Monkeypox is not nearly as contagious as COVID and is “not going to spread like wildfire,” infectious disease experts tell the Herald as health officials investigate a group of rare monkeypox clusters and the first U.S. case this year, identified in Massachusetts.

Because monkeypox is caused by a virus in the same family as smallpox, the smallpox vaccine can protect people from getting monkeypox, said William Schaffner, a Vanderbilt University infectious diseases expert.

Epidemiologists also believe that vaccination after a monkeypox exposure may help prevent the disease or make it less severe.

“The smallpox vaccine does provide some degree of protection, or it can modify the illness to make it less severe,” Schaffner said.

He added that it takes very close contact to spread monkeypox.

“Comparing the transmission with COVID, it’s nothing, nothing like that,” he said. “This is not going to spread like wildfire.”

The Massachusetts man who tested positive for the potentially serious viral illness had recently traveled to Canada, where health officials are investigating 17 cases.

The man was admitted to Massachusetts General Hospital on May 12, and is being isolated in the hospital’s Special Pathogens Program.

Monkeypox typically begins with flu-like illness and swelling of the lymph nodes, and progresses to a rash on the face and body. Most infections last two to four weeks.

The virus does not spread easily between people. Transmission can occur through contact with body fluids, monkeypox sores, items that have been contaminated with fluids or sores (clothing, bedding, etc.), or through respiratory droplets following prolonged face-to-face contact.

“While this might create some discomfort for the person who contracted it, it is not transmissible the way COVID is,” Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker said at a Thursday press conference.

The CDC is also tracking clusters that have been reported in several countries that don’t normally report monkeypox, including the U.K., Portugal, and Spain.

There’s an outbreak of 17 cases in the Montreal region.

“We do not have to panic,” Montreal Public Health Director Mylene Drouin said at a press conference, adding, “It’s not something that you can acquire when you do your groceries or on public transportation.”

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