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Monkeypox not related to shingles or COVID-19 vaccines

May 25, 2022 GMT

CLAIM: The recent cases of monkeypox are actually just shingles, and the cases are a result of the COVID-19 vaccine.

AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. Shingles and monkeypox are not the same and are caused by different viruses, experts told The Associated Press. While they both cause rashes with blisters, monkeypox belongs to the same family of viruses as smallpox, and shingles is caused by the herpes virus that causes chickenpox. One website misused a stock photo of a shingles rash in an article about monkeypox, and the story has since been updated to remove the picture. Experts say the vaccine cannot cause monkeypox, as it is spread by exposure to an infected human or an infected animal.

THE FACTS: As health officials monitor recently-identified cases of monkeypox around the world, some social media users are sharing their fears and skepticism about the virus with false claims, including that monkeypox is actually shingles.

Many posts making the false claim include a screenshot showing a side-by-side comparison of two websites. Both have the same photo of a hand with raised lesions.

The headline over the photo on TheHealthSite.com, a health news website based in India, from July 17, 2021, reads: “Rare Monkeypox cases reported from US, First Time In Nearly 20 Years: All You Need To Know About It.” The headline on the other side, which comes from the state government health department website of Queensland, Australia, reads: “What is shingles? (with pictures)”

One Twitter post shared the photo on Monday with the comment: “Are we just rebranding now??! #Monkeypox”

Other posts claimed that the virus is an adverse reaction to the COVID-19 vaccine. One tweet asked: “Is ‘monkeypox’ actually the very common shingles reaction people have been getting from the jabs?”

However, experts confirmed to the AP that monkeypox and shingles are not the same and caused by different viruses. One website mislabelling a photo of shingles does not change that.

The story from the health news website predates the current monkeypox cases. TheHealthSite.com updated its 2021 story with a new photo on May 23, 2022. The widely-shared screenshot shows the old photo, according to the Wayback Machine.

The photo can be found on several stock photo sites and was taken by a photographer with the username myibean. The caption from iStock by Getty Images reads, “Skin infected Herpes zoster virus on the arms,” using another name for shingles. Neither the photographer nor TheHealthSite.com responded to the AP’s request for comment.

Jonathan Ball, a life sciences professor at the University of Nottingham, explained that shingles is onset by a reactivation of the varicella-zoster virus, the herpes virus that causes chickenpox. If a person had chickenpox, the virus remains dormant in the nervous system and can re-emerge to cause shingles many years later.

Monkeypox is a rare disease related to the same virus family as smallpox. It has milder symptoms than smallpox and originates in wild animals like rodents and primates. The disease is not a recent discovery. Monkeypox was first identified by scientists in 1958 when there were two outbreaks of a “pox-like” disease in research monkeys. The first known human infection was in 1970, in a young boy in a remote part of Congo.

“Occasionally, this virus spills over into humans causing local outbreaks and sometimes infections can be exported to other countries. Usually there is limited human-to-human transmission and most of the time the infection is unpleasant but relatively harmless,” Ball said in an email.

Both monkeypox and shingles cause a rash with small blisters, Dr. Seth Blumberg, an infectious disease expert at the University of California, San Francisco, told the AP in an email. He said monkeypox affects the entire body, while shingles usually affects one narrow strip of skin on just one side of the body.

Blumberg added that COVID-19 vaccination would not cause monkeypox: “You can only get monkeypox if you are directly exposed to the virus via an infected human or an infected animal.”

According to medical experts, there have been some case reports of individuals getting shingles after being vaccinated for COVID. However, experts said those cases are rare and no definite link has been established between the shots and the virus that causes shingles.

Other false claims surrounding monkeypox and COVID-19 have circulated on social media in recent days.

As of May 21, the WHO has recorded more than 90 mild cases of monkeypox in a dozen countries including Canada, Spain, Israel, France, Switzerland, the U.S. and Australia. Health officials stress that while this is the first time the disease appears to be spreading among people who didn’t travel to Africa, that the risk to the general population is low.

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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.