Jens writes:

Dear All,

Just a note on the repeated mentioning of “monkeypox virus” being a “misnomer” on several TWiV episodes: I am very consciously trying to stay out of the ongoing discussions regarding naming of … “monkeypox something” (virus, virus species, human disease name, animal disease name, virus clades…), but I feel quite strongly that either all virus names are almost always misnomers or almost none of them are. Names are labels and the function of these labels is simply to enable communication in the sense of a name invoking a certain shared knowledge about a thing, i.e., ensuring that you and I talk about the same thing. Yes, a jellyfish is not a fish, a sea star not a star, a bombardier beetle doesn’t have weapons, and even giant viruses are really really small. Gee, I assume even ~50% of ladybeetles are not ladies! 😊Yet, all of these names are in common use and most people know what “is meant” when these names are used, i.e., the names are derived based on particular phenotypes or historical connotations or through relative comparisons etc.

“Monkeypox virus (MPXV)” was named so because it was originally associated with monkeys (crab-eating macaques; Von Magnus, P. et al. 1959. A pox-like disease in cynomolgus monkeys. Acta Pathol. Microbiol. Immunol. Scand.46, 156-176). That is true and still true today, whether monkeypox virus is a “rodent virus” or not, and hence the original name stays “correct” as long as one is aware (and repeats if necessary) this historical background. Btw, somehow nobody mentions that MPXV indeed infects apes in the wild: Monkeypox virus emergence in wild chimpanzees reveals distinct clinical outcomes and viral diversity – PubMed ( Many languages do not have a word for “ape” but instead apes are “derived monkeys” (for instance, in German: Menschenaffe – human monkeys) and voila, monkeypox virus is totally “correct” even if not seen historically because it infects monkeys and because humans are monkeys… Or, well, not – because in the chimpanzees the virus doesn’t seem to cause pox but is more of a respiratory disease. So the “monkey” is totally appropriate but the “pox” is not? Likewise I hear you talk a lot about many polioviruses that do not seem to cause polio but only have the potential to cause polio. Is poliovirus a misnomer then? I don’t think so. It is the virus that has been associated with polio, or some of them cause polio, and hence the name polio was used. Not even to speak of Ebola virus, which only once was found somewhat close to the Ebola River (many many kilometers away from it as far as I remember) – and that river was misnamed “Ebola” by Belgian nuns who misinterpreted the actual Ngabndi name for it, Legbala (Etymologia: Ebola – PMC ( So… should we change the name Ebola virus because it is a misnomer? Again, I don’t think so – because everybody knows what is meant by it and the virus was indeed named after “Ebola”. A change would cause unnecessary confusion, disrupt the connection to older papers, and the unfortunate person who is infected with it will suffer the same.

Names, for whatever reasons, evoke strong emotions in many people (it feels like ~90% of “debates” on virus taxonomy are about names, not classification) – but we should not give in to these emotions too easily, or we will end up with meaningless ever-changing terms that are easily confused, almost never memorable, and ultimately complicated (virus names ought to be stable – taxon names won’t be stable). There is a reason why you rarely find “severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2” or “severe fever with thrombocytopenia syndrome virus” in newspapers and almost never hear these names spoken out loud even in scientific talks: they are awkward and difficult to say and hence everybody immediately goes to the abbreviations (which then makes the actual terms superfluous for communication, i.e., “bad” names). I double-triple dog dare you to say 3x fast “severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2, severe fever with thrombocytopenia syndrome virus, Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus” from memory vs “measles virus, Ebola virus, monkeypox virus” 😊

And even these long terms are also again “misnomers” – most SARS-CoV-2 infections are not severe or even acute; “Middle East” is a political, not a geographical, region (“correct” would be “Western Asia”)…

Of course there are truly derogatory phrases that, if part of historic names, should be abolished and maybe there is a case to be made about MPXV – but we must be cautious that medical communication or memorization of agents and diseases by students and medical professionals are not artificially complicated. My own rule is: if a term gets longer then it’s worse; if it contains more words compared to the previous term, then it’s much worse. Maybe the explicit explanation of etymologies and also of downstream consequences of name changes would calm down some of the discussions that inevitably seem to ensue with any new discovery.




All that said, the fact that currently monkeypox virus is a member of the species Monkeypox virus (ICTV) and causes monkeypox in humans (WHO) but causes a different disease that is also called monkeypox in apes (OIE) is … subideal.

Nihal writes:

Dear Vincent, Kathy, Dickson, Brianne and Rich

Thank you so much for discussing our study in TWiV. This was such an honor for us.

Indeed, as you correctly mentioned, we are now actively looking to find evidence for salivary transmission of enteric viruses in humans. There are some epidemiological reports supporting this route of transmission and the CDC also reported a precipitous drop in Norovirus infections across the US during the peak of mask compliance. But of course, this could be also due to less overall physical contact among people in general during those times.

In any case, we are very excited to see where this takes us. Again, thank you for highlighting this study.

Have a wonderful summer

Warm wishes


Nihal Altan-Bonnet PhD
Senior Investigator
Chief, Laboratory of Host Pathogen Dynamics 
Cell and Developmental Biology Center 
National Heart Lung and Blood Institute 
National Institutes of Health 

Mark writes:

Dear Vincent,

I write to correct a factual error uttered by Dickson in his exuberance for Albert Einstein’s work on Brownian Motion. DDD said that Einstein won a Nobel Prize in 1922 for applying General Relativity to Brownian Motion. Here are the errors:

A) Einstein won the Nobel Prize in 1921. It’s only 1 year, but details matter.

B) His award was for work done on the photoelectric effect.

Einstein revolutionized early 20th century physics in his so-called “Annus Mirabilis” in which he published four seminal papers on: 1) Brownian Motion, 2) the Photoelectric Effect, 3) Special Relativity, and 4) equivalence of mass and energy, the famous E=MC^2 formula.

I’m not writing to dump on Dickson, but to commend his enthusiasm.

Error aside, in TWiV 915, he did allude to the Brown of Brownian Motion and his relation to trichinella.  Dickson narrated the discovery of that parasite in TWiP episodes 3 and 4, and how a young researcher had to beg the august Brown to use his microscope. I remember listening to those shows during a long drive. A perfect blend of education, drama, and history.

Here is another listener pick …. this short ~1 minute video produced by Japan’s NHK network on how to wash hands safely: 

Be safe.


P.S. Einstein’s “Annus Mirabilis” may sound similar to “Annus Horribilis”, i.e. 1992 and all its bad news for Queen Elizabeth II, culminating in fire at Windsor Castle. In other circles its known as the Queen’s “anus horribilis.”

Alan writes:

Dear Vincent:

You are doing great work at You are contributing to the scientific discussion. However, I challenge you as a scientist to re-evaluate your resistance to current FDA recommendations concerning a 4th COVID vaccination. Rather than be adamant about refusing a 4th shot, please consider joining a placebo controlled trial to determine if the 4th shot is needed. Please read:

and consider joining substudy E.

Only by experimentation can we learn if you are correct or mistaken in your stance on 4th shots. 

Keep up the good work. 


Alan Caroe, M.D