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WHO plans to rename monkeypox over stigmatization concerns

The World Health Organization is holding an open forum to rename the disease monkeypox, after some concerns the name could be derogatory or have racist connotations.

HOUSTON — The World Health Organization says it's holding an open forum to rename the disease monkeypox after some critics raised concerns the name could be derogatory or have racist connotations.

Editorial note: The above video is from a previous story.

In a statement Friday, the U.N. health agency said it has also renamed two families, or clades, of the virus, using Roman numerals instead of geographic areas, to avoid stigmatization. The version of the disease formerly known as the Congo Basin will now be known as Clade one or I and the West Africa clade will be known as Clade two or II.

WHO said the decision was made following a meeting of scientists this week and in line with current best practices for naming diseases, which aims to “avoid causing offense to any cultural, social, national, regional, professional, or ethnic groups, and minimize any negative impact on trade, travel, tourism or animal welfare.”

RELATED: Monkeypox: Track Houston area counties and Texas case numbers; get answers to common questions

Numerous other diseases, including Japanese encephalitis, Marburg virus, Spanish influenza and Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome have been named after the geographic areas where they first arose or were identified. WHO has not publicly suggested changing any of those names.

Monkeypox was first named in 1958 when research monkeys in Denmark were observed to have a “pox-like” disease, although they are not thought to be the animal reservoir.

WHO said it was also opening a way for the public to suggest new names for monkeypox, but did not say when any new name would be announced.

RELATED: Monkeypox in schools: What is the risk?

Meanwhile, Texas has seen an increase in confirmed monkeypox cases with 813 being reported as of Aug. 11. Harris County reported 256 of the 813 confirmed cases in Texas. The Houston Health Department has 228 cases.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner announced the city will begin testing wastewater for monkeypox like it's been doing for COVID-19.

The entire Houston region has reported a total of 315 cases, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.

Here are the latest numbers from other area counties with monkeypox cases: 

For a look at how the Lone Star State compares to other states, check this CDC map.

RELATED: 'Make me feel human again' | Houston man nears completion of monkeypox quarantine

To date, there have been more than 31,000 cases of monkeypox identified globally since May, with the majority of those beyond Africa. Monkeypox has been endemic in parts of central and west Africa for decades and was not known to trigger large outbreaks beyond the continent until May.

WHO declared the global spread of monkeypox to be an international emergency in July and the U.S. declared its own epidemic to be a national emergency earlier this month.

Outside of Africa, 98% of cases are in men who have sex with men. With only a limited global supply of vaccines, authorities are racing to stop monkeypox before it becomes entrenched as a new disease.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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