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Ontario urges mpox testing amid spike in cases

Ontario health officials are urging public health units to test for mpox, the viral disease formerly known as monkeypox, amid a spike of confirmed cases in the province.

According to a report released Tuesday, Ontario has seen 26 confirmed cases of mpox since mid-January.

In all of 2023 there were just 33 reported cases.

About 77 per cent of cases were identified by Toronto Public Health, while the remaining infections were identified in Ottawa, Peel and Halton.

Mpox is a viral illness that causes a rash or legions. Other symptoms include fever, chills, fatigue, swollen lymph notes, muscles aches, headache and sore throat.

Symptoms can appear between five and 21 days after exposure. It’s typically spread through direct close contact with an infected person, including intimate or sexual contact. It does not typically result in fatalities.

In 2022 the World Health Organization declared a public health emergency after hundreds of cases emerged globally.

In Ontario more than 600 infections were reported, primarily among men.

Of the 2024 cases, all but one have been identified in men, and nearly all are unvaccinated.

In a news release issued earlier this week, Toronto public health officials noted the virus has previously affected gay and bisexual men, as well as men who have sex with other men.”

There is a two-dose vaccine that helps prevent the spread of mpox and helps reduce symptoms. The doses of the vaccine, called Imvamune, should be taken over a 28-day period.

The vaccine should be available at clinics providing sexual health care.

Public Health Ontario is asking local health units to encourage the two-dose vaccination to those who are eligible.

“It is important to note that cases are not gone,” Infectious Disease Specialist Isaac Bogoch told CP24.

“There are more cases now than there were at this time last year, it is still circulating and people who are eligible for the vaccine but have not yet received it should go out and get it.”

In Ontario, eligible individuals have been limited to “two-spirit, non-binary, transgender, cisgender, intersex, or gender-queer individuals who self-identify or have sexual partners who self-identify as belonging to the gay, bisexual, pansexual and other men who have sex with men community.”

Those individuals within these communities also need to have had a confirmed sexually transmitted infection within the last year, have or are planning to have two or more sexual partners, have attended venues for sexual contact, or who have had anonymous sex.

Public Health Ontario notes that data represents confirmed cases and are subject to “carrying degrees of underreporting due to a variety of factors.”

These factors include disease awareness, changes in lab testing and medical care behaviours.

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