Viewpoint: No need to rename monkeypox

Renaming monkeypox will not solve missteps in the nation's response to its outbreak and would do little to prevent hateful people from shaming others, a physician writes in a piece published Aug. 17 in The Atlantic.

The World Health Organization is accepting proposals to rename monkeypox in an effort to align with "current best practices" for naming diseases and avoid offending any group. Calls to rename monkeypox coincided with the start of the current outbreak. Critics have said the name is racist, drives stigma toward the gay community and is responsible for people harming monkeys

"A single name for disease is said to be, somehow, the source of all this evil. But medicine is full of terms that sound funny or disgusting or obscene," Benjamin Mazer, MD, assistant professor of pathology at Baltimore-based Johns Hopkins University, writes for The Atlantic. 

The name is odd and doesn't make much sense in the context of today's outbreak since squirrels and rats are now more common viral reservoirs than primates. Nonetheless, the name's importance shrivels in comparison to missteps in the nation's response, Dr. Mazer writes.

"Sure, monkeypox sounded odd when I first started hearing it in conversation. But that feeling quickly went away as doctors had to deal with the scourge itself, and with a public-health failure of actions. After seeing lives literally put at risk by our government, I have a hard time believing that the word monkeypox can really do the same," he writes. 

If the WHO's best practices for naming disease were applied broadly, it would require changing many of the medical terms used today. Outside the scientific community, the original names may still be widely used, he contends. 

"There's little reason to think that any term for a disease, no matter how generic it might seem, cannot be wielded for ill purposes," Dr. Mazer notes. "Even COVID-19 — a disease name that was designed from the very start to be as inoffensive as possible — can easily be turned into a slur. 'Covidians' and 'Covidiots' abound." 

Click here to read the full piece.

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