A virus first discovered in 2015 has just claimed its first victim near Alaska’s largest city.
An unidentified immunocompromised man died from “Alaskapox” in late January.
He lived in the woods of the Kenai Peninsula by himself, and it’s unclear how he contracted the virus.
Alaskapox – from the same genus as smallpox and monkeypox – was first discovered in 2015 in Fairbanks and is more common in small mammals.
This is the seventh human case overall, the first outside the Fairbanks area, and the first to lead to death.
In September, the man noticed a tender red bump in his right armpit and was prescribed antibiotics, according to the Alaska Department of Health.
He kept experiencing fatigue and pain in his armpit and shoulder and was finally hospitalized by November 17. After transferring to a hospital in Anchorage, he complained of “neuropathic-type burning pain.”
Additional testing from the Centers for Disease Control revealed it was Alaskapox. He was only the seventh person confirmed to have had it.
He died from malnutrition, and kidney and respiratory failure late last month.
Though it’s unclear how he got it, it’s possible he contracted it from a stray cat he had been caring for at his house. The cat was known to hunt other small mammals. It tested negative for Alaskapox, but it could have carried the virus in its claws.
Health authorities say the man reported being scratched by the cat in his armpit about a month before the rash began.
The case is significant because most other Alaskapox infections have been mild.