Monkeypox Cases in Belgium May Be Linked to Fetish Festival: Organizers

Organizers of a fetish festival in Belgium are warning attendees of possible exposure to monkeypox after public health officials linked three cases to the event that recently concluded in Antwerp.

The Darklands Festival posted the notice on its website on Friday, the same day Belgian public health officials confirmed cases of the rare viral disease. The announcement comes amid growing concern from scientists about the spread of monkeypox, which is commonly found in tropical rainforests in Central and West Africa, and is now being reported in Europe.

Darklands is a four-day event catered toward gay men that includes a daytime festival, several nighttime parties, as well as education and shopping that features "an extraordinary selection for fetish retailers at the gear market," according to its website. The festival concluded on May 9.

"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," festival organizers said in the post.

Antwerp Cityscape
Organizers of a four-day festival in Antwerp have warned attendees of possible exposure to monkeypox. European health officials warn of spread during summer festivals. NattapoomV/Getty Images

The post said public health authorities asked festival organizers to advise attendees to be vigilant for unusual blisters for three weeks after their last close contact.

Organizers told Newsweek in a follow-up email, "We informed all our attendees but got no further news or responses."

Belgium's Minister of Health Frank Vandenbroucke said in a statement Friday that three cases of monkeypox had been identified in the country's Flemish territory. Vandenbroucke said the number of cases was being closely monitored after transmission had been reported in the U.K., Portugal and Spain, mostly among men who have sexual contact with other men.

Vandenbroucke added that "the risk to the general population is low."

Currently, there are a total of 76 confirmed cases and 65 suspected cases of monkeypox in countries where the disease is unusual, according to a dashboard created by Italian management engineer Antonio Caramia.

Most of the cases are currently in Europe, particularly Spain and Portugal, the dashboard shows. The outbreak of the disease is the largest seen on the continent. The U.S. has two confirmed cases.

"The recent outbreaks reported across 11 countries so far are atypical, as they are occurring in non-endemic countries," the World Health Organization (WHO) said in a statement Friday.

Over 1,300 suspected cases of monkeypox and 58 deaths have been reported as part of the current outbreak of the disease. Most new cases have been concentrated in the Democratic Republic of the Congo until earlier this month.

The virus spreads through close contact with others, according to the WHO. It added that stigmatizing groups of people could prolong the outbreak by causing others to avoid seeking care.

The WHO said it expects more cases to be reported as more data on the outbreaks comes in.

WHO Regional Director for Europe Dr. Hans Kluge said earlier Friday that the virus could continue to spread during summer festivals and parties. He said he was concerned the virus will be spread by people engaged in sexual activity who may be unfamiliar with the symptoms of the disease.

Update 05/23/22, 7:45 p.m. ET: This article was updated with additional information and background.