No, monkeypox is not COVID vaccine-induced shingles in people with HIV

No, monkeypox is not COVID vaccine-induced shingles in people with HIV

What was claimed

The verdict

Monkeypox is a form of shingles induced by COVID-19 vaccines in people with HIV, according to an online article.

False. Diagnostic testing shows that monkeypox is a completely different virus to shingles, is not induced by COVID-19 vaccines, and is not only presenting in people who are HIV-positive.

By Catherine Smith

The recent outbreak of the monkeypox virus around the world has caused a spike in misinformation being spread on social media, including claims that monkeypox is actually shingles induced by COVID-19 vaccines in people who are HIV-positive.

These baseless claims stemmed from an article published on a website that has previously been found by fact checkers to have shared misleading information. At the time of publication, the article had been read more than 3,000 times.

It relies on speculation and an unreliable study to make three unfounded claims. Firstly, that monkeypox is actually shingles, secondly that it’s a side effect of the COVID-19 vaccines, and finally, that it’s only affecting people who are HIV-positive. According to experts consulted by RMIT FactLab, all three of these claims are blatantly false.

Although both monkeypox and shingles cause pox-like marks on the skin, they are completely different viruses. 

Professor Peter Collignon AM, an infectious diseases physician and microbiologist at Canberra Hospital, told RMIT FactLab that the claim that monkeypox is shingles is entirely wrong. 

“The lesions can look similar, but they're completely different viruses and have nothing to do with each other,” said Professor Collignon. 

To diagnose monkeypox, a sample of tissue is taken from an open sore and sent to a lab for testing. A blood test is also performed to detect the monkeypox virus or antibodies that the immune system makes in response to the disease. 

One of Australia’s leading specialists in poxviruses, Professor David Tscharke, told RMIT FactLab that monkeypox and shingles are distinctly different.

“We know that people in this outbreak are infected with MPXV [monkeypox] because the diagnostic test cannot possibly confuse this virus with the virus that causes shingles,” he said.

Professor Tscharke — who is head of the Immunology and Infectious Disease Department at the John Curtin School of Medicine — also explained the visual indicators a trained professional can pick up on to distinguish monkeypox. “There are other aspects of MPXV infection, e.g. swollen lymph nodes that are not seen in shingles,” he said. 

As for the second claim, that COVID vaccines have caused an outbreak of shingles, both Professor Tscharke and Professor Collignon discounted this assertion as baseless.

In November 2021, a systemic review was done to determine if COVID vaccines increase the risk of reactivating the shingles virus, which remains dormant in the spine’s nerve tissue once it’s contracted. The study concluded that a definitive link could not be found. 

Professor Tscharke has been looking into the body’s immune response to COVID for the past two years, and has found that “COVID vaccines (and even COVID infection) are not associated with shingles or with immune suppression of any kind”.

The article references a rheumatology study showing a correlation between the COVID vaccines and shingles, however, Professor Tscharke dismissed the result. 

“That paper was a discussion of only six people who had autoimmune diseases in a very under-powered and poorly controlled study. It is very difficult to conclude anything from such a report,” he told FactLab.

Furthermore, the claim that this outbreak is occurring only in people who are HIV-positive is also incorrect. Monkeypox is not a sexually transmitted infection and there is no correlation between being HIV-positive and contracting the virus. 

The article suggests that people who are HIV-positive have a low CD4 cell count — the body’s white blood cells that fight infection and are an important part of the immune system. The author claims this is the reason for shingles presenting in HIV-positive people. However, Professor Tscharke also refuted this. 

“The vast majority of people with HIV have a well-controlled disease due to the use of antivirals and that means they will also have CD4 counts in the normal range,” he said.

Moreover, there have been cases of monkeypox in people who are not HIV-positive, including in paediatric cases found in the US.

This is not the first time misinformation about monkeypox has circulated on social media. RMIT FactLab has previously debunked a claim that monkeypox is caused by COVID vaccines.


The verdict

False. The claim that monkeypox is actually shingles induced by COVID-19 vaccines in people who are HIV-positive is incorrect. Diagnostic testing reveals that the two viruses are distinctly different, and there are symptoms of the monkeypox virus — for example, swollen lymph nodes — that aren’t seen in shingles. Further, no definitive link has been found between COVID vaccines and the development of shingles, and there is no correlation between being HIV-positive and contracting monkeypox. In the recent monkeypox outbreaks, there have been people who have contracted the virus who are not HIV-positive, including children.

09 August 2022


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