Festivals up and down Europe could speed up the spread of monkeypox, health experts have warned.
World Health Organisation (WHO) officials are scrambling to raise awareness of the outbreak ahead of the summer as many cases have been linked to ‘large events or parties’.
The agency says Europe is at the ‘epicentre’ of the ‘largest and most geographically widespread monkeypox outbreak ever reported’ outside western and central Africa.
The warning to partygoers comes as the number of cases in the UK has risen to 190 as officials confirmed 11 new infections in England.
WHO Europe regional director Dr Hans Henri Kluge stressed that the potential for further transmission in the continent and elsewhere over the summer is high.
‘As new patients present every day, investigations into past cases show that the outbreak in our region was certainly under way as early as mid-April,’ he said.
‘Based on the case reports to date, this outbreak is currently being transmitted through social networks connected largely through sexual activity, primarily involving men who have sex with men.
‘Many – but not all cases – report fleeting and/or multiple sexual partners, sometimes associated with large events or parties.
‘Rapid, amplified transmission has occurred in the context of the recent lifting of pandemic restrictions on international travel and events.’
The WHO’s technical lead for monkeypox, Rosamund Lewis said that while most cases so far have been among gay or bisexual men, anyone is at potential risk – regardless of their sexual orientation.
Monkeypox has already spread against the backdrop of several mass gatherings, WHO said in a statement.
While it is not a sexually transmitted disease (STI), the virus can be contracted through sex due to the close contact.
Over the coming months, festivals and large parties will ‘provide further contexts where amplification may occur’.
Scientists have been left puzzled by the unusual spread but Dr Kluge warned that responding to the outbreak will not require the same measures needed for the Covid-19.
UK officials have also stressed that the risk to the general public ‘remains low’.
Dr Ruth Milton, senior medical adviser at UKHSA, said: ‘It’s important that we work to limit the virus being passed on.
‘We remind people that they should be alert to new spots, ulcers or blisters on any part of their body.’
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