We understand that the recent incidents in Amesbury and Salisbury involving nerve agent Novichok will cause concern about possible health risks. This blog will answer the questions we are getting asked the most and provide you with our most up-to-date advice.
Our full statement and precautionary advice for people who live in, have visited or will visit the areas affected can be found online here and will be continually monitored and updated when necessary.
What is Novichok and what are the symptoms of Novichok poisoning?
Novichok is a group of nerve agents that attack the nervous system and stop chemical messages getting around the body. While some Novichok agents are liquid, others are thought to exist in solid form, meaning they could be dispersed as an ultra-fine powder.
Some of the symptoms that may appear as a result of poisoning with Novichok include:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Disordered mental state
- Blurred/painful vision
- Involuntary faecal incontinence
What is PHE doing about this?
We currently have health protection experts working on the ground locally and nationally to respond to this incident and assist the police and local authorities in Amesbury and Salisbury. The clean-up in Salisbury is ongoing and we are now working in Amesbury to assist in the investigation to find out how the recent victims came into contact with Novichok.
We are monitoring this very closely, 24 hours a day and will continue updating our advice and guidance to the public as necessary.
How can you be sure that the risk to public health is low?
We understand the concern people will be feeling locally after this second incident involving Novichok. We would like to reassure you that when any health protection incident occurs, we put in place well-established response plans and follow clear processes, to ensure we can keep the community safe. We evaluate the information that we have and assess the risk to the public, based on what we know. It is by using this information that we can confidently advise that the risk to the public in Salisbury and Amesbury remains low. We will, however, keep this under constant review.
Police investigations into the incident are continuing and the sites have been cordoned off as an entirely precautionary measure while partner organisations work together to find out more.
What is the advice around picking up foreign objects?
As a precaution, we want emphasise to everyone in the Salisbury and Amesbury area that nobody, adult or child, should pick up any foreign object which could contain (or may have previously contained) liquid or gel, in the interests of your own safety.
This in practice means do not pick up containers, syringes, needles, cosmetics or similar objects made of materials such as metal, plastic or glass.
This is particularly important as the school holidays approach. People should be extra vigilant and we urge parents to ensure children understand this.
To be clear: do not pick up anything that you haven’t dropped yourself.
What happens if I visited one of the locations identified by police?
A number of sites have been cordoned off in the Amesbury and Salisbury areas, which include
- Queen Elizabeth Gardens in Salisbury
- A property at John Baker House, Rolleston Street, Salisbury
- A property on Muggleton Road, Amesbury
- Boots the Chemist, Stonehenge Walk, Amesbury
- The Baptist church on Raleigh Crescent, Amesbury
While there is no immediate health risk to anyone who may have been in any of these locations, as a highly precautionary measure we are advising that people undertake the following actions:
- Wash the clothing that you were wearing in an ordinary washing machine using your regular detergent at the temperature recommended for the clothing – none of these actions should damage your washing machine
- Wipe personal items such as phones, handbags and other electronic items with cleansing or baby wipes and dispose of the wipes in the bin (ordinary domestic waste disposal)
- If your items are dry-clean only, you should keep them double-bagged and securely fastened. Further details will follow
- Other items such as jewellery and spectacles which cannot go in the washing machine or be cleaned with baby wipes, should be hand washed with warm water and detergent and then rinsed with clean cold water
- Please thoroughly was your hands with soap and water after cleaning any items
Why are you only telling me this now?
We publish advice on a continuous basis as soon as new information arises from the investigation. Our initial advice on clothing was provided on 4th July. All available evidence regarding this substance has now been reviewed by scientists across government to ensure members of the public are provided with the safest but also most practical advice. This is a highly precautionary approach to address any possible future risks.
Other questions you may have related to cleaning/washing
What should I do with the cloths and screen wipes used to clean any items?
Place them in a plastic bag and put in the household bin (ordinary domestic waste).
I don’t own a washing machine – can I use a launderette?
What should I do with my shoes?
Shoes can initially be wiped clean with a damp cloth and subsequently dried or polished as normal. The cloth should be disposed of in a plastic bag in the household bin (ordinary domestic waste).
What should I do if I live in the same household as someone who visited one of the locations?
These actions are only advised for individuals who visited one of the locations in the specified timeframes. The advice relates only to clothes they had on and the personal items they were carrying during the visit. The advice does not apply to members of the same household who did not visit in person, or their belongings.
Should I clean the whole house?
No, additional specific cleaning is necessary only for clothes you were wearing or items you had with you when you visited one of the locations listed above within the specified timeframe.
What if I want to destroy my items?
You do not need to destroy any items. If possible, wash the clothing that you were wearing in an ordinary washing machine using your regular detergent at the temperature recommended for the clothing. If the items are dry-clean only, you should keep them double-bagged and securely fastened. Further details will follow.
Can I use my washing machine again afterwards?
Yes, your washing machine should be safe to use.
Can I dispose of dry-clean only items myself or burn them?
No, you should follow the advice provided and you should keep them double-bagged and securely fastened, awaiting further details
What if I have already taken the items to the dry-cleaner?
There is no immediate risk to health from these items but they should not be dry- cleaned if this can be avoided. Contact your dry-cleaners to retrieve the items before dry-cleaning if possible. If you retrieve them, or if they have already been cleaned, collect them, you should keep them double-bagged and securely fastened., awaiting further details.
Why isn’t dry-cleaning safe?
The safest way to remove any trace contamination is by using soap or detergent and water. This isn’t possible for dry-clean only clothing.
I am a dry-cleaner, are any risks posed to me?
There are no risks posed to dry-cleaners as long as the advice given above is followed.
This precautionary advice is only for the clothes worn or items carried at the time of your visit to any of the identified locations. It does not apply to the belongings or clothes of others that you may have come into contact with later – these items do not need to be cleaned.
You do not need to seek advice from a health professional unless you are experiencing symptoms, as any individual who had been significantly exposed at the same time would by now have symptoms
Why are we being told to wipe our personal items with baby wipes when the paramedics and clean-up staff are wearing hazmat suits?
Novichok will dissolve when it comes into contact with water. This is why washing clothes or wiping items with baby wipes, and then washing your hands, will be enough to remove any traces of the substance. The reason paramedics and clean-up staff are wearing hazmat suits is that they may come into contact with larger concentrations of Novichok through their work and therefore they need to be protected.
What should I do if I have been in one of these areas and I start to feel ill?
Again, our advice is that the risk to the public is low but anyone who is concerned about their health or any symptoms they may be experiencing for any reason should seek health advice from their usual sources by contacting their GP or telephoning NHS 111.
What about people who live in the same household as someone who went to one of these sites?
Anyone concerned about visits taken to these areas or contact they may have had with one of the individuals affected by this incident can contact the helpline which has been set up by Wiltshire Police, who will be able to give further advice.
The numbers are Freephone 0800 092 0410 or 0207 158 0124.
Are rivers in the Salisbury and Amesbury areas that have been cordoned off as part of the investigation safe to swim in, or paddle canoes or boats during the summer?
It’s important during the summer that the local community are able to access green spaces and continue enjoying the water environment. There are a small number of water courses close to areas cordoned off as part of the ongoing investigation and so we urge people to respect these cordons when accessing these water courses. If in doubt speak to the Police on 0800 092 0410 or 020 7158 0124.
Standard existing advice from PHE continues to apply. Swimming in rivers and lakes can lead to gastrointestinal infections, with symptoms of diarrhoea and/or vomiting, as well as respiratory, skin, ear and eye infections. Open water areas can potentially contain sewage, livestock contamination, litter, and pollution from farming and industry. There are always micro-organisms present in open water and swimmers should be aware of this risk. Unsupervised swimming could also carry a risk of drowning due to hidden underwater features, depth, temperature, accessibility and current.
What happens next and where can we get the most up to date advice?
As any new information comes to light we will be updating our advice accordingly, so please continue to monitor our website for further updates.