World Health Organization confirms new name for monkeypox

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Wednesday 30th November 2022

The World Health Organization (WHO) has confirmed that monkeypox will now be known as mpox. The WHO has changed guidance following complaints about racist language and stigma attached to monkeypox. For the next year, monkeypox will be used alongside mpox to phase out use and allow people to adjust before the term becomes obsolete. 

The name mpox has been agreed by the World Health Organization after conversations with health experts from different countries and the general public. Monkeypox has been a regular feature of news stories and headlines in the last year, due to a sharp rise in cases in spring and summer. In July, the WHO declared a global health emergency, as cases of mpox spread in countries outside of Central and West Africa. The virus was first identified in the 1970s and was called monkeypox because it was first discovered in captive monkeys. 

The WHO has taken the decision to rename the virus based on new guidelines, which aim to reduce the negative impact of naming illnesses and diseases on travel and tourism and impressions of certain animals or ethnic groups, cultures or societal traditions. The aim is to avoid causing offence and break down stigma and negative connotations linked to specific viruses or infections. 
As well as responding to concerns about racist and potentially insensitive language, the WHO also believes that using the term mpox will make it easier to communicate about the virus globally, as the word can be used very easily across different nations, continents and languages.

This is not the first example of the WHO suggesting a new naming system for viruses. During the pandemic, experts labelled variants of the Covid-19 virus using letters from the Greek alphabet because they were easy to use and pronounce and they were also considered "non-stigmatising.” In 2022, there has been a spike in cases of mpox, with cases identified in more than 100 different countries. Symptoms of mpox include skin rashes, lesions and a high temperature. Following a surge in cases earlier this year, numbers tailed off quickly. The highest tallies of cases were recorded in the USA, the UK, France, Brazil and Spain. There were more than 3,500 cases diagnosed in the UK in 2022.

The rise in cases of mpox outside of Central and West Africa, where the virus is most prevalent, prompted a surge in global demand for a vaccine. In the UK, vaccines were rolled out to protect those most at risk of symptoms during the summer. The virus is part of the same family as smallpox, which meant that public health teams were able to offer existing smallpox vaccines to provide protection quickly. The vaccine used is known as MVA (Modified Vaccinia Ankara) and it works by encouraging the body to make antibodies to protect against the virus. 
Most people who developed symptoms of mpox reported mild effects, including a rash and a fever. Globally, 50 people died from the virus in 2022. 

The World Health Organization is now urging all healthcare professionals, governments and organisations to use mpox rather than monkeypox, but monkeypox will be recognised as a term for the next 12 months. Most cases of mpox in the UK were found in men who had sexual relationships with other men.