The World Health Organization (WHO) has introduced a new preferred term for the disease caused by the monkeypox virus: mpox. The virus was named in 1958, before current best practices were adopted to minimize racist or stigmatizing effects.
WHO recommends new name for monkeypox disease
On 28 November 2022, following a series of consultations with global experts, WHO will begin using a new preferred term “mpox” as a synonym for monkeypox. Both names will be used simultaneously for one year while “monkeypox” is phased out.
Renaming monkeypox virus variants or clades
On 12 August 2022, a group of global experts convened by WHO agreed on new names for monkeypox virus variants, as part of ongoing efforts to align the names of the monkeypox disease, virus and variants – or clades – with current best practices. Consensus was reached to refer to the former Congo Basin (Central African) clade as Clade one (I) and the former West African clade as Clade two (II). Additionally, it was agreed that the Clade II consists of two subclades, IIa and IIb.
Background information on naming of the disease, the virus that causes the disease, and the virus variants or clades:
- Naming the disease
Human monkeypox was given its name in 1970 (after the virus that causes the disease was discovered in captive monkeys in 1958), before the publication of WHO best practices in naming diseases, published in 2015. According to these best practices, new disease names should be given with the aim to minimize unnecessary negative impact of names on trade, travel, tourism or animal welfare, and avoid causing offence to any cultural, social, national, regional, professional or ethnic groups.
Assigning new names to new and, very exceptionally, to existing diseases is the responsibility of WHO under the International Classification of Diseases and the WHO Family of International Health Related Classifications (WHO-FIC) through a consultative process which includes WHO Member States. ICD is part of the WHO Family of International Health Related Classifications (WHO-FIC).
- Naming of viruses
The naming of viruses is the responsibility of the International Committee on the Taxonomy of Viruses (ICTV). Prior to the 2022 global monkeypox outbreak, there was already a process underway to reconsider the naming of all orthopoxvirus species, including monkeypox virus. This will continue under ICTV leadership.
The WHO renamed the two branches of the monkeypox virus, moving away from identifying them with geographic titles and instead giving them Roman numerals. The virus itself remains unchanged — the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses has so far decided to keep the original name to maintain the continuity of the scientific literature.
- World Health Organization (WHO). WHO recommends new name for monkeypox disease. https://www.who.int/news/item/28-11-2022-who-recommends-new-name-for-monkeypox-disease
- World Health Organization (WHO). Monkeypox: experts give virus variants new names. https://www.who.int/news/item/12-08-2022-monkeypox–experts-give-virus-variants-new-names
- ‘Discriminatory and stigmatizing’: Scientists push to rename monkeypox viruses. https://www.statnews.com/2022/06/11/monkeypox-virus-name-stigma/
- WHO to phase out the name ‘monkeypox’ for ‘mpox’. https://www.statnews.com/2022/11/28/who-to-phase-out-the-name-monkeypox-for-mpox/