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Health protection

Health Protection is a term used to encompass a set of activities within public health. It is defined as protecting individual, groups and populations from single cases of infectious disease, incidents and outbreaks, and non-infectious environmental hazards such as chemicals and radiation. 

Contacting a health protection team

The following links provide contact information for health care professionals to contact their local health protection team:

Health protection is one of the responsibilities of Public Health England (PHE). It is a broad and versatile field requiring specialist knowledge and skills provided by a multidisciplinary team. It has been given an increasing profile in recent years following the polonium 210 incident, pandemic flu and more recently Ebola.

Health protection is dynamic and responsive to the current health needs of the population. Current key topics requiring management include the recent Zika virus pandemic, hospital acquired infections and tackling antibiotic resistance.

Health protection services are on hand to deal with outbreak situations and monitor the emergence of diseases not previously seen in the UK such as Ebola and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS). We are also seeing on-going infections with historically well-known diseases such as measles and tuberculosis, and observing the effect that immunisation is having on diseases such as meningitis.

What do health protection teams (HPT) do?

An HPT is a multidisciplinary team consisting of, nurses, practitioners, doctors, surveillance and administrative staff who work closely with colleagues in PHE, environmental health departments, hospital microbiologists and infection and prevention control teams, GPs, community specialists and educational institutions.

The teams are split regionally to provide services locally according to the epidemiological needs. Each team provides local specialist support to prevent and reduce the impact of infectious diseases, hazards, and major emergencies. They are involved in surveillance and monitoring of infectious diseases, strategic health protection work, emergency planning and operational support in addition to education and training, both for health care professionals and the general public. Some of the key areas of expertise include immunisation, gastrointestinal infections, water borne diseases, environmental hazards, travel associated infections, and infection control/hospital acquired infections and respiratory infections including tuberculosis.

Every HPT has an on-call service which provides support to healthcare professionals and members of the public and responds to notifications of infectious disease and any health protection needs.

Notification of infectious disease (NOIDS)

Registered medical practitioners (RMPs) have a statutory duty to notify the Proper Officer via the local HPT of suspected or confirmed cases of certain infectious diseases. There are 32 notifiable diseases and 60 causative agents. The PHE website contains details of where you can find your local health protection team, notification forms and the list of notifiable diseases. The attending RMP should fill out a notification form immediately on diagnosis of a suspected notifiable disease and should not wait for laboratory confirmation before notification. The notification form should be sent to the Proper Officer within three days or notified verbally within 24 hours if the case is considered urgent. Prompt notification will ensure that health protection interventions and control measures can be initiated as soon as possible. 

Download this poster from PHE for guidance and information on notifiable diseases and how notifications should be made.

See the following case study as an example as to why it’s important to notify cases in a timely fashion.

Case study: why notify a case of measles?

Measles is highly infectious vaccine preventable infection. One in every ten children who catch measles need hospital care and the disease can lead to serious complications such as pneumonia and encephalitis.

The HPT will conduct a public health risk assessment for the case and those who have potentially come into contact with the disease. If the notification is made promptly the HPT can:

  1. Attempt to prevent future cases, by advising measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccination to unvaccinated or partially vaccinated contacts. As vaccine-induced measles antibodies develop more rapidly than that following natural infection, MMR vaccine should be used to protect susceptible contacts from suspected measles which needs to occur with 72 hours of contact.
  2. Advise other vulnerable contacts (babies under six months, pregnant women and immunosuppressed individuals) and identify if there is a need for rapid testing of the index case, as well as checking the antibody status of the contact. This risk assessment needs to happen as soon as possible to ensure that if human immunoglobulin is required, to provide protective antibodies to prevent or attenuate infection, it can be given within six days.
  3. Advise contacts more widely in an attempt to prevent tertiary cases, for example sending letters to parents or other patients who may have been in the same waiting room as the case for over fifteen minutes, alerting them to the contact and the need to confirm MMR status with a health care provider and if unvaccinated or partially vaccinated to seek an MMR vaccination as soon as possible.

Early notification can help the HPT take public health actions to prevent further cases.