Alaskapox: Rare Virus Kills First Human

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The rare virus claims its first fatality, but it is not expected to spread rapidly. (Image Credit: CBS)

A virus also known as Alaskapox, first discovered in 2015, has recently claimed its first known fatality: an elderly man in Alaska.

An elderly man from the Kenai Peninsula was hospitalized in November following an infection which negatively impacted his range of motion in his arm. On February 9th, he was tested positive for Alaskapov, then died later in January.

However, the effects of this illness may have also been intensified because of a combination of the cancer treatment he was taking, and his immune system being suppressed by drugs. The exact age of the elderly man was also failed to be provided, with him simply being described as elderly.

Dr. Issac Bogoch, a infectious diseases specialist explained, “With Alaskapox, it was first described in 2015 as new, and since then there have been seven reported cases,” while also adding “Most of the cases were around the Fairbanks, Alaska region, but it’s likely much more widespread. This is probably going to be one of those things where the more you look for it, the more you’re going to find it.”

The Alaskapox virus is part of the orthopoxvirus family, which also includes diseases such as smallpox and mpox, Bogoch added. “These viruses occur all over the world and they typically live in rodent populations,” Bogoch explained. “Once in a while, they can move from the rodent population either to other non-human animals or from rodent populations to humans, or from rodent populations to non-human animals to humans.”

The Alaskapox virus originated in 2015 when first identified in an adult living close to Fairbanks, Alaska. As of now, there have only been seven reported cases of the Alaskapox infections. All infections have been from residents living in the Fairbanks area which included a localized rash as well as swelling of the lymph nodes. When testing was conducted on small mammals living in the area, the Alaskapox virus was identified in multiple distinct species of mammals, most prominently being red-backed voles.

Although Bogoch stated the Alaskapox virus as of currently is not a significant concern to large populations, he still warned how this brings attention the possibility of zoonotic diseases effecting humans. “We have to take these seriously. We have a lot of interactions between humans and animals and some of these can cause epidemics, some of these infections have pandemic potential.”

Written by Kevin Han

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