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A New Virus Dubbed ‘Alaskapox’ is Emerging, Shrouded in Mystery, Let’s know more

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Scientists and healthcare professionals are closely monitoring a rare virus called Alaskapox following a fatal case detected in a new region. Since its identification in 2015, the few reported cases of Alaskapox have typically presented with mild symptoms, including joint and muscle pain, swollen lymph nodes, and one or more skin bumps or pustules. While the virus generally resolves within a few weeks, it can pose greater risks to individuals with weakened immune systems.

Recently, an elderly man on the Kenai Peninsula became the first known individual to succumb to Alaskapox. This marks only the seventh reported case since its discovery, occurring over 500 kilometers away from the initial case reported in Fairbanks, Alaska. The patient in the fatal case initially noticed a red sore under his right armpit, followed by sensations of burning pain and fatigue.

Given that the patient was undergoing cancer treatment, his compromised immune system likely contributed to his vulnerability and heightened risk of complications from the virus.

According to a correspondence from the State of Alaska Epidemiology, the patient, who was hospitalized in November, passed away in late January. Health officials have concluded that Alaskapox is more widespread geographically than previously believed and that greater awareness of the risks is necessary, particularly for individuals with compromised immune systems.

Based on available evidence, Alaskapox is thought to spread through small mammals, particularly red-backed voles and shrews. While humans can contract the virus from animals, there have been no reported cases of human-to-human transmission. Similar to smallpox, Alaskapox belongs to the orthopox group, known for causing skin lesions (the ‘pox’).

The bulletin reveals that the deceased individual lived alone in a remote area and had reported caring for a stray cat that frequently scratched him. This may have been the route of transmission for the virus, although tests on the cat for orthopoxviruses returned negative results.

The Department of Health in Alaska has issued new guidelines, urging clinicians to acquaint themselves with the characteristics of the virus and conduct regular testing for it. Additionally, individuals suspected of having Alaskapox are advised to keep lesions dry and covered, and to refrain from touching them.

According to a FAQ authored by the Alaska Division of Public Health, it is probable that the virus is more widespread among Alaska’s small mammals, and that additional human infections may have occurred but went undetected. Increased animal testing is underway to gain a better understanding of the virus’s distribution in animal populations across Alaska.

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