Fauci on threats to his safety: 'I've chosen this life'

Appearing on "TODAY," the country's top infectious diseases expert said he's baffled why the coronavirus affects people in such different ways.

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By Rebecca Shabad

WASHINGTON — Dr. Anthony Fauci said Thursday that he remains focused on his work fighting the coronavirus pandemic despite reports of threats to his personal safety.

In an interview on NBC's "TODAY" show, host Savannah Guthrie asked the nation's top infectious diseases expert whether he feels personally threatened or whether he and his family feel safe, a reference to reports that he is receiving protection from the federal government.

"I've chosen this life. I mean, I know what it is," Fauci said. "There are things about it that are sometimes disturbing. But you just focus on the job you have to do and just put all that stuff aside and try as best as possible not to pay attention to it."

Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, appeared to dismiss the reported threats, saying the coronavirus outbreak will be even more difficult in the coming weeks and adding that "all of that other stuff is secondary."

Fauci, who has advocated strong social distancing measures to slow the spread of the coronavirus and appears regularly at the White House's daily news briefings on the pandemic, has received a security detail from the federal government after getting threats to his personal safety. Agents of the Department of Health and Human Services inspector general's office are providing Fauci with the protection, according to a senior Justice Department official and a senior Health and Human Services inspector general official.

After conducting a threat assessment, the HHS inspector general determined that a full-time protective detail was warranted and put in a request to the U.S. Marshals Service and Justice Department to deputize agents from HHS's inspector general's office, the senior officials said.

The Washington Post first reported the security detail, adding that HHS Secretary Alex Azar had grown concerned about Fauci's safety.

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NBC News has not confirmed the report, but Fauci did not deny it on "TODAY" or when it came up at the task force briefing Wednesday.

During the interview Thursday, Fauci also said that he finds it "very disturbing" how someone who shows no symptoms can still accidentally spread the infection.

"I mean, the idea of someone who's asymptomatic shedding high titers of virus is very disturbing — because that person could be out there, feeling well, and inadvertently and innocently spreading the infection," Fauci said when asked about a new study that showed that patients with mild symptoms can emit high levels of the virus early on.

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"It is very strange how one individual can get infected and have either mild or no symptoms and another individual could rapidly deteriorate with viral pneumonia and respiratory failure," he said.

Fauci noted that he's been studying infectious diseases for nearly 50 years, adding that "I still don't fully understand" the mechanism causing the stark differences in the effects of the coronavirus.

"We really need to figure it out, because it can be completely devastating rapidly in one person and absolutely nothing in another person," he said.

Michael Kosnar contributed.