Alaska health officials have confirmed the state’s first fatal case of Alaskapox, a viral disease that has become a cause for concern. The deceased was an elderly man from the Kenai peninsula who had a compromised immune system. The case, which occurred in late January, is one of only seven reported Alaskapox infections in the state.
Alaskapox, a virus that belongs to the same genus as smallpox, monkeypox, and cowpox, was first identified in Fairbanks, Alaska in 2015. It is most commonly found in small mammals like voles and shrews.
Previously identified cases of Alaskapox had only shown mild symptoms such as a localized rash and swollen lymph nodes. However, these patients did not require treatment as they had healthy immune systems. In contrast, the elderly man’s immunocompromised condition likely contributed to his death, although the exact source of the virus remains unclear.
There is a possibility that the man contracted the virus from a cat he lived with, which frequently hunted small mammals and scratched him when his symptoms began. Although the cat tested negative for the virus, it is still possible that transmission occurred through its claws.
The man initially noticed a red bump in his right armpit and was prescribed antibiotics. However, his condition worsened over time. He was later hospitalized in Anchorage, where he tested positive for cowpox. Further testing eventually revealed that he was actually infected with Alaskapox.
Despite initially showing improvement with intravenous medications, the man tragically succumbed to kidney and respiratory failure in late January.
This case highlights the severity of Alaskapox, particularly for individuals with compromised immune systems. Health officials urge residents to be cautious and seek medical attention if they suspect any symptoms related to the virus.
While efforts are being made to better understand Alaskapox, its rare occurrence and limited number of reported cases make studying and developing targeted treatments challenging. However, researchers remain determined to find effective solutions to protect public health in Alaska and beyond.
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