Monkeypox will get a new name, the World Health Organization said, after a group of researchers advocated for a “nondiscriminatory and non-stigmatizing nomenclature.”
“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 researchers wrote, pointing to the media’s use of photos of African patients from previous epidemics to depict the pox lesions commonly associated with the disease.
This year, more than 1,600 monkeypox cases have been confirmed, and nearly 1,500 more are suspected, according to data that 39 countries sent to the WHO. Most of those countries — 32 — had not previously reported infections, raising concern among the global health community that the virus is not behaving as it normally has in the past.
Last week, the White House said that there were at least 45 cases identified in 15 states and the District of Columbia so far, and that the numbers are expected to surpass those of a 2003 outbreak, which would make it the biggest the United States has faced.
Monkeypox is known to spread through human contact with animals such as rodents or primates, but the virus has spread further this year through human-to-human transmission than previously reported.
A number of U.S. patients are men who have sex with men, leading officials to warn about a suspected link to such contact. The risk to the public remains low, authorities say.
The scientists suggest the name hMPXV, which begins with an “h” to denote the human version of the virus.
The group also proposed classifying the lineage of monkeypox by letters and numbers based on when outbreaks are discovered rather than location, which stigmatizes some countries or regions for finding and reporting a virus that could have originated elsewhere.
In Europe, where the virus has gained a foothold, cases have been reported in Britain, Germany and Portugal.
Infections typically last two to four weeks, beginning with flu-like symptoms and swollen lymph nodes. Fluid-filled bumps — or “pox” — then surface on the skin. The recent monkeypox cases often involve genital rashes that can be confused for syphilis or herpes, officials say.
There have been 72 reported deaths this year, all in countries that previously have had bouts of monkeypox transmission. The U.N. health agency is looking into news reports from Brazil of a monkeypox-related death, Tedros said.
The agency is also recommending against mass vaccination for the virus, which can be treated with antiviral medicines and vaccines stockpiled in the event of a smallpox outbreak, due to limited clinical data and an insufficient global supply. The WHO is developing a plan to make vaccines and treatments more accessible.
“The global outbreak of monkeypox is clearly unusual and concerning,” Tedros said.