A person in Los Angeles has become the first confirmed death due to monkeypox in the US. The Los Angeles Department of Public Health announced the death in on September 12, noting that the patient was “severely immunocompromised” and had been hospitalized. Few other details were given.
The statement notes that the death was “due to monkeypox.” While a person with monkeypox died last month in Texas, doctors are still investigating whether the virus was directly responsible for their death. Once again, this person had a severely weakened immune system.
In Europe, there have been at least two reported monkeypox deaths, both of which were in Spain. Following these two deaths, the World Health Organization's European office said more monkeypox-related deaths can be expected
Monkeypox is an infectious disease caused by the monkeypox virus, which is part of the same family of viruses as the variola virus that causes smallpox, as its name suggests. Typical symptoms include fever, headache, achy muscles, chills, swollen lymph nodes in the neck, and – most distinctively – an unusual skin rash that can look like pimples or blisters.
The ongoing outbreak of the disease has taken health authorities by surprise. Cases of the disease are typically found in parts of sub-Saharan Africa where the virus is naturally found in monkeys and rodents. However, the current outbreak has predominately affected parts of the world that haven’t historically reported monkeypox.
As of September 14, the virus has infected just under 60,000 people so far this year. Over a third of these have been reported in the US, while thousands more have been confirmed across the Atlantic in Europe.
Monkeypox deaths remain extremely rare. According to the World Health Organization, the fatality rate is around 3 to 6 percent. However, this figure is based on recent outbreaks in sub-Saharan Africa where there is poorer access to healthcare.
Another unusual feature of this outbreak is that it has overwhelmingly impacted men who have sex with men. However, anyone can become infected with monkeypox, which spreads through close contact with an infected person.
Virologists recognize two strains of monkeypox virus: the West African strain and the Congo strain, the latter of which is thought to be more severe and more transmissible in humans. The latest outbreak in the US and Europe is being solely driven by the less-severe West African strain.
There is also evidence that the monkeypox virus has recently mutated at a far faster rate than scientists would typically expect, which could potentially explain the ongoing explosion of cases in the parts of the world where the virus doesn’t usually thrive.