WASHINGTON — Anthony Fauci, a leader of the government effort against the coronavirus pandemic, had a polyp removed from a vocal cord Thursday morning and is resting at home.
Fauci, 79, said by text message that the surgery was conducted under general anesthesia at George Washington University Hospital. Doctors have told him to rest, avoid speaking “for a few days” and then limit the time he spends doing interviews and other speaking for a week or two.
Fauci, a member of the White House coronavirus task force, is the nation’s top infectious-disease specialist. But he has been sidelined in recent weeks, apparently for his blunt appraisal of progress against the pandemic in the United States, which often puts him at odds with the rosier assessment of President Donald Trump.
Fauci is also head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, part of the National Institutes of Health. He is deeply involved in one of the many efforts to develop a vaccine for the coronavirus.
Vocal cord polyps are usually noncancerous growths, according to Albert L. Merati, chief of laryngology at the University of Washington School of Medicine. They can cause hoarseness and almost always result from overusing vocal cords or trauma to the vocal cords, he said.
When actor Brad Pitt portrayed Fauci on “Saturday Night Live” in a late-April appearance, The Washington Post noted that Pitt adopted Fauci’s “distinctive raspy voice.”
Word of Fauci’s surgery was first reported by CNN’s Sanjay Gupta.
Merati said surgery to remove a polyp is “a technically demanding operation under general anesthesia that doesn’t have the systemic risk of major abdominal or thoracic surgery.”
Surgeons pass an instrument down the throat to remove a bump that may be only two millimeters thick; the part of the vocal cord that vibrates to create speech is itself just a millimeter thick, he said. The operation takes 30 to 60 minutes.
The lesions are much more frequently seen in younger patients than in someone Fauci’s age, Merati said.
It’s not clear why some people who overuse their vocal cords develop polyps, while others have temporary swelling and pain but no lasting problems, Merati said. If an examination of the polyp shows no malignancy, typical treatment involves the rest and quiet prescribed for Fauci, as well as work with a voice therapist, he said.