The City of Montreal has been labelled the monkeypox epicentre of North America, with more confirmed cases inside city limits than the rest of Canada and the United States combined.
Many Maritimers have watched the case count numbers climb with concern — not only because of the proximity but because the city serves as a popular weekend getaway for residents on the East Coast.
As of Wednesday, there were no confirmed cases of monkeypox in any of the Maritime provinces, with officials in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland & Labrador and P.E.I. saying they’re keeping an eye on the situation to the west.
Health officials in Quebec said Tuesday that only three cases in the province have required hospitalization, with all three people since discharged.
Montreal’s public health director, Dr. Mylène Drouin, added most of the city’s 126 cases were in men who have sex with men.
“Currently we have an outbreak that is really focused on a specific community,” she said.
Globally, men who have sex with men have disproportionately been implicated in the monkeypox outbreak.
In a presentation made to the World Health Organization earlier this month, Dr. Gianfranco Spiteri of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control detailed how close skin-to-skin contact during sexual relations had served as the main mode of transmission overseas.
The same is suspected in Canada.
St. John’s-based epidemiologist Susanne Gulliver, however, urges caution around the messaging here — she said anyone can catch monkeypox, it just so happens to be spreading in the LGBTQ2 community.
“It’s very unfortunate that it’s being tied to men who have sex with men. It’s a very, very slippery, scary slope,” she said.
“The way it’s being talked about, sometimes I just start screaming about the missteps we made with AIDS in the ’80s,” said Gulliver.
You can contract monkeypox during sex, she said, but with that kind of close contact you could also catch COVID-19 or any other communicable disease the other person happens to have.
Gulliver said not only is the inherent stigma here worrisome, but it can also lull many people into having a false sense of security when potentially exposed.
“People are thinking, ‘So long as I stay off Tinder, I’ll be fine,’” she said.
“But if that was the case, then we wouldn’t be vaccinating all of their contacts, their families.”
A variation of the smallpox vaccine is proving effective against monkeypox, as both stem from the orthopox family of viruses.
In Montreal, the rollout of doses has been expanded to sex workers and men who are visiting Montreal and plan to have sex with other men during their visit.
“It is an additional measure we are putting in place to control the outbreak,” Drouin said.
It’s a little harder for Atlantic Canadians to get a shot, with at least one province in the region ruling out doling out doses to potentially vulnerable travellers headed to Montreal.
“New Brunswick is not providing the smallpox vaccine at this time as a pre-exposure measure for monkeypox,” wrote New Brunswick Department of Health spokesperson Michelle Guenard in a statement sent to Global News.
“We are focusing on risk awareness and preventative health measures for New Brunswick residents while collaborating with other provinces towards a vaccine strategy.”
Nova Scotia’s Health Minister told Global News they’d check into the information in that province, but didn’t get back by deadline.
Your best bet if you’re worried?
“The same thing we’ve been doing for two years, going on three,” Gulliver said.
New Brunswick public health detailed measures that include:
- Staying home when sick or you have skin sores
- Practicing respiratory etiquette, including covering coughs and sneezes and wearing a face mask
- Hand hygiene
- Practicing safer sex
- Avoiding close physical contact, including sexual contact, with an individual who is suspected or confirmed to have monkeypox.