First death from ‘Alaskapox’ highlights need for statewide vigilance

An Alaskapox lesion about 10 days after symptom onset.—Alaska Department of Health

Alaskapox, a virus believed to have surfaced in the human population around 2015 in Fairbanks, recently claimed its first victim, Newsweek reported. 

The Alaska Department of Health reported seven recorded cases of infections, all initially within the Fairbanks area and mostly involving mild symptoms like localised rashes. The recent fatality occurred in a man who resided alone in a wooded region, seemingly unrelated to prior cases.

The individual, who hadn’t travelled recently or been in contact with symptomatic individuals, had, however, cared for a stray cat that regularly hunted and scratched him. 

The virus, detected in red voles and squirrels, is known to primarily circulate within animal populations but occasionally spills over into humans, warned Julia Rogers, an epidemiologist with the CDC in Alaska.

Testing at the University of Alaska’s Museum of the North revealed the virus’s presence in a vole specimen from 25 years ago, suggesting its existence in small mammals predates its emergence in humans. There’s a concern that Alaskapox may have spread beyond Alaska’s borders.

The elderly man sought medical attention after noticing a red spot on his armpit, which eventually led to hospitalisation due to the progression of his symptoms. Initial tests misidentified the virus as cowpox, but subsequent advanced testing by the CDC confirmed Alaskapox.

While targeted treatment initially showed promise, the man’s health deteriorated, leading to complications like delayed wound healing, malnutrition, kidney failure, and respiratory failure, ultimately resulting in his death. 

The Alaska Department of Health emphasised the need for increased statewide awareness given the virus’s apparent broader geographic presence in the state’s small mammal population.

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