The World Health Organization has invited the public to come up with a new name for monkeypox, asking for help in finding a less stigmatizing designation for the fast-spreading disease amid concerns over the name.
Experts warn that the name can be stigmatizing to the primates it is named after, but which play little role in its spread, and to the African continent with which the animals are often associated.
Recently, in Brazil, for example, there have been reported cases of people attacking monkeys for fear of disease.
“Human smallpox was named before current best practices for naming diseases,” WHO spokeswoman Fadela Chaib told reporters in Geneva on Tuesday.
“We really want to find a name that doesn’t stigmatise,” he added, saying the consultation is now open to everyone through a dedicated website.
“It is very important to find a new name for monkeypox because this is the best practice to not create any offense to an ethnic group, region, country, animal, etc.,” Chaib said.
Monkeypox got its name because the virus was originally identified in monkeys kept for research in Denmark in 1958, but the disease is found in a variety of animals, most commonly in rodents.
The disease was first discovered in humans in 1970 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, with spread between humans since then mainly limited to certain West and Central African countries where it is endemic.
But in May, cases of the disease, which causes fever, muscle aches and large boil-like skin lesions, began spreading rapidly around the world, mainly among men who have sex with men.
Worldwide, more than 31,000 cases have been confirmed since the start of the year and 12 people have died, according to the WHO, which has designated the outbreak a global health emergency.
Although the virus can jump from animals to humans, WHO experts insist that the recent global spread is due to close contact transmission between humans.
Name suggestions range from the technical (OPOXID-22, submitted by Harvard Medical School emergency physician Jeremy Faust) to the farcical (Poxy McPoxface, submitted by Andrew Yi in reference to Boaty McBoatface, almost the named after a British polar research ship). a public vote on the choice).
One of the most popular communications so far is Mpox, introduced by Samuel Miriello, director of a men’s health organization RÉZO, who is already using the name in his outreach campaigns in Montreal, Canada.
“When you remove the images of the monkey, people seem to understand more quickly that there is an emergency that needs to be taken seriously,” he told the Reuters news agency.
Another proposal, TRUMP-22, appeared to refer to former US President Donald Trump, who used the controversial term “Chinese virus” for the new coronavirus, although its author said it meant “Toxic Rash of Unrecognized Mysterious Provenance of 2022”.
The UN health agency announced last week that a group of experts it had assembled had already agreed on new names for monkeypox virus variants, or clades.
Until now, the two main variants were named after the geographic regions where they were known to circulate, the Congo Basin and West Africa.
The experts agreed to rename them with Roman numerals, calling them Clade I and Clade II. A subvariant of Clade II, now known as Clade IIb, is considered the main culprit in the ongoing global outbreak.
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