WHO warns festivals could escalate spread of monkeypox

The number of cases in the UK rose to over 300 this week

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has warned that festivals and big events could escalate the spread of monkeypox.

The disease has today (June 7) been designated a notifiable disease by the UK Health Security Agency, meaning doctors in England will be required to notify their local council or Health Protection Team if they suspect a patient has monkeypox. Cases in the UK rose to over 300 yesterday.

In a warning regarding the disease’s spread across Europe and the US, the WHO said large-scale events like festivals could “provide further context where amplification may occur”. The virus is spread via very close, prolonged contact, either through inhaling infected droplets or through direct contact with “infected bodily fluids, lesions or scabs on the skin, or contaminated objects, such as bedding or clothes”.

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The WHO Europe’s regional director Dr. Hans Henri Kluge said in a statement: “Rapid, amplified transmission has occurred in the context of the recent lifting of pandemic restrictions on international travel and events. 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.

Crowd at Download Festival
Crowd at Download Festival Pilot 2021. CREDIT: Katja Ogrin/Getty Images

“Over the coming months, many of the dozens of festivals and large parties planned provide further contexts where amplification may occur. But they also provide powerful opportunities to engage with young, sexually active and globally mobile persons to raise awareness and strengthen individual and community protection.”

Kluge added that most people who get monkeypox will have a “mild and self-limiting but unpleasant and potentially painful disease that may last up to several weeks”.

“We do not yet know what health impact there will be in individuals who can have severe outcomes from monkeypox, particularly young children, pregnant women and people who are immune-compromised,” he said.

He went on to say that, currently, an effective response to monkeypox will not require the same “extensive population measures” as were introduced to halt the spread of COVID-19 because the viruses don’t spread in the same way. However, the WHO does “not yet know if we will be able to contain its spread completely”.

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“For that, we need a significant and urgent reduction in exposures through clear communication, community-led action, case isolation during the infectious period, and effective contact tracing and monitoring,” Kluge explained.

Festival season is set to get back in full swing this summer following two years of cancelled events and restrictions. However, in February, figures from the live music industry warned of a “perfect storm” created by a live entertainment supply chain crisis, workforce shortages and the effects of Brexit is likely to impact this summer’s events.

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