Health officials are warning that the monkeypox virus may be spreading in Saskatchewan, after several out-of-province cases have been linked back to the province as a place of exposure.
Chief medical health officer Dr. Saqib Shahab issued a public advisory about the virus on Saturday, asking people to be aware of the symptoms and to be diligent in seeking testing.
Three cases have been reported in Saskatchewan since early July, Shahab said, all linked to out-of-province transmission or travel.
Shahab said that in-province transmission has now been detected and reported by out-of-province travellers who were exposed in Saskatchewan, prompting the advisory.
“We’re at a stage where we think people are at high risk,” said Shahab. “We think the situation has changed in the last week (and) there is higher risk that we may see ongoing transmission in Saskatchewan.”
Monkeypox is transmitted primarily through prolonged skin-to-skin or face-to-face contact or with items like bedsheets or other surfaces contaminated by a person while infectious. A person can remain infectious for 5 to 21 days after exposure to the virus, said public health.
Shahab said that transmission without close contact or with an asymptomatic person “is rare,” but public health is still looking to raise awareness about the virus.
He said it’s extremely important for people to know about transmission risk and visible symptoms to help keep the outbreak manageable.
“All of us should be aware of monkeypox symptoms right now, but especially if you think you’ve been in close contact,” said Shahab.
Communities at risk
Transmission so far has been reported in the LGBTQ2S+ and men who have sex with men (MSM) communities, which are currently considered to be at high risk for exposure to the virus.
People are advised to be especially cautious with anonymous sexual partners, and to be conscientious about monitoring for symptoms.
“It’s very hard to let people know if you’ve had (anonymous) contact,” said Shahab. “It is advisable while this outbreak is happening to limit the number of partners and avoid having anonymous partners that are hard to contact.”
With risk of transmission rising, Shahab said that the province is making the monkeypox vaccine more available.
Vaccine eligibility expanded
Vaccine eligibility previously included only adult individuals who had already been in contact with monkeypox. Criteria will now expand to include individuals pre-exposure, who are considered to be at high risk.
“Having this more focused approach has really helped (other jurisdictions) get ahead of the outbreak,” said Shahab. “We hope that by taking this approach in Saskatchewan, we can try to avoid a quick or high surge of cases.”
High risk individuals, according to public health, must be transgender, identify as two-spirit, bisexual, gay or MSM, and have either recently had a sexually transmitted infection, had or plan to have sexual contact with one or more partners within the last six months, or plan to travel to an area that is reporting monkeypox cases within the next three months.
The vaccine is currently delivered as one dose but could become a multi-dose immunization as public health follows recommendations made by the National Advisory Committee for Immunization.
Shahab said that when the federal government deployed 99,000 doses to provinces and territories, Saskatchewan was allotted 150 doses and has used seven to date, but more is on the way.
“We have ordered additional vaccines now that we are offering pre-exposure prophylaxis (and) we will continue to do so on demand,” said Shahab.
Testing is important
People are strongly encouraged to contact HealthLine 811 with concerns about potential exposure, symptoms or vaccine questions, in order to facilitate testing.
“It is important to seek testing, exactly for the reason that we don’t want to miss cases,” said Shahab.
Testing volumes are currently low, said Shahab, but people are encouraged to seek testing if they have any concerns.
“We are monitoring the situation very closely, and we feel that so far that we haven’t missed any cases,” said Shahab. “We just want to do everything we can in that initial surge, and keep case numbers low.”
Approximately 30,000 cases have been reported globally since the outbreak began in April, with around 1,000 cases identified in Canada, primarily in Quebec and Ontario but also in Alberta, B.C. and Saskatchewan.
Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam said Friday that wastewater analysis may be utilized to track transmission rates for monkeypox, similar to COVID-19. World Health Organization declared the virus an international emergency on July 23.
Shahab that tool is not currently in use in Saskatchewan, as case numbers remain too low, but could be used if necessary.
“If there was concern we were missing transmission, wastewater would be useful,” said Shahab.
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Monkeypox may be spreading in Saskatchewan, says Dr. Saqib Shahab & Latest News Update
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