Monkeypox Now “Mpox” Upon WHO Rechristening

The World Health Organization has officially renamed the monkeypox virus following complaints that the term is “racist and stigmatizing.”

“Following a series of consultations with global experts, WHO will begin using a new preferred term ‘mpox’ as a synonym for monkeypox,” the agency responsible for international public health announced in a news release last week.

The name move is an attempt to “destigmatize” the viral animal disease that began spreading in the United States. Back in June, a group of 30 international scientists came together and wrote a document that announced an urgent need to change the name.

The document, titled “Urgent Need for a Non-Discriminatory and Non-Stigmatizing Nomenclature for Monkeypox Virus”, argued that the idea and name that points to the virus being African is inaccurate as well as “discriminatory and stigmatizing.”

Pointing out that most of the MPXV outbreaks in Africa before the 2022 outbreak were animal-to-human transmissions, the document called for a more “neutral” nomenclature.

Through the next year, the two names will be used simultaneously while the old one gets phased out. After that, “mpox” will officially be adopted as the preferred English term for the disease. However, the term “monkeypox” cannot completely die down as it will remain searchable for historical information.

Welcoming the change is the Biden administration, who reportedly pressured the WHO to get rid of the name and the racial connotations associated with it. According to reports, senior Biden officials had even threatened to go outside of the UN agency’s approval to adopt a new terminology for the virus if it didn’t act fast enough.

While U.S. health officials have warned that the disease might remain a threat, the current administration believes the name change will eliminate the stigma carried by people of color, even though many will figure out what the “M” stands for.

There have been 29,200 reported cases of monkeypox in the U.S. since the disease was developed in 1958 and named after the first animals to show its symptoms.

This name change about 64 years later would be the first time the WHO would rechristen a disease decades after its naming. This would also be the only time the Geneva-based agency would rename a disease with ties to a geographical location.

Diseases such as German measles, Middle Eastern Respiratory Virus, and Marburg virus can now be considered discriminatory as they are named after geographical regions. However, the idea of changing those names has never been up for discussion.