mpx? Ampox? The struggle to replace ‘Monkeypox’ with a name that isn’t racist

Some argue that the name is racist and disparages the entire continent. Others consider it offensive to gay men. And then there are those who fear it may lead to the indiscriminate killing of monkeys, like happened in brazil,

All that danger in one word: monkeypox.

As the threat of the disease spreads, experts around the world have resolved to rename it to something that doesn’t carry the weight of stigma. No less authority than the World Health Organization is holding an open forum to receive suggestions for a new moniker.

“Monkeypox is a strange name given to a disease now afflicting humans,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, the US government’s leading expert on infectious diseases.

people in line outside

People line up for the monkeypox vaccine at St. John’s Well Child and Family Center in Los Angeles.

(Irrfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

But it is easier to delete the old name than to fix a new one.

Already, public health agencies, researchers and non-profit organizations around the world have taken it upon themselves to abbreviate or shorten the controversial name. But at this point there is little agreement on what to call a disease that is incurable. over 46,700 people Worldwide.

The California Department of Public Health is Referring to it as MPX – pronounced “mpx” or “m-pox” – as it waits for the WHO to choose a new name. in officers Oregon, Vermont, new jersey And have gone elsewhere with hMPXV. Some LGBTQ community organizations in Canada use Mpox,

Changing the name of an infectious disease in the midst of a growing outbreak may seem risky. But experts are confident it can be done – and that doing nothing would be risky. They fear the current name could discourage patients from seeking treatment, cause people to stay away from infected people and reinforce racist tropes.

“Is there a solution that is going to make every single person happy? No,” said Doctor. Peri Ann Halitis, an infectious disease epidemiologist and dean of the Rutgers School of Public Health. “But there’s going to be a solution that’s going to be the least invasive of all the solutions, and that’s going to move us in a slightly better direction with this disease.”

Microscopic photograph of a cell, shown in blue, infected with monkeypox mites, in yellow

An electron micrograph photo shows monkeypox particles in yellow, infecting a cell.

(National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases)

The name dates back to 1958, when the virus was first documented in a group of lab monkeys at the Copenhagen Research Institute. It is an orthopoxvirus, a type often named for the animals in which they are initially identified. Its original source in the wild remains unknown, although it is much more common in rodents than in primates.

Monkeypox in humans was first reported in 1970 in a 9-month-old boy in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Animals – particularly rodents – have been the primary source of transmission to humans in past outbreaks.

The disease is endemic in rural parts of western and central Africa, where there are several thousand cases each year and many deaths in men and women of all ages. Until recently, the virus was rarely known to spread from person to person. But in the current outbreak in Europe and North America, overwhelming majority Involves transmission of cases men who have sex with men,

The condition—characterized by a rash and sores that may look like pimples, bumps, or blisters—can be spread through prolonged skin-to-skin contact with sores that may be in hard-to-see spots Or can be mistaken for other skin issues.

A cousin of smallpox, it got its name more than half a century before the WHO world organization for animal health And this Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations group best practices To label diseases in 2015. Two no-no? Names that refer to countries or geographic locations, and names associated with animals.

Terms such as “swine flu” and “Middle East respiratory syndrome” have had “unintended negative effects by stigmatizing certain communities or economic sectors”. Dr. Keiji FukudaA former assistant director general for health security at the WHO said in 2015.

A medical worker administers a vaccine to a person's forearm

A medical worker gives a dose of monkeypox vaccine at St. John’s Well Child and Family Center in Los Angeles.

(Irrfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

He said, “We have observed that the names of certain diseases create backlash against members of particular religious or ethnic communities, create undue barriers to travel, commerce and trade, and trigger the unnecessary slaughter of food animals. ” “It can have serious consequences for the lives and livelihoods of the people.”

Such concerns were voiced in June regarding the fact that two major groups The monkeypox virus was known as the Congo Basin clade and the West African clade. an international group of scientists Called to remove those labels On the grounds that linking the disease to Africa is “not only wrong, but also discriminatory and stigmatizing.”

Christian happinesswho helped spearhead the campaign, raised the issue of the use of historical photographs of African patients by media outlets to portray an outbreak in the United Kingdom and North America, calling it “nothing but racism in origin”. .

WHO agree with scientists, This month, IT announced that the Congo Basin clade would now be known as Clade One or I, and the West African clade as Clade Two or II.

“It was a huge win,” said Happy, founder and director of African Center of Excellence for the Genomics of Infectious Diseases Redeemer University, Ed., in Nigeria. “In Africa we will no longer accept undermining. We will stand up for anything that goes against the image of this continent or that tries to undermine the image of this continent.”

medical worker administering vaccine to a person's left hand

Medical assistant Susanna Alvarenga gives a dose of monkeypox vaccine at St John’s Well Child and Family Center on August 10.

(Irrfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

Ask people what they dislike about the name “monkeypox” and you’re likely to get a different answer from each of them.

As for halkitis, it is that it refers to “the history of nomenclature related to diseases that are to blame”. He cited the early days of the AIDS epidemic, when the disease was mislabeled as “gay-related immune deficiency” or “GRID”.

“The use of the word ‘monkey’ to refer to a virus not only links it directly to an animal that is associated with the African continent, but also potentially links the behavior of homosexual men as ‘monkey-like’. Has,” Halkitis said. “In the hands of the wrong people” which can stigmatize those who may be affected by the disease, he said.

Halkitis isn’t worried that changing the name of the virus mid-outbreak would cause confusion, but he acknowledged that trying something new won’t be easy.

At a recent symposium at Rutgers, he referred to the disease as “MPX”, a choice he called “not exactly ideal” after learning that MPX was a variant name. submachine gun, He called “ampox” a possible option, but not a great option because “the monkey feature doesn’t really go away.”

crowd of people at a table

People check in to be vaccinated against monkeypox on August 9 at a walk-up site at Barnsdall Art Park in Hollywood.

(Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times)

“I think there are some really smart people out there who work in marketing who can think of a good name,” he said.

Dr. Richard BetterThe president and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation said the current name creates a false and derogatory association between monkeys and people who catch the disease, which can create barriers to care-seekers.

Besser was acting director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention during the H1N1 flu pandemic in 2009. That disease was commonly known as “swine flu,” a practice that created “false associations of people who had contact with the flu. swine.” (The pork industry also took a big hit, he said.)

“There are always challenges to renaming a disease in the middle of an outbreak, but renaming should not be a hindrance if the name itself is causing harm,” Besser said. Indeed, he said, the scientific community should focus on the “wholesale rebranding of a lot of diseases.”

“there are a lot of virus that have been Nominated after different place In AfricaWhich contributes to the inappropriate association of disease and epidemics in parts of Africa,” Besser said.

Kathleen Hall JamiesonThe director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center and an expert in science communication, takes issue with the fact that the name monkeypox “doesn’t convey useful information.”

The “pox” part is precisely because the public is familiar with that term, she said. But the “monkey” part “would suggest that it infects monkeys.”

She said the public would easily adapt to a new name once there was a consensus about what should happen.

“You’ll want to do this before the outbreak,” she said. But, “people will soon forget what you used to call it.”

The last word on a new name rests with the keeper international classification of diseasesA comprehensive list of health disorders maintained by WHO.

name change process According to the agency, this is expected to take several months. WHO will update the public by the end of the year.

“I’m sure we won’t come up with a ridiculous name,” said WHO spokesman Fadela Chaib.

Comments left on proposals posted a WHO website Explain why finding a new name won’t be easy.

To someone who recommended “magnuspox”: “Disease names should ideally not use proper names of people. There are people named Magnus, and their names should not be associated with the disease.”

Another offer for “Pox22”: “Monkeypox was first discovered in humans in 1970, so if you want to name it COVID-19 then Pox70 would be better. ,

And about “tinypox”: “The lesions of monkeypox are larger than those of smallpox, so there is no question of getting smaller.”

Rezo HealthA Montreal-based nonprofit that provides health services to the queer community submitted a proposal to adopt “Mpox,” a name generated by a coalition of Canadian LGBTQ organizations.

“There were people who immediately saw that monkeypox in its current form was a stigma and it was really important for us to move away from it as quickly as possible,” said Samuel Miriello, Director of HR & Partnerships. organization. Mpox is “the easiest name change to understand.”

The organization recently connected with Canada’s Minister of Health, Jean-Yves Duclos, to discuss the new name, but he was concerned that a switch would cause confusion before the WHO decided on a new name. Maybe, said Miriello. (Duclos did not respond to a request for comment.)

There’s Another Potential Problem With Mpox—It Already Has a Name a degenerative disease Which affects mutants in the Marvel universe including the X-Men like Rogue and Cyclops.

Times staff writer Marissa Evans contributed to this report.

Leave a Comment