The Northwestern Health Unit says at this point, the risk of residents in the region contracting Monkeypox, a strain of smallpox that seems to be spreading internationally, is likely to be low, but the health unit is continuing to monitor the area for any suspected cases.

The World Health Organization says monkeypox is a disease transmitted from animals to humans and comes from the same family of viruses that cause smallpox. While smallpox was eradicated in 1980, monkeypox has continued to spread as an endemic in rodents and small animals in central and west Africa.

But now, around the world, there are an estimated 550 cases in 30 countries where the virus usually isn’t found like Canada, Europe, Australia, Spain and the United States, with a fatality rate ranging from 1 to 10 per cent.

“Monkeypox is a viral illness that is similar to smallpox but less severe,” explains Medical Officer of Health with the Northwestern Health Unit, Dr. Kit Young Hoon.

“There may have been some spread that could have occurred outside of endemic countries that is now being detected,” adds Young Hoon. “At this point, there are no cases that we are aware of in our catchment area. The risk is likely low at this point, but it’s being monitored very closely by public health and our health sector.”

On June 3, Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer of Canada, Dr. Theresa Tam, announced that Canada now has 77 confirmed cases of Monkeypox, with 71 in Quebec, five in Ontario and one in Alberta. The first two cases of monkeypox in Canada were confirmed on May 19 in Quebec.

The Public Health Agency of Canada says they are continuing to monitor case numbers to see if there are any increased health risks to Canadians.

Detection of the virus can be confirmed by a PCR test, the same method used to confirm COVID-19. Although, on May 30, WHO said the new threat was ‘unlikely’ to become any form of a global pandemic similar to that of the ongoing pandemic caused by COVID-19.

Young Hoon says symptoms of monkeypox typically include a fever, a sore throat or a cough, swollen lymph nodes, headache, aching limbs and fatigue, as well as a rash with blisters that resemble those caused by smallpox. WHO says the time from infection to the onset of symptoms can range from five to 21 days.

WHO notes there are two distinct monkeypox strains, with the Congo Basin strain known to spread more easily and cause more severe symptoms compared to the West African strain of the virus. Both strains of the virus are typically resolved within two to four weeks.

Infection Prevention and Control Canada says person-to-person transmission of the virus has typically been quite limited, but it can happen through direct contact, bodily fluids and sexual activity.

“It is a viral illness that is spread by close, direct contact for the most part,” explains Young Hoon. “It can be spread through bodily fluids. Very close contact including intimate and sexual contact. It can also be spread through contaminated materials like clothing and bed sheets.”

IPCC says the vast majority of reported cases have no established travel links to an endemic area, but they have presented symptoms through primary care or sexual health services.

Young Hoon adds that if you think you may have been exposed to the virus or are presenting similar symptoms, you should seek out medical attention to get reviewed.

Young Hoon explains that provincial guidance dictates that close contacts of a probable or confirmed case of monkeypox can receive a smallpox vaccine, which can help protect you against infection. The smallpox vaccine had been administered regularly in youth until the virus was largely eradicated 40 years ago.