Monkeypox may be reclassified as a sexually transmitted infection by the World Health Organisation (WHO), The Telegraph understands.
The virus is transmitted almost exclusively through the sexual networks of gay men but can also spread through other forms of close contact.
As a result, there has been a reluctance to formally recognise the virus as an STI by public health officials, with only the WHO able to re-categorise the disease.
Now, the WHO received a formal proposal to change the classification and not "turn a blind eye" to the spread from Prof Rossi Hassad, an epidemiologist at Mercy College in New York and a statistician.
He argues there is now "compelling evidence" that the virus is spread through sex and that, although there are also other means of transmission, it would be "more precise to say monkeypox is also a sexually transmitted infection".
To formally recognise the virus as an STI would, Prof Hassad says, "facilitate effective and early diagnosis, treatment, and prevention". He added that it would also allow the development of tailored "health education messages and campaigns" while also "reducing group-specific stigma".
"Failure to [call monkeypox an STI] can significantly hurt efforts to stem this outbreak, which has the potential to soon become a challenging pandemic," his proposal reads.
WHO considering proposal
It is understood the WHO is now considering his proposal, with the technical advisory group of experts actively debating the topic.
Speaking to The Telegraph in the UK, Professor Hassad said: "There seems to be an exercise in semantics toward 'redefining' sex and sexually transmitted infection so that monkeypox can escape being classified as an STI.
"While I can understand the politics and concerns about stigmatisation, we need to be more judicious and realistic, and act with scientific integrity, for the greater good.
"There is strong evidence that sexual contact is the primary mode of transmission for the current outbreak, which clearly implies that monkeypox is also a sexually transmitted infection; we cannot turn a blind eye to this."
Data from the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) show there are now more than 3,000 cases in the UK, with 97 per cent in gay men. But despite an increase in cases in women, health officials say there is still "no robust evidence of sustained transmission outside some sexual networks of [gay men]".
Outbreak in retreat
Experts have said that the outbreak is now in retreat, with cases in decline for the first time with just 167 new cases in the last week. The UK has not reported any deaths.
Prof Hassad added: "The current, almost exclusive focus on gay men is misguided and a disservice to all, and can exponentially worsen this outbreak, by misleading the public into believing that susceptibility to infection with the monkeypox virus is limited to a particular group.
"HIV/AIDS has taught us that it is not who you are, but what you do, and sex (of all forms) is a universal experience, across populations, regardless of sexual orientation.
"In this regard, the classification of monkeypox as a sexually transmitted infection will help to reduce group-specific stigma, by placing the focus on risk behaviours, rather than on a particular group of people."
The WHO has been approached for comment.