The Five Nation Health Protection Conference 2010 took place on 18th and 19th May at the Beardmore Hotel and Conference Centre in Glasgow. The conference takes place annually at a different venue in one of the five host nations (England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland). The aim of the conference is to provide a focus for CPD for consultants in communicable disease control, consultants and specialists in Public Health and their colleagues in epidemiology, and control of infectious, non infectious and environmental hazards.
Last year, the attendance at the conference was affected by the emerging 2009 pandemic influenza A (H1N1) outbreak. This year it was volcanic ash, which could have had an effect on attendees travelling by air, but happily all participants made it without any major disruption.
This year the main themes were:
- Swine Flu – Pandemic or Panic
- Surveillance – Time to Discard the Parchment and Quill
- Environmental Hazard – Making the Environmental Connection
- Outbreak and Incidents
- Tackling Zoonoses: Partnerships and Progress
- Hot topics
The conference was kindly welcomed to the area by Provost Denis Agnew of West Dunbartonshire Council. This was followed by a thought-provoking keynote address delivered by BBC Scotland Health Correspondent, Eleanor Bradford entitled “There cannot be a crisis next week, my schedule’s already full.” Eleanor spoke about how we present risks to the public, using examples like distrust of the MMR vaccine and the response to the swine flu pandemic to illustrate the problems and pitfalls of addressing the massive demand for trustworthy information that comes from the public.
The first session was about the response to the 2009 flu pandemic.The first presentation from the Republic of Ireland raised issues about contact tracing conducted in Ireland during in-country transmission of 2009 pandemic influenza A (H1N1). This was followed by a thorough and detailed presentation about hospitalised cases in Northern Ireland. From different areas of England there were descriptions of the management of the largest outbreak to date of 2009 pandemic influenza A (H1N1) in a prison, reflections on lessons learned about delivering antiviral drugs and flu testing kits, and finally issues related to the pandemic flu vaccination programme. This session triggered a very lively and interesting discussion about further evaluation of the many efforts undertaken during the pandemic flu response.
The next session, on surveillance methods, focused more on the surveillance process than on the outcome itself, based on experience from Kent, East of England and Wales. There were suggestions on how to develop improved methods for identification of clusters, and on the usefulness of a “break glass” approach to the rapid introduction of enhanced surveillance in response to a public health emergency.
The third session comprised two presentations about environmental hazards. The first of these presented results from a multi-country European Union project called EpiBathe. The second presentation was a case study of a patient with legionnaires’ disease associated with a home-based positive pressure respiratory device. It highlighted lessons learnt, in
particular the importance of promptly obtaining appropriate respiratory and environmental samples, and of having clear guidance for patients on the cleaning and maintenance of such equipment.
A public health conference cannot do without an outbreak session. This year the conference learned about successful TB contact tracing and issues related to large scale screening sessions after detection of TB cases in college settings.
Being in Scotland was a must for learning about the recent outbreak of anthrax among injecting drug users detected there. It is the first outbreak of its kind to be described. The outbreak investigation was described from the perspective of colleagues working in NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde.
Two other outbreaks were presented: a meningococcal cluster in Suffolk illustrating the usefulness of genotyping for risk assessment and a cryptosporidium outbreak associated with a small infant and toddler pool in Greater Manchester.
At the end of this session the conference had a chance to listen to a thought provoking lecture about the implications of contact networks in hospital for the spread of infectious disease.
During the zoonosis session, the conference was taken on a tour of a West Midlands safari park in order to illustrate the different potential microbiological and virological risks that can occur. In the next presentation, the benefits of integrating laboratory and epidemiological data for VTEC were discussed based on experience in Scotland. This was followed by a lecture more broadly discussing the problem of emerging zoonoses and hazard identification in the UK and internationally. The session ended with a presentation about human – animal transmission of influenza H1N1 which nicely linked the penultimate session with the with the beginning of the conference
Finally there was a ‘hot topic’ session. The first presentation reviewed issues relating to the risks of E.coli O157 from open farms in Scotland, reminding us why this is still an important challenge for public health.
It was followed by a presentation about the epidemiology of the emerging Q fever in the Netherlands. The knowledge gained should help to detect and prevent spread in other countries.
The very last lecture, “The world after Godstone…” was an open discussion on changes which the public health sector may face after the recent major outbreak of E. coli O157 linked to an open farm in Surrey in summer 2009, focusing on the importance of strengthening the cooperation between health protection units and across countries.
As in previous years at the 5 Nations Health Protection Conference, there were many interesting poster presentations. The prize for the best poster presentation, kindly donated by the Public Health Medicine Environmental Group, was entitled “Screening a hard to reach population – a novel use for dried blood spot testing.”
Overall, the whole conference confirmed what was said during the welcoming speech, that country has something of interest to present for the benefit of all. It is also worth mentioning that everything went smoothly, and that the organisation of the
conference and the venue was really outstanding.
Now, the next stop for 2011 is Wales…