Monkeypox to be renamed to reduce stigma

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Test tubes labelled Monkeypox virus. Photo: Reuters
Test tubes labelled Monkeypox virus. Photo: Reuters


A group of scientists have been successful in their call for an urgent renaming of the monkeypox virus, as the name gives the impression that the disease is an African problem because monkeys are not always associated with Western countries.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has announced that a group of global experts convened and had agreed on new name for the monkeypox virus variants as part of ongoing efforts to align the names of the monkeypox disease, virus and variants (also known as a clade, which, in virology, describes groups of similar viruses based on their genetic sequences) with current best practices.

The experts agreed to name the variants using Roman numerals, but the disease and virus names have yet to be decided.

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On Monday, Health Minister Joe Phaahla announced that a fourth case of monkeypox virus had been identified in a Western Cape laboratory. Phaahla said the 28-year-old infected person had travelled to Spain and returned to South Africa last week.

This brings the number of identified cases in South Africa to four. Previously, three unlinked laboratory-confirmed monkeypox cases have been reported in Gauteng, Western Cape and Limpopo.

“These cases were reported in males aged 30, 32 and 42, and they have since completed self-isolation and monitoring period without having further symptoms and health complications,” Phaahla said.

READ: Monkeypox: Our top 10 questions answered

Meanwhile, the group of experts convened by the WHO reached consensus on new terminology for the virus clades.

The experts also agreed on how the virus clades should be recorded and classified on genome sequence repository sites.

According to the WHO, the former Congo Basin (central African) clade will be known as Clade I and the former west African clade will be known as Clade II. It is understood that Clade II consists of two subclades.

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The WHO said:

The proper naming structure will be represented by a Roman numeral for the clade and a lowercase alphanumeric character for the subclades. Thus, the new naming convention comprises Clade I, Clade IIa and Clade IIb, with the latter referring primarily to the group of variants largely circulating in the 2022 global outbreak. The naming of lineages will be as proposed by scientists as the outbreak evolves. Experts will be reconvened as needed. The new names for the clades should go into effect immediately while work continues on the disease and virus names.

The WHO said the name was being changed to avoid causing offence to any cultural, social, national, regional, professional or ethnic groups, and to minimise any negative impact on trade, travel, tourism or animal welfare.

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