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This is the VOA Special English Health Report.
Picture a huge public gathering -- a sea of people like the hajj to Mecca or an appearance by the pope. Think of the World Cup, the Olympics, a political event or a rock concert. When thousands or even millions of people get together, what do you suppose is the biggest health concern? Traditionally, doctors and public health officials were most concerned about the spread of infectious diseases, like influenza. Robert Steffen, a researcher in Switzerland, says infectious diseases are still a concern. But he says injuries and hot weather are bigger threats at so-called mass gatherings.
Mr. Steffen is a professor of travel medicine at the University of Zurich. He is the lead author of one of several new papers about health problems at mass gatherings in the journal Lancet Infectious Diseases.
Professor Steffen says children and older people have the highest risk of injury or other health problems at these events. He says children are more at risk of getting crushed in stampedes, while older people are at higher risk from extreme heat.
Stampedes and cases of crushing at mass gatherings have caused an estimated seven thousand deaths over the past thirty years. The design of an area can play a part. There may be narrow passages or other choke points that too many people try to use at once. Professor Steffen says the mood of a crowd can also play a part. For instance, if fireworks are suddenly launched within a football stadium, people can get scared and try to escape.
He says organizers of large gatherings need to avoid creating conditions that might lead to panic, stampedes and heat stroke. And he says they must be ready to give medical care.
So what advice does he have for people attending a large gathering? First, get any needed vaccinations before traveling. Then, stay away from any large mass of people as much as possible. Also, be careful with alcohol and drugs, which can increase the risk of injuries.
And that's the VOA Special English Health Report, available at voaspecialenglish.com with MP3s, PDF files for e-readers and podcasts. You can also find our programs on iTunes. Have you ever been in a huge crowd and worried about your safety? Or did you feel fine? Post a comment on our website and tell us about your experience.