Despite indicators that LA County’s monkeypox outbreak has been stabilizing as vaccine access continues to widen, two grim milestones have been met in the ongoing fight against the viral disease: LA County has recorded the first monkeypox-related death in the United States, as well as the first case contracted by a healthcare worker in a healthcare setting, according to county officials.

“We have identified a healthcare worker with monkeypox who appears to have been exposed to the virus at their worksite,” LA County Department of Public Health Chief Medical Officer Rita Singhal, MD, said during a briefing on Tuesday. “This is the first case of monkeypox in a healthcare worker in the United States that has been linked to a worksite exposure.” Singhal said that LA County DPH had consulted with the CDC and the risk of infection for healthcare workers remained “very low.”

As for the infected resident who died with monkeypox, Singhal said the deceased resident was “severely immunocompromised” and cautioned that immunocompromised residents who contract monkeypox should seek medical care and treatment early as the outbreak continues.

More than one in 10 Americans lives in California, but nearly two in 10 of the country’s monkeypox cases have been recorded in the Golden State. Of the 21,985 United States monkeypox cases reported in the current worldwide outbreak, 4,302 have been here in California, and 1,889 of those have been in LA County.

Singhal also presented a chart that appeared to show new monkeypox cases dropping off in the past three weeks, but added that reporting lags made it impossible to confirm if cases were dropping as sharply as it appeared.

Although the highest number of infections have been reported among LA County’s Latino population, the per-capita rate is highest among African American residents, followed by white residents and Latinos. 

Singhal presented her update to the LA County Board of Supervisors during the Board’s regular meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 13, sharing the information as well as details about the ongoing vaccine roll-out, which has expanded to offer vaccinations to a wider range of county residents.

The Chief Medical Officer reported just one in three residents who have received the first dose of the two-dose monkeypox vaccine have gone in for the second dose and urged those eligible to sign up for a second shot.

“Last week, given our increasing supply of vaccine, we expanded our vaccine eligibility to include not only people who are at high risk and may have had a recent exposure, but those who may be at risk for future exposures,” Singhal reported, with an additional 41,000 doses coming to the county this week.

Reporting by the Associated Press questioned the claim that the LA County resident who died from monkeypox was the first death in the country, writing that the CDC was unable to independently confirm the information.

“Texas public health officials on Aug. 30 reported the death of a person who had been diagnosed with monkeypox,” AP wrote. “The person was severely immunocompromised and their case is under investigation to determine what role monkeypox may have played in their death.”

emily@smdp.com