Former FDA chief says its still possible to get monkeypox outbreak ‘back in the box’ but that testing needs to be extended beyond just gay and bisexual men: US reaches 7,510 confirmed infections over weekend

  • Dr Scott Gottlieb, former FDA chief, said Sunday that monkeypox testing should be expanded beyond gay and bisexual men
  • He still thinks the virus can be controlled if testing and surveillance is improved
  • Gottlieb is also pushing for the CDC to start performing wastewater surveillance for the virus, like it does for Covid
  • As on Monday, America has recorded 7,510 cases of the virus – with New York’s 1,800 leading the way 

Despite the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) declaring monkeypox a public health emergency last week, one key expert is still hopeful that the virus can be contained before it develops into a full fledged outbreak.

Dr Scott Gottlieb, former head of the Food and Drug Administration and current board member at pharma-giant Pfizer, told CBS’ Face the Nation on Sunday that while difficult, it is possible to prevent monkeypox from becoming an endemic virus – a prospect officials likely failed with Covid.

He says that the response to the virus has to be wider to control it, though. At the moment, testing has mainly been reserved to just gay and bisexual men – who make up a overwhelming majority of cases. Gottlieb believes that more cases would be found if testing was expanded beyond just that community.

His comments come days after HHS declared a public health emergency over the virus on Thursday. The 7,510 recorded cases are the most of any country in the world so far. Per capita, the nation’s one case per million residents on August 5 is around half of the 1.93 per million cases being recorded in Spain.

One of these cases is among a daycare worker in Illinois. The unnamed employee in Eastern Illinois tested positive recently, potentially exposing the vulnerable children at the facility to the virus. Officials are screening children and staff for the virus and offering the potentially exposed the Jynneos vaccine.

‘There’s a potential to get this back in the box but its going to be very difficult at this point,’ Gottlieb said. 

‘We’re continuing to look for cases in the community of men who have sex with men, its primarily spreading in that community, but there’s no question it has spread outside that community at this point and I think we need to start looking for cases more broadly.’

While exact federal data is not available, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Dr Rochelle Walensky said during a briefing last week that they still make up a majority of cases.

Former FDA Chief Dr Scott Gottlieb (pictured) told CBS' Face the Nation that the CDC should expand monkeypox testing and launch wastewater surveillance for the virus

Former FDA Chief Dr Scott Gottlieb (pictured) told CBS’ Face the Nation that the CDC should expand monkeypox testing and launch wastewater surveillance for the virus

In mid-July, New York City officials revealed that 95 percent of cases in the Big Apple – the nation’s monkeypox hotspot – were is men with at least three-in-five also identifying as gay, bisexual or lesbian.

America is facing a shortage of both testing and vaccines at the moment, though, meaning that they have been reserved for men who have sex with other men to this point.

The CDC has greatly expanded its testing capacity in recent weeks, now being able to perform 80,000 per week across its own testing and agreements set up with private partners.

Last week Walensky said that only around ten percent of America’s testing capacity was being used, opening the door for significant expansions in the amount of people that should be tested.

Gottlieb said that any person with an atypical case of either shingles or herpes should be tested for monkeypox at this point.

Expanding testing will either find more cases – giving officials more information they can use to control the outbreak – or will confirm more people as negative and confirm areas where the virus is not spreading.

He also believes the CDC should begin wastewater surveillance – which can give more general pictures of where the virus is spreading without individual testing.

Despite his concerns, Gottlieb does not think the virus has reached a point where the average American should be worried.

‘I don’t think this is something people need to be generally worried about,’ he explained. 

‘I think the incidence of this infection in the broader community is still very low. Your risk of coming into contact with monkeypox is still exceedingly low outside of certain social networks where you see a higher case rate. 

‘If you want to contain it… we need to start looking more widely for it.’ 

The U.S. has confirmed 7,510 cases of the virus since it was first found stateside in May. Another 408 cases were added to the ledger over the weekend.

Not a single death has been tied to the virus in the U.S., though nearly a dozen have internationally as part of this current outbreak.

New York has far and away recorded the most cases of any U.S. state. The Empire State has logged 1,862 as of Monday morning. No other state has logged more than 1,000.

Wyoming remains the lone state not to have recorded a monkeypox infection, though this could be due to a lack of surveillance in the state.

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