Alaskapox Virus Claims Its First Human Victim

Health officials say man was immunocompromised, which likely contributed
By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 14, 2024 12:30 AM CST
Alaskapox Virus Claims Its First Human Victim
This image provided by the Alaska Department of Health shows several Alaskapox lesions.   (Alaska Department of Health via AP)

Alaskapox, a rare virus mostly found in small mammals such as voles and shrews and first identified in a human in 2015, has proven fatal for a human for the first time. An Alaska man died last month of the virus, which can cause skin lesions, swollen lymph nodes, and muscle or joint pain, the New York Times reports. A CDC epidemiologist tells the newspaper that symptoms of the virus are typically mild, meaning there could have been cases in the past that have gone unreported—officially, just seven people have been diagnosed with the virus, all of them in Alaska and six of them in the Fairbanks North Star Borough, and until the fatality no one had been hospitalized for it. No human-to-human transmission has been reported, the Los Angeles Times reports.

The elderly man who died had been undergoing treatment for cancer, which weakened his immune system, when he contracted the virus in mid-September. He first experienced a painful lesion near his shoulder, which did not respond to antibiotics, and by November said he was suffering from a burning sensation so painful it was challenging to move his arm. Four other lesions were found at that point and he was hospitalized, with doctors sending swabs from the sores to the CDC. He is the first person to have contracted the virus outside the Fairbanks area, indicating the virus has spread to small mammals in that area; about a month before his symptoms began, a stray cat he cared for (and which was known to hunt small mammals) scratched him on the shoulder near where the first lesion appeared. (Alaskapox is an orthopoxvirus, like mpox.)

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