Health officials in New York are ditching the term “monkeypox.”
Instead, the state will follow guidance from the World Health Organization (WHO) and refer to the disease as “mpox,” state Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett announced Thursday, Dec. 1.
“The words we use matter, and words can carry stigma,” Bassett said. “For this reason, we applaud the World Health Organization for replacing ‘monkeypox’ with ‘mpox.’
“The New York State and City Departments of Health will do the same and transition our printed and digital materials to the new name.”
WHO announced the name change on Monday, Nov. 28, after consulting with various experts from medical and scientific advisory committees made up of representatives from 45 different countries, officials said.
Proponents pointed to racist and stigmatizing language that was posted online not long after the disease began making headlines in the spring of 2022.
“In several meetings, public and private, a number of individuals and countries raised concerns and asked WHO to propose a way forward to change the name,” WHO said in a statement.
As part of the changes announced Monday, WHO said mpox will become the preferred term, replacing monkeypox after a one year transition period.
The term “monkeypox” will still show up in search results under the International Classification of Diseases (ICD) to match historic information, the agency said.
Human monkeypox was so named in 1970 after the virus that causes the disease was found in captive monkeys in 1958. The naming occurred before WHO came up with guidelines for naming diseases in 2015.
Those guidelines include choosing disease names that minimize “unnecessary negative impact of names on trade, travel, tourism, or animal welfare, and avoid causing offense to any cultural, social, national, regions, professional, or ethnic groups.”
Health officials described mpox as a rare, viral infection that spreads through close, physical contact between people. It does not usually cause serious illness, but can result in hospitalization or death, especially if left untreated.
Symptoms of the illness include rashes, bumps, or blisters on or around the genitals or in other areas like your hands, feet, chest, or face. Patients may also experience flu-like symptoms, such as fever, headache, muscle aches, chills, and fatigue.
While anyone can contract monkeypox, health officials said certain groups may face a heightened risk for developing severe illness, including those with weakened immune systems, young children under 8 years of age, the elderly, and pregnant people.
As of Wednesday, Nov. 30, there had been more than 4,000 confirmed cases of mpox identified throughout New York State, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The vast majority were located in New York City.
Nationwide, health officials said more than 29,000 people have been infected and 15 people have died from the disease.
Experts said people can help protect themselves by taking simple steps like asking sexual partners whether they have a rash or other symptoms consistent with monkeypox, and avoiding physical contact with those who do.
Officials said it’s also important to seek medical treatment if you’ve been exposed to the virus or experience symptoms.
Find out more about mpox and vaccine information on the New York State Department of Health website.
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