South Africa records first mpox death after five cases in past month

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By Tannur Anders

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) -A 37-year-old man has died in South Africa from the viral infection mpox, becoming the first fatality in the country after five laboratory-confirmed cases were recorded over the past month, the health minister said on Wednesday.

The man died in Tembisa Hospital on Monday, Health Minister Joe Phaahla told a news conference.

“One death is too many, especially from a preventable and manageable disease like mpox,” he said.

Mpox, which causes flu-like symptoms and pus-filled lesions, spreads through close physical contact. Most cases are mild but it can kill.

Unlike with COVID, “there must have been contact between people on a skin-to-skin contact level,” Phaahla said.

South Africa’s five confirmed mpox cases between May and June were in men aged 30 to 39 years old without travel history to countries experiencing an outbreak, suggesting local transmission, the minister said.

The five cases were severe and required hospitalisation, he said, adding “the cases have co-morbidities and have been identified as key populations, men who have sex with men”.

Two of those patients remain in hospital, he said.

Sequencing of three of the cases found the strain mpox clade IIb, which began to spread globally in 2022.

Mpox was first detected in humans in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1970, and the DRC accounted for more than 99% of cases of mpox reported in Africa in April, according to the World Health Organization.

South Africa recorded five mpox cases in 2022 and no deaths, with no cases in 2023, the health ministry said.

(Reporting by Tannur Anders; Editing by Alexander Winning, Hugh Lawson and Bernadette Baum)

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