Officials at the World Health Organization (WHO) called on social media platforms and news organizations Wednesday to counter so-called monkeypox misinformation through national regulations as the virus spreads into a global outbreak.
Last weekend, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus declared the virus a “public health emergency of international concern.” Recent numbers indicate that there are more than 18,000 cases and five deaths across 78 different countries. Roughly 70% of those cases were reported from Europe, while the Americas make up about 25%.
The virus has primarily spread among “men who have sex with men” and is spread through close physical contact, including sexual intercourse. The virus could also be spread by touching objects that someone with the virus had used.
Ghebreyesus warned that men who engage in homosexual sex should reduce the number of partners they sexually engage with and further cautioned nations to be on guard against disinformation about the virus.
“The stigma and discrimination can be as dangerous as any virus and can fuel the outbreak,” Ghebreyesus said. “As we have seen with COVID-19, misinformation and disinformation can spread rapidly online.”
“So we call on all social media platforms, tech companies, and news organizations to work with us to prevent and counter harmful information,” he added.
New York City’s Department of Health recently wrote a letter to Ghebreyesus saying the city has once again found itself at the epicenter of a contagious disease after it surpassed 1,000 confirmed cases.
The department also expressed worry about the effect the name monkeypox can have on vulnerable communities “given the stigma it may engender, and the painful racist history within which terminology like this is rooted for communities of color.”
The letter asked the WHO to use alternative terms for the virus, such as “hMPRXV” and “MPV,” as the virus does not “originate in monkeys.”
However, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website claims monkeypox was first discovered in 1958 when two outbreaks of a pox-like disease occurred in colonies of monkeys kept for research. Yet, the CDC says the disease’s source remains unknown despite its name.
The Biden administration could declare monkeypox a national public health emergency in the coming days, according to Politico. The announcement would come from the Department of Health and Human Services and give the federal agency the ability to new money and appoint new personnel.
Scott Gottlieb, former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, told The Washington Post it might be too late to stop the monkeypox virus from becoming endemic in the U.S.
“We may have already crossed that threshold — then it will be looked back on as among the biggest public health failures of recent times,” Gottlieb said.
CDC officials reported more than 4,600 cases of monkeypox in the U.S. as of July 27.