoring, tracking and analysing data relating to disease incidents. It sends out forms to those involved or affected which, once completed and returned, are analysed, with the information extracted and input manually into databases.