The Alaska Department of Public Health announced on Friday that the person who succumbed to the illness was one of only seven reported Alaskapox infections.
Alaskapox, a double-stranded DNA virus belonging to the same genus as smallpox, monkeypox, and cowpox, was initially identified in Fairbanks, Alaska, back in 2015. The virus primarily affects small mammals, such as voles and shrews.
The fatal case, the first identified outside of Alaska’s interior, presented challenges in diagnosis, as previous cases had only exhibited mild symptoms—typically a localized rash and swollen lymph nodes.
Health officials highlighted that other patients diagnosed with the virus did not require treatment and had healthy immune systems.
According to the New York Post, the man’s immunocompromised condition likely played a role in his death as the precise source of his infection remains unclear. Living alone in the woods with no recent travel history, the man could have contracted Alaskapox from a cat he lived with.
The timeline of the case reveals that the man noticed a red bump in his right armpit in September, for which he was initially prescribed antibiotics. However, six weeks later, his symptoms worsened, including fatigue and pain. He underwent tests in December, initially testing positive for cowpox. Further testing confirmed it was Alaskapox.
Despite initial improvement a week after receiving intravenous medications, the man ultimately succumbed to kidney and respiratory failure in late January, according to health officials.