Monkeypox is now in Canada: Should you be worried?

The rare virus has now been identified in Quebec, although the Public Health Agency of Canada has not had any cases reported.

Maija Kappler 4 minute read May 19, 2022
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The rare virus is spread by inhaling respiratory droplets from infected people, contact with bodily fluids, and touching things like bedding or clothing that have been used by an infected person. GETTY

Last July, the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Texas Department of State Health Services has confirmed that there was a case of monkeypox — a rare, but potentially serious zoonotic virus — in a man who had recently returned from Nigeria. At the time, there were no cases reported in Canada.

That changed this week with 13 potential diagnoses flagged by doctors to health officials in Montreal. The suspected cases are part of global outbreak that has also affected Britain, according to the CBC, which saw nine cases in early May, Portugal, with five cases as of yesterday and Spain, which is investigating more than 20 possible infections.

Here’s what you need to know.

Why are we talking about this?

A Texas man was diagnosed with monkeypox in July 2021, the first time the virus has made its way to North American since 2003. He had flown from Lagos, Nigeria to Dallas, and then on to Atlanta. The Canadian cases could potentially be linked to an infected Massachusetts man, reports the CBC, who travelled to Quebec. No reports have been filed with the Public Health Agency of Canada as of yet.

What are the symptoms of monkeypox?

Monkeypox infection starts with flu-like symptoms: fever, headache, muscle aches, and low energy. One distinctive symptom from the early period of infection that distinguishes monkeypox from similar illnesses like smallpox, chickenpox or measles is swelling of the lymph nodes, located on the neck, under the chin, and in the armpits and groin.

After a few days, monkeypox will cause a rash on the face, hands and feet, which turn into lesions. They often change in size before eventually falling off. According to the World Health Organization, a case of monkeypox generally lasts between two and four weeks.

Is monkeypox fatal?

In rare cases, monkeypox can be fatal, but health authorities say it’s unlikely that will happen in this recent case. The Texas man is hospitalized and stable, NBC News reported. And no one died during the 2003 outbreak in the U.S., where 47 people were infected across six states.

“This case is not a reason for alarm and we do not expect any threat to the general public,” Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said in a press release.

Why is it called monkeypox?

The virus was first detected in lab monkeys in Denmark. Its suffix comes from its connection to smallpox, a formerly deadly disease that was finally eradicated in the 1980s due to the smallpox vaccine.

The original source or sources of the monkeypox virus have not been identified, though cases have been linked to the handling of bushmeat and the trade of exotic small mammals, Andrea McCollum, who leads the poxvirus epidemiology unit at the agency’s National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases, told StatNews.

How does it spread?

Though the cases in Montreal seem seem to be largely impacting the city’s LGBT community, monkeypox has not been considered a sexually transmitted infection. However, given how it spreads — by the inhalation of respiratory droplets from infected people, contact with bodily fluids, and touching things like bedding or clothing that have been used by an infected person — the most effective way to curb the outbreak is to avoid exposure and isolate if you have been exposed.

“What’s going to be most important is people who do have the infection — who have had contact with the person who was diagnosed or had symptoms — should isolate themselves and stop spreading the disease to others,” Dr. Robert Pilarski, a family physician at Clinique Médicale La Licorne in Montreal, told the CBC.

— with files from Lisa Machado

Maija Kappler is a reporter and editor at Healthing. She can be reached at
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