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First man dies from newly discovered virus

Top line

An elderly man has become the first person to die after contracting Alaskapox, health officials have confirmed, urging doctors to stay alert for signs of the newly discovered virus that is closely related to other dangerous human pathogens like smallpox and mpox.


The man, from Alaska’s remote Kenai Peninsula, is one of seven people known to have contracted the Alaskapox virus since it was discovered in a patient in Fairbanks in 2015.

Infection with the virus, also known as AKPV, has historically caused a mild illness that resolves on its own with symptoms such as skin lesions, swollen lymph nodes, and joint or muscle pain. although serious illness is more likely in people with weakened immune systems.

Alaska Department of Health officials said the man likely had a more serious illness because he was immunocompromised following cancer treatment and previous patients had not required hospital care .

Scientists are not yet sure how the Alaskapox virus is spread, but say evidence suggests it is zoonotic – a disease that jumps from animals to humans – because it is found primarily in small mammals such as red-backed voles and shrews.

Officials said it was “unclear” how the man became infected, but said he reported caring for a stray cat at his home that “regularly hunted small mammals and scratched frequently,” which could have transmitted the virus.

Although no human-to-human transmission of AKVP has been documented, authorities have suggested that people should cover any skin lesions potentially caused by the virus, as contact with these is known to spread similar orthopoxviruses like mpox and smallpox.

What to do against Alaskapox?

The first fatal Alaskapox infection is also the first infection reported outside of the Fairbanks area of ​​the state. As the man lived alone in a wooded area and reported no recent travel or close contact with illness or similar travel, this suggests that the virus is more widely distributed among animals than previously thought, they said. said scientists from the state health department. The incident “warrants increased awareness among clinicians statewide” but is not otherwise a cause for concern. The scientists made nine recommendations in their report into the death, including keeping lesions covered, maintaining hygienic practices and possibly prescribing antiviral drugs to virus patients with weakened immune systems.

Key context

Alaskapox is part of a family of viruses called orthopoxviruses, several of which are known to infect and cause disease in humans. The best known of these is smallpox, or smallpox, an often fatal scourge, one of the deadliest diseases in human history and the only human disease ever to be eradicated. Other species of orthopoxvirus include vaccinia (used for smallpox vaccine), cowpox, camel pox, smallpox, volepox, and mpox. The latter virus, formerly known as monkeypox, exploded onto the global scene two years ago and, through a previously unknown form of transmission, has spread primarily among men’s sexual networks having sex with men. Experts advising the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend routine vaccination against the virus in at-risk adults, and while the virus has declined in wealthy countries, it continues to cause worrying outbreaks in parts of Africa, including in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Further reading

MORE FROM FORBESCDC Advisors Recommend Mpox Injections for Routine Prevention in At-Risk Adults: Here’s What You Need to Know
MORE FROM FORBESMpox, even more infectious, raises fears of further global spread – What you need to know about this deadly virus
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