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Many people don't know basic facts about monkeypox, making them susceptible to public health messaging but also to conspiracy theories

Abraham Gutman, The Philadelphia Inquirer on

Published in Health & Fitness

PHILADELPHIA — Did evil scientists intentionally release monkeypox?

Fourteen percent of respondents to a survey by University of Pennsylvania researchers think so. Another 10% think the virus was intentionally spread to "deflect attention from the failures of the Biden administration," and 5% said getting a COVID-19 vaccine increases their chance of contracting monkeypox.

Many more survey respondents said they weren't sure if these conspiracy theories were true — but they also couldn't flatly dismiss them.

The findings by scientists at the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania point to a worrying trend: People are increasingly aware of monkeypox, but they're also bombarded with misinformation — and don't always know how to distinguish fact from fiction.

That so many people are confused also represents an opportunity for public health messaging, says Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Center.

"The people who are unsure are people who are amenable to persuasion," said Jamieson.

 

The Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania has been tracking misinformation as it relates to disease going back years. So when a global monkeypox outbreak led to cases growing rapidly in the U.S., their researchers set out to survey Americans on what they know about the virus — and what bad information they've heard — with the goal of helping guide outreach campaigns.

Unlike COVID-19, monkeypox is not a new disease, but it is new to many Americans.

It has been circulating in areas in Western Africa since the 1970s. In the spring, an outbreak of monkeypox cases began to appear in countries worldwide, especially among men who have sex with men. The virus is considered less contagious than COVID-19. It can spread through direct contact with lesions, as well as through activities like kissing that involve contact with respiratory secretions and by touching objects or fabric used by someone with monkeypox, such as bedding and sex toys, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Symptoms include fever and lesions, blemishes, or rashes. The type of monkeypox that is circulating in the U.S. has a low fatality rate, and no one so far has died here from the disease. But it can be extremely painful and requires isolation potentially for weeks until all lesions heal.

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