- Dr Anthony Fauci says the way monkeypox is spreading in the US is “very” reminiscent of “the early days of HIV”.
- It’s “very inconvenient for me, I went there 41 years ago,” he said.
- Still, he hopes that the current monkeypox epidemic will not end like the HIV epidemic and that the virus will be brought under control.
Officially, more than 6,600 people across the United States have been diagnosed with monkeypox since May 18, when the outbreak’s first domestic patient was discovered in Massachusetts. Public health experts say the actual number of monkeypox cases in the country is likely much higher than that.
Positive tests poured in over the summer – first a drop, then a pour, until a flood of new monkeypox diagnoses were recorded every day.
Now at least three states (California, Illinois, and New York) have declared states of emergency for the disease, the White House has appointed a monkeypox response team, and the CDC is working to bolster its “limited supply” of the only vaccine licensed for use against monkeypox in the United States.
But it was before all of this – in late spring, early summer, when data was beginning to show that monkeypox was being transmitted “efficiently” from person to person in the United States – that Dr. Anthony Fauci had a sinking feeling he had felt before.
“I said ‘uh oh,'” Fauci, President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser, told the Science Vs. podcast when asked what was going through his mind as the number of cases in the he epidemic in the United States continued to grow.
“It’s very reminiscent of what we saw in the early days of HIV,” Fauci said, expressing concern.
Unlike past diagnoses of monkeypox recorded in the United States, this year’s cases were not limited to prairie dog owners and their close contacts, or a recent trip to West Africa. Instead, overall, the monkeypox lesions seen in this outbreak have spread to intimate areas of the body, in men who have sex with men.
“It was kind of a gradual ‘oh my god,'” said Fauci, who directs the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. “From the very beginning, the epidemiological circumstances in which this happened bothered me very much, having been there 41 years ago with HIV.”
Fauci initially thought HIV was ‘just a fluke’
American doctors and scientists began researching the human immunodeficiency virus in 1981, “at a time when HIV was still undiscovered – we didn’t even call it AIDS,” said Fauci to an oral history project in 2007. Initially, the disease was reported in a handful of gay men living in Los Angeles. Two of them died.
At the time, Fauci thought “maybe it was just a fluke,” he told reporters gathered at a vaccine conference in 2019.
In the early 1980s, Fauci said there was a lot of “confusion” over how the virus was transmitted, with people wondering, “is this a weird disease of gay men?”
It was not. HIV, like other viral diseases (including monkeypox) can affect anyone who is vulnerable and exposed, under the right circumstances.
“As it evolved, literally week after week after week, you got the epidemiology unfolding and changing – which clearly showed that it was not limited to gay men,” Fauci said. .
He believes we can – and will – take control of this epidemic
Unlike the HIV crisis, Fauci hopes the current monkeypox epidemic will not end with millions infected around the world needing treatment.
“Anything is possible, but it’s unlikely,” he told Science Vs. “If we keep putting our foot on the pedal, getting as many people vaccinated as possible, taking control of it. I think we can do it.”