Alaskapox Claims First Reported Fatality

( – As of late January, there has now been one fatality from so-called “Alaskapox.” The unnamed elderly man resided in the somewhat isolated Kenai Peninsula area of Alaska and was undergoing treatment for cancer. He was hospitalized in November, and it is believed that his compromised immune system from his cancer treatment combined with the Alaskapox was a major cause of death. AKPV, known as Alaskapox, is part of a family of viruses to smallpox, cowpox and mpox with symptoms that may include swollen lymph nodes, rash, and joint or muscle pain.

Alaska health officials have only received reports of seven cases total since it was first discovered in 2015. All of the people involved lived within the Fairbanks area of Alaska, which is around 300 miles from the Kenai Peninsula. Nobody who contracted Alaskapox before this elderly cancer patient was hospitalized. Dr. Joe McLaughlin chief of the Alaska Section of Epidemiology at the Alaska Department of Health commented that they didn’t even need supportive care.

McLaughlin says that while not a lot is known about Alaskapox yet, it is common in the small mammal populations of Alaska, particularly affecting red-backed voles, red squirrels, and shrews. The patient who died lived alone in a forested area and had taken in a local cat who was a dedicated hunter of small animals and apparently had a habit of scratching the old man. While a test of the cat proved negative, there is speculation that the cat may have carried the virus on its claws. There was a large scratch on the man close to where the first AKPV rash was noticed.

The Alaska Department of Health states that the limited data on Alaskapox suggests that most patients have a mild illness that resolves on its own after a few weeks. Dr. Julia Rogers with the Epidemic Intelligence Service at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for Alaska, says that if a person experiences symptoms that accord with the case definition of Alaskapox and do not have knowledge of any other underlying condition that may account for the, they should see their healthcare provider for assessment and testing.

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