Health Risks

Human Diseases

Infectious diseases in humans take a variety of forms. Some have the potential to cause significant public health impacts, due to the number of people they might affect in a short space of time, and the severity of their symptoms. Possible scenarios range from significant outbreaks of ‘containable’ infectious diseases, which spread slowly and / or can be more easily delayed or stopped but may have a high fatality rate, through to pandemics such as COVID-19, where the whole population is at risk from a highly infectious virus, which can cause large numbers of fatalities in certain groups.

Emerging diseases

Emerging infectious diseases such as Ebola and the Zika virus, have the potential to cause a large number of people to fall ill. These are diseases which have recently been diagnosed or the number of cases has increased over the last 20 years in a specific location or among a specific population.

Ways of catching these diseases can include:

  • Respiratory – airborne from one infected person to another
  • Vector-borne – spread to humans via a third-party species, such as a mosquito
  • Blood-borne – spread between humans via exposure to infected blood
  • Food-borne – spread by contaminated food or water.

What are we doing?

Contingency plans exist for a pandemic influenza event, and we are constantly learning the lessons from previous infectious disease outbreaks, including COVID-19, to inform preparation for future infectious disease outbreaks and pandemics. Preparedness plans are regularly reviewed to ensure they reflect the latest expert advice. One way of ensuring our plans are fit for purpose is through stress-test exercises, which are run both locally and nationally across government, the public sector, and various parts of the health system.

What can you do?

Emerging infectious diseases are closely monitored by public health agencies and international partners such as the World Health Organisation. Information will be provided on specific diseases as and when they emerge. If you are travelling abroad, check what immunisations you may need and if you have had them before, make sure they are up to date.

Highly infectious

Examples of new infections that have emerged in the human population include COVID-19 (which led to tens of thousands of deaths during 2020 in the UK), HIV and HCIDs, such as Ebola, SARS, Middle East Respiratory syndrome (MERS), and Zika virus.

What are we doing?

  • Management of the demand on the NHS and social care.
  • Distribution of antiviral medication to the public.
  • Vaccination with the newly developed pandemic vaccine once available.
  • Public awareness.
  • Managing excessive numbers of deaths.
  • Ensuring individual LRF organisations have their own business continuity plans in place to cope in times of staff shortage.

What can you do?

  • Look out for and observe advice and guidance from the NHS, in particular advice about reducing the spread of illness.
  • Keep up to date with seasonal vaccinations.
  • Identify a flu friend – somebody who would collect your medication, food and other supplies allowing you to stay at home when ill.
  • Keep small personal stocks of “over the counter” cold and flu medication to help relieve your symptoms.
  • Know the arrangements for your child’s school.

Keep as healthy as possible and follow these basic hygiene practices:

  • Cover your nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing, and use a tissue when possible
  • Dispose of dirty tissues promptly and carefully.
  • Maintain good basic hygiene. For example, wash hands frequently with soap and water to reduce the spread of the virus from your hands to your face or to other people.
  • Clean hard surfaces (e.g. door handles) frequently using a normal cleaning product.
  • Help children to follow this advice.