Is Alaskapox the New COVID?

First reported by the Alaska Beacon on February 9th, a disease not identified until 2015 has now claimed its first victim. Called “Alaskapox,” it is related to monkeypox as well as smallpox. This death occurred on the Kenai Peninsula, and the senior citizen man it killed is now patient zero for multiple reasons.

While a few other human cases have been reported, none of them have been from outside the Fairbanks area. This makes it the first death and the first sign of it spreading outside the wildlife in the interior, and it also raises the concern it could begin spreading very easily like COVID did.

In this case, the victim had an oppressed immune system due to cancer treatments and noticed a lesion in his armpit had become tender back in September. The infection quickly worsened, and he was in and out of emergency rooms before being hospitalized and eventually transferred to Anchorage. In that hospital, they were able to thoroughly test the wound and identify the infection. Despite their best efforts to treat the illness, the man eventually suffered from renal failure, respiratory failure, malnutrition, and other problems before eventually dying in January.

Stemmed in the orthodox group, it is spread by populations of smaller mammals. In Alaska, the Voles are seen everywhere and are classified as predominant carriers of the disease. The victims all lived in or near wooded areas, which is why they stayed in the Fairbanks area so well. With household pets like cats and dogs frequently interacting with the Vols, it was a direct connection to the victims.

So far, Alaskapox infected just one victim in 2015, another occurred in 2020, two more in 2021, one in 2022, and another in 2023. This ultimately means the Kenai Peninsula was the seventh identified. Multiple people identified the latest victim as someone who had taken in a stray cat who hunted outside and frequently scratched and bit the senior, and as such, the likely missing link.

Is Alaskapox going to leave Alaska and affect more? Right now, medical communities are working to ensure that doesn’t happen.