Infectious Disease

Monkeypox will get a new name, WHO says

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WHO said it is working with experts to rename monkeypox and its two clades.

WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, PhD, MSc, made the announcement during a press briefing Tuesday amid concerns that the name is stigmatizing. Tedros said WHO will make announcements about the new names as soon as possible.

Monkeypox_Micro_CDC

More than 1,600 cases in the current outbreak have been confirmed. Source: CDC.

The announcement came days after scientists argued on Virological.com that a new “nondiscriminatory and nonstigmatizing” name would be “more appropriate for the global health community.” They criticized the continued reference to monkeypox’s West African and Central African or Congo Basin clades as both inaccurate and discriminatory.

The group noted that the formal naming of viruses is undertaken by the International Committee of Taxonomy of Viruses (ICTV).

“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,” they wrote.

They said the names “are counter to the best practice of avoiding geographic locations in the nomenclature of diseases and disease groups.”

Although the virus was first discovered in 1958 in colonies of research monkeys, its natural reservoir remains unknown but could include rodents and nonhuman primates, according to the CDC and WHO. A 2003 outbreak that sickened dozens of people in the United States was related to exposure to imported prairie dogs, which had been stored with infected rodents from Ghana, and was the first time the disease caused an outbreak outside of Africa.

As of Monday afternoon, the CDC reported that the current outbreak had grown to include more than 1,600 cases in 35 countries where the virus is not endemic, including 65 confirmed presumed cases in the US

WHO said 72 deaths have been reported this year in countries where the virus is more commonly found, including 64 in a large outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Tedros said no deaths have been reported elsewhere, but that WHO is investigating a possible death in Brazil.

“The global outbreak of monkeypox is clearly unusual and concerning,” Tedros said.

He announced that an emergency committee will meet on June 23 to assess whether the outbreak constitutes a public health emergency of international concern.

“It’s now clear that there is an unusual situation, even the virus is having unusually, but it is also affecting more and more countries. We believe it needs a coordinated response,” Tedros said. “Having an executive committee with outside experts would allow us to work with experts to understand this virus better.”

[Editor’s note: This story was updated to clarify that the ICTV, not WHO, names viruses.]

References:

CDC. About monkeypox. https://www.cdc.gov/poxvirus/monkeypox/about.html. Accessed June 14, 2022.

CDC. 2022 monkeypox and orthopoxvirus global outbreak map. https://www.cdc.gov/poxvirus/monkeypox/response/2022/world-map.html. Updated June 13, 2022. Accessed June 14, 2022.

CDC. Monkeypox 2022 US map and case count. https://www.cdc.gov/poxvirus/monkeypox/response/2022/us-map.html. Updated June 13, 2022. Accessed June 14, 2022.

Happi C, et al. Urgent need for a non-discriminatory and non-stigmatizing nomenclature for monkeypox virus. Virological, June 14, 2022. https://virological.org/t/urgent-need-for-a-non-discriminatory-and-non-stigmatizing-nomenclature-for-monkeypox-virus/853. Accessed on June 14, 2022.

WHO. Multi-country monkeypox outbreak: situation update. https://www.who.int/emergencies/disease-outbreak-news/item/2022-DON392. Updated June 10, 2022. Accessed June 14, 2022.

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