WHO to rename monkeypox as experts warn of increased misinformation

The organisation also confirmed the name of the current strain in global circulation, ‘Clade IIb’.

Doctor wearing a mask analyzing a sample on the microscope. The WHO has announced they will rename monkeypox.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has shared plans to rename ‘monkeypox’ in a bid to align the names of the disease, virus and variants with current best practices. Under the current guidelines, names should be given in a manner that does not cause offence to any cultural, social, national, regional, professional, or ethnic groups, and should minimise any negative impact on trade, travel, tourism or animal welfare. The announcement comes as experts have warned of the global spread of misinformation, particularly on social media, leading to heightened levels of anxiety

Two variants of the virus, formerly known as the Congo Basin and West African strains, have already been renamed clade one (I) and clade two (II) respectively. WHO held an ad hoc meeting on Monday, August 8, that enabled virologists and public health experts to collectively agree on the new terms, which should be adopted immediately. The organisation also confirmed the name of the current strain in global circulation, ‘Clade IIb’.

The new names of the disease and virus are yet to be determined but experts have begun exploring options.

WHO is responsible for renaming the disease under the International Classification of Diseases and the WHO Family of International Health Related Classifications (WHO-FIC). The organisation is holding an open consultation regarding the monkeypox disease’s new name, and anyone who wants to submit suggestions is invited to do so.

The International Committee on the Taxonomy of Viruses (ICTV) is responsible for renaming virus species, and the organisation has also commenced its own monkeypox renaming process.

The announcement comes less than a month after WHO declared monkeypox a global health emergency. At present, there have been over 30,000 confirmed cases of the virus reported in nonendemic countries, the majority of which have occurred in gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men (gbMSM).

As monkeypox has spread, so too has misinformation, and experts have warned that this is leading to unnecessary levels of anxiety. In May, a group of South African researchers found that only 28 percent of the top English-language Twitter traffic surrounding monkeypox included serious, factual information.

Branding monkeypox as a ‘gay disease’ has also caused men to refuse testing and treatment over fears of being outed. WHO has confirmed that the virus has been “much harder to track, and to stop” in countries where homophobia is prominent.

In India, Dr Ishwar Gilada, who was responsible for setting up the country’s first AIDS clinic in 1986, said that patients don’t want to be reported among the nation’s first cases. He also explained that contact tracing is in place, but officials are being careful not to “out” anybody.

“They’re contact tracing every ‘Tom, Dick and Harry’ they have come in touch with… You are identifying people indirectly,” the doctor said.

It is for all of these reasons and more that the stigma surrounding monkeypox must be eradicated, a point that WHO has reinforced in its decision to rename the variants, disease and virus.

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