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“First Death Linked to Alaskapox Virus Reported in Alaska”

First Death Linked to Alaskapox Virus Reported in Alaska

Health officials in Alaska have identified the first known death linked to a recently discovered virus called Alaskapox. Since its discovery in 2015, seven Alaskapox infections have been reported, according to the state Department of Health. The most recent case was identified in an elderly man who died last month.

Alaskapox is a virus that primarily infects small mammal populations throughout Alaska. It is often mild in humans, with only six out of the seven reported cases being mild and self-limited. However, the recent case resulting in death highlights the severity of the virus in individuals with weakened immune systems.

The man who died had a weakened immune system due to cancer treatment, which likely contributed to the severity of his illness. Dr. Joe McLaughlin, the state epidemiologist and chief of the Alaska Section of Epidemiology, stated that “six of the seven cases have been mild and self-limited, so the patient didn’t even need to get any supportive care from a health care provider.”

Despite its recent discovery, Alaskapox is believed to have been present in Alaska for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. It is endemic in small mammal populations, regularly infecting red-backed voles, shrews, and other rodents. The virus belongs to the orthopoxvirus genus, which also includes well-known viruses such as smallpox and mpox.

Dr. McLaughlin explains that Alaskapox is an “old world” virus typically found in Africa, Asia, and Europe. However, its presence in Alaska indicates that it has been circulating in the state for a long time. The recent increase in reported cases is likely due to improved clinician awareness and public knowledge about Alaskapox.

Infections occur through contact with animals, as individuals acquire the virus from some form of animal contact. The first case of Alaskapox was discovered in 2015 in a woman living near Fairbanks, and since then, five additional cases have been reported in the same area. The most recent case, resulting in the first known death, was found 500 miles south on the Kenai Peninsula, indicating that Alaskapox is more geographically widespread than previously thought.

Dr. Julia Rogers, an epidemiologist with the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, explains that the recent discovery is likely due to geographic distinctions in the virus rather than it being carried from the Fairbanks area. None of the seven people diagnosed with Alaskapox had recently traveled outside of Alaska, and no cases have been identified outside of the state.

While the exact mode of transmission from animals to humans is still unclear, contact with small mammals and domestic animals that encounter them could play a role. In the case of the man who died, he lived in a heavily wooded area and cared for a stray cat that hunted small mammals. Scratches from the cat are considered a possible source of infection in this case.

Symptoms of Alaskapox typically include one or more skin lesions that resemble spider bites, swollen lymph nodes, muscle pain, and fever. Most patients have mild illness that resolves on its own after a few weeks. However, individuals with weakened immune systems can experience more severe symptoms.

Treatment options for Alaskapox include antiviral and immune-globulin treatments. It is important for individuals experiencing symptoms that fit the case definition to seek medical attention for additional assessment and testing.

Experts emphasize that there is no evidence of person-to-person transmission of Alaskapox. While people within Alaska should be aware of the infection, there is no need for concern for those outside of the state.

In conclusion, the recent death linked to Alaskapox highlights the severity of the virus in individuals with weakened immune systems. Although the virus has been present in Alaska for a long time, increased awareness and reporting have led to more identified cases. Further research is needed to understand the transmission of the virus from animals to humans.


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