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No, monkeypox wasn’t found in Georgia drinking water

August 16, 2022 GMT
FILE - This 2003 electron microscope image made available by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows mature, oval-shaped monkeypox virions, left, and spherical immature virions, right, obtained from a sample of human skin associated with the 2003 prairie dog outbreak. A July 26 clip from an Atlanta-area news broadcast about testing wastewater to monitor the spread of monkeypox is being mischaracterized online to falsely claim that the virus has been detected in drinking water. (Cynthia S. Goldsmith, Russell Regner/CDC via AP, File)
FILE - This 2003 electron microscope image made available by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows mature, oval-shaped monkeypox virions, left, and spherical immature virions, right, obtained from a sample of human skin associated with the 2003 prairie dog outbreak. A July 26 clip from an Atlanta-area news broadcast about testing wastewater to monitor the spread of monkeypox is being mischaracterized online to falsely claim that the virus has been detected in drinking water. (Cynthia S. Goldsmith, Russell Regner/CDC via AP, File)
FILE - This 2003 electron microscope image made available by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows mature, oval-shaped monkeypox virions, left, and spherical immature virions, right, obtained from a sample of human skin associated with the 2003 prairie dog outbreak. A July 26 clip from an Atlanta-area news broadcast about testing wastewater to monitor the spread of monkeypox is being mischaracterized online to falsely claim that the virus has been detected in drinking water. (Cynthia S. Goldsmith, Russell Regner/CDC via AP, File)
FILE - This 2003 electron microscope image made available by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows mature, oval-shaped monkeypox virions, left, and spherical immature virions, right, obtained from a sample of human skin associated with the 2003 prairie dog outbreak. A July 26 clip from an Atlanta-area news broadcast about testing wastewater to monitor the spread of monkeypox is being mischaracterized online to falsely claim that the virus has been detected in drinking water. (Cynthia S. Goldsmith, Russell Regner/CDC via AP, File)
FILE - This 2003 electron microscope image made available by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows mature, oval-shaped monkeypox virions, left, and spherical immature virions, right, obtained from a sample of human skin associated with the 2003 prairie dog outbreak. A July 26 clip from an Atlanta-area news broadcast about testing wastewater to monitor the spread of monkeypox is being mischaracterized online to falsely claim that the virus has been detected in drinking water. (Cynthia S. Goldsmith, Russell Regner/CDC via AP, File)

CLAIM: A news report shows that monkeypox has been detected in drinking water.

AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. The clip comes from an Atlanta-area news broadcast explaining how wastewater — not drinking water — can be tested for evidence of monkeypox’s spread. Wastewater is used water from toilets, sinks, showers and household appliances, which is completely separate from stores of drinking water. There is no evidence to suggest monkeypox is spreading in communities through drinking water, according to multiple medical experts.

THE FACTS: The July 26 broadcast about wastewater testing is being mischaracterized online to push the false claim that monkeypox has been found in residents’ tap water.

The video, which has received more than 8,000 likes and 19,000 shares on Facebook, shows a reporter explaining that the public works department in Fulton County, which encompasses Atlanta, is launching new efforts to try to detect monkeypox in the community. While the news report is playing in the video, a viewer filming their TV screen can be heard in the background saying “there’s monkeypox in the water,” and “they put something else in the water.”

TikTok and Twitter users are sharing the clip out of context to suggest it means that drinking water is contaminated or being intentionally tampered with, and some users commenting on the video are going a step further, urging residents to drink only bottled or boiled water to protect themselves.

But the county’s tests have nothing to do with drinking water, nor did they reveal that the virus had been found in that supply.

“The testing that we’re doing in wastewater for monkeypox DNA is completely separate from drinking water,” said Marlene Wolfe, an environmental microbiologist and epidemiologist at Atlanta’s Emory University, who is involved in the testing initiative. “We have not tested drinking water, we are not planning to test drinking water, we don’t have any expectations or concerns about monkeypox spreading through drinking water.”

Experts say monkeypox is primarily spread through skin-to-skin contact such as sexual activity, or contact with items that previously touched an infected person’s rash or body fluids. Dr. Mark Slifka, a microbiology and immunology expert and professor at the Oregon National Primate Research Center, confirmed that “there is really no way” that monkeypox can be transmitted through drinking water.

“Historically, there has been no evidence of monkeypox spread through drinking water and currently during this global outbreak, there is absolutely no evidence for monkeypox being spread through drinking water,” Slifka wrote in an email.

Wolfe and researchers at both Emory and Stanford University are partnering with public works departments through an initiative called WastewaterSCAN. She said that people infected with monkeypox excrete virus DNA through skin lesions, saliva, feces and urine, which, much like COVID-19, can enter wastewater through sewage that is produced after showering, flushing toilets and more. That water can be tested using PCR technology to determine whether certain viruses are being spread, sometimes before patients are formally tested. This method has also been widely used for earlier detection of new COVID-19 waves.

Data released after the news report found that wastewater samples from two areas in Fulton County have tested positive for monkeypox.

Meanwhile, drinking water comes from separate reservoirs that go through different quality and treatment processes to make it drinkable.

“That’s a totally different department. We only handle wastewater,” said Patrick Person, a Fulton County water quality manager. He added that wastewater is also eventually sanitized before being returned to the environment.

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This is part of AP’s effort to address widely shared misinformation, including work with outside companies and organizations to add factual context to misleading content that is circulating online. Learn more about fact-checking at AP.