The World Health Organization, which plans to rename Monkeypox, called on the public for help on Tuesday in coming up with a less stigmatizing designation for the rapidly spreading disease.
The UN health agency has expressed concern for weeks over the name of the disease that hit the world stage in May.
Experts warn that the name could be stigmatizing for the primates it’s named after, but who play little role in its distribution, and for the African continent with which the animals are often associated.
For example, recently in Brazil cases have been reported of people attacking monkeys for fear of disease.
“Human monkeypox got its name before current best practice in naming diseases,” WHO spokeswoman Fadela Chaib told reporters in Geneva.
“We really want to find a name that is not stigmatizing,” she added, saying the consultation is now accessible to everyone through a dedicated website.
Monkeypox got its name because the virus was originally identified in monkeys kept in Denmark for research in 1958, but the disease is found in a number of animals, most commonly in rodents.
The disease was first discovered in humans in 1970 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and its spread to humans has since been confined mainly to certain West and Central African countries where the disease is endemic.
But in May, cases of the disease, which causes fever, muscle aches and large boil-like skin lesions, began to spread rapidly around the world, mainly among men who have sex with men.
More than 31,000 cases have been confirmed worldwide since the beginning of the year and 12 people have died, according to the WHO, which has designated the outbreak a global health emergency.
Although the virus can spread from animals to humans, WHO experts maintain that the recent global spread is due to transmission through close contact between people.
The UN health agency announced last week that a group of experts it had convened had already agreed on new names for monkeypox virus variants, or clades.
Until now, the two main varieties have been named after the geographic regions known to circulate, the Congo Basin and West Africa.
The experts agreed to rename them with Roman numerals instead and call them Clade I and Clade II. A sub-variant of Clade II, now known as Clade IIb, is believed to be the main culprit behind the ongoing global outbreak.
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