December 8, 2022

Monkeypox Renamed to "Mpox" by WHO, Here's Why

Monkeypox Renamed to "Mpox" by WHO, Here's Why

In August, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the Monkeypox outbreak a global health emergency. On Monday, the WHO renamed “monkeypox” as “mpox” after there were concerns that the original name may be considered racist. Furthermore, the name “monkeypox” might not accurately describe the origin of the virus.

“Both names will be used simultaneously for one year while ‘monkeypox’ is phased out,” the WHO said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), there have been 29,603 confirmed cases of monkeypox and 17 confirmed deaths in the United States. California, Texas, and New York have the most confirmed cases. 

The name Monkeypox was given to the virus in 1970, more than a decade after the virus was discovered and prior to the WHO releasing best practices for naming guidelines in 2015. It is still unclear the origin of the disease as it was not first discovered in monkeys and can be found in other animals. 

Since the start of the outbreak, countless scientists, government officials, and leaders have urged the WHO to rename the virus. In the US, the disease has disproportionately affected blacks, Hispanics, and men who have sex with men. 

“We must do all we can to break down barriers to public health, and reducing stigma associated with disease is one critical step in our work to end mpox,” U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra said in a statement.

In July, New York City Health Commissioner Dr. Ashwin Vasan  wrote a letter urging the WHO amongst “growing concern for the potentially devastating and stigmatizing effects that the messaging around the ‘monkeypox’ virus can have on these already vulnerable communities.”

The full letter can be read here

How They Chose Mpox as the New Name for Monkeypox

Over the summer, the WHO started the process of renaming monkeypox. There were several limitations to renaming the disease as the name had to be translated into different languages. In August, the WHO asked the scientific community to submit name ideas that would be taken into consideration. 

After careful consideration and consultations with a variety of experts, the WHO recommended the following:

  • Adoption of the new synonym mpox in English for the disease.

  • Mpox will become a preferred term, replacing monkeypox, after a transition period of one year. This serves to mitigate the concerns raised by experts about confusion caused by a name change in the midst of a global outbreak. It also gives time to complete the ICD update process and to update WHO publications.  

  • The synonym mpox will be included in the ICD-10 online in the coming days. It will be a part of the official 2023 release of ICD-11, which is the current global standard for health data, clinical documentation and statistical aggregation.

  • The term “monkeypox” will remain a searchable term in ICD, to match historic information.

According to the WHO, the following considerations had to be included, 

  • Rationale

  • Scientific appropriateness

  • Extent of current usage

  • Pronounceability

  • Usability in different languages

  • Absence of geographical or zoological references

  • Ease of retrieval of historical scientific information

In a statement, Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra said that federal public health agencies will adopt the new name “in correspondence with the medical community and American public from this point forward.”

“We welcome the change by the World Health Organization. We must do all we can to break down barriers to public health, and reducing stigma associated with disease is one critical step in our work to end mpox,” Becerra said.

While the name change has been welcomed by all in the scientific and medical community - there are still some that believe the name change comes too late and that using the two names interchangeably for the next year can be confusing and misleading. 

“Mpox is better than monkeypox because it still contains 'pox', which speaks to the physical nature of the disease," said Dr. Ifeanyi Nsofor, a global health equity advocate and senior New Voices fellow at the Aspen Institute. "Removing 'monkey' removes the stigma that monkeypox comes with and deals with the possible misinformation" about how it's transmitted, he added, as it might falsely suggest monkeys are the main source of spreading the virus to humans.

Go to the top of page