Why is it called monkey pox? Virus outbreak name explained

Why is monkeypox called monkeypox? (Image: Reuters)

After two long years of Covid-19, Monkeypox is the latest viral disease to make headlines.

Monkeypox, a type of smallpox virus, is in the same family as smallpox — although its bumpy rash, fever, chills, and other symptoms are sometimes confused with the highly contagious (but unrelated) chickenpox.

The UK has registered 78 cases of people with monkeypox at the time of writing – and officials are stepping in to isolate the people’s close contacts.

But one stone is actually left unturned…why is it called monkeypox? And is it connected to real monkeys?

Here’s what you should know.

Why is monkeypox called monkeypox?

The name Monkeypox actually has something to do with monkeys.

Smallpox virus illustration

An illustration of a smallpox virus – of which monkeypox is a variant (Image: Getty)

That The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has determined that monkeypox was first discovered in 1958 when there were two outbreaks among a group of monkeys.

These monkeys were kept specifically for animal experiments.

Humans did not contract monkeypox until the 1970s, when the first documented case occurred in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

However, it is important to note that monkeys are not necessarily the cause of all monkeypox outbreaks – as the NHS writes, they are often thought to be caused by rodents.

Its website states: “Monkeypox can be caught from infected wild animals in parts of West and Central Africa. It is believed to be spread by rodents such as rats, mice, and squirrels.

“You can get monkeypox from an infected animal by being bitten or touching their blood, bodily fluids, spots, blisters, or scabs.

“You can also potentially contract monkeypox by eating meat from an infected animal that has not been thoroughly cooked, or by touching other products from infected animals (such as animal skin or fur).”

This compares fairly squarely to the chickenpox virus of the same name, as the reason for its animal nickname is currently unknown — although there are several theories.

MORE: How do you catch monkeypox and is it deadly?

MORE: The number of people with monkeypox in the UK rises to 71

MORE: Why is chickenpox called chickenpox? All theories explained

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Justin Scacco

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