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Image falsely attributes monkeypox claims to BBC, health officials

August 4, 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. Amid the 2022 monkeypox outbreak, social media users are sharing an image that attributes faulty claims about the virus to the BBC and health officials. (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. Amid the 2022 monkeypox outbreak, social media users are sharing an image that attributes faulty claims about the virus to the BBC and health officials. (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. Amid the 2022 monkeypox outbreak, social media users are sharing an image that attributes faulty claims about the virus to the BBC and health officials. (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. Amid the 2022 monkeypox outbreak, social media users are sharing an image that attributes faulty claims about the virus to the BBC and health officials. (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. Amid the 2022 monkeypox outbreak, social media users are sharing an image that attributes faulty claims about the virus to the BBC and health officials. (Cynthia S. Goldsmith, Russell Regner/CDC via AP, File)

CLAIM: A BBC graphic that cites health officials advises that monkeypox is a “form of herpes,” travels in the air over distances of up to 15 feet and lasts two to four months.

AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. The BBC confirmed it did not make the graphic, and health officials and experts say the claims it conveys are wrong or scientifically unsupported.

THE FACTS: The fabricated image being shared by social media users is made to appear like an Instagram graphic created by the BBC using the headline, “What you need to know about monkeypox.”

The image erroneously attributes the information to the World Health Organization, and begins by claiming that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention “has now classified this disease as airborne and anybody within 15 ft can catch it.” Among its other faulty claims are that the “disease is now classified as a form of herpes,” the “illness typically lasts 2-4 months” and that it can “lead to being paralyzed.”

But the graphic was not published by the BBC, the broadcaster confirmed to The Associated Press, and the health agencies cited have not made those assertions.

The BBC News account on Instagram did publish a visually similar post using the same headline on July 23, but it attributed to the WHO correct information about what’s currently known about monkeypox spread. For example, it said that the virus can be spread during “Direct contact during sex” — which is consistent with what officials have said.

A spokesperson for the CDC also told the AP that the claims in the dubious post “are not correct.”

Contrary to the post’s claim that the CDC has determined that “anybody within 15 ft can catch it,” spokesperson Kate Fowlie said in an email that the virus “is not known to linger in the air and is not transmitted during short periods of shared airspace.”

“In the current monkeypox outbreak, we know that those with disease generally describe close, sustained physical contact with other people who are infected with the virus,” Fowlie wrote.

Fowlie said monkeypox is known to spread through direct contact with body fluids or sores on the body of someone infected, or direct contact with materials they touched, such as clothing or linens. She added that it “may also spread through respiratory secretions when people have close, face-to-face contact.”

Scientists are still researching monkeypox’s spread through respiratory droplets, and how efficient that mode of transmission is, said Christopher Mores, a professor of global health at George Washington University.

Mores wrote in an email that currently known cases show the virus is spreading widely among men who have sex with men, suggesting that transmission is strongly linked to direct contact. He said that if respiratory transmission were the primary mode of infection, especially at longer distances of up to 15 feet, “many more” cases would be detected among other communities.

“We have not yet seen a rise in cases among contacts where indirect/respiratory transmission would have been the most likely mode,” Mores said.

Experts and officials have noted that monkeypox can still be transmitted to anyone and that it is not only spread through contact during sex. The U.S. has reported some monkeypox cases in some women and at least two in children.

The claim that monkeypox is a form of herpes is also false, Mores noted. Herpes is a “completely different virus” that is unrelated to monkeypox, even though both may present lesions in the genital area, he said. He added there have not been reports of monkeypox causing paralysis, either.

Generally, monkeypox illness lasts two to four weeks — not two to four months — according to the CDC. Symptoms can include fever, chills, body aches and bumps on parts of the body. The lesions caused by the virus can be extremely painful.

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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.