(NewsNation) — A recent case of Alaskapox virus (AKPV) resulting in the death of an elderly man on the Kenai Peninsula has sparked concerns among health officials about the spread and severity of the virus outside its known epicenter.
The Alaskapox virus, a type of orthopoxvirus, was first discovered in 2015 near Fairbanks and was thought to be limited to that area until now. Orthopoxviruses are DNA viruses that can infect various mammals, including humans.
The victim, an elderly man with a history of immunosuppression due to cancer treatment, initially noticed a tender red papule in his right armpit in mid-September. Over the following weeks, he sought medical attention multiple times as the lesion worsened, leading to hospitalization in November due to extensive infection that affected his arm's mobility.
The source of the infection remains unclear, although scratches from a stray cat the patient cared for are being investigated as a possible route of transmission.
Further diagnostic tests revealed the presence of AKPV, a particularly concerning finding as it marks the first fatal case outside the Fairbanks area. The patient's compromised immune system likely contributed to the severity of the illness.
Despite efforts to treat the infection with antiviral medication and immunoglobulin therapy, the patient's condition deteriorated, leading to his death last month.
Health officials are now urging increased awareness among clinicians statewide, as AKPV's geographic distribution appears to be wider than previously believed.
The Alaska Section of Epidemiology (SOE) is collaborating with the University of Alaska Museum and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to test small mammals for AKPV outside the Fairbanks region.