There have been no reported cases of monkeypox on Martha’s Vineyard so far, but Island public health officials are gearing up to respond to a potential outbreak as the virus spreads around the country.

“We are aware of it. Whether and to what extent we will have to leap into action locally, we don’t know yet,” Marina Lent, the Chilmark health agent, said in a recent interview with the Gazette. “[But] we are not going to be caught unaware without any thought to it if it shows up here.”

The virus, which spreads largely through skin-to-skin contact and can cause painful lesions, has become a growing point of concern in recent weeks as cases have exploded across the country, primarily among gay men, and around the world. Last week the World Health Organization declared monkeypox a global health emergency. California, New York and Illinois have all declared states of emergency to fight against the virus.

The Massachusetts department of public health reported 36 new cases of the virus across the state between July 21 and July 27. There have been a total of 115 reported cases statewide since May 18.

Since there have not been any cases on the Island, the name of the game is to track what the state public health department is doing and chart a course of action should a case pop-up, Ms. Lent said. If a person is showing symptoms, then Martha’s Vineyard Hospital is able to collect a specimen and send it to a lab off-Island for testing.

“Patients with state-defined symptoms may require a monkeypox PCR lab test,” Claire Seguin, the hospital’s chief nurse, wrote in an email to the Gazette. “Turn around times for monkeypox PCR test results are determined by the state lab.”

Monkeypox is different from Covid in terms of how it spreads, its severity and the level of contagion, meaning the response to it will also be different, Ms. Lent said. The monkeypox virus can live on surfaces, becomes contagious at the onset of symptoms and can be passed from animals to humans. The virus is rarely fatal but can cause severe pain and typically lasts between two weeks and a month.

“I don’t think we’ll explode into monkeypox [cases] in the fall. I would be surprised if that happens,” Ms. Lent said. “We may get a pass entirely, or have an occasional case every now and then…but that’s very different from all hands on deck.”

Although the response will be different, part of the plan is to draw on the body of knowledge gained as a result of Covid, particularly surrounding contact tracing, Ms. Lent said.

“We are going to benefit from our experience with the public in terms of communicating with the public and contact tracing in particular,” Ms. Lent said.

With a vaccine for monkeypox in short supply, it is important for Islanders to take personal precautions if they are particularly concerned about getting infected, Ms. Lent said. Masking plays a small role, but the best way to stay safe is to focus on your hands.

“Washing hands and just being more conscious of what you’re touching and where you are,” Ms. Lent said.

If a case is reported on the Island, that would trigger a series of calls with the people and places the infected person came into contact with, Ms. Lent said. The boards of health have sanitation kits for people who have been exposed and would advise businesses on how to properly sanitize their space to prevent further infection.

“We would jump on it,” Ms. Lent said. “It would have to happen in as short order as possible to be as effective as possible.”

But to what extent that plan will be necessary and the preventative measures needed are still up in the air, Ms. Lent said.

“First of all, we will be going closely with what the state recommends. Second of all, how active and proactive we are has something to do with the picture of transmission,” Ms. Lent said.