The World Health Organization on Monday renamed the viral disease monkeypox as “mpox” due to concerns about racism and stigmatization.
The new name will be used “simultaneously for one year” while the old one is phased out, the WHO said in a statement.
The transition period for adoption of the new name is aimed at mitigating concerns raised by experts “about confusion caused by a name change in the midst of a global outbreak,” it said.
Photo taken on Feb. 14, 2020, shows the headquarters of the World Health Organization in Geneva. (Kyodo) ==Kyodo
“When the outbreak of monkeypox expanded earlier this year, racist and stigmatizing language online, in other settings and in some communities was observed,” the Geneva-based organization said.
According to the WHO, the disease was named in 1970 when the first cases in humans were confirmed. The virus that causes the disease was first discovered in captive monkeys in Denmark in 1958.
The U.N. health body proposed mpox following guidelines it released in 2015 to “minimize unnecessary negative effects on nations, economies and people” when naming new human infectious diseases.
The guidelines recommend avoiding names that refer to animals, geographic locations and ethnic groups, such as “swine flu” and “Middle East Respiratory Syndrome.”
The names of diseases should consist of generic descriptive terms, based on the symptoms that they cause, the WHO said.
Monkeypox began spreading outside central and western Africa, where it is endemic, in May. As of Saturday, 81,107 cases and 55 deaths had been reported to the WHO this year in 110 countries and territories, mainly in men who have sex with men.
Although uncertainty remains, rodents appear to be the natural reservoir of the virus, it said.