The number of confirmed monkeypox cases in Canada has hit 745 and public health officials say that now is the time for a domestic and international response to get a handle on the disease.
“While the global monkeypox outbreak is of serious concern, there is optimism that by focusing efforts in Canada and worldwide, we can seize this window of opportunity to contain the spread,” Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, said Wednesday.
So far, Tam said, the disease has been limited almost exclusively to men — 99 per cent of infected individuals are male and over the age of 36. Most of the cases reported in Canada were among men who have sex with men.
There are now 346 cases in Quebec, 326 in Ontario, 58 in B.C., 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 true number of cases.
The number of cases globally has increased 48 per cent over the previous week and the disease has now spread to 75 countries, PHAC said.
Last week, the chief 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 around the world rapidly through new modes of transmission about which we understand too little, and which meets the criteria in the international health regulations,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.
A global emergency is WHO’s highest level of alert, but the designation does not necessarily mean a disease is particularly transmissible or lethal.
Using Grindr to fight monkeypox
Tam said the outbreak Canada is experiencing can be stopped by employing specific strategies that target the right groups of people.
Those strategies, she said, could include a public awareness campaign that focuses on gay and bisexual men through community organizations, educational settings and dating apps like Grindr.
“We need to remain vigilant,” she said. “Front line-line health care professionals, if they think they are seeing patients with rashes or others potential risk factors, then get them tested.
“That’s the most important thing — remaining vigilant on the front line.”
Tam said that 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 existed for decades, monkeypox mainly spreads to people from infected wild animals like rodents in limited outbreaks that typically have not crossed borders. In Europe, North America and elsewhere, monkeypox is now spreading among people who have no links to wild animals and haven’t travelled to Africa recently.
Tam said health officials still don’t know whether asymptomatic carriers of the disease can spread it to others.
“Learning from the HIV pandemic is very important, which is why engaging with communities who were impacted right at the start to find solutions will be our best weapon against the spread of this virus,” she said.
PHAC officials said that 70,000 doses of the Imvamune vaccine have been sent to the provinces and about 27,000 have been administered.
Tam said that Canada has a sufficient supply of the vaccine for now. She urged vulnerable groups, such as men who have sex with men, to get vaccinated to curb the spread.
The Public Health Agency of Canada is also asking men who have sex with men to practice safe sex and to limit the number of partners they have sex with, especially if those partners are casual acquaintances.
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