Monkeypox has been renamed Mpox
Monkeypox: Devastation occurred on every continent as the COVID-19 pandemic rolled back decades of progress in healthcare. Even as we were getting used to the “new normal” earlier this year, another zoonotic virus (one that jumped from an animal) threatened to throw everything off.
In August 2022, Monkeypox was recognized as a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC). The widely discussed virus is back in the headlines after the World Health Organization (WHO) on Monday officially recognized the term “Mpox” as a synonym for Monkeypox.
It’s the same virus we’ve known for decades, but under a different label
The Monkeypox virus has been around for at least the past century, making it far from a new pandemic. The virus, which was discovered in the late 1950s in a monkey colony, is related to variola (the causative agent of smallpox). Named “Monkeypox” after an outbreak among a group of laboratory monkeys in 1958 in Copenhagen, Denmark.
There is still a lot about the Monkeypox virus that we don’t understand, but that hasn’t stopped some people from using it to further stigmatize groups that face a great deal of discrimination already. As a result, a number of people and countries expressed alarm and requested that the WHO recommend the next steps for changing the name.
Now that the WHO has announced the name change, both Mpox and Monkeypox will coexist for a year before the latter is gradually phased out. Professionals’ worries that a name change in the midst of a global outbreak would cause confusion will be alleviated by the year-long grace period. It provides a window for the WHO to revise its publications and finish updating the International Classification of Diseases.
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Racist connotations of the term “Monkeypox” and its history of use
The name “Monkeypox” has always been a little deceptive since monkeys have very little to do with either the cause or the spread of the disease. The Danish monkeys from which the original research team discovered the virus over fifty years ago took their inspiration for the name.
Since Monkeypox was previously thought to be primarily an African disease, its detractors argued that it contributed to the outdated Western stereotype of Africa as a source of infectious diseases and STDs. The New York Times reports that experts said the show fueled racist stereotypes by depicting African Americans as monkeys.
In addition, a dozen other African scientists issued a warning in an open letter that using the current problematic nomenclature for the disease would hinder efforts to contain it.
And it wasn’t just the LGBTQ+ community that was subjected to harmful generalizations and stigmatizations; racism was just one aspect.
Promoting mistrust of MSM
For many years, the Mpox virus spread undetected through Africa’s rural areas. Recent cases have been seen primarily in men who have had sex with men from other continents. This further stigmatized a group of people who had already been stigmatized because of their connection to the AIDS epidemic.
However, experts have been trying to raise awareness about the fact that sexual activities among MSM are not so different from those of other groups in order to prevent them from being stigmatized. However, they imply that MSM involves a dense network of small populations, which raises the likelihood of spread within a specific group.
People outside the MSM community tend to have more sexual partners at once and switch between them more frequently, decreasing the likelihood of disease clusters.
Because of this inability to conceive, the MSM community as a whole continues to use condoms at a much lower rate than the general population. Now, since experts are divided over whether or not Monkeypox is an STD, it’s possible that condoms wouldn’t protect against it. However, doctors point out that Monkeypox can be transmitted through oral sex as well. Furthermore, since Monkeypox pustules are most commonly found in the anus and genitals, using a condom would limit direct skin-to-skin contact, thus providing some protection against the disease. The virus has also been found in sperm, suggesting it could be spread through sexual contact or other bodily fluids.
To safeguard the most vulnerable, it is crucial to involve communities of gay, bi, and other men who engage in sex with other men in efforts to raise awareness. While fighting disease is important, using this to promote prejudice is counterproductive.
As of the previous week, 110 countries had reported a total of 81,107 cases, 1,526 of which were confirmed by laboratories, and 55 deaths. Cases have been mostly reported from the Americas (92.3%) and Europe (5.8%) over the past four weeks. From the 21st to the 27th of November, WHO reported a weekly worldwide drop of 46.1% in the number of newly reported cases.
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