(CNN) — Monkeypox was the cause of death in a Los Angeles County resident, the county’s Department of Public Health said Monday, in the first known death from the virus in the US.
The department and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirmed the link, saying the person had a severely weakened immune system and had been hospitalized. No further information will be made public, the department said in a news release.
“Severely immunocompromised individuals who suspect they have monkeypox are encouraged to seek medical care and treatment early and remain under the care of a provider throughout their illness,” the news release says.
Dr. William Schaffner, a professor in the Division of Infectious Diseases at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, told CNN in an email that the person’s “impaired immune system was unable to control the virus once it entered their body, the virus multiplied uncontrollably and probably spread to various organ systems, causing them to malfunction.
Deaths from monkeypox are extremely rare and often affect infants, pregnant women, and people with weakened immune systems, such as from HIV. A person in Harris County, Texas, who had monkeypox died last month, but the role of the virus in that death has not been confirmed.
There have been nearly 22,000 cases of probable or confirmed monkeypox reported in the US this year, as of Monday, CDC data shows. California has the most cases: 4,300.
Globally in this outbreak, there have been nearly 58,000 cases and 18 confirmed deaths, according to CDC data, which does not yet include deaths in the US.
Trends in monkeypox cases appear to be leveling off, health officials say, but that shouldn’t lead to complacency.
“We continue to see a downward trend in Europe,” World Health Organization director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said last week. “While reported cases in the Americas have also decreased in the past week, it is more difficult to draw firm conclusions about the epidemic in that region. Some countries in the Americas continue to report increasing numbers of cases and some may not be report due to stigma and discrimination or lack of information for those who need it most.
“A downtrend can be the most dangerous moment if it opens the door to complacency,” he warned.