The World Health Organization announced Monday that “mpox” is now the preferred name for monkeypox.
“Both names will be used simultaneously for one year while ‘monkeypox’ is phased out,” the organization said.
The Biden administration said they “welcome the change” and the US will use the mpox name “from this point forward.”
Monkeypox was named in 1970, more than a decade after the virus that causes the disease was discovered in captive monkeys, the organization said. But monkeypox probably didn’t start in monkeys — its origin is still unknown — and the virus can be found in several other kinds of animals. The name was created before WHO published best practices for naming diseases in 2015.
Scientists and experts have pushed since the start of the recent outbreak to change the name to avoid discrimination and stigma that could steer people away from testing and vaccination. Stigma has been an ongoing concern as the outbreak has largely affected men who have sex with men. In the United States, Black and Hispanic people have been disproportionately affected, data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show.
“We must do all we can to break down barriers to public health, and reducing stigma associated with disease is one critical step in our work to end mpox,” U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra said in a statement.
This summer, New York City Health Commissioner Dr. Ashwin Vasan sent a letter to WHO to urge it to act quickly on a new name, saying there’s “growing concern for the potentially devastating and stigmatizing effects that the messaging around the ‘monkeypox’ virus can have on these already vulnerable communities.”
In August, WHO encouraged people to propose new names for monkeypox by submitting suggestions to it website. WHO said Monday that the consultation process included experts from medical, scientific, classification and statistics advisory committees “which constituted of representatives from government authorities of 45 different countries.”
“The issue of the use of the new name in different languages was extensively discussed. The preferred term mpox can be used in other languages,” WHO said in its statement.
WHO said Monday that “monkeypox” will remain searchable in the International Classification of Diseases in order to allow access to historic information, and the one-year period when both will be used allows time for publications and communications to be updated.
So far, more than 81,000 monkeypox cases in 110 cases have been reported to WHO in the recent outbreak. WHO says the global risk remains moderate, and outside of countries in West and Central Africa, the outbreak continues to primarily affect men who have sex with men.
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