The CMO (UK Chief Medical Officer) has published a contingency plan to prevent and control the mosquito-borne disease West Nile virus.

While risk for infection in the UK is low, there is a need to prepare for the possibility of a UK-acquired case. The contingency plan defines roles and responsibilities of parties involved in tackling the disease and presents a strategy for limiting the impact of the virus.

The introduction to the contingency plan starts with a letter from the Chief Medical Officer.

LETTER OF INTRODUCTION BY THE CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER, UK

West Nile virus no longer respects the geographical boundaries that once restricted it to the Old World. In 1999 this mosquito-borne disease arrived in the city of New York, and its rapid spread across the United States of America, where it caused the death of 284 people in 2002 alone, focused the minds of health professionals and scientists.

Here was evidence that the virus could swiftly become endemic in new territories with the most serious consequences for human health.

While the chances of West Nile virus arriving in the United Kingdom have been assessed as 'low', the possibility cannot be ruled out. In my Annual Report for 2002 I recommended action in a number of areas to prepare for this unlikely event. In particular, I called for a contingency plan that would define the roles and responsibilities of the numerous parties who would be involved in tackling the disease in the event of an UK-acquired case of West Nile virus infection.

This report sets out that strategy and contains important information for all those who might be called on to play a role in limiting the impact of West Nile virus.

Inevitably, given its method of transmission, any effort to tackle West Nile virus will require the close liaison of veterinary and health services at the local, regional and national level.

This report maps out how such co-operation will be achieved in practice through the formation of an inter-disciplinary Incident Control Team to take the lead locally, and the creation of a central Government team drawn from the Department of Health, the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and the Health Protection Agency to provide policy advice nationally.

It is not known how West Nile virus was introduced into New York City, but factors such as climate change, long-haul travel and changes in land-use can facilitate the spread of infectious diseases in unpredictable directions. We have received advance warning that West Nile virus, which was limited in its geographic distribution, has mobilised.

This contingency plan sets out measures:

� to enhance surveillance for the virus

� to alert clinicians to the symptoms of West Nile fever; and

� to control mosquito populations

In many of these areas action has already been taken, whilst in others, it will be initiated only if and when a diagnosis of West Nile virus infection is made.

Sir Liam Donaldson

Chief Medical Officer for England

Download Contingency plan (PDF, 986K)

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