Health

Montreal group helps WHO rename monkeypox to 'mpox' to avoid stigmatization

The World Health Organization announced Monday its new preferred term for monkeypox will be 'mpox,' and it urged others to make the same change after receiving complaints that the current name for the disease was racist and stigmatizing.

Both terms to be used for 1 year while the original word is phased out

A colourized transmission electron micrograph of monkeypox particles (red) found within an infected cell (blue).
This image provided by the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) shows a colourized transmission electron micrograph of mpox particles (red) found within an infected cell (blue). (NIAID/The Associated Press)

The World Health Organization announced Monday its new preferred term for monkeypox will be "mpox," and it urged others to make the same change after receiving complaints that the current name for the disease was racist and stigmatizing.

The new name was suggested by a Montreal men's health organization which had already campaigned for Quebec health officials to change the name in French.

"Both names will be used simultaneously for one year while 'monkeypox' is phased out," the global health organization said.

In August, WHO began consulting experts about renaming the disease, shortly after the UN agency declared mpox's spread to be a global emergency.

"When the outbreak of monkeypox expanded earlier this year, racist and stigmatizing language online, in other settings and in some communities was observed and reported to WHO," the agency said.

The term "mpox" was put forward by Montreal-based organization RÉZO, which works with gay or bisexual men, and men who have sex with men — a group mainly affected by the mpox outbreak in May.

"We've been worried about the stigma that might affect our community," said Samuel Miriello, one of the organization's directors.

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WHO renames monkey pox as 'mpox'

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Samuel Miriello is one of the directors of RÉZO, a men's health organization in Montreal.

The name change effort started on a more local level in Quebec, encouraging health officials to replace the French term variole du singe (monkey virus) with variole simienne (simian virus). 

The group then joined the growing call for change in English terminology. RÉZO said the removal of monkey imagery helped people take the health emergency seriously.

He said RÉZO worked with a Canadian alliance of community organizations to come up with the term "mpox."

The epidemiological situation has vastly improved in the Montreal area with the vaccine being so widely distributed. People should still make sure their booster shots are up to date, Miriello said.

Miriello said overall there was some stigmatization felt in Montreal, but not significantly, even at the height of the outbreak. He said RÉZO and health officials worked to ensure the message was clear and not loaded with stigma.

"We made sure our vaccination clinics were more inclusive," said Miriello. "We really put a lot of effort into making sure it was a safe experience."

110 countries have mpox cases

Mpox, discovered in 1958 and named after the first animal to show symptoms, mostly spread in a group of countries in West and Central Africa until this year.

Now, 110 countries have reported some 80,000 confirmed cases and 55 deaths, according to WHO data.

WATCH | How mpox transmits between people:

Sorting fact from fiction about how monkeypox spreads

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The World Health Organization says monkeypox is spreading rapidly with no signs of slowing down, but so is misinformation about the virus. Health experts break down how it's spread and where you're unlikely to catch it.

Scientists believe mpox triggered outbreaks in Western countries after spreading via sex at two raves in Belgium and Spain.

Vaccination efforts in wealthy countries, along with targeted control interventions, have mostly brought the disease under control after it peaked in the summer.

In Africa, the disease mainly affects people in contact with infected animals such as rodents and squirrels. The majority of mpox-related deaths have been in Africa, where there have been almost no vaccines available.

The term "monkeypox" will remain a searchable term to match historic information, WHO said.

With files from The Associated Press and Reuters

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