Texas sees first monkeypox-related death as disease continues spreading

Hogan Gore Nicole Villalpando
Austin American-Statesman

State officials confirmed on Tuesday a patient diagnosed with monkeypox has died in Harris County, the state's first death related to the ongoing health crisis.

The rare disease — which is caused by infection with the monkeypox virus and has a 3%-6% mortality rate — so far has resulted in less severe, nonlife-threatening cases highlighted by symptoms of fever, headache, aches, rashes and blisters in such sensitive areas as the eyes, mouth and genitals.

According to the Texas Department of State Health Services, the adult in the Houston area whose death was announced Tuesday was "severely immunocompromised." Officials are investigating what role monkeypox played in the patient's death.

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“Monkeypox is a serious disease, particularly for those with weakened immune systems,” said Dr. John Hellerstedt, state health services commissioner. “We continue to urge people to seek treatment if they have been exposed to monkeypox or have symptoms consistent with the disease.”

Austin Public Health announced Thursday there were 118 confirmed cases of monkeypox in Travis County, up 26.9% from 93 cases the previous week and up 73.5% from 68 cases two weeks ago.

Austin-Travis County Health Authority Dr. Desmar Walkes, left, speaks about monkeypox while Travis County Judge Andy Brown, center, and Austin Mayor Steve Adler stand by during a press conference at City Hall on Aug. 9 when Austin Public Health, Austin and Travis County declared monkeypox a public health emergency.

People testing positive for monkeypox can be contagious for between two and four weeks, and symptoms can take up to 21 days to surface, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Travis County recorded its first monkeypox case June 24, according to Austin-Travis County Health Authority Dr. Desmar Walkes. Since then, the cases have grown exponentially week by week.

On Aug. 9, Austin Public Health, the city of Austin and Travis County declared monkeypox a public health emergency.

Williamson County recorded its first case July 14, and Hays County on Aug. 12.

A limited supply of monkeypox vaccine is being administered on a case-by-case basis in Austin.

Monkeypox vaccinations are available through the local Health Authority and the Wellness Equity Alliance, albeit limited to those who are at high risk of contracting the disease. A questionnaire through the alliance is available for anyone looking to schedule a vaccination appointment.

People at high risk of contracting the disease include: a person who has had close contact with or been exposed to someone diagnosed with monkeypox in the last 14 days; those who have had multiple sexual partners in recent weeks; men and transgender women with multiple or anonymous sexual partners in the past 21 days; and those diagnosed with a sexually transmitted disease in the past 12 months.

In Travis County, testing for monkeypox through a health care provider is limited to those who are experiencing lesions. Those who are tested are asked to isolate and avoid contact with shared spaces and other people.

Texas had 1,604 monkeypox cases, as of Tuesday, according to the CDC.