The monkeypox moniker needs to go, the World Health Organization declared on Wednesday.
The international public health body will meet next week to pick a new name for the pathogen after a group of scientists noted its current tag appears to link the virus to Africa, which is inaccurate and discriminatory. Monkeypox has now become entrenched worldwide.
“The prevailing perception in the international media and scientific literature is that MPXV is endemic in people in some African countries,” more than two dozen scientists wrote in a statement. “However, it is well established that nearly all MPXV outbreaks in Africa prior to the 2022 outbreak, have been the result of spillover from animals to humans, and only rarely have there been reports of sustained human-to-human transmissions.”
“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,” they added. “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.”
World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus agreed.
“The outbreak of monkeypox is unusual and concerning,” he said Wednesday. “For that reason I have decided to convene the Emergency Committee under the international health regulations next week, to assess whether this outbreak represents a public health emergency of international concern.”
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has documented 1,879 cases in 35 countries around the world as of Tuesday at 5 p.m., 71 of them in the U.S. The U.K. has seen 470 cases, the most in the world, followed by Spain with 313.
Monkeypox is related to, though less severe than, smallpox. It causes a chickenpox-like rash along with flu-like symptoms and is spread via close contact with an infected person. While it is not a sexually transmitted disease per se, that is one mode of transmission, and much of the caseload appears to be concentrated so far among men who have sex with men. Because of this its early symptoms can be mistaken for an STD, the CDC warned last month.
“Although the origin of the new global MPXV outbreak is still unknown, there is growing evidence that the most likely scenario is that cross-continent, cryptic human transmission has been ongoing for longer than previously thought,” the scientists said in their statement. “However, there is an increasing narrative in the media and among many scientists that are trying to link the present global outbreak to Africa or West Africa, or Nigeria. We therefore believe that a nomenclature that is neutral, nondiscriminatory and nonstigmatizing will be more appropriate for the global health community.”