Scientists push for abandonment of “stigmatizing” names for monkey smallpox virus

THE A group of scientists from Africa and other countries are urging the scientific community and world health leaders to abandon the abusive language used to distinguish monkey viruses, and even to change the name of the virus.

The group in a position paper posted online on Friday offered to refuse The current names of monkeys virus claudes – West Africa and the Congo Basin – and their replacement by numbers, discriminate current names.

“In the context of the current global epidemic, the reference to the fact that the virus is African and the nomenclature is not clear, as well as discriminatory and stigmatizing,” wrote more than twenty scientists.


Christian Happy, director of the African Center for Infectious Disease Genomics at Redimer University in Ede, Nigeria, was one of the main drivers of the proposal.

“If SARS-CoV-2, for example, is not called the Wuhan virus, then why do we have a virus or a class named after a specific geographical location in Africa, and then it spreads to the people in those areas,” Happy State said. “If we have to go by geographical location, we have to name all the viruses by geographical location.”


Happy also complained that the epidemic was covered in the mainstream media, and that pictures of African children suffering from monkeys were used to illustrate articles about the epidemic that is spreading around the world among men who have sex with men. north.

“We find it very discriminatory, stigmatizing and to some extent … I think it’s very racist,” he said. “Instead of showing pictures of people with white ulcers in the mainstream media, they are posting pictures of children in Africa and in Africa. And it has nothing to do with it. ”

A World Health Organization official said on Saturday that the agency agreed with the idea.

“There is a lot of support for this,” said Maria Van Kerhove, head of the emerging diseases and zoonoses unit of the WHO’s World Health Emergency Program.

The WHO and the scientific community can effectively change the names of classes by agreeing on terms of exchange and using them in official statements, scientific articles, and interviews with journalists. Thus, the complex naming process for SARS-CoV-2 variants was replaced by a letter naming system in the Greek alphabet, such as Alpha and Omicron.

According to Happy, the group behind the challenge consulted extensively on the idea and did not oppose it. “There is a purchase from the international community,” he said. “I think it’s time to take that step.”

Renaming the virus is not a precondition of the WHO. This force remains in an organization called the International Committee on Virus Taxonomy, which also gave the name SARS-CoV-2. And the World Health Organization has found the name of the disease caused by the virus, Covid-19.

According to Van Kerhove, the ICTV subcommittee is “discussing renaming the smallpox virus in the coming months” aimed at the poxvirus family.

The use of geographical names for viruses (think Rift Valley fever) or human names (think Epstein-Barr virus) has long been unpopular. Even in Yambuku, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (then Zaire) in 1976, scientists who studied the mysterious and deadly epidemic decided not to name the virus that caused it because of stigma.

Today, their compromise – Ebola, after the nearby river – may not be in line with the guidelines for best practices in naming diseases announced by the WHO in 2015 jointly with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and the World Organization for Animal Health.

Monkey smallpox infections have historically been reported only in West and Central Africa, where the virus is endemic to some animals. Until recently, it was rare to be seen outside of those countries, and there were travelers or their close contacts.

But in mid-May, British health officials announced that they had identified a number of cases in people with no history of travel to endemic countries. Since they seemed vigilant, more than 1,500 cases have been reported in more than 40 countries where the monkey smallpox virus is not commonly found. The unprecedented spread of the virus in those areas, and subsequent media coverage, have prompted scientists to change the way viruses are described.

“In the beginning, there were colleagues in Africa, so both South Africa and Nigeria felt that we needed new names that could be used in a neutral and objective way to refer to these different genotypic variants of the virus,” Richard Neher said. , Associate Professor, University of Basel, Switzerland. Neher, whose field was viral evolution, signed the proposal.

Genomic epidemiology of monkey smallpox virus. (The next)

They suggested that they now belong to the Congo Basin class, commonly found in several Central African countries – called Class 1. The current West African coast is divided into two characters, with the largest epidemic in many countries. It is currently related to what will be called Class 3. In addition, they suggest that the short form of the virus, MPXV, be marked “h” to indicate that Class 3 viruses are transmitted from person to person. In endemic African countries, human-to-human transmission of smallpox is limited, especially in humans.

“Hope should be this neutral 1, 2, 3 [system] We would distribute it more precisely, regardless of where the sample was taken from, ”Neher said, adding that he hoped the new names would be retained.

This story has been updated with additional comments.

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