Editor’s note: The BC Centre for Disease Control said Friday afternoon it no longer suspects monkeypox after patient interviews.
Canadian health authorities are investigating possible monkeypox cases in British Columbia.
Nationwide, Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam said a “couple dozen” cases are currently under investigation, a “couple” of which are in BC. Patient samples are being processed at the National Microbiology Lab and confirmation could come in hours or days.
“Not many of these individuals are connected to travel to Africa where the disease is normally seen. So this is unusual,” Tam said. “It’s unusual for the world to see this many cases reported in different countries outside of Africa.”
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So far two cases of monkeypox have been confirmed in Canada, both in Quebec. Although Canada hasn’t confirmed the genetic lineage of its monkeypox cases yet, other countries experiencing outbreaks have confirmed it’s the West African strain, which has a fatality rate between 1% and 3% — much less than the 10% mortality associated with the Central African strain.
“Local authorities are still doing their contact tracing. So we don’t really know the extent to which the spread has occurred in Canada. That’s under active investigation,” Tam said.
Monkeypox is similar to smallpox, and vaccination against smallpox protects against monkeypox. However, smallpox was essentially eradicated by the 1980s and Canada stopped routine immunization against it in 1972.
Thus, few young people are immunized against smallpox and older adults who were vaccinated may have weakened immunity with the decades that have passed.
“Generally, the entire population is susceptible to monkeypox,” Deputy Chief Public Health officer Dr. Howard Njoo said.
Tam would not say how much smallpox vaccine Canada has on hand, citing security concerns.
Although it’s too early to predict the impact of the international cluster of cases, Tam encouraged anyone who experiencing an ulcerative rash or blisters to seek medical care.
“We need to learn more about it. Has it evolved? Has it changed?” Tam said.
What is monkeypox?
Monkeypox is a viral illness that typically beings with flu-like symptoms, lymph node swelling, and progresses to a rash on the face and body. Lesions can also appear on mucous membranes, including the mouth, tongue, and genitals. According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, most infections last two to four weeks.
The virus has made headlines recently because there’s a cluster of infections in Europe, with more than a dozen suspected cases reported in Portugal, Spain, and the UK.