Alaska Confirms First Death From Newly Discovered Viral Disease Related To Smallpox

(Photo by Thibaud MORITZ / AFP) (Photo by THIBAUD MORITZ/AFP via Getty Images)

Julianna Frieman Contributor
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Alaska confirmed Friday its first death from a newly discovered viral disease related to smallpox.

An immunocompromised man from Kenai Peninsula died in late January as a result of Alaskapox while undergoing treatment in Anchorage, health officials announced Friday, according to the Anchorage Daily News.

The man was among one of seven reported cases of the novel disease, an Alaska Section of Epidemiology bulletin revealed. The deceased patient’s infection was the first reported outside of the Fairbanks area after it took months for him to be diagnosed.

Alaskapox originates from the same genus as smallpox, monkeypox and cowpox, according to the outlet. The double-stranded-DNA virus was first identified in 2015, and it is most commonly diagnosed in small mammals like voles and shrews. (RELATED: Man Catches The Bubonic Plague, Likely Infected By Pet Cat, Officials Say)

The man’s death was likely a result of his immunocompromised status, the outlet reported. A stray cat was considered to be the culprit of his infection. Although the cat tested negative for the virus, Alaskapox could have been carried on its claws as a result of hunting small mammals.

Health authorities urged the public to remain aware of the disease but not to live in fear.

People should not necessarily be concerned but more aware,” Julia Rogers, a state epidemiologist who co-authored the bulletin, said. “So we’re hoping to make clinicians more aware of what Alaskapox virus is, so that they can identify signs and symptoms.”

Most Alaskapox infections until December consisted of symptoms of mild illness, including a localized rash and swollen lymph nodes, the outlet reported. Infected people prior to the deceased man had healthy immune systems and did not require medical care, according to state epidemiology chief Dr. Joe McLaughlin.