Style Guidance home / Gender and Sexuality, Race and Ethnicity

mpox

Last updated

Definition

Mpox (“em-pox”), or monkeypox, is a disease caused by infection with the monkeypox virus, which is related to smallpox though generally less severe and rarely fatal. Per the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, despite the name, the exact source of the virus is unknown, though some types of rodents and non-human primates can harbor it. 

The first mpox case in humans occurred in 1970, and cases were typically seen in Central and West Africa until 2022, when cases began appearing in European countries and North America. According to the World Health Organization, mpox can spread from an infected animal to a human via physical contact. It is primarily transmitted from human to human through prolonged close physical contact, including sexual contact, though it is not currently categorized as a sexually transmitted infection. It has also been found less commonly to be transmitted via items that may have come into contact with infected lesions, and from a pregnant person to a fetus. Per the CDC, it can also be spread from humans to animals, including household pets, through close contact. 

To refer to the populations seeing the largest numbers of mpox cases as of August 2022, some organizations, including the Association for LGBTQ Journalists, suggest phrasing such as “men who have sex with men and those in their sexual networks” — a term used to refer to people who are connected by sexual contact, whether directly or indirectly (e.g., if individual A has sex with individual B, and individual B has sex with individual C, all three are in the same sexual network). Advocates say this phrasing emphasizes behavior rather than identity and may help avoid stigmatizing certain populations or stereotyping mpox as a disease that only affects gay and queer men (the way much of HIV and AIDS coverage did during the height of the epidemic). However, that language may not be the clearest in every situation; for instance, if talking about members of LGBTQ+ communities, being as specific as possible about the population(s) being discussed may be helpful for clarity.

Some scientists have criticized the name “monkeypox,” saying it is stigmatizing and has racist connotations, and can be misleading about the source or host of the disease. Though the World Health Organization said in June 2022 that it would change the name, it has not yet officially been changed. Some groups and states, including California, are now referring to the disease as mpox, MPX, or MPV. Another alternative in use in states like Oregon and Vermont is hMPX. 

Health advocates have also criticized government health agencies for moving too slowly on disseminating information about the disease and vaccinations, and some communities have relied on peer-to-peer information-sharing to find vaccine appointments and understand risk. 

As with reporting on any disease or diagnosis, it’s important to keep people’s right to privacy in mind — disclosing a diagnosis or vaccination status, or photographing someone awaiting treatment or vaccination, without permission and when not necessary or relevant to coverage may violate someone’s privacy and reinforce stigma or stereotypes.

Additional resources

Summary

Mpox (“em-pox”), or monkeypox, is a disease caused by infection with the monkeypox virus, which is related to smallpox. It is primarily transmitted from human to human through prolonged close physical contact, including sexual contact, though it is not currently categorized as a sexually transmitted infection. To refer to the populations seeing the largest numbers of mpox cases as of August 2022, some organizations suggest phrasing such as “men who have sex with men and those in their sexual networks,” which emphasizes behavior rather than identity. However, being as specific as possible about the population(s) being discussed may be helpful for clarity. Some scientists have criticized the name “monkeypox,” saying it is stigmatizing and has racist connotations; alternatives in use in some places beyond mpox include MPX, hMPX, and MPV. As with reporting on any disease or diagnosis, it’s important to keep people’s right to privacy in mind, and to consider whether disclosing someone’s diagnosis or vaccination status is truly necessary and relevant to coverage.