Facts about monkeypox and animal research 

June 8, 2022

It is not new news that individuals and groups engaged in political campaigns against animal research rarely miss an opportunity to amplify their message and promote their agenda by jumping on current world events. A look at PETA’s webpage, for example, will tell you about PETA Germany’s efforts to rescue pets in war-torn Ukraine and, for PRIDE month, an article titled “A Quick History Lesson: How Queer Icons Teamed Up With PETA to Save Animals.”

PETA has also leapt on the chance to leverage media coverage and public fear about an infectious disease, monkeypox, that is currently in the news. Monkeypox is a rare disease that spreads through a virus. According to the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) “the symptoms of monkeypox are similar to but milder than the symptoms of smallpox.” For many individuals the infection results in “a mild, self-limiting disease course in the absence of specific therapy.” The CDC cautions that prognosis varies, however, depending on other factors. Both the CDC and the World Health Organization provide accurate and detailed information about the disease, current outbreak, transmission, prevention, and treatment

Source: MAURIZIO DE ANGELIS/Science Photo Library. Monkeypox virus, illustration.

By contrast, PETA has used the outbreak to highlight its own campaigns against research. While this wouldn’t be surprising if limited to PETA’s webpage, it is concerning to see those same claims in widely read and reputable media, sometimes in a contradictory fashion. As noted in a recent Guardian editorial about monkeypox, for example: 

“It is, in fact, more likely to have come from rodents, from eating undercooked and infected meat, and from handling infected fur or animal skins. Its transmission between humans is predominantly via close contact, which is why it spreads through sex. However, it is not a sexually transmitted disease, but a virus that can also be spread by coughing, sharing linen, or touching infected skin. Its exotic-sounding name is neither accurate nor helpful.” (emphasis added)

Guardian editorial

Yet, in another recent Guardian article, we see the claim: ”Monkeypox, a viral cousin of smallpox that’s currently spreading in the US and Europe, has long been associated with primates shipped to research laboratories.”  What follows is not a statement or source with factual information about the current outbreak, but rather a message from an individual representing PETA in their campaign against primate research, Lisa Jones-Engel. “’There are so many monkeys pouring into US airports of entry,’ says Jones-Engel. Last week, for instance, she heard from a whistleblower about an EgyptAir cargo flight that took off from Cambodia with a hold full of ‘almost certainly diseased’ longtailed macaques, which were trucked 1800 miles across the country to Texas after landing.”

The danger in spreading misinformation about public health threats is obvious. As the Guardian notes their editorial, “communication is crucial.”

Countering misinformation is critically important. It is also a difficult and unending job that needs the time, expertise, and sustained efforts of many individuals and groups. To succeed in reaching a large audience, it needs many to pitch in to amplify and spread factual information through their circles, networks, and listeners.

At Speaking of Research we are grateful for the efforts of Americans for Medical Progress (AMP) to address the egregious misinformation campaign surrounding monkeypox.  AMP writes


“While monkeypox – like all other disease risks – must be taken seriously, Americans for Medical Progress is aware of campaigns by animal rights groups to weaponize this limited outbreak. Groups have sent out communications seeking to frighten an already traumatized public, falsely suggesting monkeypox came from research animals. They have also proposed an immediate end to animal studies to ‘eliminate the threat’ they are heavily promoting. These attempts are the worst form of fear mongering. They also defy logic.

Several disease epidemics have been prevented, diminished, and even ended thanks to vaccines created through the necessary study of animals. Examples include chickenpox, smallpox, diphtheria, polio, and Ebola. In the case of COVID-19, tens of thousands of deaths have been prevented by the currently available vaccines. Therefore, animal research opponents’ proposal to end animal studies would actually increase risk, not diminish it.”

Americans for Medical Progress

What can you do to help?  Go read AMP’s statement. The statement can be found at this link. Share the statement with others. AMP generously invites organizations “to share or adopt these messages as needed in their own public statements and responses.” Take them up on the offer and help reach a broader audience with facts and accurate information.

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