Life

Monkeypox briefly won out over Covid-19 in SA interest – and did some misinformation damage

Business Insider SA
A US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention handout graphic, showing the symptoms of monkeypox. (Photo Courtesy of CDC/Getty Images)
A US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention handout graphic, showing the symptoms of monkeypox. (Photo Courtesy of CDC/Getty Images)

  • South Africans became somewhat obsessed with monkeypox in the last bit of May, search data shows, finding it more interesting than Covid-19.
  • But that interest waned quickly.
  • There were some weird overlaps between monkeypox online chatter and misinformation around Covid-19, says the department of health.
  • For more stories go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.

Last month, South Africans developed a sudden fascination with monkeypox, with interest in monkeypox – not detected in South Africa – outweighing that shown in the long-running Covid-19 pandemic – which continued to cause deaths in SA.

For much of the last week of May, Google search data shows, South Africans were looking up monkeypox more often than they were asking for information on Covid-19, or the coronavirus. But the initial flurry of interest seemed to be dying down just as quickly as it had spiked.

A graph with three lines, indicating searches over
(Google Trends)

But not before it further muddied the waters for the coronavirus vaccine.

South Africa saw "increasing concern and confusion about monkeypox, which has strange overlaps with fears about Covid", said the department of health in its regular social-listening report on the coronavirus, which tracks misinformation and other drivers of vaccine hesitancy.

"Misinformation about the spread of monkeypox has appeared in many online conversations, including misinformation from Covid being translate [sic] into the Monkeypox narrative."

The World Health Organisation has rated monkeypox a moderate risk, and the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) has yet to see any reason for concern about what it described as a "self-limiting" disease.

South African interest in monkeypox lagged somewhat behind news of outbreaks in non-endemic countries, but took off once hoaxers and misinformation spreaders linked it to Covid-19, and specifically to the coronavirus vaccine.

Examples that spread in South Africa included claims that monkeypox is a plot by pharmaceutical companies to enhance profits, and that monkeypox would be used as a pretext for further lockdowns. 

Among the more worrying links between the coronavirus and monkeypox were claims that the Covid-19 vaccine was responsible for monkeypox symptoms, and that monkeypox proved diseases, including Covid-19, do not require vaccination. 

The health department's social listening team has recommended education to explain monkeypox, and how it is different from SARS-CoV-2.

Get the best of our site emailed to you every weekday.

Go to the Business Insider front page for more stories.

Rand - Dollar
15.82
-0.1%
Rand - Pound
19.43
-0.3%
Rand - Euro
16.72
-0.3%
Rand - Aus dollar
10.97
-0.0%
Rand - Yen
0.12
-0.4%
Gold
1,836.54
+0.5%
Silver
21.41
+1.3%
Palladium
1,931.50
+2.7%
Platinum
918.50
+0.8%
Brent Crude
113.12
+2.7%
Top 40
59,993
0.0%
All Share
66,349
0.0%
Resource 10
64,422
0.0%
Industrial 25
76,590
0.0%
Financial 15
15,623
0.0%
All JSE data delayed by at least 15 minutes Iress logo