KINGSPORT, Tenn. (WJHL) – Headlines have been circulating with whispers of a potential new public health threat – monkeypox.

The World Health Organization’s top monkeypox expert said she does not expect the 550 cases in 30 countries reported to date to turn into another pandemic but said that there are still many unknowns about the disease.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported one case in Virginia and no cases in Tennessee. Local health officials told News Channel 11 that so far, no cases have been reported in the Tri-Cities region.

At Ballad Health, Chief Infection Prevention Officer Jamie Swift is working to prepare for anything, even though she does not anticipate a great impact on the hospital system.

“I relate this back to how we were preparing for Ebola in the health system,” Swift said. “The risk is low that we’re going to have a case but what we don’t want to happen is for a case to be in our facility and us not know it.”

Swift explained that the hospital system has been working with emergency room and outpatient care providers to ensure they ask patients about their travel in the last few weeks to limit any potential spread since summer travel is expected to pick up.

Dr. Stephen May, the Sullivan County Regional Health Department’s medical director, told News Channel 11 that part of preventing the spread of this virus is that important questionnaire.

“Should we have a physician, emergency room, clinic, that feels that they may be dealing with the case of monkeypox, we have a standard questionnaire that we look for where they traveled, how they had unknown exposure to someone else with monkeypox?” May said. “Did the disease progression match clinically what we would think of the disease with that?”

May said certain permissions are needed at the local level to send specimens away for testing to determine if they are seeing a case of monkeypox or another similar virus. He said the confirmation is then sent to the CDC, which conducts the conformational testing.

May added that monkeypox is more serious than a bout of chickenpox but nothing to panic over.

Virginia Department of Health Population Health Manager for the Mount Rogers Health District Breanne Forbes Hubbard told News Channel 11 that symptoms include fevers, chills, and “sort of blisters or lesions on the skin and monkeypox specifically, you can get some swollen lymph nodes associated with that.”

She added that May is correct; there’s nothing for the general public in the region to worry about.

“We want physicians to be evaluating with a careful eye for anything that looks like it could be monkeypox, but this is not something where we in public health are going ‘Oh my gosh, we’ve got to rev up for the next big monkeypox emergency’ at this point,” Forbes Hubbard said.

The reaction to headlines of monkeypox cases popping up worldwide may be a form of panic based on the novel coronavirus pandemic and the similarities with how cases were systematically reported.

“The reaction to it might be a little bit because we’re so sensitive to COVID-19,” Forbes Hubbard said.

Experts said the spread of monkeypox is not as easy as with COVID-19.

“Right now, we don’t have any known cases. It really does take close contact, so even though it’s airborne, it’s gotta have prolonged exposure,” Swift said. “So you’re not gonna get monkeypox passing someone in the grocery store. It does not spread that easily. It’s going to be those large droplets.”

The public health department’s role in monitoring the spread of the monkeypox outbreak is case investigation, contact notification and isolation assignments.

“Should we see a particular case, the good news about monkeypox is [it’s] rarely respiratory. Orally transmitted is primarily a disease of close contact,” May said.

There are two vaccines currently available. Both are contained in the Strategic National Stockpile should it be needed, May added.

“Of course, with smallpox, it was completely eradicated because there’s no other host. However, with monkeypox, there are certain animal vectors that can harbor the disease, and we really don’t want that to get started,” May said. “We do know that there is an element of protection with those who had smallpox vaccine. Now the smallpox vaccine generation though is waning and rapidly decreasing, which means we have a very, very large element of the population that could be susceptible.”

Experts suggest speaking with primary care providers if you experience any potential symptoms of monkeypox, especially after traveling to places like Asia or Africa.