While the whole world will be busy enjoying the thrill and excitement of the soccer World Cup, two Canadian researchers will be keeping a close eye on what hundreds of thousands of soccer fans take to the matches in South Africa - and what they potentially bring home.

Kamran Khan, infectious disease physician and scientist at St. Michael’s Hospital (SMH) in Toronto, and John Brownstein, assistant professor in the Informatics Program at Children’s Hospital Boston, plan to monitor and assess potential infectious disease threats to the international soccer championship that began Friday.

The two men first combined their independently developed intelligence systems for tracking potential threats to mass gatherings during the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.

“As global air travel becomes more accessible to the world’s population, mass gatherings (like the World Cup) are increasing in both scale and frequency,” said Khan. “They have the potential to attract and amplify infectious disease threats in the world.” Khan added.

“Our epidemic intelligence efforts are designed to complement local surveillance for infectious disease epidemics within South Africa around the time of the World Cup,” said Brownstein. “Additionally, we anticipate that our work will also be helpful in planning for future mass gatherings.” Brownstein added.

World Cup organizers expect 300,000 foreigners to visit South Africa for the month-long soccer tournament.

Khan and Brownstein will focus on countries participating in the tournament and cities around the world where air travel to South Africa is greatest during the month of June.

Those cities are London, Harare, Windhoek, Lusaka, Luanda, Dubai, Mauritius, Amsterdam, New York, Singapore, Lagos, Sydney and Sao Paulo.

FIFA, soccer’s international organising committee, notes that the largest number of foreign ticket holders will come from the US.

More than 130,000 of the 2.8 million tickets were purchased by US residents. England was second, followed by Australia, Mexico, Germany and Brazil.

The researchers will monitor both what travellers might bring into South Africa - which could be anything from mumps from England or Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease from Singapore - and what they take home with them, such as Rift Valley Fever from South Africa, said an SMH release.

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