Polonium-210 poisoning in London: Hypochondriasis and public health

Oliver W. Morgan, Lisa Page, Sarah Forrester, Helen Maguire

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)


Introduction: In November 2006, a Russian dissident died from radioactive Polonium-210 (210Po) poisoning in London. Providing reassuring messages during a public health incident may be ineffective for individuals with high health anxiety (hypochondriasis). Methods: Members of the public who called a 24-hour telephone helpline were offered a follow-up call by a health protection specialist for reassurance. A psychiatrist attempted to contact those callers who were unable to be reas-sured by the health protection specialist. Results: Of 872 individuals contacted for reassurance, seven (0.6%) could not be reassured. The psychiatrist contacted four of these individuals. Three had a history of health-related anxiety and two attributed somatic symptoms to 210 Po exposure. Conclusions: For individuals with hypochondriasis, reassurance during major public health incidents may be ineffective. Having a psychiatrist available was helpful in managing individuals with excessive health anxiety.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)96-97
Number of pages2
JournalPrehospital and Disaster Medicine
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2008


  • anxiety
  • hypochondriasis
  • mental health
  • poisoning
  • public health
  • radiation incident
  • risk assessment
  • risk communication


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