Monkeypox: Summer festivals and parties could become super-spreader events, warns WHO

Glastonbury Festival, 2019

World Health Organization (WHO) are fearing that summer festivals and parties could become monkeypox super-spreader events.

The most recent figures show more than 500 cases have been detected in the last month worldwide, in countries outside of Central and West Africa, where monkeypox is endemic.

The majority of the cases confirmed since 7 May have been in Europe, with the UK total now at 179, and gay, bisexual and queer men have been disproportionately affected.

In a statement released on Tuesday (31 May), WHO Europe regional director Dr Hans Henri Kluge said that Europe “remains at the epicentre of the largest and most geographically widespread monkeypox outbreak ever reported outside of endemic areas in Western and Central Africa”.

He continued: “The potential for further transmission in Europe and elsewhere over the summer is high. Monkeypox has already spread against the backdrop of several mass gatherings in the region.

“Over the coming months, many of the dozens of festivals and large parties planned provide further contexts where amplification may occur.”

However, he added that these events also “provide powerful opportunities to engage with young, sexually active and globally mobile persons to raise awareness and strengthen individual and community protection”.

Kluge suggested that ahead of large summer gatherings, health officials should focus on raising awareness among young people, and on outreach with event organisers on how to provide accurate information to attendees.

This week, the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) advised that those with monkeypox symptoms avoid having sex, and added: “While there is currently no available evidence of monkeypox in genital excretions, as a precaution, cases are advised to use condoms for eight weeks after infection and this guidance will be updated as evidence emerges.”

Kluge said that the European monkeypox outbreak was “currently being transmitted through social networks connected largely through sexual activity, primarily involving men who have sex with men”, however he added: “We must remember, however, as we have seen from previous outbreaks, that monkeypox is caused by a virus that can infect anyone and is not intrinsically associated with any specific group of people.

“The gay and bisexual communities have high awareness and rapid health-seeking behaviour when it comes to their and their communities’ sexual health. Indeed, we should applaud them for their early presentation to health-care services.”