Some counties say they are monitoring monkey pox as officials in Montreal investigate 17 suspected cases in the region.
But health authorities are assuring a pandemic-ravaged population that the risk of the virus is low.
The disease is mostly confined to Africa, but a number of European countries have reported minor outbreaks in recent days and one case has been identified in the US
WHAT IS MONKEYPOX?
Monkeypox is a rare disease caused by a viral relative of smallpox. The name of the disease stems from its discovery in 1958 by scientists who observed two outbreaks of a “smallpox-like” disease in monkeys.
The disease is zoonotic, meaning it is caused by germs that spread between animals and humans. The first known human infection was documented in 1970 in a nine-year-old boy in a remote part of Congo.
Most human cases were in Central and West Africa, where the disease is endemic. Isolated infections are occasionally reported outside of Africa, including in the US and Great Britain. The cases are usually associated with travel to Africa or contact with animals from areas where the disease is more common.
WHY DO THE AUTHORITIES CHECK IT?
It is the first time that monkeypox appears to be spreading among people who have not traveled to Africa.
In Europe, infections have been reported in Great Britain, Italy, Portugal, Spain and Sweden. On Wednesday, US officials reported a case of monkey pox in a man who had recently traveled to Canada.
There is a “high probability” that the 17 infections in the Montreal area are linked to the virus, but the cases have yet to be confirmed by a lab, local public health official Dr. Mylène Drouin to reporters on Thursday.
Drouin said the first cases in Montreal were reported on May 12 by clinics specializing in sexually transmitted diseases, adding that the cases are mainly related to men who have had sexual relations with other men.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS?
Most patients only experience fever, body aches, chills and fatigue. People with more serious illness may develop skin rashes and lesions on the face and hands that can spread to other parts of the body.
The incubation period is from about five days to three weeks.
Most people recover in about two to four weeks without going to hospital. The disease can be fatal for up to one in 10 people and is thought to be more serious in children.
HOW DOES IT DISTRIBUTE?
Drouin said the disease is transmitted through prolonged close contact and droplets, adding that there is no risk from activities such as taking public transport, eating at a restaurant or shopping.
While most suspected cases were likely acquired through sexual activity, monkeypox is not considered a sexually transmitted disease, she said, adding that “we don’t want to stigmatize one particular community.”
HOW CAN MONKEYPOX BE PREVENTED OR TREATED?
People exposed to the virus often receive one of several smallpox vaccines, which have been shown to be effective against monkey pox. Antiviral drugs are also being developed.
The smallpox vaccine protects against monkeypox with an efficacy of more than 85 percent, the Public Health Agency of Canada wrote in a 2010 paper on pathogen safety. However, the agency noted that the end of smallpox vaccination may have increased people’s susceptibility to severe monkeypox.
Canada stopped its vaccination programs against smallpox in the 1970s.
dr. Geneviève Bergeron, medical officer for health and infectious diseases in Montreal, said some people who received the smallpox vaccine as children are more likely to fight the monkeypox. Drouin said vaccine decisions would be made at the federal and state levels.
WHAT IS THE RISK IN CANADA?
Drouin said there are likely other cases in Montreal that have not been identified, and she urged people showing symptoms of the disease to contact a doctor. Still, she urged people to remain calm.
“We don’t need to panic,” she said on Thursday. “At the moment we speak, it is not something that goes to the community that is sustained.”
Health officials in Ontario, Manitoba and Alberta said no cases of monkeypox had been identified in either province as of noon Thursday, but they are working with federal counterparts to monitor the situation.
“We want to reassure Ontarians that the risk of monkey pox is low,” Department of Health spokesman Bill Campbell said in an email.
— with files from Sidhartha Banerjee in Montreal and Associated Press
This report from The Canadian Press was first published on May 19, 2022.