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Coachella festival “herpes epidemic” invented by a smartphone app and publicised by gullible media

Coachella, the Californian music festival hit the news last week – for all the wrong reasons. Stories of a Coachella herpes epidemic were published by every second rate gossip blog and then repeated by news outlets that should have known better, like Newsweek, Metro and the Daily Mail.

Photo of Coachella music festival.

There was no epidemic. The facts don’t stack up, as any journalist with half a brain should have realised, but the lure of another herpes headline, with accompanying clicks, was too much to resist.

The implication of the fake news coverage is that people are spreading herpes through having casual sex at the festival. Well festival goers might be having sex , but stories of a herpes epidemic are not supported by the facts.

HerpAlert is a smartphone app. The spike in the numbers of people who contacted HerpAlert began as soon as Coachella started. This is well inside the incubation period for herpes which is upwards of two days and often four/five days or up to two weeks. This means that the people who contacted HerpAlert already had herpes before they arrived at the festival. They were existing carriers who wished to use HerpAlert services.

Jose Arbello of the Riverside Department of Public Health said that his did not see any evidence of a rise in herpes cases, despite recent reports that HerpAlert saw a near tenfold uptick in cases in Southern California during the festival.

“My first reaction is that the whole thing is kind of silly because symptoms don’t typically show up in 24 hours,” said Dr Jill Grimes, a family doctor and author of Seductive Delusions: How Everyday People Catch STDs. “It can take anywhere from two to 12 days for symptoms to appear, although the average is three to four days,” says Grimes, who is on faculty at the University of Massachusetts Medical School and is spokesperson for the American Academy of Family Physicians. 

An official with the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health said,
“Herpes is not a reportable disease, as it is very common and has extremely rare complications; so trends in herpes cases are not easily tracked.”

It’s possible that HerpAlert’s spike in people using the app could be a result of increased advertising or marketing, a possibility that was raised by officials.

So there you have it. Don’t believe everything you read in the papers or online, especially in Newsweek, Metro or the Daily Mail.