Alaska health officials confirmed the state’s first fatal case of Alaska smallpox, a recently discovered viral disease.
An elderly immunocompromised man from the Kenai Peninsula, south of Anchorage, died while receiving treatment in late January. reported the Anchorage Daily News.
It is one of seven Alaska smallpox infections reported, according to the Alaska Department of Public Health. he said in an announcement on Friday.
“People shouldn’t necessarily be worried, but more aware,” said Julia Rogers, state epidemiologist. “So we hope that doctors will be more aware of what the Alaskan smallpox virus is, so they can identify signs and symptoms.”
The double-stranded DNA virus, which comes from the same genus as smallpox, monkeypox and cowpox, was first identified in an adult in Fairbanks, Alaska, in 2015. It is most common in small mammals, such as voles and the shrews
The fatal case, the first identified outside of Interior Alaska, took months to diagnose, as previously Alaska smallpox cases had only shown mild symptoms in patients, usually a localized rash and swollen lymph nodes.
Other patients who had been diagnosed with the virus did not require treatment, but all had healthy immune systems, health officials said.
Authorities said the man’s immunocompromised condition likely contributed to his death. It is still unclear how he contracted the virus.
The man lived alone in the woods and did not report any recent travel. Authorities said he may have contracted Alaska smallpox from a cat he lived with that frequently hunted small mammals and scratched him when his symptoms began.
The cat tested negative for the virus, but it could have spread through its claws.
In September, the man noticed a red lump in his right armpit and was prescribed antibiotics. But six weeks later, his symptoms only increased and included fatigue and pain.
He was hospitalized in Anchorage and underwent a “battery of tests” in December and tested positive for cowpox. Additional testing by the Centers for Disease Control revealed that it was actually Alaskan smallpox.
His condition initially improved a week after receiving intravenous medications, but he died in late January after suffering kidney and respiratory failure, health officials said.