Was There Actually a Herpes Outbreak at Coachella?
An online health platform called HerpAlert reported an uptick in people using its service at Coachella, but local treatment centers haven't noticed an unusually high influx of cases.
In years to come, Coachella 2019 will be associated with the Church of Kanye, Lizzo, and a surprise Grande-Bieber performance. But the festival is also making news for a far less musical reason: a potential spike in herpes cases. HerpAlert, an online herpes treatment service, claims it saw an increase of reported cases of the virus in the Coachella Valley area during the two weekends that spanned the festival, according to TMZ. (Related: These 4 New STIs Need to Be On Your Sexual-Health Radar)
HerpAlert users can upload a photo of their suspected herpes symptoms for a doctor to review, diagnose their case, and prescribe medication. The platform typically receives 12 cases per day in SoCal, but during the first two days of Coachella, it received 250, Lynn Marie Morski, M.D., J.D., who works for the service, told People. (That's an approximate 900 percent increase in cases, BTW.) Throughout the two weekends of the music festival, the service got over 1,100 consultation requests, said Dr. Morski. (Related: These STIs Are Much Harder to Get Rid of Than They Used to Be)
While HerpAlert's data is certainly noteworthy, it doesn't prove that there was a herpes outbreak at Coachella 2019. For starters, HerpAlert is reporting the number of people who inquired about their symptoms, not how many people contracted herpes at Coachella. What's more, area hospitals didn't see a similar spike to HerpAlert's claims: Planned Parenthood clinics in the Coachella Valley didn't see a "measurable increase" in cases, Cita Walsh, spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood of the Pacific Southwest, told The Desert Sun. Likewise, Eisenhower Health hasn't seen increased herpes consultations at four of its area treatment centers, spokeswoman Lee Rice told the publication.
HerpAlert users can use the website to seek treatment to address either type of herpes. Herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) is usually spread through mouth-to-mouth contact and typically leads to cold sores around the mouth, according to the CDC. (Some 2/3 of the world population has it.) In most cases, herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2) is sexually transmitted through skin-to-skin contact and leads to genital sores. There's no cure for either type, but each can be treated to minimize outbreaks.
STI cases tend to rise with any packed, extended group event, and drug and alcohol use at music festivals can lead people to lower their inhibitions and forgo protection, says Dr. Adeeti Gupta, founder of Walk-In GYN Care. Another reason why herpes could easily spread is that many people aren't routinely testing for it, she adds. "Almost 40 to 50 percent of the general population are silent carriers of genital herpes," she tells Shape. That means they can spread it to their sexual partners without any clue that they even have it.
So did herpes cases actually spike at Coachella? Debatable. But either way, this is your reminder to practice safe sex in an overpriced tent or elsewhere.