The World Health Organization (WHO) has renamed monkeypox amid concerns that the disease's original name promoted racist and discriminatory language and stereotypes.
On Monday (November 28), WHO announced that "mpox" was the new preferred name for monkeypox, the Associated Press reports. Both monkeypox and mpox will be used to refer to the decades-old disease for the next year as its initial name is phased out, the U.N. health agency said.
A number of individuals and countries requested WHO "propose a way forward to change the name" as the spread of mpox prompted a rise in "racist and stigmatizing language," according to the organization.
To address the concerns, WHO began consulting experts about renaming the disease in August, shortly after monkeypox’s spread was classified as a global emergency.
Mpox was initially named monkeypox in 1958 when researchers in Denmark observed monkeys to have a "pox-like" disease, though they are not believed to be the disease’s animal reservoir.
Until May, monkeypox hadn't been known to cause large outbreaks outside of central and West Africa, where it is mainly contracted through contact with infected animals such as rodents and squirrels. Now, more than 80,000 cases have been identified in dozens of countries that hadn't previously reported the diseases.
Outside of Africa, nearly all cases have involved gay, bisexual, or other men who have sex with men, according to AP News.
Vaccination efforts and targeted control interventions in certain countries have lowered case counts after the disease peaked in the summer. However, most mpox-related deaths have occurred in Africa, where hardly any vaccines are available.
Health officials have warned that it may be impossible to eliminate the mpox there and that the disease could pose a continued threat to gay and bisexual men for years to come.
Monkeypox's name change appears to be the first time WHO has attempted to rechristen a disease decades after it was first named.
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