The first fatal case of a rare and newly identified viral disease has claimed the life of a man who lived in a remote area of south-central Alaska, state officials confirmed.
According to a bulletin released last week by Alaska public health officials, an elderly man who lived on the Kenai Peninsula — about 70 miles south of Anchorage — died last month after developing a rash. burning skin and being hospitalized for Alaskapox, also known as AKPV.
As of the 2020 census, the peninsula’s population was just under 59,000, down from around 55,000 people in 2010.
Closely related to monkeypox, Alaskapox is carried primarily by small mammals, including red-backed voles. Since 2015, at least seven confirmed cases of the virus have been reported to the state epidemiology section.
None of the people who contracted the virus had recently traveled outside the United States, health experts said, and no cases had been identified outside of Alaska as of the bulletin’s release.
AKPV was first discovered in a person living near Fairbanks in 2015, and the next human case emerged in 2020. Two more patients reported contracting it in 2021, and then one person reported it. contracted in 2022. The sixth case was confirmed last year, according to state officials. said.
The patient’s death last month marks the first human infection outside of Fairbanks, experts say, indicating that the rare virus has spread beyond that region’s wild populations.
The population of Fairbanks at the last U.S. census was just over 32,000 people.
What is Alaskapox?
According to state health officials, Alaskapox is an orthopoxvirus that can spread from small rodents to humans.
In addition to monkeypox, this new infectious disease transmitted from animals to humans is also closely related to smallpox and cowpox. According to the Centers for Disease Control, Arctic temperatures are rising “more than twice as fast as the rest of the world” and warming temperatures in Alaska have led to an increase in the vole population, which can transmit AKPV to humans .
Alaska man had weakened immune system
Health officials said the elderly man who died lived alone in a wooded area and was caring for a stray cat in his home.
He also regularly hunted small mammals that frequently scratched the patient, officials said, and in one case he suffered a notable scratch the month before his rash appeared.
The patient, whose immune system was weakened due to cancer treatment, first reported signs of infection in September after a lesion appeared in his armpit, officials said of health.
After six weeks of emergency room visits, he was hospitalized and then transferred to an Anchorage hospital where doctors identified the virus, the bulletin continued.
Despite treatment, health authorities said, the man suffered from kidney and respiratory failure, malnutrition and other ailments before announcing his death.
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Infection found in red-backed voles and a domestic cat
Testing of small mammals in the area around Fairbanks identified evidence of AKPV infection in four different species, primarily in red-backed voles.
The animals, which at first glance look like hamsters, are small with fluffy hair and short tails and live and eat grass, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Previous infection reported to the Alaska Epidemiology Section has been documented in at least one pet related to a patient.
Symptoms of Alaskapox
According to the Alaska Division of Health, symptoms of Alaskapox include:
- Mild illness at first, including fever and possible rash
- Skin lesions that initially look like an insect or spider bite
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Aching muscles
- Articular pain
Tips to Avoid Alaskapox
To avoid contracting Alaskapox, health experts recommend that people avoid contact with wild animals.
The CDC also recommends washing your hands with soap and water after contacting wild animals or their feces.
The agency also recommends that hunters wear gloves when handling dead animals.
Natalie Neysa Alund is a senior reporter for USA TODAY. Contact her at email@example.com and follow her on X @nataliealund.
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