Dr David Heymann, who used to head the WHO's emergencies department, said someone with the tell-tale monkeypox lesions likely 'spread it to others when there was sexual or close physical contact'
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Monkeypox outbreak may have been sparked by sex at two raves in Belgium and Spain, WHO expert warns amid claim cluster of cases may trace back to just ONE super-spreader event

  • Former WHO official said monkeypox may have spread at two raves in Europe
  • Maspalomas, the Gran Canarian pride festival, is being investigated 
  • And ‘reason to assume’ monkeypox case at fetish festival in Antwerp

Dr David Heymann, who used to head the WHO's emergencies department, said someone with the tell-tale monkeypox lesions likely 'spread it to others when there was sexual or close physical contact'

Dr David Heymann, who used to head the WHO’s emergencies department, said someone with the tell-tale monkeypox lesions likely ‘spread it to others when there was sexual or close physical contact’

The unprecedented monkeypox outbreak may have been caused by sex at two festivals in Europe, a former World Health Organization expert said. 

Dr David Heymann, who used to head the WHO’s emergencies department, said someone with the tell-tale monkeypox lesions likely ‘spread it to others when there was sexual or close physical contact’.

He said this may have happened at two recent raves in Spain and Belgium.

Maspalomas, the Gran Canarian pride festival, held between May 5 and 15, is being investigated after being linked to numerous monkeypox cases. 

And organisers of a large-scale fetish festival in Antwerp, which ran from May 5 to May 8, said there is ‘reason to assume’ someone at the event had monkeypox.

Spanish health chiefs have also linked many cases to a single ‘sauna’ in Madrid.

The theory marks a significant departure from the disease’s typical pattern of spread in central and western Africa, where people are mainly infected by animals like wild rodents and primates.

Health officials say most of the known cases in Europe have been among men who have sex with men, but anyone can be infected through close contact with a sick person, their clothing or bedsheets. 

What are the super-spreader raves linked with the monkeypox outbreak?

What was the event?

Gay Price Maspalomas

Where was it? 

Gran Canaria in Spain’s Canary Islands

When was it?

May 5 to May 15

What is it?

The festival featured international artists, a parade, boat trips and pool parties.

How many people went?

80,000 people from around the world

How is it linked with monkeypox? 

It was attended by people who tested positive for the monkeypox virus afterwards.

Public health services from the Canary Islands are investigating the any links between the cases and the LGBT+ celebrations.

Spanish health chiefs said ‘several’ confirmed cases in Madrid attended the event but it is ‘not yet possible to know if one of them is patient zero of this outbreak or if they all got infected there’.

Dr Heymann, also a professor of infectious diseases at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said: ‘We know monkeypox can spread when there is close contact with the lesions of someone who is infected, and it looks like sexual contact has now amplified that transmission.

‘It’s very possible there was somebody who got infected, developed lesions on the genitals, hands or somewhere else, and then spread it to others when there was sexual or close physical contact.

‘And then there were these international events that seeded the outbreak around the world, into the US and other European countries.’

Scientists say it will be difficult to establish whether the spread is being driven by sex or merely close contact.

Dr Mike Skinner, a virologist at Imperial College London, said: ‘By nature, sexual activity involves intimate contact, which one would expect to increase the likelihood of transmission, whatever a person’s sexual orientation and irrespective of the mode of transmission.’

Dr Andrea Ammon, the director of the  European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, warned ‘the likelihood of further spread of the virus through close contact, for example during sexual activities among persons with multiple sexual partners, is considered to be high’.

Dr Heymann said monkeypox is unlikely to trigger widespread transmission as the outbreak ‘is not Covid’. 

‘We need to slow it down, but it does not spread in the air and we have vaccines to protect against it,’ he said.

The monkeypox cases so far have been mild, with no deaths reported. 

Typically, the virus causes fever, chills, rash and lesions on the face or genitals. Most people recover within several weeks without requiring hospital treatment.

At least 172 infections have been confirmed worldwide, with scientists probing 87 more across 17 countries, including the US, Spain and Portugal.

The UK has the most monkeypox cases, with 37 more logged yesterday, including the first ever in Scotland, bringing the tally to 57. Health chiefs have warned numbers will continue to rise.

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