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New Alaskapox virus kills elderly man

A COVID-19 particle is pictured in this image provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (CDC/TNS)
February 14, 2024

The first reported fatality of the Alaskapox virus was recently revealed by Alaska public health officials after an elderly man in Alaska succumbed to it in January.

According to a bulletin released by the state’s public health officials, the elderly man lived in the Kenai Peninsula of Alaska before being hospitalized in November and dying from the virus toward the end of January.

While health officials could not make a final determination regarding how the elderly man contracted the Alaskapox virus, health officials suggested that he could have contracted the virus from a stray cat that he was taking care of prior to his hospitalization.

The bulletin noted that the elderly man had a “history of drug-induced immunosuppression” due to cancer treatment and suggested that his suppressed immune system could have caused his illness to be more severe.

The Alaska Department of Health’s website explains that the Alaskapox virus is an orthopox virus and was first reported in 2015 in a patient from Fairbanks, Alaska.

“Symptoms of Alaskapox have included one or more skin lesions (bumps or pustules) and other symptoms like swollen lymph nodes and joint and/or muscle pain,” the department’s website states. “Immunocompromised people might be at increased risk for more severe illness.”

According to the bulletin released by state health officials, only seven cases of the virus have been reported to the Alaska Section of Epidemiology since the virus was discovered in 2015. Apart from the elderly man who recently died from the virus, the other individuals affected by the virus only had mild cases and did not require hospitalization.

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The health official bulletin offered a potential cause of the man’s contraction of the virus, stating, “The route of exposure in this case remains unclear, although scratches from the stray cat represent a possible source of inoculation through fomite transmission.”

CBS News reported that if the transmission theory proposed by the state’s health officials is correct, it is possible that the stray cat had the virus on its claws. Further evidence of the theory was documented by health officials who discovered a “notable” scratch located near a red lesion on the elderly man.

Between November and January, the elderly man’s condition worsened despite receiving care from medical professionals. The bulletin noted, “Despite intensive medical support in a long-term care setting, he later exhibited delayed wound healing, malnutrition, acute renal failure, and respiratory failure.”