KEY POINTS

  • There were two rave parties held in Spain and Belgium recently
  • Monkeypox cases continue to be reported in European countries
  • Stigmatizing people because of disease is "never acceptable": WHO

More cases of monkeypox have been reported amid an ongoing outbreak in countries that don't typically have the disease, with quite a few of the cases reported from European countries. The outbreaks may have been spread through sexual activity at two rave parties in Europe, an expert said.

A leading theory for the spread of the disease may be sexual activity at two recent raves in Spain and Belgium, Dr. David Heymann, former head of the World Health Organization's (WHO) emergencies department who chaired the agency's advisory group Friday, told the Associated Press (AP).

"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," Heymann said, as per the AP.

"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 U.S. and other European countries," Heymann added.

Endemic monkeypox disease is usually limited to West and Central Africa, but more cases of the disease have been logged in other countries where the virus is not endemic. In Europe, over 100 cases were confirmed or suspected by last Friday, with 67 cases already confirmed in nine EU/EEA member states by Monday, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC).

The cases have been "highly unusual" as the disease has been reported even in those without a history of travel to an endemic area. Furthermore, there have been possible links to transmission via sexual contact, with poxvirus expert Inger Damon, Ph.D. previously noting that many of the global cases occur "in sexual networks."

Some of the cases have been logged in men who have sex with men (MSM), suggesting transmission via "intimate relations," noted the ECDC. The WHO has also noted that cases have been "mainly but not exclusively" among MSM.

"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," virologist at Imperial College London. Mike Skinner, said as per the AP.

The CDC has also noted that "anyone, regardless of sexual orientation" can spread the disease via close contact.

According to the WHO, efforts should focus on the people who are affected, as well as those whom they may have come in close contact with, from household members to sexual partners and even the healthcare workers who may have tended to them.

"Stigmatizing groups of people because of a disease is never acceptable," the WHO noted. "It can be a barrier to ending an outbreak as it may prevent people from seeking care, and lead to undetected spread."

WHO officials still called the outbreaks "containable" at a session Monday, according to AP, and Heymann also noted that it's not likely to cause widespread transmission.

"This is not COVID," Heymann said, as per AP. "We need to slow it down, but it does not spread in the air and we have vaccines to protect against it."

Illustration shows test tubes labelled "Monkeypox virus positive Test tubes labelled "Monkeypox virus positive" are seen in this illustration taken May 22, 2022. Photo: Reuters / DADO RUVIC