Local public health officials this week urged pandemic-weary Sonoma County residents and health care professionals to be on the lookout for signs of Monkeypox, a rare disease that is currently being detected in small numbers in countries where it is not typically found, including Europe, Canada and the United States.

But infectious disease experts stressed the need for perspective, pointing out that unlike SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, the Monkeypox virus is not easily transmitted, is being reported in very small numbers and does not have the potential to become a pandemic.

“There’s nothing similar about this to COVID, nor is there an understood potential for this to explode into anything even approaching COVID,” said Dr. John Swartzberg, a UC Berkeley infectious disease expert.

Swartzberg said the Monkeypox virus was first discovered in 1958 and has been endemic in western and central Africa ever since. Outbreaks of the virus have occurred in the past outside of Africa, he said, including a 2003 outbreak in the United States that was linked to imported exotic rodents that later infected prairie dogs.

“We’ve known about it in humans for 50-something years and we know all about what the virus is, what it can do, what it can’t do and how it is spread,” Swartzberg said. “Versus SARS-CoV-2, which suddenly came upon us for the first time just two and a half years ago.”

During a public health briefing Tuesday, officials with the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that eight confirmed cases of the orthopoxvirus have been detected in the United States. Of these, CDC testing has confirmed that one case in Massachusetts is Monkeypox, but officials are treating all confirmed orthopoxvirus cases as if they are Monkeypox until proven otherwise.

Sonoma County Deputy Health officer Dr. Kismet Baldwin, who is coordinating the local response to any possible outbreak of Monkeypox, said one confirmed case of orthopox has been detected in Sacramento.

“So there is a suspected case of Monkeypox in California,” she said, adding that no cases of orthopox have been detected in Sonoma County.

Monkeypox virus belongs to the orthopoxvirus genus, which includes the smallpox virus. Monkeypox, however, is far less severe than and less transmissible than smallpox. Monkeypox illness usually begins with flu-like symptoms, including fever, chills, a headache, and achy muscles, exhaustion and swollen lymph nodes.

Within one to three days, or longer, after the onset of fever, an infected patient may develop a rash that progresses in the following stages: a flat reddened area of skin; to a raised area; to sharply demarcated, raised lesions containing clear fluid; to raised pus-filled lesions; to scab.

The time from infection to symptoms is usually one to two weeks, but can range from five to 21 days. The illness typically lasts for two to four weeks.

Baldwin said the county public health division been relaying both CDC and state Department of Public Health guidance to local medical providers on the signs and symptoms of Monkeypox. County officials are working on their own public health guidance aimed at helping clinical workers identify and respond to a possible Monkeypox infection.

The CDC said that in recent clusters of Monkeypox reported this month in Europe and North America, patients include people who self identify as men who have sex with men. But health officials point out that anyone can spread Monkeypox, and that is not specifically a sexually transmitted disease.

“That’s not the only way the Monkeypox virus can be transmitted,” Baldwin said. “It’s respiratory droplets, secretions, it’s bodily fluids. It can be contact with a lesion that develops. There are multiple ways to transmit this but luckily it doesn’t seem like it’s highly transmissible, as with COVID or measles.”

Dr. Gary Green, an infectious disease expert specialist with Sutter Health, said some of the recent cases in Europe and Canada were detected in STD clinics, with patients having genital lesions that were first mistaken for sexually transmitted diseases. Green suspected that outbreaks in countries where Monkeypox is not endemic could be “behaviorally” driven.

Green and other medical experts said health care workers will need to know the difference between Monkeypox symptoms and those of diseases like syphilis or herpes. But Green agreed with Swartzberg that Monkeypox does not pose the same health threat that COVID-19 has for the past two and a half years.

“If transmission isn’t respiratory, it’s not going to be a pandemic,” he said. “You’re going to have sporadic outbreaks but that’s not going to necessarily be a pandemic.”

You can reach Staff Writer Martin Espinoza at 707-521-5213 or martin.espinoza@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @pressreno.