Monkeypox outbreaks across Europe linked to gay sauna and fetish festival

Monkeypox lesions

Health authorities in Spain have attributed the majority of monkeypox infections in the country to a single outbreak in a now-closed gay sauna in the Madrid region.

At least 30 cases of monkeypox have so far been confirmed across Spain – with Britain, Portugal and the US also reporting a surge in cases of the rare viral infection. 

The UK Health Security Agency noted that cases have predominantly been found in gay and bisexual men, but have been clear that monkeypox usually poses little risk as the majority of patients make a full recovery.

Twenty-three new cases were confirmed in Spain on Friday (May 20), with regional health chief Enrique Ruiz Escudero telling reporters that most of the cases had been traced from a single adult sauna, used by queer men for sex, according to Reuters

Escudero confirmed that the Public Health Department of Spain will be carrying out further analysis to “control contagion, cut the chains of transmission and try to mitigate the transmission of this virus as much as possible”.

Fifteen of the cases in Spain are in the Madrid region, with another 18 suspected cases under investigation across the country. The Extremadura region confirmed its first case on Friday and 23 cases have been noted in neighbouring Portugal.

Authorities have also confirmed the first cases of monkeypox in Belgium, which have been linked to visitors of the Darklands fetish festival which took place from 4-9 May.

“The health department of the Belgian government has confirmed three cases of the monkeypox virus linked to visitors at Darklands,” read a statement on the festival’s website.

“There’s reason to assume that the virus has been brought in by visitors from abroad to the festival after recent cases in other countries.

Around 100 cases of monkeypox, which is rarely found outside parts of Central and West Africa, have been detected across Europe. While some have been associated with overseas travel, UK health officials believe that local cases are a result of transmission throughout the LGBTQ+ community.

As the summer approaches, Dr Hans Kluge, the World Health Organisation (WHO) regional director for Europe, is “concerned that transmission could accelerate” with “mass gatherings, festivals and parties as the cases currently being detected are among those engaging in sexual activity and the symptoms are unfamiliar to many”.

“I would like to emphasise that individuals contracting monkeypox must not be stigmatised or discriminated against in any way” he continued. “Timely risk communication with the general public is important, and public health bodies should widely disseminate accurate and practical advice on prevention, diagnosis and treatment.”

Dr Kluge urged anyone who is “concerned about an unusual rash” to consult their healthcare provider.