Monkeypox is a viral disease that is spread by close physical contact with an infected person and large respiratory droplets that travel no more than a few feet. A recent social media meme is misleading about how the virus spreads, its severity and its symptoms.
Monkeypox is a rare disease caused by a virus related to smallpox, as we explained earlier. The disease was discovered in laboratory monkeys in 1958 and can spread from animals to humans, as well as between humans.
On August 4, the United States declared monkeypox a public health emergency as the number of confirmed cases in the country reached 7,102.
Rumors have taken off online since early May, when an outbreak of monkeypox began in countries outside central and west Africa, where the disease is endemic. We recently debunked a false claim about its origins.
Now a meme spreading several false claims about the disease has circulated online featuring a BBC logo, although no such image is available on BBC websites or social media accounts.
We’ll address each of the meme’s inaccurate claims below.
To claim: “The CDC has now classified this disease as airborne and anyone within 15 feet can catch it”
Facts: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention explained that monkeypox is spread through “close, personal, often skin-to-skin contact” with an infected person. This includes direct contact with an infected person’s wounds or bodily fluids, contact with fabrics or surfaces that have been used by someone with monkeypox, and contact with infected “respiratory secretions”.
As we have already explained, monkeypox can be spread through respiratory droplets, probably because lesions in the mouth infect saliva. But those larger droplets only travel a few feet — well short of the 15 feet claimed in the meme. This type of infection would therefore require prolonged face-to-face contact.
The CDC also noted that scientists are still studying how often the virus spreads through respiratory secretions.
Such spread does not make the virus “airborne”. As the CDC explains, “Airborne transmission occurs when small virus particles are airborne and can stay there for periods of time” or even “spread in air currents.” But monkeypox “can be found in droplets like saliva or respiratory secretions that rapidly escape the air. Long-distance (e.g., airborne) transmission of monkeypox has not been reported.
To claim: “This disease is now classified as a form of herpes”
Facts: Monkeypox belongs to the Poxviridae family of viruses, which includes the virus responsible for the most severe disease smallpox. Interestingly – and perhaps what led to the lie in the meme – despite its name, chicken pox is not caused by a virus from the Poxviridae family. Instead, it’s caused by varicella zoster, which belongs to the Herpesviridae family of viruses, which includes herpes simplex 1 and 2.
Simply put, monkeypox is a poxvirus, not a herpesvirus.
To claim: “The disease usually lasts 2 to 4 months. If you have symptoms, avoid going out”
Facts: Monkeypox usually lasts between two and four weeks, according to the CDC, not “2 to 4 months” as the meme claims.
“In most cases, the symptoms of monkeypox go away on their own within a few weeks,” the World Health Organization explained. “However, in some people, an infection can lead to medical complications and even death. Newborns, children, and people with underlying immune deficiencies can be at risk for more severe symptoms and death from monkeypox.
To claim: “Monkey pox can lead to paralysis”
Facts: According to the WHO, the most common symptoms of monkeypox include “fever, headache, muscle aches, back pain, lack of energy and swollen lymph nodes.”
Additionally, monkeypox typically causes a rash or sores that start out flat, then fill with fluid before crusting over and falling off.
The CDC has described a similar set of symptoms.
Neither organization included paralysis in the list of symptoms, and we could find no evidence that paralysis was a recognized problem associated with monkeypox.
This claim may have come from confusing monkeypox with another viral disease that has recently made headlines – poliomyelitis. Although polio has been eliminated in the United States, an unvaccinated person in a New York suburb was diagnosed in July. Poliomyelitis is a viral disease that can cause paralysis.
None of the four claims made in the meme are correct, based on what is currently known about the latest outbreak.
Editor’s Note: FactCheck.org is one of many organizations work with facebook to debunk misinformation shared on social media. Our previous stories can be found here. Facebook has no control over our editorial content.
World Health Organization. 2022 monkeypox outbreak. Accessed August 5, 2022.
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Centers for Control and Prevention of Disasters. Monkeypox – How it spreads. Updated July 29, 2022.
Encyclopedia Britannica. Pox virus. Updated July 26, 2022.
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Centers for Control and Prevention of Disasters. Monkeypox – Signs and Symptoms. Updated August 5, 2022.
World Health Organization. Monkey pox questions and answers. August 4, 2022.
Centers for Control and Prevention of Disasters. Elimination of poliomyelitis in the United States. Opinion left on August 3, 2022.
Centers for Control and Prevention of Disasters. What is polio? Opinion left on September 28, 2021.