DOH Provides Recommendations to Philadelphia Health Care Facilities in Anticipation of Pope Visit

The City of Philadelphia is preparing to host the World Meeting of Families from Sept. 22-25, 2015, including a planned papal visit from Sept. 26-27, 2015. This series of events is expected to bring an additional 1-3 million persons from all over the world to the Greater Philadelphia region.

Visitors from the U.S. and travelers (children and adults) from other countries may not be up to date on their routine immunizations. Foreign visitors may be incubating and import vaccine-preventable diseases, and subsequently spread them to others who are not fully protected.

The Pennsylvania Department of Health (DOH) is collaborating with other regional health agencies to monitor health events occurring in the region during this time. In anticipation, it sent out an alert on Sept. 17, with the following recommendations:

  • Health care facilities in the Philadelphia region should review their emergency response and disaster preparedness plans in anticipation of the World Meeting of Families events, with the possibly heightened potential for terrorism and communicable disease situations (e.g., meningitis, enteric outbreaks) requiring public health intervention. PAMED, in collaboration with other stakeholders, has a CME series on emergency preparedness.
  • The health care community should be prepared for a variety of infectious diseases and a potential surge of patients. Health care facilities in the Philadelphia region and the counties beyond should update clinical providers on infectious diseases of concern. Here is a list of reportable conditions in Pennsylvania. In addition, review fact sheets, including symptoms, treatment, and disease management information on a variety of diseases and health topics.
  • DOH relies on clinicians to report by telephone conditions that require immediate notification, as well as any outbreak or unusual presentation or cluster of disease. Indicators of naturally occurring outbreaks or possible biological terrorism include:
    • Unusual clustering of illnesses by geography, time or any other shared factor (e.g., persons who attended the same public event or gathering)
    • Increase in serious lower respiratory illness with negative tests for common bacteria and viruses
    • Patients presenting with clinical signs and symptoms that suggest an infectious disease outbreak (e.g., >two persons presenting with an unexplained febrile illness associated with sepsis, pneumonia, respiratory failure, or rash or a botulism-like syndrome with flaccid muscle paralysis, especially if occurring in otherwise healthy persons)
    • Unusual age distribution for common diseases (e.g., an increase in chickenpox-like illness in adult patients)
    • Single cases of uncommon, non-indigenous disease in patients without relevant exposure history (e.g., anthrax, plague, brucellosis)
    • Large number of cases of acute flaccid paralysis with prominent bulbar palsies, suggestive of a release of C. botulinum toxin
  • Evaluate facilities and personnel to ensure safety and security
  • Ensure that appropriate staff understands emergency roles and communications protocols
  • Update clinical providers on explosives, biological, chemical, and radiological agents (Information can be found at,,
  • Review procedures for medical treatment of mass casualties, including decontamination, personal protective equipment, and triage protocols
  • Review procedures that address medical treatment of blast and bombing injuries. Information can be found here.

Please contact DOH at 1-877-PA-HEALTH to report conditions requiring immediate notification or to obtain public health consultation. DOH also will facilitate diagnostic testing requiring public health laboratory services.

DOH asks that, when possible, emergency departments enter in the keyword “pope” in the chief complaint indicating a patient has attended events relating to the World Meeting of Families and/or the papal visit.

Any questions or concerns regarding these recommendations should be directed to the DOH 1-877-PA-HEALTH or your local health department.