What is Alaskapox?
Alaskapox is a viral disease caused by orthopoxvirus that usually infects mammals including humans and has a characteristic symptom of skin lesions. It was first identified in 2015 in Fairbanks, Alaska in 2015 and since then a total of 7 cases of the disease have been reported so far, including the death that happened recently. “To date, no human-to-human transmission of Alaskapox virus has been documented. However, since certain orthopoxviruses can be transmitted through direct contact with skin lesions, we recommend that people with skin lesions possibly caused by Alaskapox keep the affected area covered with a bandage,” the Alaska Department of Health has said in an official statement. The virus comes from two specific species found in the Fairbanks North Star Borough: red-backed voles and shrews.
How does Alaskapox spread?
Alaskapox spreads through small mammals and there is no record of human-to-human transmission till date. The deceased individual was scratched by cat recently. As per the epidemiologic bulletin of the health department: The patient resided alone in a forested area and reported no recent travel and no close contacts with recent travel, illness, or similar lesions. He reported caring for a stray cat at his residence that regularly hunted small mammals and frequently scratched the patient, including one notable scratch near his right axilla in the month prior to rash onset.
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What are the symptoms of Alaskapox?
The classic symptoms of Alaskapox are one or more skin lesions (bumps or pustules), swollen lymph nodes, and joint and/or muscle pain. Immunocompromised people might be at increased risk for more severe illness. In the case of the individual who succumbed to the infection recently, he was being treated for skin lesions along with cancer treatment. He had a red, tender papule in his right armpit. In November he was hospitalized for cellulitis, a bacterial skin infection characterized by redness, swelling, and warmth in the affected area.
“This is the first case of severe Alaskapox infection resulting in hospitalization and death”
As per official data, this is the first death case associated with the viral disease. This is also the first case of Alaskapox outside the interior region of Fairbanks where it was first identified. Until December 2023, all reported infections occurred in residents of the Fairbanks area and involved self-limiting illness consisting of a localized rash and lymphadenopathy. The Alaska Section of Epidemiology (SOE) is working with the University of Alaska Museum and CDC to test small mammals for the virus outside of the interior region.