Europe’s monkeypox outbreak is a “rapidly evolving event” which will spread more widely in the community if action isn’t taken, according to the World Health Organisation.
Monkeypox cases in the UK are rising particularly quickly, which has prompted Dr Catherine Smallwood of the WHO’s European emergencies team to warn: “We’re clearly seeing quite rapid ongoing spread.”
Although mass gatherings present monkeypox with opportunities to spread, festivals are a perfect opportunity to raise awareness, she said, adding: “We can really use those events to provide targeted information and advice to people.”
The UK has seen 82 new cases this week and a total of 190 cases so far – the highest number of confirmed cases outside of countries where the disease is endemic.
The rise in cases also comes the week of the Platinum Jubilee, which is predicted to see thousands of people attending street parties or watching the royal celebrations in groups.
While containing the outbreak may be possible given the virus spreads much more slowly than airborne pathogens like COVID, the number of infections already out there means it will not be easy.
“It’s been so widely distributed, cases are not linked together and we don’t have a single chain of transmission,” said Dr Smallwood.
The majority of cases are still being seen among men who have sex with men. It is not yet clear whether that is because the virus is spreading among social networks within that group, or because those individuals are more likely to be aware and proactive about their sexual health.
But because monkeypox can be spread through any form of close physical contact, the assumption is that as cases continue to grow, monkeypox will spread more widely, if it has not already.
A main focus as the summer approaches should be festivalgoers, according to the WHO. But it emphatically rules out bans on mass gatherings as we saw during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“To do so would be completely counterproductive,” said Dr Smallwood.