Monkeypox case numbers are continuing to rise in the United Kingdom, prompting health authorities to issue warnings ahead of summer events and festivals that could further spread the virus.
The UK Health Security Agency, or UKHSA, said that 50 cases were confirmed in the UK last week, bringing the total number, as of Thursday, to 574.
During the last two months the UK has had more confirmed cases of monkeypox than any other country, according to the World Health Organization. Europe remains the epicenter of the global outbreak; Portugal, Spain and Germany have all had more than 200 cases, and France and Canada have had more than 100.
In total, there have been more than 2,100 cases in 42 countries since January 1, with 98 percent of cases occurring from May onwards.
The WHO said that many countries do not have the ability to test for the virus, which could lead to underreporting in several regions. Last week the organization released emergency funds to establish monkeypox virus identification and sequencing in select countries.
The UKHSA said it is working with partners across the country, including event organizers and venues, to raise public awareness of monkeypox symptoms in order to control the outbreak. Symptoms include fever, headache, muscle aches, fatigue, swollen lymph nodes, and a rash that causes pimples and blistering on several parts of the body.
“As case numbers of monkeypox continue to rise and with many summer events and festivals ahead, we’re reminding people to be aware of the symptoms of monkeypox, particularly if you’ve recently had new or multiple sexual partners, to help prevent further spread and protect others,” said William Welfare, who is incident director at UKHSA.
After a two-year hiatus caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, several large UK events are returning this year, including Glastonbury Festival, which begins on Wednesday in Somerset and is expected to attract over 200,000 people.
“The potential for further transmission in Europe and elsewhere over the summer is high,” said WHO Regional Director for Europe, Hans Kluge. “Over the coming months, many of the dozens of festivals and large parties planned provide further contexts where amplification may occur.”
Monkeypox is spread most easily through close contact, including sexual contact. The UKHSA said that the majority of cases in the UK involve men who have sex with men. Health experts have stressed that anyone can contract monkeypox, and no group should be stigmatized.
In an interview with The Guardian newspaper on Monday, Paul Hunter, a professor of medicine at the University of East Anglia, said that if the outbreak continues to worsen, health authorities should consider a vaccination campaign, starting with men who have sex with men, and female sex workers. Vaccines developed to protect against smallpox have proven effective against monkeypox, since the two viruses are closely related.
The WHO will hold a meeting this week to determine if the outbreak should be designated a public health emergency of international concern.