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WHO Decides to Rename the ‘Monkeypox’ Virus

— June 20, 2022

The World Health Organization plans to give the monkeypox a new name.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has announced that it plans to rename the monkeypox virus after a group of scientists called its current name “discriminatory and stigmatizing.” The virus has infected more than 1,600 people in 39 countries so far in 2022, according to the organization.  It added that it has spread to countries where the virus isn’t typically detected, and cases in these countries continue to grow.

This month, more than 30 international scientists attempted to persuade WHO to change the name in a letter that included support from the Africa CDC.  The scientists wrote, “The prevailing perception in the international media and scientific literature is that MPXV is endemic in people in some African countries.  However, it is well established that nearly all MPXV outbreaks in Africa prior to the 2022 outbreak have been the result of spillover from animals and humans and only rarely have there been reports of sustained human-to-human transmissions.  In the context of the current global outbreak, continued reference to, and nomenclature of this virus being African is not only inaccurate but is also discriminatory and stigmatizing.”

WHO Decides to Rename the 'Monkeypox' Virus
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, PhD, the WHO’s director-general, stated, “WHO is working with partners and experts from around the world on changing the name of monkeypox virus, its clades, and the disease it causes.  We will make announcements about the new names as soon as possible.”

The group of scientists blamed media outlets for using mainly African patients in imagery showing what monkeypox lesions look like.  The Foreign Press Association of Africa has asked that the global media cease using images of Black people to capture the outbreak in Europe and have urged leaders to rename the virus.

“Although the origin of the new global MPXV outbreak is still unknown, there is growing evidence that the most likely scenario is that cross-continent, cryptic human transmission has been ongoing for longer than previously thought,” they wrote.

The scientists are also seeking a new classification for the virus that would account for three clades in order of detection (i.e., 1, 2, and 3) for the viral genomes that have been found in Central Africa, Western Africa, and the in global north countries.  “More genome sequencing could uncover additional clades,” they noted.

Currently, the largest number of people effected reside in the U.K.  Health officials have reported more than 500 cases so far this year, according to data from the U.K. Health Security Agency.  There have also been at least 72 cases in the U.S., including 15 in California and 15 in New York, the hardest hit areas.

WHO recently published interim guidance on the use of smallpox vaccines for monkeypox, stating that it is not yet recommending a mass vaccination against the pox.  The agency is set to meet in the coming weeks to determine whether the outbreak can be considered a public health emergency.

“The global outbreak of monkeypox is clearly unusual and concerning,” Adhanom Ghebreyesus said. “It’s for that reason that I have decided to convene the emergency committee under the International Health Regulations next week to assess whether this outbreak represents a public health emergency of international concern.”


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