WHO to rename monkeypox as it studies possible sexual transmission

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London — The World Health Organization has scheduled an emergency meeting for next week on the monkeypox outbreak to determine if the virus should be classed as a threat to international health. The agency is also investigating exactly how the disease is spreading.

CBS News’ Tina Kraus reports the United Nations health agency is now exploring the possibility that monkeypox could be sexually transmitted, after the virus was found in body fluids of patients in Italy and Germany. Catherine Smallwood, the WHO incident manager for monkeypox in Europe, said that among the identified cases on the continent, some “had semen tested for [the] virus and came back positive, so that’s something that we’re looking at.” The agency has already said the disease — which has infected more than 1,600 people in 35 countries, including the U.S. — is transmitted through close physical contact.

In the U.K., a survey of 152 monkeypox patients found that 99% identified as men who have sex with men, according to Britain’s Health Security Agency.

Across Europe, most infections have been among gay and bisexual men, but James McFadzean, who contracted monkeypox, said it was important not to stigmatize certain communities. “I think we need to be careful how we label it. It’s not, you know, a ‘gay disease,’” he said. “It’s a tropical, strange disease.”

The WHO is already working with experts to come up with a new name for the virus and the disease it causes after more than 30 international scientists complained that its current moniker is discriminatory.

“In the context of the current global outbreak, continued reference to, and nomenclature of this virus being African is not only inaccurate but is also discriminatory and stigmatizing,” they wrote.

WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the agency would “make announcements about the new names as soon as possible.”

He added that the current “global outbreak of monkeypox is clearly unusual and concerning.”

The global outbreak of #monkeypox is clearly unusual and concerning. I have decided to convene the Emergency Committee under the International Health Regulations on Thursday next week, to assess whether this outbreak represents a public health emergency of international concern.

— Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus (@DrTedros) June 14, 2022

Europe remains the epicenter of the current outbreak, with around 85% of the world’s infections.

The disease, which was first discovered in African macaques, causes a rash that can look like chickenpox. The virus originates in wild animals like rodents, but occasionally jumps into human populations.

Most people recover from the virus within weeks, but in rare cases the disease can be deadly.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that travelers protect themselves from monkeypox by wearing masks, and the WHO has urged people who contract the virus to use condoms during sex for 12 weeks as a precaution after their recovery.

U.S. officials have said the country has plenty of effective vaccines and treatments to respond to any further spread of the virus.

WHO studying monkeypox transmission

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