Texas health officials on Tuesday reported that an immunocompromised patient with monkeypox has died. This would be the first known death from the virus in the United States, if it is confirmed that monkeypox played a role.
The patient was a “severely immunocompromised” adult resident of Harris County, the Texas Department of State Health Services announced in a news release. Health officials said it is still under investigation what role monkeypox played in the death.
“Monkeypox is a serious disease, particularly for those with weakened immune systems,” said Dr. John Hellerstedt, DSHS Commissioner. “We continue to urge people to seek treatment if they have been exposed to monkeypox or have symptoms consistent with the disease.”
During a White House monkeypox response briefing on Tuesday, Dr. Jennifer McQuiston, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's monkeypox response incident manager, said the CDC is aware of the report and has been in touch with local officials.
"It's our understanding this patient also had underlying health conditions and a number of things going on, and I think that additional investigation is needed to know what role monkeypox may or may not have played in their death. So we'll be reporting that out as soon as we have more information," McQuiston said.
She also emphasized that deaths due to monkeypox remain rare worldwide. According to CDC, there have been 15 confirmed deaths attributed to monkeypox worldwide, including six deaths in locations that have not historically reported monkeypox. If the death reported in Texas is confirmed to be related to monkeypox, the global death toll would rise to 16.
"It's serious, and our hearts certainly go out to this family who have lost a loved one, and while we are doing further investigations to find out what role monkeypox may have played, it's important to focus [on the] mitigation measures in place to prevent monkeypox," McQuiston added. "Get vaccinated; if you're sick, go to a doctor; get tested; and if you have severe illness, there are treatments that are available."
More than 18,000 confirmed cases of monkeypox have been reported in the U.S., with 48,800 confirmed cases worldwide.
Monkeypox primarily spreads through close, intimate contact, including kissing or hugging someone infected with the virus, or coming in contact with the bedding or towels of an infected person. Most of the people who have gotten sick so far have been men who have sex with men, but the virus can infect anyone.
Symptoms include a sometimes painful or itchy rash resembling pimples or blisters, along with flu-like symptoms such as fever, chills, muscle aches and respiratory symptoms.
Most people with monkeypox recover fully within two to four weeks without the need for medical treatment, but if you have symptoms of monkeypox the CDC recommends talking to your healthcare provider, even if you don’t think you had contact with someone who has monkeypox.
If you have monkeypox, the CDC advises isolating at home until the rash has healed and a new layer of skin has formed, and notifying any close contacts who may have been exposed.