MONTREAL (Reuters) -Canada's public health agency on Thursday confirmed the first two cases of monkeypox virus infections in the country after authorities in Quebec province said they were investigating 17 suspected cases.
Several countries including Portugal and Spain have reported cases of monkeypox in recent weeks, with a U.S. case identified by Massachusetts public health officials on Wednesday in a man who had recently traveled to the Canadian province of Quebec.
"Tonight, the Province of Quebec was notified that two samples received by the NML (National Microbiology Laboratory) have tested positive for monkeypox. These are the first two cases confirmed in Canada," the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) said in a statement, adding Canada had never before seen monkeypox cases.
Monkeypox, which mostly occurs in west and central Africa, is a rare viral infection similar to human smallpox, though milder. It was first recorded in the Democratic Republic of Congo in the 1970s. The number of cases in West Africa has increased in the last decade.
Symptoms include fever, headaches and skin rashes starting on the face and spreading to the rest of the body.
Health officials in Montreal, Quebec's largest city, told reporters earlier on Thursday that there was a link between the U.S. case of monkeypox in Massachusetts and a few of the suspected cases in the Montreal region.
PHAC said the U.S. citizen who had recently traveled to Canada from the U.S. by private transportation "may have been infected before or during" his visit to Montreal.
(Reporting By Allison Lampert in Montreal; Additonal reporting by Eric Beech and Denny Thomas Editing by Howard Goller, David Gregorio and Raju Gopalakrishnan)