An elderly man from the Kenai peninsula, south of Anchorage, died while undergoing treatment in late January. Health officials say the man is the first individual to die of a virus known as Alaskapox.
According to the Alaska Health Department, Alaska Pox is a disease caused by a virus in what’s known as the orthopox group. It is related to more dangerous viruses that cause monkeypox and smallpox.
The virus-causing Alaskapox is maintained in and spread by populations of small mammals. Health officials report that the first case of a human Alaska Pox infection was detected in 2015 in the Fairbanks area.
A recent case of Alaskapox virus resulted in the death of an elderly man sparking concerns among about the severity outside its known epicenter. https://t.co/iYlJ4zIAeN
— NewsNation (@NewsNation) February 12, 2024
The next case was detected in 2020. There were two more in 2021, one in 2022, and one last year. The Kenai Peninsula case is the seventh case to be identified.
Daily Mail reports that the deceased was already a cancer patient. He first reported signs of infection in September, citing a tender lesion that appeared near his armpit. The infection worsened, and after six weeks of emergency visits from state officials, he was hospitalized.
The outlet also reported that as his condition worsened, he was transferred to an Anchorage hospital, where the staff were able to identify the infection but were unable to save him. Despite the treatment, the deceased suffered renal failure, respiratory failure, malnutrition and other problems.
According to the New York Post, the deceased lived alone in the woods and reported no recent travel. Officials said the victim could have gotten Alaskapox from a cat he lived with who frequently hunted small mammals and scratched him when his symptoms started.
Serum and mucosal swabs collected from the cat were submitted to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), for antibody and orthopoxvirus testing. The animal tested negative for the virus, but it was reported that it could have spread from its claws.
Doctors who performed the test said it is unclear how the deceased contracted the virus.
“The route of exposure, in this case, remains unclear, although scratches from the stray cat represent a possible source of inoculation through fomite transmission,” a spokesperson for the doctors said.
The representative also added that The State of Alaska’s Epidemiology is working with the University of Alaska Museum and the CDC to test small mammals for Alaska Pox Virus in and around the region.