Saskatchewan’s Department of Health says monkeypox vaccines will be offered to high-risk close contacts of an infected person if cases are found in the province.
No cases of monkeypox have been reported in Saskatchewan and the ministry says the risk of catching the virus is low.
But if there are cases, it says vaccines could be offered to contacts based on a public health assessment.
Monkeypox belongs to the same family of viruses as smallpox, and smallpox vaccines have been shown to be effective in combating the related virus.
Saskatchewan’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Saqib Shahab, has designated monkeypox as an emerging communicable disease. The province’s health lab has also been set up to screen for the virus.
“We are closely monitoring the situation in Saskatchewan,” Shahab said in an interview. “We have put ourselves in a position to monitor closely and react as needed.”
He is working with Indigenous Services Canada, the Public Health Agency of Canada and the health authority to track possible cases.
As of Friday, Canada had reported 168 confirmed cases of monkeypox – 141 in Quebec, 21 in Ontario, four in Alberta and two in British Columbia.
Shahab said if people developed lesions within three weeks of traveling to another province or country, they could have been exposed to the virus.
The disease is spread through prolonged face-to-face contact, contact with an infected person’s bodily fluids, or exposure to contaminated objects such as bed sheets.
“Right now the clusters are more in the men who have sex with men community, but that doesn’t mean it will persist in that population,” Shahab said.
He said the province conducted initial outreach through social media to educate people about the disease. This includes reaching out to young people to tell them to be aware of signs and symptoms.
Shahab said he told his own children about it.
“You have to be aware,” he said. “If you have anything that looks weird, have a rash, don’t go to school or work and call (the health line).”
The World Health Organization has stated that monkeypox is a viral zoonosis that occurs mainly in tropical rainforest areas of Central and West Africa and is sometimes exported to other regions.
In 2003, the first outbreak of monkeypox outside of Africa occurred in the United States and was linked to contact with infected prairie dogs, resulting in more than 70 cases, the organization said.
However, he said the cluster of monkeypox cases reported in May this year in several non-endemic countries is not typical.
Shahab said it was a reminder that health care must be fair in the face of viruses, as the COVID-19 pandemic has shown previously.
“We have to remember that countries in West Africa, over the last two years, were saying something unusual was happening, we’re seeing a bit more community transmission. But again, only in this when it comes to North America and Europe, suddenly there’s more attention,” Shahab said.
“When we talk about equity in public health, it has to be global.”
This report from The Canadian Press was first published on June 17, 2022.