Bird flu, no monkeypox: ‘Virus names are sensitive’

At least ten monkeys were recently poisoned and pelted with stones in a Brazilian nature reserve. It is believed that fear of the virus among the local population was the reason for the attacks. And that while the virus is actually not spread by monkeys at all, but mainly by rodents.

“I have never seen an animal so blamed for a virus outbreak,” says immunologist Ger Rijkers. “At the beginning of the corona pandemic, we saw that bats were blamed, but that disease was not even named after bats.”

Rijkers thinks that a name change is in order in this case. “The virus may have been found for the first time in a monkey, but this monkey will probably also have gotten it from a rodent. The current outbreak is human-to-human. No animal is involved.”

“In other cases it is also logical that an animal does appear in the name, such as swine fever and bird flu,” continues Rijkers. “When it comes to this, everyone immediately knows what is going on. They are viruses that only circulate among these animals.”

rodent pox?

Calling the virus rodent pox is not the solution, according to Rijkers. “What about all the children who have hamsters and guinea pigs as pets? They will soon become unjustly afraid of this. Moreover, the virus is not only going around among rodents, but also among other animal species and people.”

The AAP Foundation is also happy that a new name for the virus is now being considered. “We are now having trouble transporting monkeys to our project in Morocco, because the animals there are also associated with the transmission of monkeypox. So there is certainly a question of imaging.”

“At the time with the Mexican flu, there was also a lot of discrimination against Central Americans, and because corona started in China, Asians have also had problems for a long time,” a spokesperson tells EditieNL. “A similar scenario can now start with the monkeypox virus: monkeys are already being killed wrongly because people are afraid that they will be made sick.”

Animal welfare organization World Animal Protection also applauds a name change. “The naming of viruses is very sensitive. If the name causes people to get scared and do terrible things, then a new name is certainly welcome.”

New name

What should be the new name for the virus is not yet so simple. According to Rijkers, it is important that a new name is neutral, sustainable and not too complicated at the same time. For example, a geographical name like ‘West African smallpox virus’ should be avoided because it is again stigmatizing, while a scientific name like ‘hMPXV A.1’ is again far too complex for the general public.

Rijkers himself argues for the name ‘orthopox-22’, or orthopox. “It makes sense to keep smallpox in the name, because that’s the disease you get. All these poxviruses are in the family of orthopox viruses. Ortho means rectangular and these viruses have a rectangular shape, kind of like a brick shape.”

Rijkers thinks a new name will quickly make the old stigmatizing name forgotten. “You may remember the English, Indian and South African corona variants. They have been replaced by letters from the Greek alphabet. Now no one is talking about the South African variant, but about omikron.”


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