health

Why monkeypox may soon get a new name

22 Comments
By Daniel Lawler

Monkeypox may soon have a new name after scientists called for a change to dispel stereotypes of Africa being seen as a crucible of disease.

The World Health Organization announced last week that it is "working with partners and experts from around the world on changing the name of monkeypox virus, its clades and the disease it causes."

Monkeypox's clades, which are different branches of the virus' family tree, have been particularly controversial because they are named after African regions.

Last year the WHO officially named COVID-19 variants after Greek letters to avoid stigmatising the places where they were first detected.

Just days before the WHO announced it would change monkeypox's name, a group of 29 scientists wrote a letter saying there is an "urgent need for a non-discriminatory and non-stigmatising nomenclature" for the virus.

The letter, signed by several prominent African scientists, called for the names of the "West African" and the "Central African" or "Congo Basin" monkeypox clades to be changed.

Until a few months ago, monkeypox had largely been confined to West and Central Africa.

But since May, a new version has spread across much of the world. The letter's signatories suggested naming this version as a new clade, giving it "the placeholder label hMPXV" -- for human monkeypox virus.

Out of the more than 2,100 monkeypox cases recorded globally this year, 84 percent were in Europe, 12 percent in the Americas and just three percent in Africa, according to the WHO's latest update last week.

Oyewale Tomori, a virologist at Redeemer's University in Nigeria, said he supported changing the name of monkeypox's clades.

"But even the name monkeypox is aberrant. It is not the right name," he told AFP. "If I were a monkey, I would protest because it's not really a monkey disease."

The virus was named after it was first discovered among monkeys in a Danish lab in 1958, but humans have mostly contracted the virus from rodents.

The letter pointed out that "nearly all" outbreaks in Africa were sparked by people catching the virus from animals -- not from other people.

But the current outbreak "is unusual in that it is purely spreading through human to human transmission," said Olivier Restif, an epidemiologist at the University of Cambridge.

"So, it is fair to say that the current outbreak has very little to do with Africa, in the same way that the Covid-19 waves and variants we're still being battered by have little to do with the Asian bats from which the virus originally came a few years ago."

Moses John Bockarie of Sierra Leone's Njala University said he agreed with the call to change monkeypox's name.

"Monkeys are usually associated with the global south, especially Africa," he wrote in The Conversation.

"In addition, there is a long dark history of black people being compared to monkeys. No disease nomenclature should provide a trigger for this."

Restif said it was "important to highlight that this debate is part of a larger issue with stigmatisation of Africa as a source of disease."

"We've seen it most strikingly with HIV in the 1980s, with Ebola during the 2013 outbreak and again with Covid-19 and the reactions to the so-called 'South African variants'," he told AFP.

An African press group has also expressed "its displeasure against media outlets using images of black people alongside stories of the monkeypox outbreak in North America and the United Kingdom.

"We condemn the perpetuation of this negative stereotype that assigns calamity to the African race and privilege or immunity to other races," The Foreign Press Association, Africa tweeted last month.

Restif pointed out that the "old stock photographs of African patients" used by Western media usually depict severe symptoms.

But the monkeypox spreading around the world "is much milder, which partly explains how easily it gets transmitted," he said.

The WHO will announce the new monkeypox names "as soon as possible", its chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.

The U.N. agency is also holding an emergency committee meeting on Thursday to assess whether the outbreak represents a public health emergency of international concern -- the highest alarm it can sound.

© 2022 AFP

©2022 GPlusMedia Inc.

22 Comments

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Here is what the WHO thinks:

Researchers today at a World Health Organization (WHO) meeting spelled out the sexual transmission component of a monkeypox outbreak that has affected hundreds of people—mostly men who have sex with men—in at least 27 countries outside of Africa.

So perhaps we can call it Man Pox.

5 ( +6 / -1 )

Here we go again.

3 ( +6 / -3 )

People are easily swayed to misconceptions by names. In this case, Danish Rodentpox is more historically accurate, but that would probably make people in donut shops nervous.

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Monkeypox may soon have a new name after scientists called for a change to dispel stereotypes of Africa being seen as a crucible of disease.

Don't these "scientists" know that monkeys live all over Asia, Polynesia and South America as well.

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BroncoToday  07:46 am JST

Monkeypox may soon have a new name after scientists called for a change to dispel stereotypes of Africa being seen as a crucible of disease.

Don't these "scientists" know that monkeys live all over Asia, Polynesia and South America as well.

100 years ago there was the 'Spanish Flu' that took the lives of millions. I caught the 'Russian Flu' as a kid, and the 'HK Flu' when I was 2 or 3. We have flus from anywhere in the world.

And let's not forget chicken pox. Chicken is eaten all over the world. Cowpox?

Africa is NOT and never was a 'crucible of disease'. No continent is. Yes, CoVid-19 was first discovered in Wuhan, China but it could've developed anywhere and there is nobody to blame for it. Yet the US 'news' media showed those Chinese open markets with skinned dogs ready for grilling, to shove a racist idea into American heads. And those juvenile 'kung flu' jokes from a certain sassymouth Mussolini didn't help matters at all either.

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I seem to remember catching the German Measles as a kid as well. And a lot of people getting Leigionnaire&s Disease. These days, we are just a tad too sensitive about things that do not deserve the attention. As I recall, even AIDS was first called GRID- Gay Related Immunity Disease.

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The name is not going to make the disease more or less dangerous so I can't understand people giving it so much importance. If African countries don't want the disease to be related to the continent just change it to something neutral like B-pox or something and that will be the end of the problem. It's not like a doctor will no longer be able to diagnose it because it has a different name now.

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Monkeypox may soon have a new name after scientists called for a change to dispel stereotypes of Africa being seen as a crucible of disease.

Japanese encephalitis virus JEV is the most important cause of viral encephalitis in Asia. It is a mosquito-borne flavivirus, and belongs to the same genus as dengue, yellow fever and West Nile viruses. The first case of Japanese encephalitis viral disease (JE) was documented in 1871 in Japan.

How are Japanese opinion on this?

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I think diseases named after their origin is fine.

Actual words make it easier to remember their names; they teach us where they come from helps us remember when they came about; plus these acronyms are complicated and hard to remember esp. after a few years go by.

If these infectious diseases are starting from Africa or China or wherever, then so be it.

0 ( +3 / -3 )

The term, monkey could be considered racist and not PC.

Let's refer to it as Primatepox to be safe.

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It will always be known as Monkeypox to me, just as the original SARS‑CoV‑2 strain will always be the Wuhan virus.

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thaonephilToday  01:26 pm JST

The name is not going to make the disease more or less dangerous so I can't understand people giving it so much importance. If African countries don't want the disease to be related to the continent just change it to something neutral like B-pox or something and that will be the end of the problem. It's not like a doctor will no longer be able to diagnose it because it has a different name now.

Every disease does have an official medical term that they use. Chicken pox has an 'official' medicinal/technical term, but the 'common man' refers to it by its colloquial name for simplification purposes.

AttilathehungryToday  01:14 pm JST

I seem to remember catching the German Measles as a kid as well. And a lot of people getting Leigionnaire&s Disease. These days, we are just a tad too sensitive about things that do not deserve the attention. As I recall, even AIDS was first called GRID- Gay Related Immunity Disease.

'Legionnaire's Disease' got its name from an American Legionnaire's outpost in Philadelphia where it was first identified, in 1976 by a bad synchronicity. And 'AIDS' being 'GRID' was another stigma. Over in other parts of the world (like Africa) it was the heterosexuals who had been suffering from it the most. And that virus first manifested itself in 1956. It's official medical/technical term is 'HTLV-III'. But there's been a lot of juvenile anagram jokes about 'AIDS' that cretins use to stigmatize and bash others with because they're stupid and immature. They make up these moronic anagram 'jokes' because they're pinheads with nothing better to do.

The term 'monkeypox' has no racist overtones whatsoever. It never did. If people want to associate diseases and viruses with xenophobic overtones (like a certain Mussolini with his 'kung flu' jokes), then the joke is entirely on them. And the same goes for 'CoVid-19'.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

The WHO is not any kind of global authority, it is just an agency of the UN, and this name change is a kind of as campaign, something like Dentsu engages in.

It is a scientific and medical authority as demonstrated to you repeatedly, you not being able to understand what is a scientific authority is a different problem.

There is nothing wrong with making a campaing of the change of names, that is part of the responsibilities and obligations of the global medical and scientific authority that the WHO has,

That is a misunderstanding of what occurred in those monkeys, as explained below.

No, it is not and the article explicitly says so, rodents are a more common vector.

That is a fundamental misunderstanding. According to the CDC, a global health authority, non-human primates (like monkeys) may harbor the virus and infect people.

So what? the same happens with all the other diseases I mentioned, for monkeypox rodents not only can also harbor the virus and infect people, they do it much more commonly than monkeys.

This is a plainly wrong conclusion. According to the CDC, monkeypox was first discovered in 1958. So, it is not new disease; or, it is certainly one discovered before 2015.

The lack of understanding is yours, this comments comes as a reply about someone that is not talking about monkeypox but COVID which IS a new disease. Try to read with more attention.

Founded in 1948, WHO is the United Nations *agency 

An agency can be an authority, so your comment makes no sense. According to the UN the WHO is a global authority on public health matters.

0 ( +5 / -5 )

Why wait until now? Doesn't the WHO have other more important matters to deal with? Like, a worldwide pandemic called Covid? Or is it trying to play down that disease, just as it tried to play down the importance of wearing masks?

The change of names to better reflect the reality of the diseases is something that has been gaining strength now that people more clearly understand why it makes no sense to relate diseases with names of people or places and it can have a negative effect.

It may be difficult for people to understand the importance and size of the WHO, but it is currently coordinating dozens and dozens of projects, many unrelated, so there is no need to distract any resources from the fight against the pandemic, the same as when it keeps their efforts towards any of the many other projects it has, like malaria, tuberculosis, dengue, etc.

OK, people in Africa catching the virus from monkeys.

From rodents, as explained in the article this is the most common route of transmission.

OH, we all know.

If you know making false accusations against other commenters is proof of not having an argument, why keep doing it?

You misunderstood the comment. It has nothing to do with this person.

But it does, because he is the one saying rodents are the ones mediating transmission, this is the person, the authority that is contradicting you. not anybody else.

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quote: 'dark history'.

Unfortunate choice of words in the circumstances.

Almost everything in medicine is impossible for ordinary people to spell or pronounce - the medical conditions, the names of medications etc. It doesn't help.

'hMPXV' doesn't exactly roll off the tongue. 'Monkeypox' is easy to recall, easy to spell and easy to pronounce, which promotes awareness. Awareness saves lives. Better to save lives and offend people, than offend nobody but risk lives. Why are people so thin-skinned nowadays?

Monkeypox is best viewed as an STD as that appears to be the main way it is now spreading. It is unpleasant to contract, but in general, you should be fine. It may not have been heard of beyond GP newsletters if it wasn't dovetailing with the pandemic, as it has repeatedly popped up around the world for a while now with few taking much notice. Makes you wonder whether a more benign/less transmissible form of Covid had been knocking around for a bit before the pandemic began, with a more serious/easily spread variant.

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

"If I were a monkey, I would protest because it's not really a monkey disease."

So it's still kind of monkey disease, right?

The virus was named after it was first discovered among monkeys in a Danish lab in 1958

OK, now we know, it is a monkey disease! So why rename it? Monkeys live in many countries other than Africa...

Last year the WHO officially named COVID-19 variants after Greek letters to avoid stigmatising the places where they were first detected.

Translation: WHO got a whole load of cassssshhhhh from CCP not to call it CHINA VIRUS, which is exactly what I call it everyday!

-1 ( +3 / -4 )

So it's still kind of monkey disease, right?

Because it can infect laboratory monkeys? that would also make Influenza, Rabies, Dengue, Leprosy, etc. etc. monkey diseases, which obviously makes no sense.

OK, now we know, it is a monkey disease! So why rename it? Monkeys live in many countries other than Africa...

Because it is more commonly found (and transmitted to humans) by rodents, which would make it much more adequate if this was the reason.

Translation: WHO got a whole load of cassssshhhhh from CCP not to call it CHINA VIRUS, which is exactly what I call it everyday!

That would be a wrong translation, because the appeal to change the names of new diseases fully began from 2015, which obviously is long before covid began.

https://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/163636/WHO_HSE_FOS_15.1_eng.pdf

-1 ( +6 / -7 )

So ...ebola next then? And then dengue fever? How about legionnaires disease??? Woke nonsense invading all strata of society.

-2 ( +3 / -5 )

The change of names to better reflect the reality of the diseases is something that has been gaining strength now that people more clearly understand why it makes no sense to relate diseases with names of people or places and it can have a negative effect.

Monkeypox relates to the name of people or places?

Where is the country named after a monkey?

-3 ( +0 / -3 )

Don't these "scientists" know that monkeys live all over Asia, Polynesia and South America as well.

Why stop reading after a single line? the article makes very clear that the negative connotations for Africa come from a) the names of places used for the clades and b) the automatic relationship people make between monkeys and Africa. Saying monkeys live all over the world does nothing to correct this relationship.

-4 ( +8 / -12 )

Just days before the WHO announced it would change monkeypox's name, a group of 29 scientists wrote a letter saying there is an "urgent need for a non-discriminatory and non-stigmatising nomenclature" for the virus.

The WHO is not any kind of global authority, it is just an agency of the UN, and this name change is a kind of as campaign, something like Dentsu engages in.

The U.N. agency is also holding an emergency committee meeting on Thursday

And who might some of those scientists be pushing the campaign that there is an "urgent need"?

Oyewale Tomori, a virologist at Redeemer's University in Nigeria

Served as Regional Virologist the The WHO; and

Moses John Bockarie of Sierra Leone's Njala University

Chair of a WHO review group.

Because it can infect laboratory monkeys? that would also make Influenza, Rabies, Dengue, Leprosy, etc. etc. monkey diseases, which obviously makes no sense.

That is a misunderstanding of what occurred in those monkeys, as explained below.

Because it is more commonly found (and transmitted to humans) by rodents, which would make it much more adequate if this was the reason.

That is a fundamental misunderstanding. According to the CDC, a global health authority, non-human primates (like monkeys) may harbor the virus and infect people.

That would be a wrong translation, because the appeal to change the names of new diseases fully began from 2015, which obviously is long before covid began.

This is a plainly wrong conclusion. According to the CDC, monkeypox was first discovered in 1958. So, it is not new disease; or, it is certainly one discovered before 2015.

-7 ( +0 / -7 )

The WHO will announce the new monkeypox names "as soon as possible", its chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.

Monkeypox has been around since 1958. Africa, much longer.

Why wait until now? Doesn't the WHO have other more important matters to deal with? Like, a worldwide pandemic called Covid? Or is it trying to play down that disease, just as it tried to play down the importance of wearing masks?

"Monkeys are usually associated with the global south, especially Africa," he wrote in The Conversation.

According to who? Someone who lives in Africa? Doesn't sound like a conclusions based on science.

The letter pointed out that "nearly all" outbreaks in Africa were sparked by people catching the virus from animals -- not from other people.

OK, people in Africa catching the virus from monkeys.

But the only reason this virus is in the news now is because it is spreading in the West. And since it originated in monkeys, the current name seems logical and appropriate.

How come these people protesting the name monkeypox were silent on the issue for over 60 years?

Making false claims about things you don't know (such as what other commenters are or not) clearly show you have no more arguments to defend your opinion.

OH, we all know.

Dr Oyewale Tomori is not an anonymous non-medical professional, and he is the one saying you are wrong.

You misunderstood the comment. It has nothing to do with this person. It has everything to do with relying on the CDC for information instead of an anonymous internet poster who is not a medical professional.

That makes sense, doesn't it?

-7 ( +1 / -8 )

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