The World Health Organization has announced monkeypox will be renamed “mpox” due to reports of racism and stigmatising language.
The health agency has said that both monkeypox and mpox would be used for the next year, while the former name is “phased out”.
The WHO began consulting experts about renaming the disease in August, after United Nations officials condemned reports on the recent outbreak of the disease as “racist and homophobic”.
WHO said the virus was first named “monkeypox” in 1958 when monkeys in a Danish laboratory were observed to have a ‘pox-like’ disease. The organisation said this was “before current best practices in naming diseases and viruses were adopted”.
The organisation said: “When the outbreak of monkeypox expanded earlier this year, racist and stigmatising language online, in other settings and in some communities was observed and reported to WHO.
“In several meetings, public and private, a number of individuals and countries raised concerns and asked WHO to propose a way forward to change the name.”
The latest data from the CDC has found that 80,850 cases of mpox and 55 deaths have been recorded worldwide in the current outbreak of the disease.
What is Monkeypox?
The name “monkeypox” comes from the first documented cases of the illness, in 1958, when two outbreaks occurred in colonies of monkeys kept for research.
But monkeys aren’t major carriers. Instead, the virus is generally spread by squirrels, pouched rats, dormice or another rodent.
How do you catch Monkeypox?
The previous strains of Monkeypox that have been identified have been transmitted through contact with an animal that is carrying the virus - a scratch or a bite would be the most likely cause of someone acquiring Monkeypox. It could then spread to other people through coughing, sneezing, or contact with lesions.
The strain that is driving this current outbreak seems to be very effective at person-to-person transmission. It was clear that a sexual encounter was a highly effective way for the virus to spread - because of the amount of skin contact and body sweat - but evidence now also suggests that the virus could be transmitting as a form of STI.
Symptoms are likely to appear somewhere between 5-21 days after exposure to the virus.
The lesions from monkeypox are similar to those from a smallpox infection.
Health experts are speculating that the end of vaccination programs against Smallpox has left us vulnerable to a Monkeypox outbreak.
How dangerous is Monkeypox?
Monkeypox can be a nasty illness – it causes fever, body aches, enlarged lymph nodes and, eventually, painful, fluid-filled blisters on the face, hands and feet. One version of monkeypox is quite deadly and kills up to 10% of people infected. The version currently being detected from this cluster is milder. Its fatality rate is less than 1%. A case generally resolves in two to four weeks.
If you have it, you’ll probably need to isolate at home until you’ve recovered.
What should I do if I think I might have been exposed to Monkeypox?
If you notice any unusual rashes or lesions, and you think you might have been exposed to the virus through sexual contact, then contact your local sexual health service for advice.