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What’s in a name? The WHO wants a new term for monkeypox

In a bid to do away with a name criticized for having problematic connotations, the World Health Organization (WHO) is asking the public to weigh in on what the virus known as monkeypox should be called.

A group of global experts convened by the WHO has created an open forum where the public can share suggestions. The group already have agreed on new names for monkeypox virus variants, which will be labelled using Roman numerals.

In a statement on Friday, the WHO explained that the monkeypox virus was named in 1958, “before current best practices in naming diseases and viruses were adopted.” At present, newly-identified viruses are supposed to be given names that “avoid causing offense to any cultural, social, national, regional, professional, or ethnic groups, and minimize any negative impact on trade, travel, tourism or animal welfare.”

In June 29, scientists from around the world signed on to a letter calling for a new, non-discriminatory and non-stigmatizing name for the virus.

Scientists argue that monkeys are often associated with the global South and the word monkey has been used in racist slurs against people of color. They also point out that the term is a misnomer for the virus because monkeys are not its natural host.

As of August 11, a total of 32,760 monkeypox cases have been confirmed in 91 countries around the world.

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