Home » What is Alaskan smallpox, the symptoms and how is it transmitted. The first fatal case – breaking latest news

What is Alaskan smallpox, the symptoms and how is it transmitted. The first fatal case – breaking latest news

by admin
What is Alaskan smallpox, the symptoms and how is it transmitted.  The first fatal case – breaking latest news

by Cristina Marrone

Since 2015, when the virus was discovered, only seven human cases have been reported. The infection resembles monkeypox and may have been transmitted by a stray cat

A man has died after hospitalization from a new virus discovered in 2015 and named Alaskapox, Alaskan smallpox. This is the first confirmed victim so far since the virus became known. This was confirmed by Alaska health officials with a Press release. The man, who lived in a wooded area, had a weakened immune system due to treatment against a tumor and this would therefore have aggravated the disease.

Experts say Alaskan smallpox causes an often mild illness and that infections are rare in humans since the virus circulates primarily in small mammals that populate throughout Alaska. Six of the seven cases confirmed so far, in fact, did not even require supportive care.

What is Alaskan smallpox

Alaskan smallpox was identified for the first time in a woman in 2015 and is an infectious disease caused by the Alaskapox virus (which belongs to the Orthopoxvirus genus), the same which also includes the Variola virus (responsible for smallpox, eradicated) and the monkeypox virus (Monkeypox) which has recently caused several outbreaks throughout the world, including Italy. All of these variants of smallpox infections cause skin lesions and swollen lymph nodes as well as flu-like symptoms.

Where the virus has spread

It is not yet known exactly how the disease spreads from animals to humans and how long it has been around. The virus is endemic in small mammal populations in Alaska and regularly infects voles (small rodents) and red-backed shrews, as well as other rodents such as red squirrels. Although only seven cases have been confirmed so far, experts believe that many people over the years have gone to the emergency room with skin lesions thinking they had been bitten by insects or spiders, but had actually contracted Alaskan smallpox. Joe McLaughlin, epidemiologist and chief of the Alaska Epidemiology Section at the Alaska Department of Health says: «It is very likely that the virus has been present in Alaska for hundreds, if not thousands of years. What has changed is the greater awareness of doctors and the knowledge of the fact that the virus is more widespread than we thought.”

Symptoms of Alaskan smallpox

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Symptoms from Alaskan smallpox are similar to those of monkeypox: swollen lymph nodes, skin lesions (that look like spider bites), pustules, red skin, joint and muscle pain. In immunocompromised people, the disease can progress more seriously to the point of being fatal. Alaskan smallpox is treated with antivirals and immunoglobulin drugs.

How the disease spreads to humans

It is not yet clear how the disease spreads between humans but it is very likely that it occurs through direct contact with infected animals or body fluids. The reservoir, as mentioned, are shrews and the northern vole, but domestic animals can also be infected, rarely.

The deceased man told doctors that he was taking care of a stray cat but it scratched him often. Once he was scratched on the right armpit and a month later, in September 2023, a red paula formed in that area. The cat was then tested with all variants of smallpox, but tested negative. However, health officials still believe that the cat may have been the source of the virus: it is possible that the feline carried the virus through its claws after scratching other rodents. All of the other Alaska smallpox patients identified so far have owned a dog or cat, and health officials are working to determine the role of pets in transmitting the virus. The deceased man was then admitted to hospital on November 17 because the injury had affected his ability to move his arm and he died at the end of January.

To date, human-to-human transmission has never been confirmed, but experts believe that it can be contagious like monkeypox, therefore through close contact with an infected person, contact with body fluids (particularly coming from pustules) and through by air, with respiratory droplets.

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February 14, 2024 (modified February 14, 2024 | 5:04 pm)

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