The World Health Organization has announced an open forum to rename the disease monkeypox, after some critics expressed worry that the word could be disparaging or racist.
The United Nations Health Organization said in a statement Friday that it has also renamed two families, or clades, of the virus using Roman numerals rather than geographic places to minimise stigma. The Congo Basin variety of the disease will now be known as Clade one or I, and the West Africa clade will be known as Clade two or II.
WHO stated that the decision was made after a meeting of scientists this week and in accordance with current best practises for disease naming, which aim to “avoid causing offence to any cultural, social, national, regional, professional, or ethnic groups, and minimise any negative impact on trade, travel, tourism, or animal welfare.”
Many additional diseases, such as Japanese encephalitis, Marburg virus, Spanish influenza, and Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome, have been named after the geographical places where they first appeared or were discovered. WHO has made no public suggestions to change any of the names.
Monkeypox was called in 1958 because study monkeys in Denmark were found to have a “pox-like” disease, despite the fact that they are not assumed to be the animal reservoir.
WHO also stated that it would allow the public to offer new names for monkeypox, but did not specify when any new names would be released.
Since May, more than 31,000 cases of monkeypox have been recorded worldwide, with the bulk occuring outside of Africa. Monkeypox has been endemic in regions of central and west Africa for decades, but big outbreaks outside the continent were not known to occur until May.
The World Health Organization designated the global spread of monkeypox an international emergency in July, while the United States proclaimed its own pandemic a national emergency earlier this month.
Outside of Africa, 98% of incidents involve men having sex with men. Authorities are scrambling to stop monkeypox before it gets established as a new disease, owing to a limited global supply of vaccines.