Science and Tech


World Health Organization Looks To Change Monkeypox Name

The World Health Organization is likely to change the name of monkeypox, though the renaming process isn't likely to happen very soon.
Posted at 9:15 PM, Aug 15, 2022

The World Health Organization says it plans to change the name of the monkeypox virus. But it could be a while before that happens; the organization is first holding an open forum on what the new name should be. 

This comes after criticism not only for the name but for early guidance about infection spread adding to stigma.

"The more our public health officials continue to only describe the epidemiology in a certain community, certain risk group, the more individuals outside that risk group continue to ignore both warning signs and harm-reduction strategies," said Dr. Jason Farley, infectious disease nurse epidemiologist at The Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

The WHO says these name changes happen to avoid causing offense to cultural, social, national, regional, professional or ethnic groups, plus to reduce harm to trade, travel, tourism or animal welfare.

The WHO is one piece of this. The organization names diseases; but a different group of scientists — the ICTV, or International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses — decides the formal scientific name of the species a virus is given. That process has a long, precise set of requirements. 

An ICTV member tells Newsy for monkeypox, a likely species name change would still include "monkey."

Meanwhile, parts of the world struggle to get the monkeypox vaccine.

"To date, there are no vaccines that we have received as Africa for monkeypox, though we continue to engage with the relevant institutions and our partners across the world to try and get monkeypox vaccines here to the continent," said Ahmed Ogwell, acting director at the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The FDA's emergency authorization is allowing providers to fraction out doses to get more Americans vaccinated.  

In the meantime, the WHO is changing the process when it comes to the way it names clades, which are essentially strains of the monkeypox virus. It used to go first by the name of where a particular clade first originated. Instead, now, and moving forward the WHO is naming clades in sequence as "clade I, II or III," and so on.