Tommy Thompson, U.S. Secretary of Health & Human Services

This is a partial transcript from Your World with Neil Cavuto, April 2, 2003, that was edited for clarity. Click here for complete access to all of Neil Cavuto's CEO interviews.

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NEIL CAVUTO, HOST: We've been following these new and deadly cases of this pneumonia-like virus spreading across the planet now. The latest is a 30-year-old in Newton, Massachusetts who's been identified as that state's fourth suspected case of this mysterious respiratory illness, 1800 victims across the world now, 69 have died. So how worried should we be here in the United States? Who better to ask than Tommy Thompson, the secretary of health and human services.

Secretary, thanks for coming.

TOMMY THOMPSON, U.S. SECRETARY OF HEALTH & HUMAN SERVICES: Well, Neil, it is always a pleasure to be on your program. I have got to correct your figures. We are over 2200 cases now and 79 deaths worldwide. We are lucky we have no deaths in the United States. But it is a serious illness. And we are very concerned about it. And we are watching it every single day. And we've got doctors and researchers and scientists that are really doing a wonderful at CDC and at NIH.

CAVUTO: Yeah. But Secretary, here is the problem, people want to know why won't the Chinese -- where all of this originated -- allow health workers to go into China to look at the source of all of this? They are not letting people in. What is the deal?

THOMPSON: I am happy to be able to report to you that this afternoon, Neil, that we've had a breakthrough, and that we'll have a first team led by Dr. Brenem (ph) from CDC going into Guangdong province tomorrow morning. And so we've had a lot of breakthroughs. I'll be talking to the minister of health from China again tomorrow morning. And through our connections we've been able to break down the kind of recalcitrance and the impediments that we have had. And now that we're going to be able to do it.

CAVUTO: Well, Secretary, I'm sorry, sir, but why was there that delay? My hat is off for you getting them to open themselves up there, but a lot of precious time has passed here. Why?

THOMPSON: Well, it was not only me, it was the World Health Organization. It was our commissioner, of health in Hong Kong. It was CDC. A lot of people were working on this. Really the truth of the matter was that China was very slow to react. And they gave us tacit approval that they were going to continue to cooperate, but they never really did. Now tomorrow they are going to allow our teams to go into Guangdong province, where the source of this serious illness started. And we are hoping to be able to see their case files, go into their hospitals, be able to review the kinds of files and data, and look at the specimens and the laboratory analysis so that we can better understand, and hopefully be able to find a way to control and treat this.

CAVUTO: Do you think that is the case, though, Secretary? Are we better to controlling it? Like I say, your numbers were greater than mine. And I thought mine were fairly updated. So obviously this is increasing, the more information we get about it. And still no problems in the United States. Do you expect it to be that way for long?

THOMPSON: Well, you know, we can only hope. But I don't think that is very probable. I think this is a worldwide disease and we have to find a way in how to control it and treat it. I think it is only a matter of time before it starts spreading more rapidly in the United States. And that is something we are concerned about in the Department of Health and Human Services, Neil.

CAVUTO: I don't want to make anything inflammatory here, sir, but do you sense there is anything bioterror-related to any of the whisperings you have gotten about this?

THOMPSON: Well, we were a little suspicious at the beginning, because the doctor that came out of Guangdong province that spread it was actually staying in room 911. And so that immediately put us on alert that there might be something more to it. But we haven't been able to find any evidence whatsoever, any indication whatsoever, that this was man-made and that this was a bioterrorist kind of act. We think it is naturally occurring. We think that it is something that is a new strain of what we call the corona virus, which is the virus that is in the family of the common cold. We think this is a new strain, and we're learning as much about it. I think we are so blessed in the country to have CDC and the wonderful doctors and laboratory technicians and analysts who have worked all weekend and they're working 24 hours a day.

CAVUTO: All right. Secretary, thank you very much, best of luck to you, Secretary Tommy Thompson, Health and Human Services.

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