An elderly man residing in a remote area of the Kenai Peninsula in Alaska has tragically become the first recorded individual to perish from the newly discovered Alaskapox virus, a close relative of smallpox. The Alaskapox virus, part of the Orthopoxvirus genus which includes known viruses like Smallpox, was initially identified in Fairbanks, Alaska, back in 2015. Since its discovery, only seven cases of this virus have been documented.
The man, who was immunocompromised and undergoing cancer treatment, succumbed to complications arising from an infected skin lesion due to the virus. The unfortunate incident occurred towards the end of January. Reports suggest that the man, who lived alone in a secluded area of Kenai Peninsula, likely contracted the virus after coming into contact with a stray cat.
According to health officials in Alaska, there is currently no evidence supporting human-to-human transmission of the Alaskapox virus. However, cautionary measures have been advised, such as the covering of skin lesions with bandages as a preventive step. It has also been highlighted that domestic pets, particularly cats and dogs, might play a role in the transmission of the virus.
Dr. Stathis Giotis, a respected Research Fellow at the Department of Infectious Disease at Imperial College London and lecturer in Molecular Virology at the University of Essex, shared insights into the transmission of the virus. While the primary mode of transmission remains unknown, possibilities include contact with small rodents like voles and shrews. Despite uncertainties, Dr. Giotis emphasized the importance of vigilance in interactions with wildlife and personal hygiene practices.
The State of Alaska has been proactive in disseminating information about Alaskapox, urging the public to educate themselves on the symptoms and take necessary precautions. Symptoms typically involve small skin lesions, swollen lymph nodes, and muscle pain. Although most cases are mild and self-limiting, individuals with compromised immune systems are at greater risk of severe illness.
Reflecting on the delayed diagnosis in the recent fatality, it underscores the challenges in identifying this lesser-known virus, especially in immunocompromised individuals. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) played a pivotal role in confirming the presence of Alaskapox in the deceased patient, unveiling the severity of the situation.
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