The World Health Organization has asked the public for help in achieving a less stigmatizing designation for monkey pox.
The United Nations health agency has been expressing its concern for weeks about the name of the disease that began to make global headlines in May.
Experts have warned that the name can be stigmatizing for the primates that received its name, but that they have little role in its spread, and on the African continent 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.
“We really want to find a name that doesn’t stigmatise,” he added, saying public consultation can be accessed through a dedicated website where anyone can propose a new name.
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 countries in West and Central Africa 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.
More than 31,000 cases have been confirmed worldwide 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 say the recent global spread is due to close contact transmission between humans.
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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