The WHO announced in November 2022 that, after “consultations with global experts”, it will begin using a preferred term “mpox” for monkeypox. While the word monkeypox is “phased out” both terms will be used simultaneously for one year. This move is made in attempts to tackle “racist and stigmatising language” surrounding the recent outbreak of the disease.  

What’s in a name? 

The International Classification of Diseases (ICD) and the WHO Family of International Health Relate Classifications take charge of assigning names to new and existing diseases “through a consultative process”. This includes WHO Member States. Following the process, WHO held consultations with a range of groups, from experts to the general public. Consequently, WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus recommended the following: 

  • Adoption of the new synonym mpox in English for the disease. 
  • Mpox will become a preferred term, replacing monkeypox, after a transition period of one year. This serves to mitigate the concerns raised by experts about confusion caused by a name change in the midst of a global outbreak. It also gives time to complete the ICD update process and to update WHO publications.   
  • The synonym mpox will be included in the ICD-10 online in the coming days. It will be a part of the official 2023 release of ICD-11, which is the current global standard for health data, clinical documentation and statistical aggregation. 
  • The term “monkeypox” will remain a searchable term in ICD, to match historic information. 

Considerations for these recommendations included “rationale, scientific appropriateness, extent of current usage, pronounceability, usability in different languages, absence of geographical or zoological references, and the ease of retrieval of historical scientific information”. The process was accelerated through standard steps.  

The previous name 

Human monkeypox was named in 1970, before the WHO published its “best practices in naming diseases” in 2015. The virus that causes the disease was identified in captive monkeys in 1958. In this publication, new disease names should be assigned with the aim to minimise “unnecessary negative impact” on “trade, travel, tourism or animal welfare, and avoid causing offence to any cultural, social, national, regional, professional, or ethnic groups”.  

In August 2022, experts convened by WHO agreed to align the names of the individual “clades” of mpox with best practices. The formerly named Congo Basin clade became Clade 1, and the former West African clade became Clade 2.

For a range of discussions on mpox and public health concerns at the World Vaccine Congress in Washington next year, get your tickets now.