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Virginia reports first monkeypox death

This image provided by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) shows a colorized transmission electron micrograph of monkeypox particles (red) found within an infected cell (blue), cultured in the laboratory that was captured and color-enhanced at the NIAID Integrated Research Facility (IRF) in Fort Detrick, Md.Associated Press

Virginia public health officials Thursday morning reported the state’s first monkeypox-related death, bringing the United States death toll to 16, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The person who died was a resident of the health department's Eastern region, which includes Virginia Beach, Hampton Roads and the Eastern Shore. Officials declined to disclose the person's age, gender identity or vaccination status.

"Our thoughts are with the decedent's family at this difficult time," State Health Commissioner Colin Greene said in a statement, using the term "mpox," following the World Health Organization's renaming of the disease in an effort to destigmatize it. "Mpox is a serious disease, especially for those with weakened immune systems. If you have been exposed to mpox or have symptoms consistent with the disease, we urge you to seek medical consultation now."

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The CDC reports 29,367 confirmed cases of monkeypox in the United States, including 524 in D.C., 732 in Maryland and 558 in Virginia since the outbreak began in May. A Maryland resident who was immunocompromised and tested positive for mpox died in October, officials said.

Infections of monkeypox have dropped dramatically since the peak this summer but D.C., Maryland and Virginia are still reporting a few new cases weekly.

Officials credit changes in behavior and an aggressive vaccination campaign for the decline and encourage people who are immunocompromised or otherwise high-risk to obtain the two-dose vaccine.

In the District, which has the highest case rate per capita compared with any state, more than 38,000 vaccine doses have been administered. D.C. public health officials made getting vaccinations easier when they eliminated preregistration, transitioned to an entirely walk-up system and merged monkeypox vaccine clinics with existing coronavirus vaccine centers.

By late September, D.C., Maryland and Virginia had all expanded eligibility criteria to include any person, of any sexual orientation or gender, who has had anonymous or multiple sexual partners in the past two weeks.

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This includes people considered highest-risk: gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men; transgender men and transgender women; sex workers; and staff at bathhouses, saunas or sex clubs.

Monkeypox symptoms can include fever, chills, swollen lymph nodes and a new, unexplained rash. Although painful, the infection is usually not life-threatening.