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GPs set for rapid access diagnostics during Olympics

GPs in London will know the exact cause of gastrointestinal disease within 24 hours, as the NHS prepares for a likely increase in vomiting and diarrhoea due to the influx of visitors for the Olympics.

The Health Protection Agency said they will install new rapid diagnostic tools in laboratories as part of their ‘Games Ready' strategy in an effort to reduce the risk of outbreaks of infection.

The new diagnostic tools reduce the processing time for gastrointestinal illnesses to 24 hours rather than several days by analysing the DNA of samples, rather than growing cultures.

The new technology will be used for the duration of the Games, but if judged to be a success, it could replace traditional disease detection methods in the future.

An increase in gastrointestinal and respiratory diseases is expected due to the influx of visitors coming to the UK for the Olympics, though the HPA assures that this will be no different to the usual increase in vomiting and diarrhoea GPs expect in the winter months.

The HPA is also working with the RCGP to raise awareness in GPs about what processes to follow if patients present themselves with unusual diseases such as malaria, chikungunya and Japanese encephalitis.

These measures have been developed with a £2.5 million grant from the DH to fund additional staff.

Professor Maria Zambon, director of reference microbiology services at HPA said: ‘We would expect that the speed of the response will be much quicker than that GP is used to dealing with.

 ‘The public health authority branch can then step in to whether intervention is needed at the source of the disease to prevent onward contamination.'

‘It shouldn't make too much difference to what the GP says to the patient. They might still give symptomatic advice such as "go home, drink lots of fluid and wash your hands after meals and going to the toilet"'.

Dr Brian McCloskey, HPA Olympics lead and director for London said the HPA will be providing expert advice on how to respond to and limit any threat to public health.

He added: ‘We are writing to healthcare professionals across the UK reminding them to be alert for unusual presentations and report symptoms of infectious disease promptly.'

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