Health

Monkeypox myths DEBUNKED: Bogus conspiracy theories say AstraZeneca’s Covid vaccine contains virus

The monkeypox outbreak that has swept the globe has churned up dozens of bogus conspiracy theories about its origins, how it is spread and its symptoms.

Some of the myths being peddled online include that the outbreak is actually just a ‘cover up’ of vaccine-induced shingles and that AstraZeneca‘s Covid vaccine causes monkeypox. 

Others have wrongly suggested the virus leaked from the Chinese lab at the heart of Covid’s origin debate, and that eating meat in Britain may give someone monkeypox.

Here, MailOnline dismisses some of the bogus claims gaining most traction on social media. 

Conspiracy theories swirl in China that monkeypox was deliberately leaked by the United States

Chinese social media users are saying the US could be the source of the rise in monkeypox cases, with conspiracy theories stating the US deliberately leaked the virus which has now spread to at least a dozen countries.

A hashtag on the US reporting two cases of monkeypox has attracted more than 51 million views on Weibo as of Monday.

The infectious disease became a trending topic on the platform after cases were found in the UK, Spain and Australia.

Chinese state media has accused the United States of intentionally spreading Covid, which originated in China, but has so far held back from taking the same approach with monkeypox.

Monkeypox is NOT just shingles 

A picture of the tell-tale rash of shingles was used to illustrate a monkeypox story published by The Health Site, described as India’s fastest growing medical info page.

Social media users quickly noticed it, and have since peddled it as ‘proof’ that the world’s monkeypox outbreak is fake.

Both infections can cause itchy blisters — despite being caused by two separate viruses. 

However, shingles usually appears on the tummy and chest and only one side of the body.

With monkeypox, a rash often begins on the face before spreading to other parts of the body, including the genitals.

But social media users latched on to the picture as supposed evidence that the monkeypox outbreak was actually only shingles.

Conspiracy theorists also posted what appears to be fake a screenshot from a Canadian TV network, which stated that 95 per cent of suspected cases detected across the country actually turned out to be shingles. 

Although, this is not the case.

Other anti-vaxx critics have since tried to pin shingles on the Covid jabs, claiming that monkeypox is being used as a ‘cover story’ for a side effect.

Some described it as a known ‘adverse reaction’ to the jab. 

None of the Covid vaccines can cause monkeypox, however. 

Only a ‘few’ cases of shingles have been recorded following mRNA jabs, according to the American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology.

Shingles is rarely life-threatening. For comparison, the circulating monkeypox strain is estimated to kill around one in 100 people.  

AstraZeneca’s Covid vaccine does NOT cause monkeypox

AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine causes monkeypox, according to one completely bogus conspiracy theory.

The suggestion was even peddled by boyband Right Said Fred. 

Twitter users posted a snip of a leaflet given alongside the AZ jab, which states the dose contains ‘chimpanzee adenovirus vector’, in an attempt to convince others of the falsehood. 

Adenoviruses are a different family to orthopoxviruses, the technical classification for monkeypox. 

The vaccine does contains the chimpanzee adenovirus, which has been genetically modified to contain material carried by the coronavirus so that the body recognises it. 

However, it cannot physically grow in humans. 

AstraZeneca’s vaccine, originally developed by Oxford University researchers, has been given to millions of people and has been repeatedly proven to save lives. 

One epidemiologist at the US CDC, tasked with containing America’s outbreak, said: ‘Monkeypox is called Monkeypox because it was first discovered in infected monkeys in laboratories. That’s it. 

‘Getting AstraZeneca’s vaccine won’t give you monkeypox. Period.

‘Please stop with this outlandish theory.’

AstraZeneca's coronavirus vaccine causes monkeypox, according to one completely bogus conspiracy theory. The suggestion was even peddled by boyband Right Said Fred

AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine causes monkeypox, according to one completely bogus conspiracy theory. The suggestion was even peddled by boyband Right Said Fred

Monkeys are NOT definitely to blame for monkeypox 

Despite decades of searching for the natural reservoir of monkeypox, health chiefs are no closer to an answer.

The disease itself was first discovered in laboratory monkeys who became infected in the late 1950s, hence the name.

Since then, various animal species in west and central Africa have been named as potential carriers of this pox virus. 

‘This includes rope squirrels, tree squirrels, Gambian pouched rats, dormice, non-human primates,’ according to the World Health Organization.

Chickenpox is not named after chickens. Instead, its name is believed to originate from the rash, which can resemble pecks marks caused by a chicken.

Wild claims are circulating social media that the NHS has warned eating meat will give you monkeypox

Wild claims are circulating social media that the NHS has warned eating meat will give you monkeypox

Eating meat will NOT give you monkeypox… in Britain or the majority of the world  

Wild claims are also circulating on social media about the NHS issuing a ‘warning to anyone who eats meat’ in the wake of the outbreak.

Twitter users have since wrongly stated that the health service says ‘anyone who eats meat in the UK will get monkeypox’. 

However, this is not the case. 

The NHS does say: ‘It may also be possible to catch monkeypox by eating meat from an infected animal that has not been cooked thoroughly.’

But this relates to infected wild animals in countries where the virus is endemic, like Nigeria and Cameroon. Monkeypox is not yet entrenched in animals outside of west and central Africa.

The US CDC says that animal-to-human transmission may occur through ‘bush meat preparation’.

Until the recent outbreak - which is being spread by close contact with infected people - the virus was spread in west and central Africa, where it is endemic, by animals. In those countries, people can become infected if they eat meat from an infected animal that has not been cooked thoroughly

Until the recent outbreak – which is being spread by close contact with infected people – the virus was spread in west and central Africa, where it is endemic, by animals. In those countries, people can become infected if they eat meat from an infected animal that has not been cooked thoroughly

Monkeypox has NOT leaked from Wuhan laboratory 

The Chinese lab at the centre of the Covid origin debate has this week found itself dragged into the monkeypox outbreak.

It comes after it emerged that researchers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology were experimenting with monkeypox last year.

Critics have since called for China to be slapped with ‘crimes against humanity’ for wanting ‘freedom and liberty lovers dead or diseased’.

The report is based on a study published in January, in which the scientists set out results from developing a PCR test for monkeypox.

Although the paper, in the journal Virologica Sinica, showed the researchers toyed with the virus, only coincidence links it to the current monkeypox outbreak.

The team used a fragment of monkeypox genome, less than one-third of its full size, which was described as a ‘fail safe’ way of preventing a leak. 

In contrast, the evidence around Covid leaking out of the high-security lab is much stronger.

The lab at the centre of Covid origin debate has been dragged into the monkeypox outbreak after it emerged it was experimenting with monkeypox

The lab at the centre of Covid origin debate has been dragged into the monkeypox outbreak after it emerged it was experimenting with monkeypox

Bill Gates has NOT engineered the monkeypox outbreak

The Microsoft co-founder — the second richest man in the world — was at the heart of a raft of conspiracies after he predicted that a coronavirus could sweep the world before the pandemic took off in early 2020. 

Twitter users accused him of ‘experimenting on people in third world countries’ and ‘profiting’ from health crises.

Now, they have wrongly accused him of being a ‘terrorist’ because he warned of the possibility of a smallpox terror attack in November 2021. Others have called for him to be arrested.

Smallpox is genetically very similar to monkeypox, but the two viruses are different. 

Most claims are based on false pre-existing narratives around the billionaire, whose foundation has heavily invested in developing vaccines.

The Microsoft co-founder was at the heart of Covid conspiracies after he predicted that a coronavirus would sweep the world before the virus took off in 2020

The Microsoft co-founder was at the heart of Covid conspiracies after he predicted that a coronavirus would sweep the world before the virus took off in 2020

How DO you catch monkeypox and what are the symptoms? EVERYTHING you need to know about tropical virus

How do you catch monkeypox?

Until this worldwide outbreak, monkeypox was usually caught from infected animals in west and central Africa.

The tropical virus is thought to be spread by rodents, including rats, mice and even squirrels. 

Humans can catch the illness — which comes from the same family as smallpox — if they’re bitten by infected animals, or touch their blood, bodily fluids, or scabs. 

Consuming contaminated wild game or bush meat can also spread the virus.

The orthopoxvirus can enter the body through broken skin — even if it’s not visible, as well as the eyes, nose and mouth.

Despite being mainly spread by wild animals, it was known that monkeypox could be passed on between people.

However, health chiefs insist it is very rare.

Human-to-human spread can occur if someone touches clothing or bedding used by an infected person, or through direct contact with the virus’ tell-tale scabs. 

The virus can also spread through coughs and sneezes. 

In the ongoing surge in cases, experts think the virus is passing through skin-to-skin contact during sex — even though this exact mechanism has never been seen until now.

How deadly is it?

Monkeypox is usually mild, with most patients recovering within a few weeks without treatment. 

Yet, the disease kills up to 10 per cent of cases. But this high rate is thought to be in part due to a historic lack of testing meaning that a tenth of known cases have died rather than a tenth of all infections.

However, with milder strains the fatality rate is closer to one in 100 — similar to when Covid first hit.

The UK cases all had the West African version of the virus, which is mild compared to the Central African strain. 

It is thought that cases in Portugal and Spain also have the milder version, though tests are underway.

How is it tested for? 

It can be difficult to diagnose monkeypox as it is often confused with other infections such as chickenpox.

Monkeypox is confirmed by a clinical assessment by a health professional and a test in the UK’s specialist lab – the UKHSA’s Rare and Imported Pathogens Laboratory.

The test involves taking samples from skin lesions, such as part of the scab, fluid from the lesions or pieces of dry crusts. 

What are the symptoms?

It can take up to three weeks for monkeypox-infected patients to develop any of its tell-tale symptoms.

Early signs of the virus include a fever, headache, muscle aches, backache, swollen lymph nodes, chills and exhaustion — meaning it could, theoretically, be mistaken for other common illnesses.

But its most unusual feature is a rash that often begins on the face, then spreads to other parts of the body, commonly the hands and feet.

The rash changes and goes through different stages before finally forming a scab, which later falls off.

How long is someone contagious?

An individual is contagious from the point their rash appears until all the scabs have fallen off and there is intact skin underneath.

The scabs may also contain infectious virus material.

The infectious period is thought to last for three weeks but may vary between individuals.

What do I do if I have symptoms?

Anyone with an unusual rash or lesions on any part of their body, especially their genitalia, should contact NHS 111 or call a sexual health service.

Britons are asked to contact clinics ahead of their visit and avoid close contact with others until they have been seen by a medic.

Gay and bisexual men have been asked to be especially alert to the symptoms as most of the cases have been detected in men who have sex with men. 

What even is monkeypox?

Monkeypox was first discovered when an outbreak of a pox-like disease occurred in monkeys kept for research in 1958.

The first human case was recorded in 1970 in the Democratic Republic of Congo and the infection has been reported in a number of central and western African countries since then.

Only a handful of cases have been reported outside of Africa and they were confined to people with travel links to the continent. 

The UK, US, Israel and Singapore are the only countries which had detected the virus before May 2022.

Monkeypox is a rare viral infection which causes unusual rashes or lesions (shown in a handout provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the US

Monkeypox is a rare viral infection which kills up to one in ten of those infected but does not spread easily between people. The tropical disease is endemic in parts of Africa and is known for its rare and unusual rashes, bumps and lesions (file photo)

Nurses and doctors are being advised to stay 'alert' to patients who present with a new rash or scabby lesions (like above)

Nurses and doctors are being advised to stay ‘alert’ to patients who present with a new rash or scabby lesions (like above)

Is it related to chickenpox?

Despite causing a similar rash, chickenpox is not related to monkeypox.

The infection, which usually strikes children, is caused by the varicella-zoster virus. 

For comparison, monkeypox — like smallpox — is an orthopoxvirus. Because of this link, smallpox vaccines also provide protection against monkeypox.  

Are young people more vulnerable?

Britons aged under 50 may be more susceptible to monkeypox, according to the World Health Organization.

This is because children in the UK were routinely offered the smallpox jab, which protects against monkeypox, until 1971.

The WHO also warns that the fatality rate has been higher among young children. 

Does it spread as easily as Covid?

Leading experts insist we won’t be seeing Covid-style levels of transmission in the monkeypox outbreak.

A World Health Organization report last year suggested the natural R rate of the virus – the number of people each patient would infect if they lived normally while sick – is two. 

This is lower than the original Wuhan variant of Covid and about a third of the R rate of the Indian ‘Delta’ strain. 

But the real rate is likely much lower because ‘distinctive symptoms greatly aid in its early detection and containment,’ the team said, meaning it’s easy to spot cases and isolate them.

Covid is mainly spread through droplets an infected person releases whenever they breathe, speak, cough or sneeze. 

How is the UK managing the outbreak?

MailOnline this week revealed close contacts of monkeypox cases, including NHS workers, are already being offered the Imvanex smallpox vaccine. 

The strategy, known as ring vaccination, involves jabbing and monitoring anyone around an infected person to form a buffer of immune people to limit the spread of a disease.

A spokesman for the UKHSA did not disclose how many have been vaccinated, but said: ‘Those who have required the vaccine have been offered it.’

Health chiefs are also contacting all close contacts of those who have been infected.

Additionally, close contacts of those with a confirmed monkeypox infection are being told to stay at home for 21 days and avoid contact under-12s, immunosuppressed people and pregnant women.

The Government said unprotected direct contact or high risk environmental contact includes living in the same house as someone with monkeypox, having sexual contact with them or even just changing their bedding ‘without appropriate PPE’. 

As with Covid, someone who has come within one metre of an infected person is classed as a monkeypox contact.

This lower category of contact, which also includes sitting next to a person with monkeypox on a plane, means a tracer will call the person every day for three weeks and they will be advised to stay off work for 21 days if their job involves children or immuno-suppressed colleagues.

The UK has stopped short of requiring people by law to quarantine if they develop monkeypox, but ministers are considering a public health campaign to alert gay and bisexual men, because of the number of cases in this group.

What if it continues to spread? 

Experts told MailOnline they ‘could see a role’ for a targeted jab rollout to gay men in the UK ‘if this isn’t brought under control quickly’.

Close contacts of the UK’s known cases are already being offered the jab, which was originally designed for smallpox. The two rash-causing viruses are very similar.

A health source told MailOnline ‘there would be a number of strategies we’d look at’ if cases continued to rise.

Professor Kevin Fenton, London’s public health regional director, said if the outbreak in the capital continues to grow then the rollout of vaccines and treatments could be broadened to more groups.

He said there are ‘plans in place’ to have more antivirals if the outbreak keeps growing. 

What other countries have spotted cases?

At least 19 countries — including the US, Spain and Italy — have now detected cases of monkeypox.

The most cases have been detected in Spain, Portugal, Canada and the UK.

Within Europe, France, Germany, Italy, Belgium, Austria, the Netherlands, Sweden and Switzerland have also confirmed cases.

Australia, Israel and the Canary Islands also have monkeypox patients, while health chiefs in Argentina are investigating a possible case. 

The smallpox vaccine, called Imvanex in the UK and Jynneos in the US, can protect against monkeypox because the viruses causing the illnesses are related

The smallpox vaccine, called Imvanex in the UK and Jynneos in the US, can protect against monkeypox because the viruses causing the illnesses are related

Is there a vaccine for it? 

The smallpox vaccine, called Imvanex in the UK and Jynneos in the US, can protect against monkeypox because the viruses behind the illnesses are closely related.

Data shows it prevents around 85 per cent of cases, and has been used ‘off-label’ in the UK since 2018. 

The jab, thought to cost £20 per dose, contains a modified vaccinia virus, which is similar to both smallpox and monkeypox, but does not cause disease in people. 

Because of its similarity to the pox viruses, antibodies produced against this virus offer cross protection.

Are there any drugs to treat it? 

There are a handful of antivirals and therapies for smallpox that appear to work on monkeypox, including the drug tecovirimat, which was approved for monkeypox in the EU in January

There are a handful of antivirals and therapies for smallpox that appear to work on monkeypox, including the drug tecovirimat, which was approved for monkeypox in the EU in January

There are a handful of antivirals and therapies for smallpox that appear to work on monkeypox.

This includes the drug tecovirimat, which was approved for monkeypox in the EU in January.

Tecovirimat prevents the virus from leaving an infected cell, hindering the spread of the virus within the body. 

An injectable antiviral used to treat AIDS called cidofovir can be used to manage the infection, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

It also works by stopping the growth of the virus.

What is the situation with the UK outbreak?

Twenty cases were confirmed in the UK between May 6 and 20.

No details about the eleven confirmed on May 20 have been released yet. 

But six of the previous nine confirmed cases were in men who have sex with men — which officials say is ‘highly suggestive of spread in sexual networks’.

How worrying is it?

UK health chiefs say the risk of a major outbreak is low.

But experts not that the outbreak is ‘concerning’ and that it is ‘very unusual’ to see community transmission in Europe.  

Dr Michael Head, a global health expert at the University of Southampton, said the rise in cases is ‘undoubtedly worrying’.

But he noted that ‘a big monkeypox outbreak like this is still a very different situation to a Covid pandemic’.

Dr Head added: ‘Given 11 further cases have been announced today, it’s likely there will be more cases to come in the UK. 

‘There certainly will be further cases confirmed in other countries. The contact tracing efforts by public health teams will be crucial in containing the outbreak.’

Dr Charlotte Hammer, an infectious diseases expert at the University of Cambridge, said: ‘It is very unusual to see community transmission in Europe, previous monkeypox cases have been in returning travellers with limited ongoing spread.

‘Based on the number of cases that were already discovered across Europe and the UK in the previous days, it is not unexpected that additional cases are now being and will be found, especially with the contact tracing that is now happening.’

What is the situation in the US?

The US has confirmed two cases and is investigating more.

A Massachusetts man on May 18 became the first confirmed US case for this outbreak.

On May 19, officials in New York City announced they were probing a suspected monkeypox case as well.

And what about Australia?

Australia last week confirmed its first every monkeypox infections.

One is a man in his thirties who travelled from Britain to Melbourne with symptoms earlier this week.

The second case is a man in his forties who became mildly unwell days after returning to New South Wales from Europe. Both he and the person he lives with are isolating at home.

What do I do if I have symptoms? 

Anyone worried that they could be infected with monkeypox is advised to make contact with clinics ahead of their visit. 

Health chiefs say their call or discussion will be treated sensitively and confidentially.


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