(KRON) — It’s called Monkeypox, but the World Health Organization said in June that it’s committed to changing the name that’s criticized as being discriminatory and stigmatizing.
It’s not an easy switch though, since it’s been the name of the virus for half a century.
Renegade Bio in Berkeley is where Monkeypox tests are processed. At Renegade Bio staff members use the term MPX, an alternative name for Monkeypox that’s being used out of respect.
Monkeypox got its name because it was first studied in monkeys in the 1950’s. Infectious Disease Expert at UCSF, Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, says the name is a misnomer, “It’s really a reservoir in rats, small rodents, squirrels…but not monkeys,” he told KRON4.
More than 60 years later and we’re experiencing a new outbreak of the virus in 99 countries.
A large number of new cases are being reported among people of color. The World Health Organization is exploring a new name of the virus, since there’s a racist history of Black people being referred to as monkeys.
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“Names immediately conjure up images that may be stigmatizing to cultures and stigmatizing to populations,” Dr. Chin-Hong says. He also says the name change won’t be fast since the virus has been around for more than half a century, and it will most likely be changed to a longer version of what already exists.
Some aren’t waiting for an official change, including Dr. Monica Gandhi, Infectious Disease Expert, “that actually is a horrible name,” she says. Dr. Gandhi is the medical director of the Ward 86 HIV Clinic at UCSF Health, where the virus is also referred to as MPX.
The abbreviation is used by many physicians and scientists. But patients have also adapted to avoid racist stereotypes. Dr Gandhi says, “It just is sort of stigmatizing it doesn’t make sense.”
The World Health Organization names diseases, but the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses decides the formal names. As of this week, there have been no official name proposals to replace monkeypox.