An elderly man from the Kenai Peninsula, Alaska, with a compromised immune system, has become the first person in the state to die as a result of Alaskapox, a newly identified viral disease. The man passed away in late January while undergoing treatment, according to the Alaska Department of Public Health. This marks the seventh reported case of Alaskapox infection in the state.
The Alaska health authorities are urging the public to stay vigilant, although they advise against panic. State epidemiologist Julia Rogers emphasizes the importance of educating clinicians about Alaskapox to ensure early recognition of its signs and symptoms. Alaskapox is a double-stranded DNA virus belonging to the same genus as smallpox, monkeypox, and cowpox. It was first identified in Fairbanks, Alaska, in 2015 and is commonly found in small mammals such as voles and shrews.
The diagnosis of Alaskapox in this particular case took several months. Previous cases of Alaskapox presented only mild symptoms, including a localized rash and swollen lymph nodes. Patients who tested positive for the virus did not require treatment, as they had healthy immune systems, as reported by health officials.
While the man’s compromised immune system likely played a significant role in his death, the source of his infection remains unknown. Despite living alone in a wooded area and not having recently traveled, it is possible that the man contracted Alaskapox from his cat, which frequently hunted small mammals and scratched him when his symptoms began. Although the cat tested negative for the virus, transmission through its claws is a potential cause.
The man initially sought medical attention in September after noticing a red bump in his right armpit. He was prescribed antibiotics, but his symptoms worsened over the next six weeks, including fatigue and pain. He was admitted to a hospital in Anchorage in December, where extensive testing showed an initial positive result for cowpox. However, further testing by the Centers for Disease Control confirmed the presence of Alaskapox. While his condition temporarily improved with intravenous medications, the man ultimately succumbed to kidney and respiratory failure in late January.
The case highlights the need for enhanced awareness and understanding of Alaskapox, both among healthcare professionals and the general public. Proper education and recognition of the disease’s symptoms are crucial for early intervention and treatment. Alaska’s health authorities continue to monitor the situation closely and advise individuals with compromised immune systems to take necessary precautions.