New name for the monkeypox – knowledge

As the number of cases of monkeypox plummets worldwide, the World Health Organization (WHO) has decided to change the name of the disease. The English term “Monkeypox” is now to be replaced by the term “Mpox”. The name was chosen by a panel that included representatives from 45 countries.

The WHO announced on Monday that the request for a new designation had been approached. There have been reports that the word monkey pox used in a racist and stigmatizing way. The disease is endemic in parts of Africa. Outside the continent, homosexual men in particular have been infected so far.

From a scientific point of view, the name monkeypox is not a stroke of luck. It goes back to the fact that the disease was first discovered in laboratory monkeys in 1958 and in humans only in 1970. Today it is assumed that the eponymous monkeys of all things do not play a major role in the transmission of the virus.

The WHO is responsible for naming human diseases. In 2015, she missed regulations that said disease names cannot refer to specific people, groups, regions, or animals. This is intended to avoid stigmatization, but also negative effects on trade, travel or animal welfare. At the same time, the rules stipulate that disease names should also be short and easy to pronounce. Doing justice to all of this proves amazingly challenging.

It is still unclear how monkeypox will be called in German in the future

It took a panel of experts appointed by the WHO six weeks to find the name “Covid-19” for the “mysterious pneumonia from China” that dominated the discussion at the time. The designation had barely caught on when Sars-CoV-2 split into variants that became known to the public under names like “English” or “South African” variant. The next panel then brooded for several months on how to get rid of these geographic references. Among other things, the members rejected the idea of ​​using made-up names, because it turned out that a lot of what sounded made up had actually been made up somewhere in the world. Whether as a company, brand, place or family name – a number of syllable combinations proved to be already occupied.

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The experts finally decided on the Greek alphabet, which, however, raised the question of what to do once its 24 letters are used up.

The panel was initially spared an answer when the virus evolution stopped at Omicron. In terms of names, however, this situation is not optimal either, because the omicron variant has meanwhile split into a confusing multitude of subtypes that have scientific names such as BQ1.1, BA.2.12.1 or XBB. Meanwhile, names like the “Hellhound” variant appeared in public. For the sake of completeness, it should be noted that this designation should not correspond at all to the WHO criteria, because regardless of the stigmatization potential of the word “hound of hell”, it also applies that disease names should not sound frightening.

Nevertheless, it must be said that the variant designations along the Greek alphabet have become established very quickly and widely, despite all the skepticism. Does this also work if, as in the case of monkeypox, a name that has been in use for a long time is subsequently changed? The WHO has already given itself and the world a transitional period of one year during which the old name can still be mentioned, while Mpox should slowly establish itself. At the same time, the time should be used to update documents and databases.

According to the authority, a long discussion ensued about the question of what the disease should be called in other languages. Will there be talk of the Apocken in Germany? The WHO clarifies that the use of Mpox need not be limited to English, otherwise countries would have to decide on appropriate translations. The Robert Koch Institute (RKI) comments that it is not yet clear “when and how exactly the WHO decision will be implemented by the RKI” and points out that the question also affects other actors such as professional societies.

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The question of where to draw the line when renaming is also open. If monkeypox is no longer wanted, what will happen to cowpox or chickenpox? According to the WHO, new names should remain an exception. But the orthopoxvirus genus, which includes the cowpox and monkeypox viruses, could be an exception to the exception. Because they have been trying to clean up their names thoroughly for a long time. It could also be used to make it clearer that chickenpox, contrary to what its name suggests, does not belong to the smallpox virus, but to the herpes virus.

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