What is Alaskapox? First death from mysterious virus reported in Alaska

A person in Alaska has died after becoming ill with a rare virus known as Alaskapox. The fatal case involved an elderly man with a weakened immune system who lived on the Kenai Peninsula in Southcentral Alaska.

He first sought medical attention in mid-September 2023 after noticing a tender red papule under his right arm, according to an Alaska Department of Health bulletin. Over the next six weeks, he visited the emergency department several times for clinical evaluation of the lesion and was prescribed multiple antibiotics, but his condition worsened.

After continuing to suffer from fatigue and increasing pain in his shoulder, he was hospitalized in Anchorage on November 17. While trying to diagnose the mysterious illness, a lesion swab was submitted to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which revealed that he was ill. infected with the Alaska pox virus (AKPV).

The immunocompromised patient died in late January 2024 from complications resulting from the infection.

Some clues may indicate how the man became infected with Alaskapox. The man lived alone in a wooded area, reported no recent travel and had no close contact with recent travel, illness or similar injuries.

Research by the CDC has found that AKPV is present in at least four different species of small mammals living in the state, including shrews and red-backed voles.

Before his death, he reported that he was caring for a stray cat in his home that regularly hunted small mammals. He also said the cat scratched him frequently, including a noticeable scratch near his right shoulder just a month before his rash developed.

What is Alaskapox?

Alaskapox is a virus first documented in 2015 in a woman living near Fairbanks, Alaska, USA. It’s part of the Orthopoxvirus genus, which includes several types of viruses that can cause other diseases in humans, such as smallpox, cowpox, horsepox, camelpox, and mpox.

Prior to this latest fatal case, six AKPV infections had been reported to the Alaska Section of Epidemiology as of December 2023. All of these reported infections occurred in residents of the Fairbanks area, which is a significant distance from the Kenai Peninsula.

Fortunately, all cases managed to make a full recovery. The symptoms of their self-limiting disease include a localized rash and swollen lymph nodes.

Symptoms of Alaskapox

Typical symptoms of Alaskapox include a skin lesion, as well as swollen lymph nodes and joint or muscle pain, according to the state of Alaska. They added that people with the infection often mistake the skin lesion for an insect bite.

Can people with Alaskapox infect other people?

As it stands, there is currently no evidence that the Alaska pox virus can spread from person to person.

The Alaska pox virus mainly occurs in small mammals. Although health authorities are not entirely sure how the virus spreads from animals to humans, it is clear that many people with the infection come into contact with small mammals or natural environments where wildlife may live.

What should I do if I think I have Alaskapox?

If you suspect you have an Alaskapox infection, make sure to keep the lesion covered and avoid touching it. People should also seek medical attention as soon as possible.

Healthcare providers are advised to contact the Alaska Section of Epidemiology at 907-269-8000 and take photographs of the lesion.

All “explainer” articles are confirmed by fact checkers to be correct at the time of publication. Text, images and links can be edited, deleted or added at a later time to keep the information current.

The content of this article is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of qualified healthcare providers with any questions you may have regarding medical conditions.

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