This is a partial transcript from Your World with Neil Cavuto, June 10, 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: All right. Anthrax, smallpox, SARS, West Nile. Now monkeypox. What can we do to protect ourselves from all this, and what’s the U.S. government doing to keep us aware of all of this?
Joining me right now, a guy who has probably more headaches to deal with every day than almost any Cabinet secretary. I’m talking about the Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson.
Mr. Secretary, good to have you.
TOMMY THOMPSON, SECRETARY OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES: Well, it’s always a pleasure to be on your program, Neil, and thank you so very much for having is.
CAVUTO: Incredible. Now we’ve got the monkeypox thing. How big a deal is this?
THOMPSON: Well, it’s fairly large because we’re not used to it, and, any time we have a new disease, people get very concerned about it, what are we doing, how do we protect ourselves.
And this, of course, is a disease that we’ve never seen in the western hemisphere. It’s been noted in West Central Africa, and it came in by a Gambian rat that was sick and should not have been imported, but it was. And then it got into some prairie dogs, and those prairie dogs got into three states, Wisconsin being one, which is my home state, Illinois, and Indiana. And then, of course, it got into a swap meet in which they were trading prairie dogs.
And so it got wider spread than we would have liked, and the problem is that we should do something about it in regards to importing these kind of rodents, and so I’ve asked CDC and FDA to take a look at this and see if we can prevent those kind of importations in the future.
CAVUTO: But the monkeypox disease itself. I mean we should, first of all, preface that the fatality rate is quite, quite low, under 2 percent. But it’s getting a lot of people concerned after SARS because they think, well, what else is out there that we’re not hearing about. Is there something sinister afoot here?
THOMPSON: No, there’s not. SARS we’re not sure of, but we suspect that it also jumped a species from an animal to man, and the same thing happened with monkeypox.
So this, you know, concerns the American public, and what we’re trying to do is try and find ways to prevent that from happening in the future.
CAVUTO: But, again, Secretary, I want to be clear here. There are some -- I call them the black helicopter crowd, but I want to get that out -- who argue that this could be biological terror. You’re here to say no.
THOMPSON: There’s no biological terror that we can find any causal relation whatsoever, Neil. We have investigated this, and we’ve looked at both the SARS incident, even though the individual that really was the super spreader of the start of SARS was staying in room 911 in the Metropole Hotel in Hong Kong, we can find no causal relationship, and we don’t think there was any, and we don’t think there’s any causal relationship to any bioterrorism attack as far as monkeypox as well.
But it’s a serious disease, and it can be spread from animal to human, and that concerns us, and we’re trying to find ways to prevent it.
CAVUTO: Is it odd, though, Secretary, that we are hearing more of these type of cases, or are we just more attuned to it right now?
THOMPSON: Well, we’re more attuned, but we’re also seeing more.
You know, SARS is a brand-new illness, a brand-new disease. It jumped from animals, we think, to man, and so it’s new, and we have to expect it.
The monkeypox has been in West Central Africa but never in the western hemisphere. Now it’s here. Just like West Nile Virus was always in Africa, and now it is across the United States.
We’re concerned about these, and it’s the traveling public, it’s the importation of these rodents and things like this that we have to be concerned about, and we have to protect America.
CAVUTO: Let’s talk about protecting America. I want to switch very quickly to the legislative agenda here, the drug plan that the president wants to make sure there’s a prescription drug benefit for those on Medicare -- where does that stand now? There’s a great fight about total cost and whether we even have the money to do it.
THOMPSON: Well, Neil, the truth of the matter is that we’re farther along than we ever thought possible.
The Senate introduced their proposal today, they’re going to mark it up in the Senate Finance Committee on Thursday, and Senator Frist has scheduled the debate on Medicare for two weeks starting next Tuesday, and we think we’re going to get it passed in the Senate. We think the House is going to pass the bill in the last week in June, and then it will probably go to conference committee in July.
There’s a very good chance we’re going to get a strengthened Medicare bill with pharmaceutical drug coverage as well as preventative medicines and a catastrophic loss, and the president is very excited about that. We’re pushing very hard to do that. The president has set aside $400 billion, that’s in the budget, and we think we can do it.
CAVUTO: OK. Secretary, if you knew all the stuff you’d be taking for this job, you’d still do it, right?
THOMPSON: Right. Still would.
CAVUTO: Secretary Tommy Thompson, thank you very much. Good seeing you.
THOMPSON: My privilege. Thank you, Neil.
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