Novel public health risk assessment process developed to support syndromic surveillance for the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games

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BackgroundSyndromic surveillance aims to provide early warning and real time estimates of the extent of incidents; and reassurance about lack of impact of mass gatherings. We describe a novel public health risk assessment process to ensure those leading the response to the 2012 Olympic Games were alerted to unusual activity that was of potential public health importance, and not inundated with multiple statistical ‘alarms’.MethodsStatistical alarms were assessed to identify those which needed to result in ‘alerts’ as reliably as possible. There was no previously developed method for this. We identified factors that increased our concern about an alarm suggesting that an ‘alert’ should be made.ResultsBetween 2 July and 12 September 2012, 350 674 signals were analysed resulting in 4118 statistical alarms. Using the risk assessment process, 122 ‘alerts’ were communicated to Olympic incident directors.ConclusionsUse of a novel risk assessment process enabled the interpretation of large number of statistical alarms in a manageable way for the period of a sustained mass gathering. This risk assessment process guided the prioritization and could be readily adapted to other surveillance systems. The process, which is novel to our knowledge, continues as a legacy of the Games.

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