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Monkeypox stigma can spread ‘like a virus,’ LGBTQ advocates say – Global News

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Advocates warn that stigma could pose a public health threat as a cluster of monkeypox cases stokes concern in the queer community.

Health authorities are investigating more than two dozen confirmed monkeypox cases in Canada as part of an unprecedented outbreak of the rare disease that seldom spreads outside Africa.

Twenty-five infections have been confirmed in Quebec, in addition to one in Ontario, the Public Health Agency of Canada said Thursday, predicting the tally will rise in coming days.

Read more:

Montreal sauna suspected origin of Canada’s monkeypox outbreak: doctors

While everyone is susceptible to the virus, clusters of cases have been reported among men who have sex with men, officials say.

For some LGBTQ advocates, this raises the spectre of sexual stigmatization that saw gay and bisexual men scapegoated for the rise of the HIV-AIDS epidemic.

Others say the early detection of the monkeypox cases by sexual health clinics shows how the queer community has mobilized to dismantle shame and promote safe practices.


Click to play video: 'Quebec confirms 25 cases of monkeypox, plans to administer vaccine'



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Quebec confirms 25 cases of monkeypox, plans to administer vaccine


Quebec confirms 25 cases of monkeypox, plans to administer vaccine

Canada’s deputy chief public health officer said he’s mindful of the potential for stigma and discrimination, reiterating that the virus’s spread isn’t limited to any specific group or sexual orientation.

But as early signs suggest that the virus is circulating in certain communities, authorities are working to raise awareness among those at elevated risk of exposure, Dr. Howard Njoo told a news conference Thursday.

The disease can be contracted through close contact with a sick person, including but not limited to sexual activity, said Njoo. Scientists are still working to determine what’s driving cross-border transmission of the virus.

Read more:

Physical distancing recommended amid monkeypox spread in Canada, Njoo says

Aaron Purdie, executive director of the Health Initiative for Men in B.C., said he worries that the spread of fear and stigma could present a greater threat than the disease itself.

“Stigma spreads like a virus,” Purdie said. “Yes, it’s treatable. Yes, it’s containable. But it spreads nonetheless.”

Stigma can be a major hurdle to effective disease prevention and treatment, particularly for gay men who have suffered systemic discrimination by the health-care system, said Purdie.

Dane Griffiths, director of the Gay Men’s Sexual Health Alliance of Ontario, said silence tends to perpetuate stigma, so one of the best strategies to combat it is to provide timely and accurate information without “shame or blame.”

The identification of monkeypox cases in men who have sex with men speaks to the success of community-led efforts to improve access to sexual health testing and care, said Griffiths.

“There are gay and bisexual men who have been showing up around the world at clinics and doctor’s offices and are being seen and therefore counted,” said Griffiths. “That’s a good thing, and it’s actually to be encouraged within our community.”

© 2022 The Canadian Press

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COVID-19 boosters recommended for the fall, Canada's vaccine advisory body says – CBC News

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People at high risk of severe disease from COVID-19 infection should be offered a booster shot this fall, regardless of how many boosters they’ve previously received, the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) said on Wednesday. 

That group includes everyone age 65 and older, NACI’s updated guidance said

Everyone else — age 12 to 64 — “may be offered” the additional doses in the fall, NACI said. 

NACI said it will provide recommendations on the type of booster to be given when evidence about multivalent vaccines — which prime the body’s defences against multiple variants, including Omicron and its subvariants — becomes available.

“Manufacturers are working on new COVID-19 vaccines, including multivalent vaccines and vaccines specifically targeting VOCs [variants of concern], although their exact characteristics and timing of availability in Canada are not yet known,” NACI said. 

World Health Organization Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a statement on Wednesday that Omicron subvariants BA.4 and BA.5 have caused COVID-19 case numbers to rise in 110 countries, “causing overall global cases to increase by 20 per cent.”

Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, has also said those Omicron subvariants appear to be on the rise in this country. 

On Tuesday, advisers to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommended that the next wave in COVID-19 booster shots should include a component that targets Omicron to combat the more recently circulating subvariants.

NACI recommended that booster shots happen in the fall because, as with other respiratory viruses, “incidence of COVID-19 may increase in the later fall and winter seasons,” and new variants of concern could emerge. 

In addition to those 65 years and older,  NACI strongly recommends a fall booster for:

  • Long-term care residents.
  • People with underlying medical conditions, including cardiac disease, diabetes, cancer and kidney disease.
  • People who are immunocompromised. 
  • People who are pregnant.
  • Adults who are disproportionately affected by COVID-19 (including racialized communities).
  • Adults who are marginalized (including people with disabilities).
  • Adults from First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities. 
  • Residents of congregate living settings, including group homes, shelters, correctional facilities and quarters for migrant workers.

Health officials emphasize that three doses of the current approved vaccines continue to provide good protection against severe COVID-19 illness, hospitalization and death. 

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Quebec COVID-19 hospitalizations rising as new variants gaining ground

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MONTREAL — Quebec is seeing an increase in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations driven by new Omicron subvariants that account for about 75 per cent of infections, the province’s public health director said Wednesday.

Dr. Luc Boileau said the subvariants, such as BA2.12.1, BA.5 and BA.4, appear to be more transmissible than previous strains but not necessarily more severe. The rise in cases was “expected,” though it came earlier than authorities had thought, he said, adding that the number of new infections should continue to rise in the coming days or weeks before declining.

Boileau said the province doesn’t plan on reimposing any broad-level public health restrictions, but he recommended that people who are over 65 or medically vulnerable take precautions such as wearing a mask. He was firm in his advice against a new provincewide masking order, insisting that such a measure was not “realistic” or necessary at this point.

“We’re not at all on a path to reimpose population-level measures such as mask-wearing, or other measures that needed to be taken in the last two years,” he said.

“We’re not there, and we’re not heading in that direction with the current variants.”

He said people who are over the age of 60, who are immunocompromised or who have chronic illnesses should seek a second booster shot if they haven’t had one or if their last shot was more than three months ago. As well, he said those who want to wear masks should be “encouraged” to do so, especially in crowded places.

His update came as COVID-19 hospitalizations rose by 34 in the previous 24 hours, after a 113-patient rise the day before. There were 1,260 people in hospital with COVID-19 in Quebec, including 35 in intensive care. Health officials also reported four more deaths associated with the novel coronavirus.

Dr. Don Vinh of the McGill University Health Centre says Quebec is facing a “perfect storm” of factors that include the emergence of new variants, waning immunity from vaccination or previous infection, and the removal of public health restrictions.

The new Omicron subvariants BA.4 and BA.5, he said in an interview Tuesday, appear to be gaining ground and finding vulnerable people to infect, especially since the mutations seem to be better able to evade immunity compared with previous strains.

“You put the two together, the new variants and waning immunity from either infection, immunization or a hybrid, and what happens is you have a renewed pool of susceptible people with an emerging variant,” he said.

The rise in hospitalizations, he added, comes at a time when the health system is least prepared to handle it.

Hospital workers at “all levels” are overwhelmed, he said, from paramedics and ambulance drivers to ER staff and the community and home care workers who need to be present to care for frail people leaving hospital.

COVID-19 is also putting increased pressure on the system by forcing sick health-care workers to stay home at a time when they’re most needed, he said. “This a catastrophic, systemic failure being unmasked and perhaps even exacerbated by unmitigated community transmission.”

On Wednesday, Boileau said he was concerned with the impact the increase in cases will have on the system, adding that authorities were working with hospitals to readjust services when necessary. He said, however, that he didn’t expect the new rise in cases to get “very, very high” and that the numbers should begin to decline in the next few weeks.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 29, 2022.

 

Morgan Lowrie, The Canadian Press

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Canada extends COVID-19 border measures until Sept. 30, including ArriveCan app

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OTTAWA — The federal government will extend current COVID-19 public health measures for travellers entering Canada, including the use of the ArriveCan app, until at least Sept. 30.

In a release Wednesday, the Public Health Agency of Canada also said it will continue the pause of mandatory random testing for fully vaccinated travellers at all airports until mid-July.

It first announced the pause on June 11 and said in the release that it’s allowing airports to focus on streamlining their operations.

The public health agency said it’s moving forward with plans to relocate COVID-19 testing for air travellers outside of airports to select test provider stores, pharmacies or by virtual appointment.

Mandatory random testing is to continue at land border points of entry with no changes.

The release added that travellers who are not fully vaccinated and don’t have a valid exemption must continue to test on Day 1 and Day 8 of their 14-day quarantine.

“As we move into the next phase of our COVID-19 response, it is important to remember that the pandemic is not over. We must continue to do all that we can to keep ourselves and others safe from the virus,” said Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos in a statement.

He also urged people to remain up to date with the recommended vaccinations to ensure they are adequately protected against infection, transmission and severe complications.

“As we have said all along, Canada’s border measures will remain flexible and adaptable, guided by science and prudence.”

All travellers will have to continue to use the ArriveCan app or website to provide their travel information within 72 hours before their arrival in Canada or before boarding a cruise ship destined for the country. The government said 95 per cent of land and air travellers are using the app and it’s taking steps to enhance compliance.

The government also said moving testing outside of airports will allow Canada to adjust to increased traveller volumes while still being able to monitor and quickly respond to new variants of concern or changes to the epidemiological situation.

It said border testing has been essential in helping Canada slow the spread of the virus, as data from the tests are used to understand the current level and trends of importation of COVID-19 into the country.

The testing program also allows for detection and identification of new COVID-19 variants of concern, it said.

Tourism groups and border-community mayors and MPs have called on the government to ease restrictions and scrap the ArriveCan app, saying the measures are limiting cross-border travel.

Transport Minister Randy Boissonnault said the government is deeply invested in growing Canada’s visitor economy.

“From our reputation as a safe travel destination to our world-class attractions and wide-open spaces, Canada has it all and we are ready to welcome back domestic and international tourists, while prioritizing their safety and well-being.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 29, 2022.

 

The Canadian Press

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