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An adult Harris County resident who was diagnosed with monkeypox has died, marking the first publicly reported death associated with the virus in the U.S., health officials said Tuesday.
The person was “severely immunocompromised,” Texas Health and Human Services officials said. State health officials cautioned that while the person had the disease, it was still being investigated how that factored into the death. Officials said an autopsy was being performed and they expected the results to be ready in a few weeks.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told CBS News that the Texas death is the first linked to the virus that the agency is aware of in the country.
“Our thoughts are with the family during this heartbreaking time,” a CDC spokesperson said to The Texas Tribune. “It is important to remember that infections with the type of monkeypox virus identified in this outbreak—the Clade IIb — are rarely fatal. Most people who get this form of the disease are likely to survive.”
The agency said until an investigation into the death is complete, “it is premature to assign a specific cause of death.”
The report comes as alarm about the disease continues to rise, with 18,101 cases reported in the country so far, according to the CDC. Texas, with 1,604 cases, is the state with the fourth-highest total of infections.
However, deaths associated with monkeypox are still considered rare. There have only been 15 deaths reported in the world, according to the CDC.
Texas reported its first case of the disease in June. Health officials have said monkeypox does not pose a risk to the general public, though on Tuesday the state’s top health official labeled monkeypox a “serious disease.”
“Particularly for those with weakened immune systems,” said John Hellerstedt, commissioner of the Texas Department of State Health Services. “We continue to urge people to seek treatment if they have been exposed to monkeypox or have symptoms consistent with the disease.”
Federal health officials are particularly concerned about immunocompromised individuals living with HIV. Outside of immunocompromised people, officials warned that young children, pregnant individuals, and people with a history of eczema or atopic dermatitis may be at increased risk for severe outcomes.
In late July, Texas received a shipment of 14,000 monkeypox vaccines, but supply for the shots has been limited. Officials did not expect more vaccines to be available until late August or early September.
State health officials are urging anyone with symptoms or exposure to monkeypox to contact health providers about a possible test, stay home and avoid close contact with others until the rash from the disease has fully resolved.
Harris County Public Health handed down similar recommendations to residents who may have been exposed to the disease, telling them to avoid close gatherings with others.
Gov. Greg Abbott’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the death.
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