Three more cases of monkeypox have been confirmed in Quebec, the Public Health Agency of Canada said late Friday, up from two the day before.
The agency is still investigating about two dozen other suspected cases of the rare infectious disease in Quebec, which has not been detected before in Canada. A case in the U.S. has also been linked to the province.
Chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam said earlier Friday the federal public health agency does not know how widespread the disease has become in the country, but stressed that the risk to the public is low.
The B.C. Centre for Disease Control said Friday that it is not investigating any suspected cases or possible contacts of monkeypox in the province after having ruled out two potential contacts.
Monkeypox is a rare disease that comes from the same family of viruses as variola. That virus causes smallpox, which the World Health Organization declared eradicated around the globe in 1980. It is also linked to the vaccinia virus used in the smallpox vaccine.
The virus is spread through prolonged close contact, including direct contact with an infected person’s respiratory droplets, bodily fluids or sores, and is not very contagious in a typical social setting.
Monkeypox is typically milder than smallpox and can cause fever, headache, muscle aches, exhaustion, swollen lymph nodes and lesions all over the body.
There is global evidence that smallpox vaccines can offer protection against monkeypox, but Canada stopped routinely immunizing people against smallpox in 1972.
Tam’s deputy, Dr. Howard Njoo, said this means everyone is susceptible to monkeypox.
Canada does keep a small stockpile of smallpox vaccine in case of a biological incident, like a laboratory exposure.
Tam said Canada is considering a similar strategy to the United Kingdom, which has begun offering the vaccine after a small cluster of cases emerged there this month.
“Quebec had some interest in terms of the contacts so that is under discussion right now, but of course we need to know some of the epidemiology as quickly as possible,” Tam said.
She would not say how many doses of the smallpox vaccine Canada has available, citing security reasons.
— with files from the Canadian Press