A new virus related to smallpox claimed its first victim. Alaskapox is transmitted from small mammals

A man has become the first known victim of the Alaskapox virus, Alaska state health officials said. The virus, recently discovered in Alaska, is transmitted from small mammals and symptoms normally include a rash and muscle pain.

The new virus is transmitted from small animals PHOTO Shutterstock

The man, who lived on the remote Kenai Peninsula, was hospitalized last November and died in late January, according to a bulletin issued last week by public health officials, according to The Guardian.

The bulletin noted that the man was undergoing treatment for cancer and had a weakened immune system due to medication, which may have contributed to the severity of the illness. Although he was described as elderly, his age was not released.

Alaskapox, also known as AKPV, is related to smallpox, cowpox and chickenpox, health officials said. Symptoms may include a rash, swollen lymph nodes, and joint or muscle pain.

Only six other cases of the virus have been reported to Alaska health officials since 2015. All involved people living in the Fairbanks area, more than 300 miles away from the Kenai Peninsula, health officials said.

All had mild cases and recovered without hospitalization.

The man who died”lived alone in a wooded area and reported no recent travel or close contact with recent travel, similar illness or injury“, the health bulletin mentioned.

What doctors recommend

It's not clear how AKPV is transmitted, but researchers say it could be zoonotic, meaning it can be taken from animals to humans. Tests found evidence of current or previous infection in several species of small mammals in the Fairbanks area, including red-backed squirrels and at least one domestic pet.

The man said he was taking care of a stray cat at his home, with the bulletin noting that the cat tested negative for the virus, but “regularly hunted small mammals and frequently scratched the patient“.

So there is a possibility that the cat had the virus on its claws when it scratched. The bulletin mentions a scratch “significantly” in the armpit area, where the first symptom was noticed – a red lesion.

Health officials said there have been no documented cases of human-to-human transmission of the virus, but recommended that people with skin lesions possibly caused by Alaskapox cover the affected area with a bandage.

Other suggestions include washing hands thoroughly, avoiding changing clothes that may have touched the lesions, and washing clothes and linens separately from other household items.