U.S. monkeypox deaths rise to 4, after New York reports 2

New York City has confirmed its first two deaths of residents who had tested positive for monkeypox, health officials said Thursday.

Only two other deaths have been confirmed so far by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, out of 27,635 infections around the country. The first confirmed death was in California and a second was later reported in Ohio.

Both were facing “underlying conditions that placed them at high risk of severe outcomes from monkeypox infection,” said Jeffrey Hammond, a spokesperson for New York’s state health department.

The exact causes of death remain under investigation. The state health department is in talks with the city health officials and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about the fatalities, Hammond said.

“We are deeply saddened by the two reported deaths and our hearts go out to the individuals’ loved ones and community. Every effort will be made to prevent additional suffering from this virus through continued community engagement, information-sharing and vaccination,” the city’s health department said in a statement.

New York City’s health department declined to provide additional information about the deaths, citing patient confidentiality.

The deaths, tallied just days apart on the CDC’s nationwide dashboard this past week, come as the pace of new infections has largely plummeted around the country. Once an early hotspot of infections, the city is averaging only a handful per day on average.

A previously reported death in a Texas patient believed to have monkeypox remains unconfirmed, according to a spokesperson for the Houston area’s Harris Health System.

However, federal health officials had warned that the agency had seen a growing number of severe infections and hospitalizations as the virus had spread into more vulnerable groups, including homeless populations and people with advanced untreated HIV.

Cases have largely been among men who have sex with men, although federal data suggest a majority of new cases are now in non-White patients.

“When people are severely immunocompromised, then they don’t have the ability to clear the virus on their own,” the CDC’s Agam Rao said Wednesday at the ID Week conference.

Rao said these cases had received treatment with tecovirimat, an experimental antiviral drug being used to treat severe monkeypox cases.

“That slows down the replication. But the immune system still needs to be the one to clear the actual virus,” said Rao.