South Africa records first mpox death after five cases confirmed

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A 37-year-old man has become South Africa’s first recorded death from mpox after five laboratory-confirmed cases of the viral infection were recorded in 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.

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

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Phaahla said all of South Africa’s mpox cases were in men aged between 30 and 39 years old without travel history to countries currently experiencing an outbreak, which suggests local transmission of the infectious disease.

“All five cases were classified (as) severe cases ... requiring hospitalization. The cases have co-morbidities and have been identified as key populations, men who have sex with men,” he told reporters.

One patient has been discharged, one discharged for home isolation and two remain in hospital.

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

The Republic of the Congo declared an epidemic of mpox in April after recording 19 cases of the virus. Mpox was first detected in humans in neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo in 1970, according to the World Health Organization.

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