A photo of a man with a visible skin condition taken during rush hour on a train in Spain received thousands of likes on Twitter.
The original Spanish tweet was shared by an alleged doctor, insisting the passenger concerned had monkeypox and was ignoring public health guidelines.
According to the doctor’s posts, which have now been deleted, the healthcare professional spoke to the man in question and told him to isolate immediately. However, the man allegedly told the doctor that he was only obligated to wear a mask.
Spanish media investigated the claims and discovered the man did not have monkeypox but neurofibromatosis, a non-contagious genetic disorder that causes tumours to form anywhere on the nervous system.
The Madrid-based publication 20 Minutos tracked down the man in the photo who said he never spoke to the alleged doctor on the train and that the story had been completely fabricated.
Since then, the Twitter user has switched his profile to private.
Spain has 4,577 confirmed cases; the highest number of monkeypox infections in Europe.
The only country with more infections than Spain is the United States, which has reported 7,100 cases.
After the post went viral, neurofibromatosis sufferers, particularly those with the strain NF1, have taken to social media to share similar stories.
The Cube, Euronews’ social media newsdesk, spoke to TJ Pax Hardy, a field epidemiologist based in the US who warned that people outside of the medical profession are falsely diagnosing a lot of different skin conditions as monkeypox.
“Certain people have adult and early onset acne that will look like monkeypox and it can spread down the arms.
“Anything from rashes to eczema and plaque psoriasis, these are all going to be things that are going to resemble monkeypox one way or another.
“And, when it comes to dermatology and skin conditions, it’s one of the harder medical fields because you have to narrow it down from a group of hundreds of things.
“And so, what may look like monkeypox may actually not be.”
As monkeypox cases continue to rise, misinformation also continues to spread.
While the World Health Organization has called for the virus to be taken seriously, public health officials have noted that scare-mongering is being used to further stigmatise members of historically discriminated groups.
The US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has stressed that anyone can get monkeypox and is working with healthcare providers to ensure that factual information reaches affected communities.
While many cases have been recorded among gay and bisexual men, the CDC maintains that the virus should be a concern for everyone.
What’s more, authorities warn that focusing the spotlight on the gay community is problematic and may create a false sense of security within heterosexual circles and further stigmatise marginalised populations.
According to Hardy, NF1 cannot be cured and there is no vaccine available to prevent the disease.
However, the UK’s National Health Service says that treatment and careful monitoring can help people with NF1 live a full life.
Current treatments include physiotherapy, pain management, surgery to remove tumours and medicines to treat secondary conditions such as high blood pressure.
However, more than 70% of the world’s monkeypox cases were reported within the European region at the end of July. As the outbreak spreads, some people have become warier of contracting the virus.
“Tread lightly, I think the one thing that we don’t want to do is be too bold and brazen in our assessment of other people,” said Hardy. “If we see somebody and we think they might have monkeypox, steer clear. Don’t ask questions, don’t try to investigate the situation, don’t try to photograph them and put it in the newspaper, just steer clear,” he added.
For NF1 sufferers who already face daily stigmatisation, being accused of having or spreading monkeypox can come at a serious psychological cost.
Since May, the global monkeypox outbreak has seen more than 26,000 cases across 90 countries. There have been 103 suspected deaths in Africa, mostly in Nigeria and Congo, where a more lethal form of monkeypox is spreading than in the West.