First fatal case of Alaskapox reported in Kenai Peninsula

First fatal case of Alaskapox reported in Kenai Peninsula

As of Friday, February 9, state health officials reported that the first fatal case of Alaskapox, a virus that was discovered just nine years ago, was an old man on the Kenai Peninsula.

The man dies in late January while undergoing treatment for the virus.

The newly found species of the double-stranded DNA virus, which was initially found in Alaska in 2015, is related to smallpox, monkeypox, and cowpox, according to health officials. It usually affects small mammals, such as shrews and voles.

According to state health officials, the deadly case—which took months to diagnose—is noteworthy since, in the past, Alaskapox had only caused minor infections.


What is Alaskapox and its common symptoms?

First fatal case of Alaskapox reported in Kenai PeninsulaFirst fatal case of Alaskapox reported in Kenai Peninsula
The virus was first identified in 2015. (Image via Unsplash)

The orthopoxvirus known as Alaskapox (AKPV) was first discovered in a patient in Fairbanks, Alaska, in 2015, as per the Alaska Health Department. It is known that orthopoxviruses can infect mammals, including humans, and cause skin sores. There have been six more instances of the Alaskapox virus recorded in Alaska since 2015. Of those, five were residents of Fairbanks North Star Borough and one was in the Kenai Peninsula Borough.

AKPV has been known to cause skin lesions (such as lumps or pustules) in addition to other symptoms including enlarged lymph nodes and pain in the joints or muscles. Those with weakened immune systems may be more susceptible to more serious diseases.


How did the man infect Alaskapox?

Practice hygiene when handling pets. (Image via Unsplash)Practice hygiene when handling pets. (Image via Unsplash)
Practice hygiene when handling pets. (Image via Unsplash)

Alaska Public Media reported that the man who contracted the virus died alone in a Kenai Peninsula wilderness, where he was feeding and engaging with a stray cat that he claimed frequently scratched him and went after small creatures. The cat’s AKPV test result was negative, however, it may have carried the virus in its claws.

The man who died from AKPV was old and had a weakened immune system after cancer treatment, according to the health department. A big lesion under his armpit served as the initial sign of his symptoms. His doctor sent a swab to the CDC as he started to develop more pox-like sores, and the CDC identified the strain of AKPV as being distinct.

The individual sought medical attention multiple times over the course of six weeks after noticing a sensitive red bump under his armpit, according to the Alaska Section of Epidemiology, and was then administered antibiotics. His symptoms worsened by mid-November and included discomfort and exhaustion.

According to the report, the man started to get better about a week after receiving intravenous medicine treatment, but he passed away in late January from kidney failure and other systemic declines.


Health officials advise anyone with a lesion to bandage it and notify a healthcare practitioner of any potential Alaskapox symptoms. Additionally, whether hunting, trapping, or around pets that can come into contact with creatures like voles or shrews, Alaskans should practice proper hygiene.


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