WHO renames two monkeypox variants to avoid geographic references

·2 min read

The World Health Organization (WHO) announced Saturday that it renamed variants of the virus monkeypox as it looks to counter concerns about the original naming conventions.

“Newly identified viruses, related diseases & virus variants are given names to avoid causing offence to any cultural, social, national, regional, professional, or ethnic groups, & minimize the negative impact on trade, travel, tourism, or animal welfare,” the WHO said in its announcement.

The Congo Basin and West African variants were reclassified as Clade I and Clade II, the latter of which has two subclades. The new names go into effect immediately.

A global expert group decided on the new naming convention “as part of ongoing efforts to align the names of the monkeypox disease, virus, and variants—or clades—with current best practices.”

The WHO is also workshopping new names for the monkeypox virus as a whole, including the disease it causes, after outcry over potential stigmatization. The WHO cautioned early in the COVID-19 pandemic against referring to the virus as the “China virus” or the “Wuhan virus” due to potential discrimination.

The name change for monkeypox could also correct assumptions about the origin of the virus, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported is unknown, despite monkeybox being discovered in 1958 in a group of monkeys kept for research.

In its best practices for infectious disease names, the WHO cautioned against using geographic locations, people’s names, animal species and other specific references.

The WHO said it’s holding “an open convention” to rename monkeypox.

“Anyone wishing to propose new names can do so,” the organization said on Twitter.

The CDC reported 11,177 monkeypox cases in the U.S. as of Aug. 12 as well as 31,799 global cases.

Cases have been cropping up predominantly among men who have sex with other men, but WHO officials have cautioned that the outbreak should not be expected to stay contained in that community. A number of U.S. monkeypox cases have been reported among children and women.

The WHO declared monkeypox a public health emergency in July, and the White House followed suit earlier this month.

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