The death of an individual Kenai Peninsula because Alaska smallpoxone infectious disease first detected in 2015, it has generated enormous concern among the public as it is the first case to be detected outside Fairbanks, the place where it was first identified. Upon announcing Alaska's first serious case of smallpox, the Alaska Department of Health published the details of the case in the epidemiological bulletin.

What is Alaskan smallpox?

Alaskan smallpox is a viral disease caused by orthopoxvirus which generally infects mammals, including humans, and presents a characteristic symptom of skin lesions. It was first identified in 2015 in Fairbanks, Alaska, and since then a total of 7 cases of the disease have been reported, including the recent death. “To date, no human-to-human transmission of Alaska smallpox virus has been documented. However, as certain orthopoxviruses can be transmitted through direct contact with skin lesions, we recommend that people with skin lesions possibly caused by Alaska smallpox, keep the affected area covered with a bandage,” the Alaska Department of Health said in an official statement. The virus comes from two specific species found in the Fairbanks North Star neighborhood: voles and red-backed shrews.

How does Alaskapox spread?

Alaskan smallpox spreads through small mammals and there is no record of human-to-human transmission to date. The deceased individual was recently scratched by a cat. According to the health department's epidemiological bulletin: The patient lived alone in a forested area and reported no recent travel and no close contact with recent travel, illness or similar injuries. He reported caring for a stray cat at his residence that regularly hunted small mammals and frequently scratched the patient, including a notable scratch near the right axilla in the month before the onset of the rash.

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What are the symptoms of Alaskan smallpox?

The classic symptoms of Alaskan pox are one or more skin lesions (bumps or pustules), swollen lymph nodes, and joint and/or muscle pain. Immunocompromised people may be at increased risk of more serious illnesses. In the case of the individual who succumbed to the infection recently, he was undergoing treatment for skin lesions along with cancer treatment. He had a red, tender papule on his right armpit. In November, he was hospitalized for cellulitis, a bacterial skin infection characterized by redness, swelling and heat in the affected area.

“This is Alaska’s first case of serious smallpox infection resulting in hospitalization and death.”

According to official data, this is the first case of death associated with the viral disease. This is also Alaska's first case of smallpox outside the Fairbanks interior region, where it was first identified. As of December 2023, all reported infections have occurred in residents of the Fairbanks area and involved self-limited illnesses consisting of localized rash and lymphadenopathy. The Alaska Section of Epidemiology (SOE) is working with the University of Alaska Museum and the CDC to test the virus in small mammals outside the interior region.