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Fact Check-COVID-19 is caused by a virus, not snake venom

Social media users are spreading a conspiracy theory online that COVID-19 is caused by snake venom in drinking water. Users are additionally claiming that COVID-19 vaccines contain snake venom.

There is no basis to the claims, however. COVID-19 is a disease caused by SARS-CoV-2, a virus.

One user flagged an individual promoting the claims, writing (here “My coworker just spent 15 minutes telling me that Covid was caused by the government putting snake venom in the water supply.”

Other users pointed out individuals appearing to suggest there is snake venom in water or COVID-19 vaccines (here).

Meanwhile, a separate user claimed (here “Spike protein developed by Fauci's NIH in Wuhan has snake venom peptides in it.”

The theory seemingly originates from “Watch the Water,” a program posted by the Stew Peters Network (here). Peters is a radio host has previously platformed health misinformation addressed by Reuters (here) and (here).

“The COVID-19 and the so called vaccine contains King Cobra Venom,” a user linking to the film wrote (here).

In the “Watch the Water” film, an individual purports that snake venom is being used as “the most original of all bioweapons;” that COVID-19 is “not a respiratory virus of any kind” but “is actually a venom poison;” and that “synthesized peptides and proteins from venoms of snakes” are being administered and targeted to certain people.

However, there is no basis for the claim that COVID-19 is snake venom, or that COVID-19 vaccines contain it.

The “Watch the Water” film relies on misrepresented studies, including one by University of Arizona researchers, which found an enzyme similar to rattlesnake venom might be an important factor predicting COVID-19 mortality (here). The enzyme, however, is already produced in low concentrations in healthy humans, according to the study and its coverage by the university (here).

The video also appears to cite one 2015 study (timestamp 35:23) on promoting the body’s response to stopping bleeding by combining snake venom with “nanofibrous peptide hydrogel” (here), (here). The video uses the study to suggests magnetic metal beads were also added to the hydrogels, showing how snake venom might be administered to humans and remain “stable.” However, the report has no relation to COVID-19 or the pandemic.

SARS-CoV-2 VIRUS

COVID-19 is the disease caused by SARS-CoV-2, a virus that emerged in Dec. 2019 (here), (here), (here).

Genomic sequencing of COVID-19 specimens decodes genes in the SARS-CoV-2 genome to detect COVID-19 variants and tell scientists which might be present in the specimen. This allows them to monitor mutations and learn more about the virus (here).

Like other viruses, studies of the virus’ genome sequence have found multiple variants emerge as it evolves, due to replications of its genome prompting changes in its genetic code (here).

Reuters has previously addressed false claims about the existence of COVID-19 (here).

COVID-19 VACCINES

Ingredients contained in COVID-19 vaccines can be found online.

None of the vaccines list snake venom, peptides or similar substances as a component.

A fact sheet on the FDA’s website (here), last updated on Mar. 29,2022, discloses the ingredients in Pfizer-BioNTech's vaccine. For individuals aged 12 and over, ingredients include mRNA, lipids, potassium chloride, monobasic potassium phosphate, sodium chloride, dibasic sodium phosphate dihydrate and sucrose.

A fact sheet on the FDA’s website (here) discloses the ingredients in Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine. It includes mRNA, lipids, tromethamine, tromethamine hydrochloride, acetic acid, sodium acetate trihydrate, and sucrose.

The ingredients of Oxford-AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccine are shown on the UK government website (here). It contains modified adenovirus, L-histidine, L-histidine hydrochloride monohydrate, magnesium chloride hexahydrate, polysorbate 80 (E 433), ethanol, sucrose, sodium chloride, disodium edetate dihydrate and water for injections.

Neither Pfizer-BioNTech or Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines contain human or animal products, according to the University of Oxford’s Vaccine Knowledge Project (here).

COVID-19 vaccines have saved nearly half a million lives in less than one year, the World Health Organization and Europe and European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) said on Nov. 25, 2021 (here).

England's former Deputy Chief Medical Officer Jonathan Van-Tam said on Sept. 14, 2021 that vaccines have saved 112,000 lives and prevented 24 million cases of COVID-19 in the UK (here).

VERDICT

False. COVID-19 is caused by virus SARS-CoV-2. There is no evidence COVID-19 vaccines contain snake venom; full lists of their ingredients can be found online.

This article was produced by the Reuters Fact Check team. Read more about our fact-checking work here .

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