The World Health Organization (WHO) has a new name for the viral disease monkeypox: mpox.
The agency has announced (opens in new tab) the name change on Monday (Nov. 28) after more than five months of deliberating on the term.
“As the monkeypox outbreak expanded earlier this year, racist and stigmatizing language was observed online, in other settings and in some communities and reported to WHO,” the announcement reads. “At several meetings, both public and private, a number of individuals and countries have raised concerns and asked the WHO to make a proposal to change the name.”
In June, for example, dozens of scientists signed a letter (opens in new tab) that called for such a name change, stating that the old name was “discriminatory and stigmatizing”. The term monkeypox unnecessarily links to the virus to Africa, and by extension, fuels the idea that the disease is exclusive to Africa and to African people, they argued. In addition, they noted that monkeys and other non-human primates are probably not the pathogen’s main hosts in the wild — rodents are.
Related: Will monkeypox become a pandemic?
“Monkeypox should be renamed for two main reasons”, one being the scientific inaccuracy of the term, Dr. Ifeany Nsofor (opens in new tab)a global health equity advocate and senior New Voices fellow at the Aspen Institute, an international non-profit organization that addresses complex issues, told NPR (opens in new tab) in August. The second reason is that “monkey” has long been used as a racial slur against black people, who are mistakenly seen as the primary demographic affected by mpox, he said.
The term monkeypox will be phased out over the next year, after which “mpox” will be adopted as the official name, according to the WHO. This one-year transitional period is designed to minimize confusion resulting from a name change during a global outbreak, and it also allows time to update the International Classification of Diseases (ICD) and WHO publications, the agency said.
The name change follows a previous WHO recommendation (opens in new tab) created in August, in which the agency renamed the various clades, or genetically related groups, of mpox viruses. Previously, the two main clades were known as the “Congo Basin” or “Central African” clade and the “West African” clade. The former clade is now known as Clade I, and the latter is called Clade II. (Clade II, the driver of the ongoing outbreak, generally causes less severe disease and fewer fatalities than Clade I.)