PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – As the world still works to minimize the transmission of COVID-19, another virus is spreading and causing alarm: monkeypox. 

Although people around the globe are on high alert about any sort of contagious illness right now, an immunologist at Oregon Health & Science University said this is not a reason for undue panic. 

“It’s a close cousin to smallpox,” said Dr. Mark Slifka, a professor of molecular microbiology and immunology at OHSU. “But the good news is it doesn’t spread as easily as smallpox.” 

Like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Slifka encourages people to be aware of the symptoms and take precautions. People should watch for any unusual rashes or lesions, particularly men who have had sex with other men and those who come in close contact with them. 

Slifka said with vaccines and modern medicine, immunologists and doctors have been dealing with viruses like monkeypox for more than 200 years. 

“We had a monkeypox outbreak in the U.S. in 2003, and we were able to control it through quarantine of close contacts and offering people the smallpox vaccine in the form of ring vaccination,” Slifka explained. 

Ring vaccination means vaccinating household members and other close contacts to form a “ring” around people with confirmed cases. 

The monkeypox virus doesn’t transmit as readily as other viruses, including the SARS-CoV-2 virus that sparked the current COVID-19 pandemic. 

Slifka expects the outbreak will likely be limited to close contacts. As long as these people recognize the symptoms and quarantine appropriately, he predicts the outbreak will run its course relatively quickly. 

Still, because of the relatively high mortality rate of monkeypox — between 1% and 10% — Slifka says people should take it seriously. 

In 2003, Slifka and his colleagues traveled to the epicenter of the monkeypox outbreak in Wisconsin. There, they took blood samples from people who were exposed to the virus. Through their research, they discovered that eight older adults who had been previously vaccinated against smallpox maintained full or partial protection against monkeypox, a closely related disease. 

In one case, Slifka and his colleagues found someone’s immunity had lasted up to 75 years after a single childhood smallpox vaccination. 

The U.S. government still has an emergency stockpile of smallpox vaccines, even though the virus was officially eradicated worldwide in 1980. A newer, non-replicating vaccine was approved in 2019 to prevent both smallpox and monkeypox. 

Vaccination against monkeypox can be protective even after exposure to the virus, OHSU said. 

“This is something that’s vastly different than COVID,” Slifka said. “Because the incubation period between exposure and disease onset is so long for smallpox and monkeypox, you can be vaccinated three to four days after your exposure and still be protected against severe disease.”

The Washington State Department of Health announced the first confirmed case of monkeypox in the state Friday. The person, a King County resident, did not need to be hospitalized and is isolating at home.