April 20, 2024

Elderly Man in Alaska Dies from Alaskapox Virus, First Recorded Fatality

An elderly man living in the remote Kenai Peninsula of Alaska has become the first reported person to die from the recently discovered Alaskapox virus, according to state health officials. The man, who was undergoing cancer treatment and had a suppressed immune system, was hospitalized in November and passed away in late January. His age was not specified in the bulletin released by Alaska public health officials.

Alaskapox, also known as AKPV, is a virus related to smallpox, cowpox, and mpox, and shares similar symptoms, including a rash, swollen lymph nodes, and joint or muscle pain. Since the first case of the virus was reported in 2015, there have been a total of seven cases, including the fatality. All individuals with the virus were living in the Fairbanks area, more than 300 miles away from the Kenai Peninsula. However, their cases were mild, and they recovered without requiring hospitalization.

The deceased man lived alone in a forested area and had not recently traveled or come into contact with individuals who had traveled, been ill, or had similar lesions. The exact mode of transmission of AKPV is still unclear, but researchers speculate that it may be zoonotic, meaning it could jump from animals to humans. Tests conducted by health officials found evidence of current or previous infection in small mammals in the Fairbanks area, including red-backed voles, as well as in at least one domestic pet.

The man reported that he had taken care of a stray cat at his home, which regularly hunted small mammals and frequently scratched the patient. Although the cat tested negative for the virus, it is possible that the virus was present on its claws when it scratched the man. Notably, a scratch near the armpit area, where the first symptom—a red lesion—appeared, was observed.

While there have been no documented cases of humans transmitting the virus to other humans, health officials recommend that individuals with skin lesions potentially caused by Alaskapox cover the affected area with a bandage. They also advise thoroughly washing hands and avoiding sharing clothing that may have come into contact with the lesions. Additionally, it is recommended to launder clothing and sheets separately from other household items.

Health authorities are urging Alaskans to follow federal health precautions when in close proximity to wildlife to minimize the risk of Alaskapox infections. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends washing hands with soap and water after contacting wild animals or their feces. Hunters are advised to use gloves while handling dead animals, regardless of how recently they were killed.

1. Source: Coherent Market Insights, Public sources, Desk research
2. We have leveraged AI tools to mine information and compile it