There is still time to stop the spread of monkeypox in Canada: chief public health officer

The number of confirmed monkeypox cases in Canada has reached 745 and public health officials say it is now time for a domestic and international response to bring the disease under control.

“While the global monkeypox outbreak is a major concern, there is optimism that by concentrating our efforts in Canada and globally, we can seize this opportunity to contain the spread,” said Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief of public health, Wednesday.

So far, Tam said, the disease has been confined almost exclusively to males — 99 percent of those infected are male and over the age of 36. Most of the cases reported in Canada have been among men who have sex with men.

There are now 346 cases in Quebec, 326 in Ontario, 58 in BC, 12 in Alberta, two in Saskatchewan and one in Yukon. More than 16,000 cases have been reported worldwide; Tam said she thinks that figure is lower than the actual number of cases.

The number of cases worldwide has risen 48 percent in the past week, and the disease has now spread to 75 countries, PHAC said.

Last week, the head of the World Health Organization said the monkeypox outbreak is an “extraordinary” situation that qualifies as a global emergency.

“We have an outbreak that has spread rapidly around the world due to new modes of transmission that we understand too little and meet the criteria of international health regulations,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

A global emergency is the WHO’s highest alert level, but the designation does not necessarily mean a disease is particularly communicable or fatal.

Using Grindr to fight monkey pox

Tam said Canada’s outbreak can be stopped by applying specific strategies that target the right groups of people.

Those strategies, she said, could include an awareness campaign targeting gay and bisexual men through community organizations, educational institutions and dating apps like Grindr.

A colorized transmission electron micrograph of monkeypox particles (blue-green) found in an infected cell (brown) captured at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Integrated Research Facility in Fort Detrick, Maryland. (National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases)

“We must remain vigilant,” she said. “Primary care professionals, if they think they see patients with rashes or other potential risk factors, get them tested.

“That’s the most important thing – stay vigilant on the front lines.”

Tam said little is known about how monkeypox is spread and how people can protect themselves.

We have enough vaccines for now, says Tam

In Africa, where the disease has been around for decades, monkeypox spreads primarily to humans from infected wildlife such as rodents in limited outbreaks that have typically not crossed borders. In Europe, North America and elsewhere, monkey pox is now spreading among people who have no ties to wildlife and who have not recently traveled to Africa.

Tam said health officials still don’t know if asymptomatic carriers of the disease can spread it to others.

“Learning from the HIV pandemic is very important, so our best weapon against the spread of this virus is to work with communities affected from the start to find solutions,” she said.

PHAC officials said 70,000 doses of the Imvamune vaccine have been sent to the provinces and about 27,000 have been administered.

Tam said Canada has enough vaccine for now. She urged vulnerable groups, such as men who have sex with men, to get vaccinated to help stop the spread.

The Public Health Agency of Canada also asks men who have sex with men to practice safe sex and limit the number of partners they have sex with, especially if those partners are casual acquaintances.

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