The death of an adult in a Texas hospital is being investigated as possibly the nation’s first fatality from monkeypox.
The Texas Department of State Health Services said in a news release Tuesday this was the first death of a person diagnosed with monkeypox in the state, but that the case is under investigation to determine what role the virus played in the death.
The deceased was an adult resident of Harris County, where Houston is located, and was severely immunocompromised, the state agency said.
“Monkeypox is a serious disease, particularly for those with weakened immune systems,” said Dr. John Hellerstedt, commissioner of the Texas state health department. “We continue to urge people to seek treatment if they have been exposed to monkeypox or have symptoms consistent with the disease.”
CBS News reported that a spokesperson for the Texas Department of Health and Human Services declined to confirm whether the patient had a compromised immune system due to HIV. More than 40% of the nation’s monkeypox cases involve people with HIV, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Currently, some 94% of monkeypox cases in the United States have occurred among men who have sex with men, or transgender and nonbinary people who have sex with men. The virus that starts with a rash that develops into fluid-filled pustules is spread through direct, prolonged contact that is not limited to sexual activity.
The Harris County Public Health agency said in another news release issued Monday that an autopsy is in process to determine why the adult “with various severe illnesses who was also presumptive positive for monkeypox” died on Sunday.
No further information about the adult is being shared at this time to protect the family’s privacy, the county agency said.
The final report on the death is expected to be available in the next few weeks, according to the county news release, and state and local Texas public health authorities are collaborating with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention “to determine what role, if any, monkeypox may have played in this person’s death.”
A Harris County official said in a statement the agency is trying to be transparent.
“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. “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.”
Texas has one of the nation’s highest case counts for monkeypox, according to the CDC, with 1,604 cases reported as of Monday. Only New York, California and Florida have more cases among the 18,101 reported nationwide. The Utah Department of Health and Human Services reports 99 monkeypox cases in Utah through Monday.
So far, 15 deaths from monkeypox have been reported worldwide during the current outbreak, and none yet in the United States. Countries where monkeypox deaths have occurred are Cuba, Ecuador, Brazil, Spain, India and three nations in Africa, according to the CDC.