Monkeypox will now be officially referred to as “mpox,” according to an announcement by the World Health Organization (WHO) on Monday. Both names will be used simultaneously for one year while “monkeypox” is phased out.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has followed suit and is also updating its website with the term “mpox.”
The WHO made the change in an effort to fight racism, discrimination, and stigma that has been associated with the disease, which primarily affects men who have sex with men.
“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,” wrote the organization.
The push to rename the disease began in June 2022, when a group of international scientists declared in a statement the urgent need to use nondiscriminatory and nonstigmatizing language for the virus.
Scientists also say that the name is misleading because most of the animals susceptible to contracting the disease (and then infecting people) are rodents, such as Gambian giant rats, dormice, and tree squirrels, according to the United Nations.
The WHO said it selected the new name based on “rationale, scientific appropriateness, extent of current usage, pronounceability, usability in different languages, absence of geographical or zoological references, and the ease of retrieval of historical scientific information.”
The term monkeypox to describe the infection among humans began in 1970 when it was identified in a 9-month-old boy from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, notes the WHO. The disease itself was discovered in 1958 during an outbreak in an animal facility in Copenhagen, Denmark, per research.
In the past, circulation of the disease has been largely limited to West and Central Africa. As cases rose around the globe this year, however, the WHO declared the outbreak to be a “public health emergency of international concern.”
Worldwide, there have been more than 81,000 infections, and more than 80,000 of those have appeared in 103 locations around the world that have not historically reported cases, notes the CDC. Since the outbreak began, the United States has recorded a total of 29,288 mpox cases and 14 related deaths. The United States has more cases by far than any nation in the world, followed by Brazil (9,905), Spain (7,405), France (4,107), Colombia (3,803), the United Kingdom (3,720), and Germany (3,672).
Mpox infections have been dramatically falling, however. As of November 16, CDC figures show that the seven-day average of infections in the United States is down to 13 — a significant drop from this summer when the count was at a high of 456 on August 6. The decline has been attributed to several factors, including uptake of an effective monkeypox vaccine, men who have sex with men (MSM) reducing partners, and the virus’s self-limiting ability to spread (transmitting almost entirely through skin-to-skin contact).
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