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What is alaskapox virus and how deadly is it: symptoms, ways of transmission and more | health news


An elderly man has died from Alaskapox, the first known death from the recently discovered virus, state health officials said, according to a bulletin from Alaska public health officials last week. The fatality has raised concerns in a world that has recently grappled with a global pandemic caused by the COVID-19 outbreak. So what is alaskapox and should you be worried? See what the experts are saying.

What is alaskapox virus?

Alaskapox is a virus belonging to the orthopox virus family, says Dr Monika Mahajan, Medical Director – Max Multi Specialty Hospital, Panchsheel Park, Delhi. “We are familiar with smallpox which was the most notorious of these viruses and was subsequently eradicated from the entire world. There are others in the family including cowpox and monkeypox viruses,” added Dr Mahajan. Alaskapox virus or AKPV was first discovered in 2015 in a woman in Alaska. Once the genome was identified, the virus was classified as AKPV.

How Alaskapox virus is transmitted

Dr Mahajan said AKPV is transmitted in small mammals and humans have reported isolated cases of the virus. A report by the wire agency AP noted that it is not clear how AKPV is transmitted, but researchers say it may be zoonotic, meaning it can jump from animals to humans. Alaska public health officials said in a bulletin that tests found evidence of current or previous infections in several species of small mammals in the Fairbanks area, including red-backed voles and at least one domestic pet. The man said he took care of a stray cat at his home, the bulletin said. The cat tested negative for the virus but “regularly preys on small mammals and often scratches the patient,” the bulletin said. This leaves open the possibility that the cat had the virus in its claws when it scratched him. “He had a scratch from a stray cat, but whether the death was due to alaskapox remains controversial,” says Dr Mahajan.

Alaskapox virus: Symptoms

Symptoms may include a rash, swollen lymph nodes, and joint or muscle pain. Six other cases of the virus have been reported to Alaska health officials since the first in 2015. All the people involved lived in the Fairbanks area, about 300 miles (483 kilometers) from the Kenai Peninsula, health officials said. All had mild cases and recovered without hospitalization. The person who died “lived alone in a wooded area and reported no recent travel, illness or close contact with similar lesions,” the health bulletin said.

Alaskapox: Should you be worried?

Dr. Mahajan said the man who died “probably had Alaskapox, but that was not a sufficient cause of his death.” He added, “So far, there is no cause for alarm. Alaskan authorities have identified only 7 cases so far. One man died but he had underlying cancer and died of kidney failure due to his weakened immune system.” He also mentioned that till now, there are no cases of AKPV in India.

The man, who lived on the remote Kenai Peninsula, was hospitalized last November and died in late January, according to a bulletin from Alaska public health officials last week. The bulletin said the man was undergoing cancer treatment and had a suppressed immune system due to medication, which may have contributed to the severity of his illness. It described him as elderly but did not provide his age.

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Alaskapox: preventive measures

Alaska health officials say there are no documented cases of human transmission of the virus, but they advise people with skin lesions caused by Alaskapox to cover the affected area with a bandage.” Other advice is to wash hands thoroughly, avoid sharing clothing that may touch the lesions, and others. Wash clothing and linens separately from household items. Health authorities also urge Alaskans to follow federal health precautions around wildlife to avoid possible Alaskapox infections. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends washing hands with soap and water after contact with wild animals or their feces. The agency advises that hunters should always wear gloves when handling dead animals, even if they are freshly killed.

(with input from AP)

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