The World Health Organization will rename the increasingly spreading monkeypox virus after a group of scientists claimed the name could be “stigmatizing.”
“WHO is also working with partners and experts from around the world on changing the name of monkeypox virus,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus announced at a press briefing Tuesday.
“We will make announcements about the new names as soon as possible.”
Dropping the monkeypox label follows a letter from a group of 30 international scientists that wrote last week the “urgent need” to switch the name.
“Given the increasingly rapid communication of, and attention to, the international human MPXV outbreak, it is important to consider an appropriate, non-discriminatory, and non-stigmatizing nomenclature and classification of MPXV clades,” part of the letter states.
Viral clades are defined as other groups of organisms with the same genetic structure.
“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. The most obvious manifestation of this is the use of photos of African patients to depict the pox lesions in mainstream media in the global north. Recently, Foreign Press Association, Africa issued a statement urging the global media to stop using images of African people to highlight the outbreak in Europe.”
The scientists propose “a novel classification of MPXV that is non-discriminatory and non-stigmatizing and aligned with best practices in naming of infectious diseases in a way that minimizes unnecessary negative impacts on nations, geographic regions, economies and people and that considers the evolution and spread of the virus.”
A WHO spokesperson said in an email to Bloomberg News that naming diseases “should be done with the aim to minimize the negative impact and avoid causing offense to any cultural, social, national, regional, professional or ethnic groups.”
The WHO will consult with experts in orthopoxviruses, which includes monkeypox, for more appropriate names, the spokesperson said, according to Bloomberg.
There are 71 cases in 18 states, according to the Centers for Control Disease and Prevention. New York and California have the most cases with 15 each.
Tedros, during the press briefing, called the virus outbreak “clearly unusual and concerning.” The WHO is convening an emergency committee to determine if the virus should be treated as a highest-level public health emergency of international concern.”
There are 1,600 confirmed cases and another 1,500 suspected ones worldwide so far this year that have been found in 39 countries. The virus has killed 72 people globally.
Symptoms for the disease include flu-like sickness and rashes and the illness spreads through close contact.