WASHINGTON — The ongoing monkeypox outbreak has led to many questions, ranging from the common symptoms, whether anyone has died from the disease and now whether the name itself could be changed.
Some health officials are pushing to rename the virus, fearing it has a stigma that could lead to people avoiding recommended vaccines and treatments. The Verify team looked into whether a name change is feasible, and who would make the decision.
Can the name of the monkeypox disease be changed?
- Dr. Carlos Rodriguez-Diaz, a public health professor at George Washington University
- World Health Organization
- International Committee on the Taxonomy of Viruses
WHAT WE FOUND:
The WHO has actually already changed what it calls two variants of monkeypox, which had previously been given geographic names.
The term M-Pox, or writing it out as "M-P-X" is what some health professionals, including Rodriguez-Diaz, have started doing for now.
Keep in mind that monkeypox the disease, which comes with painful lesions and is spread primarily from skin to skin contact, is caused by infection with monkeypox, a species of virus. Another example of this is COVID-19, the disease that is caused by the virus Sars-CoV-2.
Given the existing stigma, WHO's director announced plans to change what it calls the disease, and is currently taking submissions for new names on an online portal. The goal is to better align with WHO’s naming best practices, “to minimize unnecessary negative impact of disease names on trade, travel, tourism or animal welfare, and avoid causing offence to any cultural, social, national, regional, professional or ethnic groups.”
But it is not completely up to the WHO. The International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses formally names virus species and the official species name is also monkeypox.
While a process is underway to rename it, that’s part of a larger, ongoing effort to give viruses a standard “genus-species' format” name similar to plants and animals.
"We can work on the messaging that is necessary to contain the outbreak, while we also reduce stigma," Dr. Rodriguez-Diaz said.
So we can verify, the disease's name could be changed from monkeypox. But what it would be called instead -- and whether the word monkey would still be present in the virus' species name -- is still unknown.
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