After some detractors expressed worries that the name could be offensive or have racist overtones, the World Health Organization announced it will organise an open discussion to rename the illness monkeypox.
The U.N. health agency said in a statement Friday that it has also changed the names of two families, or clades, of the virus using Roman numerals rather than regional names to prevent stigmatisation. The disease formerly known as the Congo Basin clade will now be referred to as Clade I, while the West Africa clade will be referred to as Clade II.
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,” WHO said the decision was made following a meeting of scientists this week.
Many additional illnesses, such as the Marburg virus, Spanish influenza, Japanese encephalitis, and Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome, have been named after the regions where they first manifested or were first discovered. None of the names have been publicly suggested for change by WHO.
Although they are not believed to represent the animal reservoir, study monkeys in Denmark were initially identified as having a “pox-like” illness in 1958.
Although WHO did not specify a deadline, it said it was establishing a channel for the public to offer new names for monkeypox.
Since May, more than 31,000 cases of monkeypox have been documented worldwide, the bulk occurring outside of Africa. Despite being endemic in several regions of central and west Africa for decades, significant outbreaks of monkeypox were not known to occur outside of the continent until May.
The WHO designated the outbreak of monkeypox as an international emergency in July, and the United States earlier this month proclaimed its own epidemic to be a national emergency.
98% of occurrences outside of Africa involve guys who have sex with other men. As there is only a finite amount of vaccines available worldwide, officials are rushing to eradicate monkeypox before it establishes itself as a new illness.