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First death in US from monkeypox reported

By LIU YINMENG in Los Angeles | China Daily Global | Updated: 2022-09-14 10:00

A sign announcing monkeypox vaccination is setup in Tropical Park by Miami-Dade County and Nomi Health on August 15, 2022 in Miami, Florida. [Photo/Agencies]

A California resident with a weakened immune system has died from monkeypox, marking the first US fatality from the virus.

The Los Angeles County patient was "severely immunocompromised" and "had been hospitalized", the Los Angeles Public Health Department said in a statement Monday. The death was confirmed by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the statement added. No further information on the patient was released due to privacy concerns.

"Those with severe immunocompromise are less able to control viral spread and are susceptible to mortality from the infection," Dr Monica Gandhi, an infectious disease expert with the University of California San Francisco, told China Daily in an email.

Another person with monkeypox died last month in Texas, though it is not known how much the disease contributed to the death, if at all.

Officials in Harris County, Texas — where the death occurred — first reported it on Aug 29. The person who died was "severely immunocompromised", according to health officials, and the role of the presumptive monkeypox infection was unclear.

"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 announcing the death.

Autopsy results for the death in Texas were expected to be available a few weeks after the announcement, officials said.

Monkeypox is caused by infection with the monkeypox virus. It is related to the virus that causes smallpox. Monkeypox is rarely fatal. Patients experience similar but milder symptoms to smallpox, the CDC said.

At least 22,630 confirmed cases of monkeypox had been reported in the US as of Tuesday afternoon, CDC data show. California, where 4,300 patients have been identified, has the highest tally. It is followed by New York, with 3,679 cases, and Florida, with 2,282 cases.

There have been 59,179 cases worldwide. A high proportion of the global cases have been reported from Europe and the Americas. The US has the highest concentration of cases among all countries, according to the CDC.

Most of the cases have occurred among men who have sex with men, the World Health Organization (WHO) said. Researchers are working to understand why the infections have become widespread outside of countries where the virus is endemic.

In August, the Biden administration declared the US outbreak a public health emergency to boost vaccine supplies across the country.

Before the 2022 monkeypox outbreak, the disease was limited to people in several central and western African countries. This is the first time that monkeypox transmissions are occurring in countries without direct or immediate epidemiological links to regions where it commonly occurs, according to WHO.

The disease can be transmitted through intimate contact with the infected person or through touching the objects used by a monkeypox patient.

The federal government has been criticized for its response to monkeypox, which caused the virus to spread largely undetected among communities. Between July 11-16, the number of probable or confirmed monkeypox cases in the US more than doubled within a single week, CNN reported in July.

Although the monkeypox outbreak continued to grow in the US, "there are recent signs the rate of growth is slowing", based on estimates from the first half of August, the CDC said in a technical report updated Sept 1.

Gandhi said "cases are definitely slowing" in the US. She noted three factors that likely contributed to the drop: behavioral changes, with fewer sexual partners; natural immunity in the most affected population (gay men) as the infection spread; and a brisker Jynneos vaccine rollout in the country.

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