Elderly Man Succumbs to Alaskapox in First Reported Fatal Case

Health officials in Alaska have reported the first documented human death caused by Alaskapox, a rare virus that has previously affected wildlife in the region.

The victim, identified as an elderly man receiving cancer treatment and residing on the Kenai Peninsula, succumbed to the virus after severe complications, including renal failure and respiratory issues.

The man, who had an immune system compromised due to cancer treatment, first reported signs of the infection in September when a tender lesion appeared in his armpit area. Despite immediate medical attention, the infection worsened, leading to a series of emergency care visits. Six weeks into the ordeal, he was hospitalized locally, but as the situation deteriorated, with impaired arm movement and escalating health issues, he was eventually transferred to an Anchorage hospital.

Alaskapox was first identified in 2015, and since then, there have been six additional reported cases in Alaska. Five of these cases happened in Fairbanks. However, this recent fatality marks the first severe infection resulting in hospitalization and death.

Alaskapox primarily occurs in small mammals, with red-backed voles and shrews being the most commonly identified carriers. The virus’s prevalence in Alaska’s small mammal populations suggests a potential for human infections that may have gone undiagnosed.

The victim had recently begun to care for a stray cat and reported it often scratched him, likely leading to his infection. Domestic pets, including cats and dogs, may play a role in spreading the virus.

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