The rising number of monkeypox cases in the US and Europe suggest the virus has already spread widely across communities, but it won’t likely cause a major epidemic like Covid, Pfizer board member and former FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb told CNBC on Friday.
“Now that there’s been community spread, it may be hard to fully snub this out. I don’t think it’s going to become a major epidemic because this is a virus that’s difficult to spread,” the former Food and Drug Administration commissioner said on “Squawk Box.”
Monkeypox is a rare viral illness that begins with flu-like symptoms and the swelling of lymph nodes, eventually progressing to a rash on the body and face. Monkeypox spreads through open contact with the sores of a person infected, and has a long incubation period of 21 days or more, according to Gottlieb. He said this means many people may be incubating the virus since patients infected were likely undiagnosed or misdiagnosed.
Gottlieb’s remarks come two days after US health officials confirmed a case of the virus in a man from Massachusetts who recently traveled to Canada. The New York City Department of Health said Thursday it’s investigating a possible case in a man who’s being treated at NYC Health + Hospitals Bellevue.
Monkeypox, which reemerged in Nigeria in 2017, has been spreading in several countries in the last few weeks, leaving health officials scrambling to warn clinicians and the public about the virus.
Gottlieb added that there have been numerous disconnected cases, indicating that the spread in the community is “pretty wide.” He said there might be a lot more infection than what health officials have found since it has such a long incubation period and doctors don’t know to look for it yet.
But he said the US could just see a low level of spread that “just becomes hard to stop” since it may be difficult to deploy public health measures, such as mass immunization using the Vaccinia virus vaccine.
He noted that the virus is endemic in some countries, with the Democratic Republic of the Congo reporting anywhere from five to 10,000 cases a year.
“That’s the concern, not a widespread epidemic here at this point. But this just low level persistent spread, cases popping up here and there outbreaks,” Gottlieb said.
However, he emphasized the virus could still be dangerous. The case fatality rate for the strain spreading is anywhere from 1% to 4% percent, according to Gottlieb. He described it as a “disabling” virus that can last for two to four months, causing a fever and sores.
The CDC on Wednesday urged clinicians to identify patients with rash illnesses consistent with monkeypox. People suspected of having the virus should be isolated in a negative pressure room — spaces used to isolate patients — and staff should wear appropriate personal protective equipment around them, according to the agency.
Disclosure: Dr. Scott Gottlieb is a CNBC contributor and is a member of the boards of Pfizer, genetic testing start-up Tempus, health-care tech company Aetion and biotech company Illumina. He also serves as co-chair of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings′ and Royal Caribbean’s “Healthy Sail Panel.”