Sask. offering monkeypox vaccines for close, high-risk contacts

Saskatchewan’s Ministry of Health says vaccines against monkeypox will be offered to close, high-risk contacts of an infected person if cases are found in the province.

There are no reported instances of monkeypox in Saskatchewan and the ministry says the risk of catching the virus is low.

But if there are cases, it says vaccines could be offered to contacts based on a public health assessment.

Monkeypox belongs to the same virus family as smallpox and smallpox vaccines have proven effective in combating the related virus.

Saskatchewan’s chief medical health officer, Dr. Saqib Shahab, has designated monkeypox an emerging communicable disease. The province’s health lab has also been set up to screen for the virus.

“We’re monitoring the situation closely in Saskatchewan,” Shahab said in an interview. “We have set ourselves up in a position to watch closely and respond as required.”

He is working with Indigenous Services Canada, the Public Health Agency of Canada and the health authority to track possible cases.

As of Friday, Canada had reported 168 confirmed cases of monkeypox — 141 in Quebec, 21 in Ontario, four in Alberta and two in British Columbia.

Shahab said if people develop lesions within three weeks of traveling to another province or country, they could have been exposed to the virus.

The disease is spread through prolonged face-to-face contact, touching bodily fluids of an infected person or from exposure to contaminated objects like bed sheets.

“Right now the clusters are more in the men who have sex with the men community, but that doesn’t mean it will persist in that population,” Shahab said.

He said the province has done initial outreach through social networks to educate people on the disease. That includes reaching out to young people to tell them to be aware of signs and symptoms.

Shahab said he has spoken to his own children about it.

“You have to be aware,” he said. “If you have anything that looks funny, have a rash, don’t go to school or work and call (the health line).”

The World Health Organization said monkeypox is a viral zoonotic disease that occurs primarily in tropical rainforest areas of Central and West Africa and is occasionally exported to other regions.

In 2003, the first monkeypox outbreak outside Africa was in the United States and was linked to contact with infected pet prairie dogs, leading to over 70 cases, the organization said.

However, it said the cluster of monkeypox cases reported in May of this year in several non-endemic countries is not typical.

Shahab said this is a reminder that health care needs to be equitable when dealing with viruses, as previously shown with the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We have to remember, West African countries, the last two years, were saying something unusual is happening, we’re seeing a bit more community transmission. But then again, only when it comes to North America and Europe, there’s suddenly more attention ,” Shahab said.

“When we’re talking about equity in public health, it has to be global.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 17, 2022.

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