The herpes tracking app, "HerpAlert," is reporting a "massive" outbreak of the sexually transmitted disease in California, which they believe to be associated with the Coachella music festival.
Local media reports that HerpAlert, which allows users of the app to self-report potential cases of the virus in return for access to doctors who can give them a full diagnosis and prescribe medications to deal with the virus's side effects, received at least 250 requests for herpes medication per day during the music festival. Most of the requests came from the area of the festival itself and surrounding towns where many festival-goers were staying during the event.
An app spokesperson told a local CBS affiliate that the app typically receives no more than 12 cases per day from the same general area.
"In all, 1,105 herpes cases were reported in the Coachella Valley area and in the nearby cities of Los Angeles and San Diego," the New York Post reported. The number is a record for HerpAlert. The next largest number of claims in Los Angeles occurred the day of and the day after the Academy Awards, back in February. Even then, though, HerpAlert received a grand total of 60 inquiries.
HerpAlert "patients fill out a series of questions about herpes symptoms for HerpAlert and provide a picture of a lesion or scar, which appears on the genitals or around the mouth," the Orange County Register reported. A "physician then reviews the information, makes the diagnosis and can prescribe medication within hours," so most of the cases reported to HerpAlert were breakouts of the virus. The interaction costs users a flat fee of $79.
Individuals "came to the platform for a variety of reasons, including to get medication to treat and prevent flares, in addition to those who came to see if they had a new case of cold sores or herpes," a HerpAlert spokesperson told media.
Physicians in the Los Angeles area told the OC Register that, although the application saw an increase in reports, real life health officials haven't seen a similar spike, and public health agencies in and around the Los Angeles area did not report any increase in herpes diagnoses. But southern California health officials also say the anonymous nature of the application might make herpes carriers more likely to report it to HerpAlert than to local health officials that they have to have face-to-face contact with.
Doctors who spoke to Billboard also suggested that people might be in a hurry to refill prescriptions ahead of the festival, or to take preemptive measures before heading to the event.
"There were many coming to get medication to treat and prevent flares. We see it as people deciding to take proactive care of their health and the health of those they may interact with over the weekend," a physician affiliated with HerpAlert told Billboard. "We do not have a number of diagnosed new cases, as sometimes we cannot determine via their history and photos, so we have to advise they see a provider in person."
And although they haven't seen evidence of an outbreak aside from the reports made to HerpAlert, public health officials tell the OC Register that they believe reports.
Coachella "is a perfect place for the herpes virus to pop up," one official told the paper. The event typically draws around 250,000 over the course of two spring weekends, and attendees are known to hook up (of course), but also routinely share makeup, cigarettes, and drinks. Participants also get more than the typical amount of sun exposure and less than the typical amount of sleep, which can make them more susceptible to contagious illness.