Monkeypox isn’t shingles in disguise

31 May 2022
What was claimed

13,783 cases of shingles, one of the adverse reactions of the Covid vaccines, are reported on the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System.

Our verdict

Around 13,000 cases of shingles have been reported on VAERS, but that doesn’t mean the vaccine caused them.

What was claimed

Seems like shingles is being termed as monkeypox.

Our verdict

Shingles and monkeypox are caused by two completely different viruses, although both cause a rash. Reported cases of monkeypox in the UK have been confirmed with a PCR test.

A post on Instagram shows a screenshot of a tweet that says: “13,783 cases of Shingles (one of the adverse effects of C19 jab) are reported on the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System. Seems like Shingles is being termed as monkey pox [sic].”

Similar posts on Facebook make the same claims but without the screenshot.

The Medicines & Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has told Full Fact there is no evidence that Covid-19 vaccines cause shingles or monkeypox. 

Some studies have suggested a potential link between herpes zoster (shingles) infections and the vaccine though the data is unclear, and reports of shingles following vaccination may not be caused by vaccination. There is no evidence monkeypox is caused by the Covid-19 vaccines.

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What is monkeypox?

Monkeypox symptoms include a high temperature, headache, and muscle ache, followed by a rash that often starts on the face before spreading to other parts of the body. Although the rash can be confused for chickenpox, it’s caused by an infection with the monkeypox virus

As of 26 May there have been 106 confirmed cases of monkeypox in the UK since the first were detected early this month. 

What is shingles?

Shingles is an infection caused by the reactivation of the herpes varicella-zoster virus, which also causes chickenpox. Only people who have had chickenpox can get shingles.

The post says: “Seems like Shingles is being termed as monkey pox [sic]”. Although monkeypox lesions can look like chickenpox, the two diseases are different and monkeypox is diagnosed by PCR testing a swab of the rash.

Is shingles a side effect of Covid-19 vaccines?

The tweet claims that shingles is “one of the adverse effects of” the Covid vaccines. Although cases of shingles have been reported following Covid vaccination, that doesn’t necessarily mean these cases were caused by the vaccine.

The Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) is the US equivalent of the UK’s Yellow Card reporting scheme.

These reporting programmes publish data on incidents reported after vaccination, but not necessarily because of it. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which runs VAERS with the Food and Drug Administration, specifies that “a report to VAERS does not mean that a vaccine caused an adverse event”.

It’s true that around 13,000 cases of shingles have been reported following Covid-19 vaccination according to VAERS. The tweet specifies 13,783 cases. This figure appears on a website called Open VAERS, which is not affiliated with VAERS or the CDC. But when Full Fact analysed the original VAERS data and we found there had been 12,588 reports of “herpes zoster”.

But shingles is quite common. According to the Green Book of immunisation, there’s an estimated life risk of one in four, and over 50,000 cases of shingles occur in people over 70 in England and Wales annually.

So given that 258 million people in the US have been given at least one dose of the Covid-19 vaccine, over 13,000 cases of shingles does not seem higher than we might expect.

In the UK, as of 18 May, there have been 3,502 Yellow Card reports that just mention “herpes zoster”.

One study found a tiny increase in hospitalisation with shingles following Covid vaccination, at a rate of 5 to 7 per million vaccine doses, but where Covid-19 was prevalent the benefits of the vaccine outweighed this risk.

Another found a slight increase in shingles in people with autoimmune rheumatic diseases who’d been vaccinated, but the author told the Jerusalem Post the study didn’t show it was the cause of shingles, but might potentially be a trigger in some patients.

The MHRA told Full Fact: “The MHRA has sought independent expert advice from the Commission on Human Medicines’ COVID-19 Vaccine Benefit-Risk Expert Working Group following a review of the currently available data describing herpes zoster (shingles) occurring after COVID-19 vaccination in adults and children in the UK.

“The Expert Working Group advised that reporting rates for herpes zoster following COVID-19 vaccination were not greater than with herpes zoster occurring naturally in the general population and that overall, the evidence did not indicate a causal relationship between COVID-19 vaccination and herpes zoster in adults or children.”

It also added: “There is no evidence to date of a causal relationship between COVID-19 vaccination and monkeypox.”

Image courtesy of the CDC/Cynthia S. Goldsmith.

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