With monkeypox cases at 299, Montreal urges people at risk to get vaccinated

Despite an apparent plateau, public health director Dr. Mylène Drouin said the chances of transmission remain high, with summer festivals continuing and outbreaks in cities around the world.

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Montreal’s public health director, Dr. Mylène Drouin, asked people in risk groups to get vaccinated against monkeypox, as the number of people infected with the disease reached 299 in the city.

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Drouin said Thursday that the city’s monkeypox outbreak appears to have stalled in terms of transmissions. But with summer festivals continuing, including Montreal Pride from August 1-7, and outbreaks in cities around the world, the chances of transmission remain high, he said.

“My main message today is to get vaccinated,” Drouin said at a news conference Thursday morning.

To date, 13,250 Montrealers have been vaccinated against monkeypox, which is a high number compared to other cities that have been hit hard, he said. The public health goal is to reach 25,000 vaccinated in order to contain the disease.

Monkeypox is associated with a painful rash that may be accompanied by fever, chills, swollen lymph nodes, and body aches. While not strictly considered a sexually transmitted infection, it is spread through contact with body fluids or crusts and contaminated personal items such as clothing, bedding, sex toys, or toothbrushes.

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Drouin’s message came a day after Canada’s public health director, Dr. Theresa Tam, said an urgent response is needed to address the rising number of cases in the country.

Men who have sex with men should practice safer sex and reduce the number of partners to limit the spread of monkeypox in Canada, Tam advised Wednesday.

The World Health Organization declared the virus a public health emergency of international concern last weekend. Tam said there are 745 confirmed cases of monkeypox reported in Canada and 99 percent of those affected are men, with an average age of 36. Less than one percent of national cases involve women or people under the age of 20.

Monkeypox is circulating among men who have intimate contact with other men, Tam said, and while anyone can become infected, specific public health measures are needed for gay and bisexual men.

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As of Wednesday, 346 cases were reported in Quebec, 326 in Ontario, 58 in British Columbia, 12 in Alberta, two in Saskatchewan and one in Yukon.

Montreal public health authorities have been careful to work on an information campaign targeting at-risk communities, rather than launching a broad media message, so as not to stigmatize the gay, bisexual and trans community, Drouin said. Although Montreal was the first city in Canada to identify a large outbreak, Thursday’s monkeypox news conference was the first in two months, Drouin noted.

The targeted campaign has proven successful, judging by Montreal’s relatively high vaccination rate, Drouin said.

Drouin was joined by Simon Gamache, executive director of Montreal Pride, and Alexandre Dumont Blais, director of the non-profit community organization RÉZO, which works with the city’s gay, bisexual and trans community.

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Monkeypox is a close relative of the eradicated smallpox virus, and smallpox vaccines have proven effective in combating monkeypox.

The National Advisory Committee on Immunization recommends that people with a high-risk exposure to a confirmed or probable case of monkeypox receive one dose of Imvamune smallpox vaccine. So far, the federal government has deployed more than 70,000 doses of the vaccine in provinces and territories, and about 27,000 of them have been used.

For now, Canada has a limited supply of the vaccine, but there is still enough in case provinces need more. The implementation of vaccines has been different from one province to another.

Quebec, with the most confirmed cases, has held vaccination clinics open to members of the gay and bisexual community. In Alberta, with only 12 confirmed cases, people have had a harder time getting a dose.

This story will be updated.

The Canadian press contributed to this report.

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