Texas authorities on Tuesday confirmed the first US death linked to monkeypox, but said they are still determining what role the disease played in the demise of the “severely immunocompromised” patient.
So far, there have not been any other reports of monkeypox patient deaths in the United States during the recent outbreak, and few who have died worldwide.
“The case is under investigation to determine what role monkeypox played in the death,” Texas health authorities said in a statement.
They specified the patient was an adult whose immune system was severely weakened.
“I think that additional investigation is needed to know what role monkeypox may or may not have played in their death,” Jennifer McQuiston of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said at a press conference.
“It’s important to emphasize that deaths due to monkeypox, while possible, remain very rare,” she said, noting that only a “handful” of people had died from among more than 40,000 cases recorded in the current outbreak.
So far, United States has seen 18,100 cases of monkeypox. The number of new infections appears to have recently slowed slightly, according to data from health authorities.
The epidemic primarily affects gay and bisexual men, and most transmissions take place during sexual intercourse.
According to a CDC study last week, since hearing about the outbreak, about half of men who have sex with other men have reduced the number of partners they have, the number of one-night stands, or their use of dating apps to seek sex.
The United States has focused its response to the epidemic on distributing vaccines. The government has announced that doses will be made available specifically at major LGBTQ events, including Atlanta’s “Black Pride,” two events in Oakland, California, and the Southern Decadence festival in New Orleans this weekend.
US health authorities have also launched an initiative to target smaller events, in particular to reach out more to minorities; for example, the “the house [music] and ballroom community,” which attract “a lot of young people and people of color,” said Dr Demetre Daskalakis, deputy epidemic response coordinator for the White House.