Scientist advise caution ahead of festival season as monkeypox cases rise

·4 min read
Monkeypox virus
Monkeypox virus

People attending festivals and other events with large crowds this summer have been advised by health officials to be cautious as the number of monkeypox cases continues to increase.

The majority of infections are in men who identify as having sex with other men and experts are encouraging this community in particular to be “hyper vigilant” to any new ulcers, lesions or rashes on their body, especially their genitalia.

Monkeypox is not an STI but can be spread via sex as it passes from one person to another following close contact, including skin-to-skin, such as occurs during sex.

Officials worldwide now believe the virus likely spread around the world so quickly as an infected person visited a sauna in Madrid which then became a superspreader event.

Events, including a gay Pride event in the Canary Islands and a fetish festival in Belgium, are also believed to be linked to multiple early infections.

Dr Will Nutland, honorary assistant professor at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and co-founder of Prepster, a volunteer group of London-based HIV prevention activists helping raise awareness of monkeypox, hosted a webinar dedicated to informing the LGBTQ+ community about the risks of monkeypox.

“There’s been talk in some of the networks we are involved in of the potential dangers of groups of people getting together,” he said.

“Particularly where groups of people may get together and drink, or get high, and start making out.

“We know there is a big two-day festival coming up [Mighty Hoopla] that’s going to attract a lot of queer people in London in a week’s time.”

Mighty Hoopla is a popular festival in Brockwell park in Stockwell, South London and bands such as Sugababes, Steps and Blue will be playing at the event on June 3 and 4.

Mateo Prochazka, an STI expert on the UKHSA team investigating the monkeypox cases who is a self-identifying gay man and has a ticket to the event in South London, said he would still be going despite the monkeypox risk but may think about avoiding certain high-risk situations and environments.

“I’m going there to have a good time, to dance, to have a drink, to sit on the grass. [But] I will maybe think about whether I want to be in a closed tent dancing with a lot of people, just because I want to protect my health,” he said.

“That’s not necessarily something I’m telling everyone they should be doing, but I’m thinking about it.

“If I were single, if I were not in a monogamous relationship, I maybe would withhold from having multiple new sexual contacts just because I dont want the experience of going through the monkeyplox pathway right now.

“That is just my personal choice, but I will very much still go to Mighty Hoopla and do things I feel like are not risky.”

Dr Nutland added: “There are not calls for us to start closing down venues and events. In fact, quite the opposite.

“Those of us involved in these public health discussions know that is not the right thing to do. Let’s have a nice balance going on.”

A spokesperson for Mighty Hoopla told The Telegraph: “Across all Brockwell Live festivals, we remain committed to working in line with government health guidance regarding public safety at events.

“As with our policy following the Covid-19 pandemic - ticket holders are urged to stay at home if they feel unwell.”

Currently there are 106 known cases of the virus in the UK, with 101 in England, three in Scotland, one in Northern Ireland and one in Wales.

It comes as the British health authorities updated official guidance to state that pet rodents (gerbils, guinea pigs, hamsters etc) of monkeypox cases must be isolated in a secure location, such as a government lab, for three weeks.

This is the human incubation period for the disease and the animal must test negative via PCR before it can be released from quarantine. There are an estimated two million pet rodents in Britain.

Wendi Shepherd, Monkeypox Incident Director at the UK Health Security Agency, called the move “a precautionary measure”.

Other pets, such as cats and dogs, are believed to be less susceptible to monkeypox and can be isolated away from an infected person at home, as long as vets can access the animal safely.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article reported that music festivals could become monkeypox superspreader events. This was incorrect. In fact expert advice is large events can go ahead but people should be aware of the risks and avoid multiple sexual contacts.