What is Alaskapox, this rare virus which has just killed one person in the United States?

What is Alaskapox, this rare virus which has just killed one person in the United States?


This is the first death linked to this disease. At the end of January, an elderly man – whose age was not specified – died of “Alaskapox” in the state of Alaska, local health authorities announced. Hospitalized at the end of November, the man who was undergoing treatment for cancer is only the seventh person to contract this disease discovered in 2015, near Fairbanks (Alaska).

Alaskapox, also known as AKPV, is a member of the orthopoxvirus family, as is monkeypox. Although also transmissible through mammals, the WHO does not fear a global spread of Alaska smallpox as she fears for monkeypox.

The main symptoms include a rash, in the form of bumps or pustules, swollen lymph nodes, and joint or muscle pain. “Many patients with Alaskapox initially thought they had spider bite or insect,” Alaska health authorities said in a statement.

A disease transmitted to humans by animals

Until last November, the six people who had contracted this virus had mild illness that resolved on its own within a few weeks. This is not the case for the immunocompromised man who died at the end of January, who had more serious symptoms such as respiratory failure.

The deceased man “resided alone in a wooded area and reported no recent travel or close contact with recent travel, illness or similar injuries,” the health bulletin states. While the mode of transmission of this disease is still uncertain, researchers say it could be zoonotic, that is, an infectious disease transmitted to humans by animals or insects.

So far, the Alaska Public Health Services confirmed the presence of Alaskapox virus in two species: red-backed voles and shrews. In total, four species could be affected.

A cat responsible for transmitting the virus?

The man said he had recently taken care of a cat wandering around his home, but the feline tested negative for the virus. On the other hand, he “regularly hunted small mammals and frequently scratched the patient”, specifies the bulletin, suggesting that the cat had the virus on its claws when it scratched the man. The bulletin also reports a “notable” scratch near the armpits, where the first symptom was observed in the victim.

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No cases of transmission of the virus from humans have been documented by local authorities, but they recommend that people with skin lesions possibly caused by Alaskapox cover the affected area with a bandage. They also advise washing your hands well and not sharing clothes that could have touched the lesions.

Health officials also called on Alaskans to follow federal health precautions when around wildlife to reduce the risk of Alaskapox infections.



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