Britain’s monkeypox cases are linked to gay bars, saunas and dating apps, health chiefs revealed as the cumulative number of cases in the UK nears 200.
The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) said more than 60 per cent of domestic infections have been among gay and bisexual men, with more than 86 per cent based in the epicentre London. Only two cases have been women.
Most of the country’s infections — 87 per cent — were among people aged 20 to 49. And 111 cases are known to be men who have sex with men.
Most of the UK patients caught the virus in the UK rather than abroad, which is significant because previously the tropical disease was confined to a small number of people with travel links to Africa.
Officials said that contact tracing teams had linked the outbreak back to ‘gay bars, saunas and the use of dating apps in the UK and abroad’. MailOnline revealed last week the world’s biggest gay dating app Grindr had alerted to users of monkeypox symptoms.
It comes as the UKHSA today confirmed another six infections, bringing the nation’s total since the outbreak began on May 6 to 196. Five of the infections were logged in England, while one was spotted in Scotland.
In total, there have been 617 confirmed cases of monkeypox across the globe, with 129 more suspected since the first infection was found at the start of May. Behind the UK, Spain (133), Portugal (100) and Germany (38) have logged the next highest number of confirmed cases.
People should reduce their number of sexual partners to help fight the spread of monkeypox, the World Health Organization has urged. Pictured: The Gran Canarian pride festival, held between May 5 and 15 and attended by 80,000 people from Britain and across Europe, is being investigated after being linked to numerous monkeypox cases
MailOnline revealed that the app issued a warning to its users across Europe last Monday, advising them to contact their sexual health provider if they or any recent sexual partners have unusual sores or rashes. The dating app is the world’s largest for men who have sex with men, who have been disproportionately infected in the outbreak. Health chiefs confirmed at least 60 per cent of cases had been spotted in this community
Timeline of monkeypox
1958: Monkeypox was first discovered when an outbreak of a pox-like disease occurred in monkeys kept for research.
1970: The first human case was recorded in 1970 in the Democratic Republic of Congo and the infection has been reported in a number of central and western African countries since then.
2003: A Monkeypox outbreak occurred in the US after rodents were imported from Africa. Cases were reported in both humans and pet prairie dogs. All the human infections followed contact with an infected pet and all patients recovered.
SEPTEMBER 8, 2018: Monkeypox appeared in the UK for the first time in a Nigerian naval officer who was visiting Cornwall for training. They were treated at the Royal Free Hospital in London.
SEPTEMBER 11, 2018: A second UK monkeypox case is confirmed in Blackpool. There is no link with the first case in Cornwall. Instead, the patient is though to have picked up the infection when travelling in Nigeria. They were treated at Blackpool Victoria Hospital and Royal Liverpool University Hospital.
SEPTEMBER 26, 2018: A third person is diagnosed with monkeypox. The individual worked at Blackpool Victoria Hospital and treated the second Monkeypox case. They received treatment at the Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle.
DECEMBER 3, 2019: A patient was diagnosed with monkeypox in England, marking the fourth ever case.
MAY 25, 2021: Two cases of monkeypox were identified in north Wales. Both patients had travel links to Nigeria.
A third person living with one of the cases was diagnosed and admitted to hospital, bringing the total number ever to seven.
MAY 7, 2022: A person was diagnosed with Monkeypox in England after recently travelling to Nigeria. The person received care at the expert infectious disease unit at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust in London.
MAY 14, 2022: Two more cases were confirmed in London. The infected pair lived in the same household but had not been in contact with the case announced one week earlier.
One of these individuals received care at the expert infectious disease unit at St Mary’s Hospital in London. The other isolated at home and did not need hospital treatment.
MAY 16, 2022: Four more cases were announced, bringing the UK total to seven. Three of these cases are in London, while one of their contacts is infected in the north east of England.
The spate of cases was described as ‘unusual’ and ‘surprising’ as experts warn gay and bisexual men to look out for new rashes.
MAY 19, 2022: Two more cases were revealed, with no travel links or connections to other cases. The cases were based in the South East and London. Fears began to grow that infections are going undetected.
MAY 20, 2022: Eleven more cases are announced, meaning Britain’s monkeypox outbreak have doubled to 20. Minsters discuss the possibility of a public health campaign to warn gay men the disease may be more prevalent for them
MAY 23, 2022: Scotland logs its first ever monkeypox case and 36 more infection announced in England. It brings the UK total to 57.
MAY 24, 2022: England logs another 14 cases, bringing the UK total to 71.
MAY 25, 2022: Another seven infections are spotted in England, meaning 78 cases have been detected in the UK.
MAY 26, 2022: Wales and Northern Ireland detect their first monkeypox case in the recent outbreak, while Scotland spots two more cases and England logs eight, bringing UK total to 90.
MAY 27, 2022: England detects 16 more cases, meaning 106 people in Britain have confirmed infections.
MAY 29, 2022: World Health Organization (WHO) says risk of monkeypox is ‘moderate’, citing concerns about virus infecting children and immunosuppressed people if it becomes more widespread.
MAY 30, 2022: The UK detects another 71 monkeypox cases, bringing the UK total to 179. Cases jumped 70 per cent in just three days.
MAY 31, 2022: Eleven infections are spotted across the UK, bringing the infection toll to 190.
JUNE 1, 2022: Another five cases are spotted in England and one is detected in Scotland, meaning the UK has now logged 196.
In a report released on Wednesday night, the UKHSA shared its findings on the outbreak which began on May 6 and marks the first time monkeypox has been passed from person to person in the UK without links to west or central Africa, where the virus is endemic.
By May 31, 132 of the 153 cases in England were among London residents.
Recent foreign travel to European countries, classed as trips taken in the last three weeks, has been linked with just a fifth of cases, suggesting the vast majority picked up the virus in the UK.
The report states: ‘Investigations to date have identified links to gay bars, saunas and the use of dating apps in the UK and abroad.
‘Investigations continue but currently no single factor or exposure that links the cases has been identified.’
MailOnline revealed that Grindr issued a warning to its users across Europe last Monday, advising them to contact their sexual health provider if they or any recent sexual partners have unusual sores or rashes.
UKHSA is working with the app as well as the British Association of Sexual Health and HIV (BASHH) and the British HIV Association to communicate health risks to gay and bisexual men.
The current outbreak has been linked to several super-spreader events, including a gay pride festival in Gran Canaria on May 5-15, a fetish festival in Belgium on May 5-8 and a ‘sauna’ in Spain.
Dr Meera Chand, director of clinical and emerging infections at UKHSA, said: ‘We are working to break chains of transmission, including by contact tracing and vaccination.
‘We are grateful to everyone who has come forward for testing and it is extremely important that everyone continues to be aware of the symptoms and to seek advice if they have concerns.
‘We are reminding people to look out for new spots, ulcers or blisters on any part of their body. If anyone suspects they might have monkeypox, particularly if they have recently had a new sexual partner, they should limit their contact with others and contact NHS 111 or their local sexual health service as soon as possible, though please phone ahead before attending in person.’
Teams from the UKHSA are contacting high-risk contacts of confirmed cases and advising them to self-isolate at home for three weeks and avoid contact with children.
Both confirmed cases and close contacts are being offered the Imvanex vaccine to form a buffer of immune people around a confirmed case to limit the spread of the disease.
The strategy, known as ring vaccination, has been used in previous monkeypox outbreaks and is also being carried out in some EU countries.
Professor Kevin Fenton, London regional director for public health said: ‘Monkeypox can affect anyone but we know that many of the most recent diagnoses are in gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men, many of whom live in, or have links to London.
‘We’re reminding everyone of the symptoms of monkeypox, and especially gay and bisexual men in particular, to be especially aware and seek advice immediately by calling NHS 111 or their local sexual health clinic if they have concerns.
‘As with any new disease outbreak, the risk of stigma and uncertainty is great.
‘This is why we’re working side by side with the NHS, sexual health, voluntary and community sector organisations in London to share accurate information about monkeypox especially to people and groups at increased risk through representative voices.’
Meanwhile, the WHO urged people to reduce their number of sexual partners to help fight the spread of the virus.
It comes as the World Health Organization European director Dr Hans Kluge says monkeypox requires ‘urgent’ action and warned the current outbreak of the tropical disease ‘may not be containable’.
He said Europe had become the new epicentre of the virus, with the outbreak linked to sexual transmission at raves and festivals on the continent.
Dr Kluge insisted the virus ‘will not require the same extensive population measures’ as Covid but said ‘significant and urgent’ action was needed to prevent more cases.
The WHO stopped short of calling for contacts of known cases to be quarantined but called for ‘critical’ twice-daily temperature checks and ‘close monitoring’.
The UN health agency earlier this week upgraded the global threat level to ‘moderate’, warning that community spread could lead to vulnerable patients or children catching the virus, which also spreads from touch, or interaction with contaminated surfaces or clothes.
The UKSA updated its own guidance on Monday night to tell people to wear condoms during sex for eight weeks after clearing the virus.
Anyone in Britain who develops a new rash or blister is being urged to quarantine and call 111 — and not to leave isolation ‘until you’ve been told what to do’.
They are also been ordered to abstain from sex or close contact with others ‘until their lesions have healed and the scabs have dried off’.
Dr Kluge said in a statement last night: ‘[Europe] remains at the epicentre of the largest and most geographically widespread monkeypox outbreak ever reported outside of endemic areas in western and central Africa.
‘Based on the case reports to date, this outbreak is currently being transmitted through social networks connected largely through sexual activity, primarily involving men who have sex with men.
‘Many — but not all cases — report fleeting and/or multiple sexual partners, sometimes associated with large events or parties.’
Health chiefs have warned monkeypox, a virus endemic in parts of Africa and is known for its rare and unusual rashes, bumps and lesions, could also spread to some pets and become endemic in Europe. Undated handout file image issued by the UK Health Security Agency showing Monkeypox rash lesions
Dr Kluge said all young people, regardless of gender or sexuality, are at risk of the virus and should be aware of the symptoms.
He said gay and bisexual communities have shown ‘rapid health-seeking behaviour’, adding ‘we should applaud them’ for coming forward with symptoms early.
But he warned festivals and parties planned over the coming months could lead to further outbreaks of the virus.
He said: ‘The potential for further transmission in Europe and elsewhere over the summer is high.
‘Monkeypox has already spread against the backdrop of several mass gatherings in [Europe].
‘Over the coming months, many of the dozens of festivals and large parties planned provide further contexts where amplification may occur.’
The WHO said event organisers should share ‘accurate, practical and targeted information’ with attendees over summer.
Meanwhile, the LGB Alliance — a trans-exclusionary gay rights group — issued a statement calling for gay saunas to be closed taken down.
In the statement, the group said: ‘Monkeypox is spreading and gay and bisexual men have been affected disproportionately.
‘That’s why we are calling on all commercial sex venues, such as saunas, leather/fetish bars and clubs with dark rooms to be closed for a month.’
Critics accused the group of homophobia, arguing the move would lead to stigmatisation ahead of Pride month.
But LGBA insisted the move would have helped ‘save Pride’ by preventing huge outbreaks just before the main events scheduled over the next four weeks.
Malcolm Clark, head of research at LGBA, told the Daily Telegraph: ‘We were really lucky this time that it wasn’t another Aids, but what would have happened if it was?
‘We would have been complaining about stigmatisation and still taking our time. It appears that 30 years after HIV, we haven’t learnt anything.
‘It’s pure luck that this is a disease nobody dies from, but it could have easily been something else, it could have easily been worse. We should thank our lucky stars.’
Andy Seale, from the WHO’s department for HIV, hepatitis and sexually transmitted infections, on Monday said Pride parades pose little risk of spreading monkeypox.
He said most transmission is linked to ‘enclosed spaces’ such as nightclubs and there is no ‘enhanced risk’ of transmission at the annual celebrations.