Dr. Gregory Poland, director of Mayo Clinic’s Vaccine Research Group, told CNBC on Monday that the fast-spreading coronavirus is nearing pandemic status.
“We’re basically at a pandemic now,” said Poland, regarding the deadly virus, which has currently been labeled as an epidemic.
The difference between an epidemic and a pandemic is that a pandemic reaches a great number of people worldwide, compared to an epidemic, which sickens a large number of people locally.
China’s National Health Commission said on Monday the confirmed cases in China increased to 17,205. The death rose to 361 in China. The Philippines on Sunday reported the first death outside of China.
The virus was first discovered in December in the Chinese city of Wuhan in Hubei province. It has since spread to other countries, including the U.S., which has reported 11 cases.
The World Health Organization said there’s been 151 coronavirus cases in 23 countries outside of China. Last week, the WHO declared the virus a global health emergency.
The next few weeks will be crucial in how the coronavirus affects the U.S., said former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb.
“If we don’t start to see outbreaks in the next two or three weeks, we might have dodged a bullet,” said Gottlieb. He’s also physician, health advocate and Pfizer board member.
However, Gottlieb added on “Squawk Box,” “I think we’re going to start seeing secondary spread in the United States in the next two or three weeks, and then it’s going to be a difficult month.”
Both Poland and Gottlieb agreed that U.S. health officials should broaden testing, which currently is only available through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It currently takes the CDC about four to six hours to make a diagnosis once a sample makes it to its lab.
In the meantime, the public should practice best-practices personal hygiene measures, Poland added, like they would to prevent more common viruses like the flu.
“We have to assume it’s here and circulating,” said Gottlieb, a CNBC contributor.
The coronavirus and the regular flu have similar symptoms, which some health officials fear will cause misdiagnoses. Common flu symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat and aches. Coronavirus symptoms include fever, cough and shortness of breath, according to the CDC.
“This is a novel virus for us. This is an absolutely virgin population,” Poland said. “We don’t have any immunity to this, and that’s why you tend to see somewhat more severe disease.”