Alaska health officials have confirmed the first death from a recently discovered viral disease – Alaskapox. The disease claimed the life of an elderly immunocompromised man from the Kenai peninsula, south of Anchorage, in late January. The man, who was undergoing treatment at the time, is one of only seven reported Alaskapox infections, the Alaska Department of Public Health said in an announcement.
“People should not necessarily be concerned but more aware,” said Julia Rogers, a state epidemiologist, according to New York Post. “So we’re hoping to make clinicians more aware of what Alaskapox virus is, so that they can identify signs and symptoms.”
It took several months for the fatal case to be diagnosed. According to authorities, the patient’s immunocompromised condition may have contributed to his death. It is unclear how he contracted the disease.
The man lived in the woods alone and did not travel recently. It is possible he may have contracted the disease from a cat he lived with. The animal reportedly scratched him when his symptoms began. It often hunted small mammals. Although the cat tested negative for the virus, officials believe it could have spread from its claws.
The man was hospitalised in Anchorage and underwent a “battery of tests” in December. Initially, he tested positive for cowpox. However, additional testing by the Centers for Disease Control later revealed it was Alaskapox. He died after experiencing kidney and respiratory failure.
What is Alaskapox?
The double-stranded-DNA virus comes from the same genus as smallpox, monkeypox and cowpox. It was first identified in an adult in Fairbanks, Alaska in 2015, and is most common in small mammals.
According to the State of Alaska’s website, “To date, no human-to-human transmission of Alaskapox virus has been documented. However, since certain orthopoxviruses can be transmitted through direct contact with skin lesions, we recommend that people with skin lesions possibly caused by Alaskapox keep the affected area covered with a bandage.”
It adds, “Symptoms of Alaskapox have included one or more skin lesions (bumps or pustules) and other symptoms like swollen lymph nodes and joint and/or muscle pain. Immunocompromised people might be at increased risk for more severe illness.”