Sask. Health Authority warns of 'elevated risk' of monkeypox

A health-care worker prepares a monkeypox vaccine in Montreal on Saturday, July 23, 2022. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press - image credit)
A health-care worker prepares a monkeypox vaccine in Montreal on Saturday, July 23, 2022. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press - image credit)

The Saskatchewan Health Authority and the province's chief medical health officer are warning the public about an "elevated risk" of contracting monkeypox through anonymous sexual contact.

In a Saturday morning news release, the health authority said it was issuing the alert "due to recent known cases associated with this source of transmission," and following "information reported to public health related to travel into and out of province."

According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, there are 1,059 publicly reported cases of monkeypox in the country as of Friday, including three in Saskatchewan.

Dr. Saqib Shahab, the province's chief medical health officer, said during a Saturday morning news conference that the evidence suggests exposures in Saskatchewan have occurred due to anonymous sexual contact with people coming into the province.

Matthew Howard/Radio-Canada
Matthew Howard/Radio-Canada

So far, exposure has been in the gay, bisexual and MSM, or men who have sex with men, communities, he said.

"It changes the risk because we now think there's a higher risk of ongoing transmission that we may see in Saskatchewan, especially in the particular community."

However, anyone who has close contact with someone who has symptoms is at risk, according to the World Health Organization.

In Saskatchewan, eligibility for the monkeypox vaccine in Saskatchewan has been expanded to anyone 18 years and older who is either a close contact of a person with monkeypox, or deemed at higher risk for exposure. That includes people who are transgender or self-identify as two-spirit, bisexual, gay or men who have sex with men, the Saskatchewan Health Authority says.

Saskatchewan is seeing trends similar to those in other province, but here, there have been "only travel-related cases." All three Saskatchewan cases were contracted outside the province or the country, Shahab said.

The province's "focused approach," learned from Ontario and Quebec — which have nearly 90 per cent of the cases in Canada so far — could prevent a surge of cases here, he said.

"It is advisable that while this outbreak is happening, you can limit your partners and avoid having anonymous partners who are then hard to contact in case of risk of exposure," said Shahab.

There have been 28 hospitalizations from monkeypox in Canada, after lesions developed around the mouth or genitalia, he said, but only two cases have been severe enough to require intensive care. No deaths from the illness have been reported so far.

How to get vaccinated

The Public Health Agency of Canada says it has distributed 99,000 doses of Imvamune, the monkeypox vaccine, to the provinces and territories. As of Thursday, 50,000 doses had been administered, the health agency said.

Shahab said initially "a bulk" of the does went to Ontario, Quebec, B.C. and Alberta, which have higher monkeypox numbers.

"All other provinces had very limited volumes of vaccine made available for post-exposure prophylaxis. Of 150 doses, we have used around seven so far for contacts of known cases," he said.

"We have ordered additional vaccines because now we are offering pre-exposure prophylaxis and continue to do so as per demand."

He said only one dose is needed for either pre- or post-exposure, but that guideline could change, and an infected person may need a second dose if there is a continued exposure.

The chief medical officer suggests isolating if monkeypox develop. While testing volumes are low, Shahab said the province believes it has not missed any cases.

Individuals who believe they have been exposed to monkeypox can contact Healthline 811 to determine if they are at risk or eligible for a vaccine.

Vaccines will be available at several sites throughout the province, said Shahab.

"We are hopeful that this can be contained."

What is monkeypox?

Monkeypox is a rare viral illness that causes fever, headache, swollen lymph nodes and lethargy, followed by the development of a rash over a person's body.

Monkeypox does not spread easily from person to person. It is usually spread through close skin-to-skin contact. It can be transmitted by touching bodily fluids or lesions of an infected person. It also spreads by exposure to contaminated objects such as bed linens or clothing.

The Saskatchewan Health Authority said that it and the Ministry of Health have increased surveillance for monkeypox and alerted health-care providers about signs, symptoms and treatment.

Health officials in Saskatchewan are working with the Public Health Agency of Canada and National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg to investigate any further potential cases of monkeypox in Saskatchewan, Saturday's news release said.