FILE - This 2003 electron microscope image made available by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows mature, oval-shaped monkeypox virions, left, and spherical immature virions, right, obtained from a sample of human skin associated with the 2003 prairie dog outbreak. Israeli authorities said late Saturday, May 21, 2022, they have detected the country's first case of monkeypox in a man who returned from abroad and were looking into other suspected cases. (Cynthia S. Goldsmith, Russell Regner/CDC via AP)

Saskatchewan warns of elevated monkeypox risk through ‘anonymous sexual contact’

REGINA — Saskatchewan’s health-care delivery agency is warning there’s an elevated risk of acquiring monkeypox through anonymous sexual contact, and it’s expanding vaccine eligibility to adults 18 years and older who are close contacts or deemed higher risk for exposure.

The chief medical officer of health told reporters during a news conference Saturday that monkeypox cases in the province remain low — so far only three have been confirmed.

But Dr. Saqib Shahab says if people meet the risk criteria and have concerns, they should call the province’s 811 HealthLine for advice on testing, as well as on obtaining a pre-exposure vaccination.

The Saskatchewan Health Authority issued a news release saying the warning about catching monkeypox through anonymous sexual contact is due to recent known cases.

It adds information reported to public health, related to travel into and out of province, has prompted the alert.

Shahab says Saskatchewan wants to do everything it can to prevent a surge in cases.

“I think with travel interactions throughout Canada in the summer, I think this risk was bound to change for us in Saskatchewan and that’s why we are now really opening up the vaccine, not just for post-exposure prophylaxis, but for pre-exposure as well, for the very targeted group that we’ve identified,” Shahab said at the news conference.

“Obviously we don’t want over-testing happening, but in the right context, I think it’s important to seek testing, exactly for the reason that we don’t want to miss cases.”

So far, he said there have been no cases in Saskatchewan where a history of exposure hasn’t been identified. Additional vaccine doses have been ordered now that the province has expanded eligibility, he noted.

Monkeypox, which comes from the same family of viruses that cause smallpox, has been endemic in parts of central and west Africa for decades and was not known to trigger large outbreaks beyond the continent until May.

It causes fever, headache, swollen lymph nodes and lethargy, followed by the development of a rash over a person’s body. It spreads through close, personal, often skin-to-skin contact, touching bodily fluids or lesions of a person who is sick with the disease or exposure to contaminated objects such as bed linens or clothing.

The Public Health Agency of Canada says the majority of domestic cases are among men who reported intimate sexual contact with other men. Having multiple sexual partners may increase one’s overall risk, but the agency says the risk of exposure is not exclusive to any group or setting.

The number of Canadian monkeypox cases surpassed 1,000 just this week, though there are early signs the virus may now be spreading at a slower rate.

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