Canada has confirmed its first two cases of monkeypox as concern grows over the spread of the infectious virus in multiple countries.
In a statement late on Thursday, the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) said two individuals in Quebec had tested positive for the rare disease.
Twenty other suspected cases are also being investigated in the province, Quebec’s Ministry of Health and Social Services (MSSS) said.
Monkeypox is a zoonotic infectious disease that results in occasional human infections usually associated with exposure to infected animals or contaminated materials, according to PHAC.
“Limited cases have been identified in other regions in the past, including the United Kingdom, United States, Israel and Singapore, but never before in Canada,” the agency said.
On Wednesday, the U.S. confirmed its first case of monkeypox this year in a man who recently travelled to Canada.
PHAC confirmed on Thursday that man had travelled to Montreal, and “may have been infected before or during his visit” there.
While human-to-human spread of monkeypox is uncommon, close contact with an infected individual through bodily fluids, lesions on skin like blisters and/or respiratory droplets can transmit the virus, PHAC said.
Sharing clothing, bedding or common items that have been contaminated with the infected person’s fluids or sores can also spread the virus.
Health officials in European countries where monkeypox cases have been found this month said the majority of the cases were men who have had sex with other men.
Quebec public health said the 20 suspected cases had “genital ulcer lesions.”
Symptoms of monkeypox include fever, headache, fatigue and muscle aches, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Most cases are mild, although there are obviously some more severe cases that have been identified, but in general, this will be more of a milder illness,” said Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious disease specialist at Toronto General Hospital.
PHAC said the risks of spread can be lowered by physical distancing, frequent hand-washing and masking.
Monkeypox is rarely found outside of Africa, where the disease is most prevalent. Close to one in 10 people die after contracting the virus in the continent.
It’s the first time monkeypox appears to be spreading among people who didn’t travel to Africa. In Europe, infections have been reported in Britain, Italy, Portugal, Spain and Sweden.
— with files from Aaron D’Andrea