Polonium-210 poisoning in London: Hypochondriasis and public health

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

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 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

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Acknowledgements A large number" of people from the Health Protection Agency and NHS Direct were involved in the public health response to the incident. The authors acknowledge their contribution in talking with and providing reassurance to members of the public. Lisa Page is supported by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), NIH as a Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Fellow (F32 ES013690). The contents of this paper are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the NIEHS, NIH.


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


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