The growing number of monkeypox cases in the United States and Europe suggests that the virus has already spread widely in communities, but it is unlikely to cause a major epidemic like Covid, the board member of Pfizer administration and former FDA commissioner, Dr. Scott Gottlieb.
“Now that there has been community spread, it can be hard to completely snub this. I don’t think it’s going to become a major outbreak because it’s a hard virus to spread,” Gottlieb said on “Squawk Box.”
Monkeypox is a rare viral disease that begins with flu-like symptoms and swollen lymph nodes, eventually progressing to a rash on the body and face. Monkeypox is spread through open contact with an infected person’s wounds and has a long incubation period of 21 days or more, according to Gottlieb. He said that means many people could incubate the virus, as infected patients were likely undiagnosed or misdiagnosed.
Gottlieb’s remarks come two days after US health officials confirmed a case of the virus in a Massachusetts man who recently traveled to Canada. The New York City Health Department said Thursday it is investigating a possible case in a man who is being treated at NYC Health + Hospitals/Bellevue.
Monkeypox, which reemerged in Nigeria in 2017, has spread to several countries in recent weeks, leaving health officials scrambling to warn clinicians and the public about the virus.
Gottlieb added that there have been many disconnected cases, indicating that the spread in the community is “quite wide”. He said there could be many more infections than health officials have found because the incubation period is so long and doctors don’t know how to look for it yet.
But he said the United States could just see a low level of spread that “just gets hard to stop” because it can be difficult to deploy public health measures, such as mass vaccination using the vaccinia virus vaccine.
He noted that the virus is endemic in some countries, with the Democratic Republic of Congo reporting between five and 10,000 cases a year.
“That’s the concern, not a generalized outbreak here at this point. But this persistent low-level spread, cases popping up here and there, outbreaks,” Gottlieb said.
However, he stressed that the virus could still be dangerous. The case fatality rate for spreading the strain is between 1% and 4%, according to Gottlieb. He described it as a “crippling” virus that can last two to four months, causing fever and sores.
The CDC on Wednesday urged clinicians to identify patients with rashes 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, the agency said.
Disclosure: Dr. Scott Gottlieb is a CNBC contributor and serves on the boards of Pfizer, genetic testing startup Tempus, health tech company Aetion, and biotech company Illuminated. He is also co-chair of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings‘ and Royal Caribbean‘s “Sail Sail Panel.”