An image on Facebook showing a world map with countries with monkeypox outbreaks highlighted in red says “monkeypox detected in all countries where there are no monkeys”. The post also has the caption “When you know it’s so obvious and you see all the lies...!”
The map was taken from a MailOnline article published on 20 May 2022. By the time the map was shared on Facebook on 5 June, it was out of date.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) data published on 3 June, additional countries not on the map posted to Facebook now have confirmed cases, including Argentina and Mexico (which both have wild monkey populations) as well as Norway and Finland (which don’t). (MailOnline has since published more up-to-date maps of suspected and confirmed cases.)
While it’s true that the countries on the map posted to Facebook (Canada, the US, Belgium, UK, France, Portugal, Spain, Italy, Germany, Sweden and the Netherlands) don’t have wild monkey populations, this doesn’t prove that the recent spread of monkeypox is part of a conspiracy, as the Facebook caption implies.
Monkeypox can be passed between humans and animals, but is usually passed to humans from rodents, which is how outbreaks in humans outside of endemic countries have started before. Monkeypox got its name because it was first detected in monkeys, but the species that the virus relies upon for reproduction and survival, called its ‘natural reservoir’ is unknown (although the WHO says it is most likely to be rodents).
What is different about these outbreaks in Europe and America is the fact that people who have been diagnosed with the infection mostly haven’t recently travelled to countries where monkeypox is more common. Monkeypox is endemic to some countries in Western and Central Africa, meaning the disease has historically been present there but it is usually limited to just those regions.
Major organisations such as the WHO have acknowledged that this is strange, saying that monkeypox in people who haven’t travelled to endemic countries is “atypical”. We don’t know why this is yet, although the WHO has speculated that “there might have been undetected transmission for some unknown duration of time followed by recent amplifier events.”
Monkeypox has been observed in countries where there are monkeys
As mentioned above, countries including Argentina and Mexico, which have wild monkey populations, do now have confirmed cases of monkeypox, even though monkeypox isn’t endemic there.
Monkeypox has also been detected in countries where the disease is endemic (many of which do have native monkey populations). Between 1 January and 1 June 2022, the WHO says there have 3 confirmed cases in Cameroon, 8 in the Central African Republic, 10 in the Democratic Republic of Congo and 21 in Nigeria.
The number of suspected cases in these countries is much higher.
However, the WHO says: “The ongoing outbreaks in Congo, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Nigeria are unrelated to the events of monkeypox reported from 23 countries across the European, American, Eastern Mediterranean, and Western Pacific Regions.
“Although epidemiological investigations are ongoing, no travel or exposure links to areas reporting monkeypox cases in Africa have so far been established for the majority of cases reported outside of the African region.”