The World Health Organization (WHO) has said it will be changing the name of the monkeypox virus to avoid discrimination and stigmatisation.

In a briefing yesterday (14 June), WHO director-general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the organisation was ‘working with partners and experts from around the world on changing the name of monkeypox virus, its clades and the disease it causes’.

The name change, which WHO said will be announced ‘as soon as possible’, comes after a report last week called for the name of the virus to be changed, saying that continued reference to the virus being African was ‘not only inaccurate’ but ‘discriminatory and stigmatising’.

The current name also does not fit with WHO guidelines that recommend avoiding geographic regions and animal names.

Disease names should consist of generic descriptive terms based on the symptoms the disease causes (e.g. respiratory disease, neurologic syndrome, watery diarrhoea) and more specific terms if more information is available (e.g. progressive, juvenile, severe, winter).

If the pathogen that causes the disease is known, it should be part of the disease name (e.g. coronavirus, influenza virus, salmonella), the guidance adds.

As of 14 June, the total number of confirmed cases of monkeypox in the UK was 524.

So far this year, more than 1,600 confirmed cases and almost 1,500 suspected cases of monkeypox have been reported to the WHO from 39 countries, 32 of which are believed to be newly affected.

In addition, 72 deaths have been reported from previously affected countries. No deaths have been reported so far from the newly affected countries, although WHO said it was seeking to verify reports from Brazil of a monkeypox-related death.

The WHO has not recommended mass vaccination against the virus.

While smallpox vaccines are expected to provide some protection, the WHO said there was ‘limited clinical data and limited supply’.

The UK's public health agencies have said a smallpox vaccination will be offered to healthcare workers due to care for a patient with confirmed monkeypox and staff working in sexual health services who have been identified as assessing suspected cases.