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Health officials say ‘strong possibility’ of 17 monkeypox cases in Montreal area

‘This is not something we can acquire by going to the grocery store’
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. Public health authorities will provide an update today on the suspected presence of monkeypox cases in Montreal. (Cynthia S. Goldsmith, Russell Regner/CDC via AP)

Public health authorities said Thursday they are investigating 17 suspected cases of monkeypox in the Montreal area.

The cases have not yet been confirmed by a laboratory, but Dr. Mylène Drouin told reporters that based on recent outbreaks in Europe and a case reported in the United States, there is a “strong possibility” the infections in the city involve the virus linked to monkeypox.

Drouin said the first cases in Montreal were reported on May 12 from clinics specializing in sexually transmitted diseases, adding that the cases are tied mostly to men who have had sexual relations with other men. Most cases identified in the city are not severe, and their symptoms involve a period of fever and sweating followed by the appearance of a painful rash in the genital area, she said.

Drouin said the disease is transmitted by prolonged close contact and by droplets, adding that there is no risk from activities such as taking public transit, eating at a restaurant or shopping.

“This is not something we can acquire by going to the grocery store,” Drouin said.

Most suspected cases in the city involve people who started to show symptoms around April 29, Drouin said. Although the infections were likely acquired through sexual activity, she added, monkeypox is not considered a sexually transmitted disease, “and we don’t want to stigmatize one particular community.”

She said there are likely other cases in the city that haven’t been identified, and she called on people who are showing symptoms of the disease to contact a doctor.

Monkeypox is typically limited to Africa, and rare cases in the United States and elsewhere are usually linked to travel there. A small number of confirmed or suspected cases have been reported this month in the United Kingdom, Portugal and Spain.

On Wednesday, health officials in Massachusetts reported a monkeypox case in a man who had recently travelled to Canada. The man was in Montreal at the end of April to meet friends and returned in early May.

Monkeypox typically begins with a flu-like illness and swelling of the lymph nodes, followed by a rash on the face and body. In Africa, people have been infected through bites from rodents or small animals, and it does not usually spread easily among people.

Monkeypox comes from the same family of viruses as smallpox. Most people recover from monkeypox within weeks, but the disease is fatal for up to 1 in 10 people, according to the World Health Organization.

— Sidhartha Banerjee, The Canadian Press, with files from The Associated Press