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First death of American with monkeypox reported in Tex.; cause unknown

Patient was severely immunocompromised with various illnesses

Family nurse practitioner Carol Ramsubhag-Carela prepares a syringe with the monkeypox vaccine before inoculating a patient at a vaccinations site in Brooklyn on Aug. 30. (Jeenah Moon/AP)

Authorities are investigating the death of a person diagnosed with monkeypox in Texas to determine if it is the first known U.S. fatality in an outbreak declared a national emergency.

Health officials said the Harris County resident who died Sunday was a severely immunocompromised adult who had various serious illnesses. They cautioned that the cause of death, including the role that monkeypox played, remains unknown; autopsy results will be available in the coming weeks.

“Monkeypox is a serious disease, particularly for those with weakened immune systems,” John Hellerstedt, commissioner of the Texas Department of State Health Services, said in a statement Tuesday. “We continue to urge people to seek treatment if they have been exposed to monkeypox or have symptoms consistent with the disease.”

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported more than 18,000 monkeypox infections in the United States and no deaths. The World Health Organization has reported nearly 50,000 cases of monkeypox worldwide and 15 deaths.

“It’s important to emphasize that deaths due to monkeypox, while possible, remain very rare. In most cases, people are experiencing infection that resolves over time,” Jennifer McQuiston, incident manager for the CDC’s monkeypox response, told reporters Tuesday. “It’s serious and our hearts certainly go out to this family who have lost a loved one.”

The Texas state health agency declined to offer additional details about the death. A spokesperson for Harris County’s health department did not immediately return a request for comment.

“We are sharing this information to err on the side of transparency and to avoid potential misinformation about this case,” Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said in a statement. “The best way for us to fight this virus is through vaccines. Our goal is still to get as many people who qualify vaccinated as quickly as possible.”

Monkeypox causes an illness that lasts several weeks with symptoms including fever, swollen glands and a rash that can spread throughout the body. Some of the most extreme cases involve people suffering excruciating pain from lesions in the anus and urethra while going to the bathroom. In cases reported to the CDC, 44 percent involved rectal pain, 25 percent reported rectal bleeding and 23 percent involved pain when wanting to pass stool.

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Infections have been overwhelmingly recorded in men who have sex with men and disproportionately in people with HIV. Fewer than 1 in 10 people diagnosed with monkeypox have been hospitalized in samples of cases reviewed in detail by researchers.

The current monkeypox outbreak appears to be less deadly than recent ones in parts of Africa where the virus is endemic and where the case fatality ratio had been between 3 to 6 percent.