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Former FDA chief says it’s still possible to put monkeypox outbreak ‘back in the box’

Former FDA chief says it's still possible to put monkeypox outbreak 'back in the box'

Despite the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) declaring monkeypox a public health emergency last week, one key expert remains hopeful the virus can be contained before it develops into a full-blown outbreak.

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

He says the response to the virus needs to be broader to control it. Currently, testing is primarily reserved for gay and bisexual men – who make up the vast majority of cases. Gottlieb believes more cases would be found if testing expanded beyond that community.

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

One of those cases is among a caregiver in Illinois. An unnamed employee in eastern Illinois recently tested positive, potentially exposing vulnerable children at the facility to the virus. Officials are screening children and staff for the virus and offering potentially exposed Jynneos the vaccine.

“There’s potential to get it back in the box, but it’s going to be very difficult at this point,” Gottlieb said.

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“We’re continuing to look for cases in the MSM community, it’s primarily spread in that community, but there’s no question that it’s spread outside of that community at this point and I think we need to start looking for cases.” more widely.’

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

Former FDA chief Dr. Scott Gottlieb (pictured) told CBS Face the Nation that America's monkeypox epidemic can still be controlled.

Former FDA chief Dr. Scott Gottlieb (pictured) told CBS Face the Nation that the CDC should expand testing for monkeypox and begin surveillance of the virus in wastewater.

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

America currently faces a shortage of both testing and vaccines, meaning they have so far been reserved for men who have sex with men.

The CDC has greatly expanded its testing capacity in recent weeks and is now able to conduct 80,000 per week through its own testing and agreements with private partners.

Last week, Walensky said only about ten percent of America’s testing capacity is being used, opening the door for a significant expansion of the number of people who should be tested.

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

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

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

Despite his concerns, Gottlieb doesn’t think the virus has reached a point where the average American should be concerned.

“I don’t think it’s something that people should worry about in general,” he explained.

“I think the incidence of this infection in the wider community is still very low. Your risk of coming into contact with monkeypox is still extremely low outside of certain social networks where you see higher cases.

“If you want to contain it… we need to start looking for it widely.

The United States has confirmed 7,510 cases of the virus since it was first found in the states in May. Over the weekend, another 408 cases were added to the ledger.

Not a single death has been linked to the virus in the US, though there have been nearly a dozen internationally as part of this current outbreak.

New York has by far the most cases of any US state. The Empire State had 1,862 as of Monday morning. No other state had more than 1,000.

Wyoming remains the only state that has not experienced a monkeypox infection, although this may have been due to a lack of surveillance in the state.

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