The World Health Organization (WHO) has announced that ‘mpox’ is its new preferred term for monkeypox, after racist and stigmatising language was used during the outbreak this year.

It has recommended the use of both names simultaneously for one year while the term ‘monkeypox’ is phased out, before ‘mpox’ then fully replaces the use of ‘monkeypox’.

WHO said that since recent the outbreak of the virus began earlier this year, ‘racist and stigmatizing language online, in other settings and in some communities was observed and reported to WHO’. It also said that a number of individuals and countries had raised concerns in several public and private meetings and had asked WHO to propose a way forward to change the name.

Human monkeypox was given its name in 1970, after the virus that causes the disease was discovered in captive monkeys in 1958.

However, in 2015, WHO published best practices in naming diseases, which stated that new disease names should be given ‘with the aim to minimize unnecessary negative impact of names on trade, travel, tourism or animal welfare, and avoid causing offence to any cultural, social, national, regional, professional or ethnic groups’.

In June, WHO confirmed that it would be renaming the disease.

WHO said that new names are only assigned to existing diseases ‘very exceptionally’, and that it had considered a range of factors when choosing the new name, including ‘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’.

It added that the name was decided in consultation with experts, countries and the general public, and that the issue of translation had been ‘extensively discussed’.

‘The preferred term mpox can be used in other languages. If additional naming issues arise, these will be addressed via the same mechanism,’ it added.

WHO said that it will adopt the term mpox in its own communications and encourages others to do the same, ‘to minimize any ongoing negative impact of the current name and from adoption of the new name’.

It said that the synonym ‘mpox’ will be included in the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-10) within the coming days, and will be a part of the next release of the classification (ICD-11) in 2023. However, it added that the term ‘monkeypox’ will remain a searchable term in ICD to match historic information.

In July, an observational study found that patients infected with monkeypox virus in the current UK outbreak were presenting with different symptoms than in previous outbreaks, prompting researchers to call for a change in case definitions.