Research focus

Music festivals and public health

Three recent summaries analyse the effects music festivals, such as Glastonbury, have on public health in the UK.

Music festivals are more popular than ever. Many festival goers associate attendance at these events with increased feelings of psychological, social and subjective well-being.

Glastonbury festival goers. Picture: Alamy

However, the media often portrays music festivals as a public health problem. This digest summarises three recent studies exploring these concerns.

Mortality at music festivals: academic and grey literature for case finding

Fatalities reported at music festivals around the world between January 1999 and December 2014 were analysed in this study. Using Google and Google Alerts, the academic literature and popular media were searched for reported fatalities. 

A total of 722 fatalities were identified, of which 82% (594) were categorised as trauma-related. The majority of these fatalities (521) related to mass casualty incidents, which followed stampedes, structural failures and terrorist attacks in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Germany, Morocco, Cambodia and Belarus. The remaining trauma fatalities were categorised as motor vehicle related (39), drowning (8), assault (6), and other (including hanging, thermal and falls) (9). Non-traumatic fatalities comprised overdoses (96), natural causes (10), environmental causes (8), and unknown (14). 

The authors argue that deaths at music events are not uncommon. While mortality rates cannot be reported as total attendance is not known, the authors suggest these findings represent a starting point in the documentation and surveillance of mortality. 

Turris S, Lund A (2016) Prehospital and Disaster Medicine. 32, 1, 58-63.


Effectiveness of earplugs in preventing recreational noise induced hearing loss: a randomised clinical trial

Short-term exposure to loud noise can cause temporary hearing loss where everything sounds muffled. Temporary hearing loss usually resolves shortly after exposure. However, recurrent episodes can cause permanent damage to the outer hair cells in the cochlea. The purpose of this study was to assess the effectiveness of earplugs in preventing temporary hearing loss following attendance at an outdoor music festival in the Netherlands.

 A randomised, single blind clinical trial was conducted. Normal-hearing adults were recruited via social media. In total, 51 people with a mean age of 27 years participated; 25 were randomised to an earplug group and 26 to an unprotected group. Outcomes were assessed immediately after the event and included evidence of temporal threshold shifts (a short-term change in the auditory threshold measured by audiometry) and self-reported tinnitus perception. 

Temporal threshold shifts were seen in four of 50 ears in the earplug group (8%) versus 22 of the 52 ears in the unprotected group (42%). Newly induced tinnitus was reported by 3 people in the earplug group (12%) and 10 people in the unprotected group (40%).   The authors conclude that earplugs are effective in preventing temporary hearing loss following music exposure.

Ramakers G, Kraaijenga J, Cattani G et al (2016) JAMA Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery. 142, 6, 551-8.

Summer music and arts festivals as hot spots for measles transmission: experience from England and Wales, June to October 2016

Music festivals present the ideal environment for the transmission of infections like measles, given the large crowds and levels of prolonged interpersonal contact. The authors report 52 cases of measles linked to music and arts festivals in England and Wales, between June and October 2016. 

Cases were included if individuals were either infectious at a festival or developed measles in an incubation period of festival attendance. Nearly half of all cases (24) were young people age 15 to 19 years and most (42) were unvaccinated. While a number (21) required hospital admission there were no fatalities. 

Cases were linked to 12 different festivals including mainstream events such as Glastonbury and smaller independent events. Several individuals – mostly festival workers and performers – who acquired measles at one festival were found to have subsequently attended another festival while infectious, resulting in multiple interlinked outbreaks. The authors urge workers, performers and festival goers to ensure they are full vaccinated and not to attend if they are feeling unwell. 

Le Polain de Waroux O, Saliba V, Cottrell S et al (2016) Eurosurveillance. 21, 44, 2-7.

Compiled by Caroline McGraw, lecturer at City, University of London

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