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Monkeypox outbreak linked to Belgium fetish festival and adult sauna superspreader event in Spain

The surge in monkeypox cases across Europe have been linked to a Belgium fetish festival and a superspreader event at an adult sauna in Madrid, Spain.

Most of Spain's 30 cases have been associated with a sauna in the country's capital, according to officials. The region's health chief, Enrique Ruiz Escudero, told reporters that health officials detected a “notable proportion” of the European cases are in gay and bisexual men. While three cases in Belgium were linked to fetish festival Darklands in Antwerp.

The disease, which is mainly spread by wild animals and is most common in remote parts of Central and West Africa, has also been found in the UK, with the UK Health Security Agency identifying 20 cases so far. Its chief medical adviser Dr Susan Hopkins told the BBC's Sunday Morning programme: "We are detecting more cases on a daily basis."

Read more: Monkeypox: What are the symptoms and how does it spread?

As of Sunday (May 22), Israel and Switzerland are the latest countries to confirm cases of monkeypox, taking the total number of countries reporting outbreaks to 14. Other incidences of the disease have also been recorded across Western Europe, Australia, the US and Canada.

It comes as Portugal's first 14 cases were from males with the same sexual orientation. In Belgium three patients with the disease were reported to have attended an Antwerp fetish festival named Darklands, according to the Daily Telegraph.

The festival describes itself as a place where “various tribes in the gay fetish community (leather, rubber, army, skinhead, puppies...) come together to create a unique spectacle of fetish brotherhood”. On the festival's website however, a statement reads: "There’s reason to assume that the virus has been brought in by visitors from abroad to the festival after recent cases in other countries."

Symptoms include rashes which spread to other parts of the body (Getty Images)

Speaking to BBC One’s Sunday Morning, she said: “Absolutely, we are finding cases that have no identified contact with an individual from west Africa, which is what we’ve seen previously in this country.

“The community transmission is largely centred in urban areas and we are predominantly seeing it in individuals who self-identify as gay or bisexual, or other men who have sex with men.”

Asked why it is being found in that demographic, she said: “That’s because of the frequent close contacts they may have. We would recommend to anyone who’s having changes in sex partners regularly or having close contact with individuals that they don’t know to come forward if they develop a rash.”

Dr Hopkins said doctors are using a form of smallpox vaccine for those who have come into contact with cases.

On Friday, May 20, the amount of monkeypox cases in the UK more than doubled - according to Harvard Medical School professor John Brownstein - with worldwide instances of the illness rising to 127 in 11 countries.

Scientists in Germany reckon this outbreak is the largest that has ever been witnessed in Europe. The Robert Koch Institute's Fabian Leendertz has described the current situation as an epidemic, which is defined as the widespread occurrence of an infectious disease in a community at a particular time.

The virus is usually characterised by a rash which starts as raised spots, turning into small blisters filled with fluid. If you get infected with monkeypox, it usually takes between 5 and 21 days for the first symptoms to appear. The first symptoms of monkeypox include: a high temperature, a headache, muscle aches, backache, swollen glands, shivering (chills) and exhaustion.

According to the NHS, to lessen the risk of catching the disease, people should wash their hands with soap and water regularly or use an alcohol-based hand sanitiser, and only eat meat that has been cooked thoroughly. People should also avoid going near wild or stray animals, including dead animals or any animals that appear unwell. As well as this, people should not have close contact or share bedding or towels with those who are unwell and may have monkeypox.

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