First Death Reported In Alaskapox Outbreak

Health officials in Alaska announced earlier this month that an elderly man from the Kenai Peninsula was the first confirmed fatality of the recently discovered Alaskapox virus, the Associated Press reported.

The man, who was first hospitalized in November, reportedly died in late January, state health officials announced in a February 9 bulletin.

The man, whose name and age were withheld, was receiving cancer treatment that suppressed his immune system, likely contributing to the severity of the virus.

Alaskapox (or AKPV) is a virus related to smallpox, featuring similar symptoms like joint pain, swollen lymph nodes, muscle stiffness, and skin lesions. The first case of Alaskapox was reported in 2015. Since then, there have only been six other cases reported. All of the other cases were from the Fairbanks area, over 300 miles from Kenai Peninsula, according to health officials.

The other cases were all mild, with patients recovering without hospitalization.

According to the Alaska Department of Health’s bulletin, the Kenai man lived alone in a wooded area and had not traveled recently, nor had he been in contact with anyone who was sick or recently traveled.

Researchers believe that Alaskapox is a zoonotic virus, meaning that it can jump to humans from animals. Recent tests revealed evidence of the virus in several small mammals, including voles and one domestic pet, in the Fairbanks region.

While the man in Kenai cared for a stray cat, testing on the cat was negative for the virus. However, the cat “regularly hunted small mammals” and had scratched the man frequently, according to health officials. Doctors reported that there was a “notable” scratch on the man’s armpit near where the first Alaskapox lesion was found.

Health officials said while there has been no reported case of human-to-human transfer of the virus, those suffering from skin lesions should bandage the affected area. They also suggested that the clothes and bedding of an affected individual should be washed separately.

According to the CDC, those who come in contact with either wild animals or their feces should wash thoroughly with soap and water. Hunters and others who handle dead animals should always wear gloves.