A Texas patient who was infected with monkeypox has died, though state health officials said Tuesday it's too early to say what role the virus may have played in the death.
The adult, who died in a hospital in Harris County, was "severely immunocompromised" and had "various severe illnesses," health officials said. Autopsy results are expected in the next few weeks.
"Monkeypox is a serious disease, particularly for those with weakened immune systems," Texas Department of Health Services Commissioner Dr. John Hellerstedt said in a news release announcing the death. "We continue to urge people to seek treatment if they have been exposed to monkeypox or have symptoms consistent with the disease."
"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 separate 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 -- I have always felt that vaccines are the key to reducing spread."
The death is the first in the United States publicly reported in a person who had monkeypox. Texas has had 1,604 reported monkeypox infections during the current outbreak, which started in the spring. There are now more than 18,000 cases confirmed across the United States, according to figures from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The circulating monkeypox virus is believed to be the less deadly of two known groups and is significantly less dangerous than smallpox. Those who are most at risk for severe disease include children under the age of 8, people who are pregnant or immunocompromised, and people who have previously had eczema, according to the CDC.
People living with HIV are one group of immunocompromised Americans that health officials are concerned for, given that they have comprised a large share of monkeypox diagnoses. People taking treatments for HIV infections don't appear to be having more complications, according to the CDC, but those with uncontrolled HIV may have more risk.
"In my experience, I've not seen differences in the clinical manifestation of this particular atypical outbreak between those that are taking medicine to prevent HIV and those that are taking medicine to treat their HIV," the CDC's Bruce Furness said during a recent webinar, CBS News reported.
"That being said, we have seen one or two pretty bad outbreaks among HIV-infected individuals that didn't have good control. And when I say this, I'm talking, the pictures of these patients are similar to what you see about those with those really bad outbreaks in the Congo, and in the parts of Africa where this virus is endemic," Furness added.
Texas Department of Health and Human Services declined to confirm whether the patient who died had HIV or other details "at this time to respect the family's privacy."
The World Health Organization has more on monkeypox.
SOURCES: Texas Department of Health Services, news release, Aug. 30, 2022; Harris County Public Health, news release, Aug. 30, 2022; CBS News