Why experts want to rename monkeypox

The naming of diseases has long been controversial and not only in Africa. During the first months after its appearance in China, the disease we call Covid-19 was informally referred to as the “Wuhan virus,” a title that had already gained popularity on social media before the outbreak. when finding their way into the mainstream. What happened next was not entirely surprising: Violence against Asians increased in the United States and other countries. Business at the Chinese restaurant evaporated. President Donald Trump has repeatedly called the disease the “Chinese virus,” long after the WHO gave the disease a trivial-sounding moniker.

The virus naming process, established in 2015, aims to “minimize the unnecessary negative impact of disease names on trade, travel, tourism or animal welfare and avoid offending to any cultural, social, national, regional, occupational or ethnic group”. WHO wrote at the time.

But so-called best practices for naming new infectious diseases do not affect existing names that critics say have negative associations with actual places and people, like Rift Valley Fever, Middle East respiratory syndrome, and Ebola, hemorrhagic fever named for a river in Africa.

Changing existing virus names is another matter. The International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses, there is a difficult process of classifying the multitude of known viruses, responsible for assigning official, scientific names. These are the differences with the common names of viruses.

Elliot J. Lefkowitz, professor of microbiology and genetic bioinformatics at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and the institution’s data secretary, said it could take a year before members of the team review it. new names for the species in which the monkeypox virus will be classified. . Any new species name, he said, has the potential to incorporate elements of an existing name to maintain a link with the past, a process separate from suggesting a new generic name for the virus. “I don’t know of any virus names that have actually been changed after it’s been in use for many years,” he said.

For Dr. Perry N. Halkitis, an infectious disease epidemiologist and dean of the Rutgers School of Public Health, the debate surrounding the name monkeypox rekindled painful memories of a species. Another virus has come to the United States from abroad and caused fear, shame, and pointing. In the summer of 1981, the virus we know as HIV first revealed itself in the purple cancerous spots on the bodies of gay men. Researchers call the disease GRID, or gay-associated immune deficiency disease. Although the name was never official, it gained traction and in the years that followed, thousands of gay men would die, many of them alone after being shunned by their families. .

“Words carry weight, words carry value,” says Dr. Halkitis, who lost many friends in the early years of the AIDS epidemic. “The problem with those kinds of terms is that they blame and when you blame yourself you create stigma, which creates hatred and undermines human happiness.”

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