Mystery ‘eye burn’ outbreak linked to NFT event

Several attendees at an NFT festival in Hong Kong have been hospitalised after they reported experiencing vision issues, eye-burning sensations and sunburned skin after the event, which was allegedly lit with UV lighting.

ApeFest 2023 was held from Friday to Sunday for members of the Bored Ape Yacht Club and their guests.

To be a member, people must own an NFT within the collection of digital ape artworks.

The Bored Ape Yacht Club artworks, created by blockchain company Yuga Labs, gained notoriety for becoming an exclusive online club that includes celebrities who have bought a Bored Ape NFT, such as Madonna, Justin Beiber, Serena Williams and many more, according to Decrypt.

The NFTs, which, like cryptocurrency, sit on a blockchain; the person who owns the image has sole intellectual property rights and can choose to sell to another owner.

Many crypto and NFT owners and fans went to the event, but some came away from the experience with bizarre symptoms.

Attendees took to X (formerly Twitter) to ask other fest-goers if they had similar symptoms.

One user wrote: “Anyone else’s eyes burning from last night? Woke up at 3am with extreme pain and ended up in the ER.”

To which another person, under the username @CryptoJune777, replied: “I woke up at 04:00 and couldn’t see anymore. Had so much pain and my whole skin is burned. Needed to go to the hospital.”

@CryptoJune77 also added that a doctor said that it could have been the UV lighting coming from the stage that burned their skin and damaged their eyes.

Many other people replied to the tweets, saying they had experienced the same issue, with some also adding that they had to go to hospital.

Another user, Adrian Zduńczyk,  said he had to pay $3000HKD ($383USD) for his hospital expenses after he was diagnosed with “photokeratitis over both eyes” due to unprotected exposure to UV radiation.

“So many of my friends are still unaware they must seek medical help to make sure they end up with no damage, as well,” the user wrote.

Bored Ape Yacht Club is a collection of NFT digital artworks, some owned by celebrities (Getty Images)
Bored Ape Yacht Club is a collection of NFT digital artworks, some owned by celebrities (Getty Images)

“Please go get your eyes checked immediately. We’ve most likely been exposed to experience similar to Mt Everest climbers - snow blindness.”

UV radiation can cause photokeratitis, which is essentially like sunburning your eye, which can produce symptoms such as blurriness, tearing, redness and, in rare cases, temporary vision loss or colour changes, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology.

Photokertitis is often associated with snow blindness, as climbers, snowboarders, or skiers can experience it when the sun reflects off ice and snow.

After the sunburn allegations started circulating on social media, the Bored Ape Yacht Club issued a statement on X.

“Apes, we are aware of the eye-related issues that affected some of the attendees of ApeFest and have been proactively reaching out to individuals since yesterday to try and find the potential root causes,” they said in their post.

“Based on our estimates, we believe that much less than 1% of those attending and working the event had these symptoms.”

“While nearly everyone has indicated their symptoms have improved, we encourage anybody who feels them to seek medical attention just in case,” the club added.

The owner of the Bored Ape Yacht Club project, Yuga Labs, told The Verge that it is aware of the situation and is taking the reports seriously.

“We are actively reaching out and in touch with those affected to better understand the root cause,” said a spokesperson for the company.

“Based on our estimates, the 15 people we’ve been in direct communication with so far represent less than one per cent of the approximately 2,250 event attendees and staff at our Saturday night event.”

The Independent has contacted Yuga Labs for further comment.