Monkeypox set to be renamed after concerns term is 'discriminatory', says World Health Organisation

·3-min read

Monkeypox is set to be renamed, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has announced.

It comes after a group of scientists said there was an "urgent need for a non-discriminatory and non-stigmatising" name for the virus, which has mysteriously spread outside Africa in recent weeks.

A scientific paper released last week, signed by 29 experts, used the term "hMPXV" instead of monkeypox and called for a "speedy decision and adoption of a new name".

They said the continued reference to the virus "being African is not only inaccurate but is also discriminatory and stigmatising".

The scientists added that a "neutral, non-discriminatory and non-stigmatising" name "will be more appropriate for the global health community".

The WHO's director-general, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said on Tuesday that the organisation was "working with partners and experts from around the world on changing the name" of the monkeypox virus.

"We will make announcements about the new names as soon as possible," he added.

Dr Neil Stone, an infectious disease specialist at University College London Hospitals, tweeted that he was "pleased to hear" that the WHO was "working to change the virus's deeply unpopular name".

The virus was called monkeypox because it was first identified in two groups of laboratory monkeys in 1958.

It has since been identified in some wild monkeys in parts of Africa, but rodents are thought to be the main source of infection for human outbreaks in endemic regions.

On Tuesday, the WHO said it is convening an emergency committee to determine if the expanding monkeypox outbreak should be considered a global health emergency.

Dr Ghebreyesus said he had called the meeting on 23 June because the virus has shown "unusual" recent behaviour by spreading in countries well beyond parts of Africa, where it is endemic.

"We don't want to wait until the situation is out of control," said the WHO's emergencies director for Africa, Ibrahima Socé Fall.

Declaring monkeypox to be an international health emergency would give it the same designation as the COVID-19 pandemic and mean that the WHO considers the normally rare disease a continuing threat to countries globally.

Watch: Former monkeypox patients discusses symptoms

There have been 1,600 confirmed and 1,500 suspected cases of monkeypox this year across 39 countries, with 72 deaths reported, the WHO said.

However, none of the deaths were recorded in the newly affected countries, which include the UK, Canada, Italy, Poland, Spain and the US.

A total of 470 cases of monkeypox have been confirmed in the UK, with the vast majority in gay or bisexual men.

British scientists said last week they could not tell if the spread of the disease in the UK had peaked.

The WHO has now released new guidelines about vaccinating against monkeypox, saying it does not recommend mass vaccination.

It said controlling the disease relies primarily on measures like surveillance, tracking cases and isolating patients.

Read more:
The real reason why COVID-19 got its name

Monkeypox causes flu-like symptoms and skin lesions, and spreads through close contact.

It is thought to be fatal in around 3-6% of cases, according to the WHO, although no deaths have yet been reported in the outbreak outside Africa.

The majority of deaths this year have been in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

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Last month, a leading adviser to the WHO said the outbreak in Europe and beyond was likely to be spreading through sex at two recent raves in Spain and Belgium.

Scientists warn that anyone, regardless of sexual orientation, is susceptible to catching monkeypox if they are in close physical contact with an infected person or their clothing or bed sheets.

The WHO has been working to create a mechanism by which some vaccines for smallpox - a related disease - might be made available to countries that are affected, as research continues into their effectiveness against the new outbreak.

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