An Alaska resident has died from complications of a relatively new and rare virus known as Alaskan smallpox, according to a bulletin published by public health officials of the state of Alaska.

The Alaskan smallpox virus was first identified in Fairbanks, Alaska, in 2015, according to the Alaska Department of Health. Since then, only seven cases have been reported in the state, according to the state health department.

This is the first case ever reported of an Alaskan smallpox infection resulting in hospitalization and death. State public health officials noted that the patient was an older, immunocompromised man, putting him at higher risk for severe illness.

“Alaska smallpox remains rare,” Dr. Joe McLaughlin, state epidemiologist and chief of the Epidemiology Section of the Alaska Division of Public Health, told ABC News. “For the vast majority of people who may come into contact with this virus, the clinical course will likely be mild.”

The virus usually appears in small animals, commonly identified in voles and shrews, according to the Alaska State Department of Health. According to the state health agency, there have been no reports of person-to-person spread.

“So far there is no evidence of human-to-human transmission for the cases that have been identified,” said Julia Rogers, Ph.D., an epidemic intelligence service officer at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. the Alaska Department of Health. Cheers, she told ABC News.

“Given the rarity of Alaska smallpox and its generally mild course in healthy individuals, the risk to the general public remains low,” said John Brownstein, Ph.D., chief innovation officer at Boston Children’s Hospital and medical contributor to ABCNews.

It is still unclear how the deceased resident contracted the virus. They lived alone in a wooded area and reported caring for a stray cat, which later tested negative for the virus, according to the state bulletin issued Friday.

“It could be that the cat was catching voles or shrews and ate them and then had a viable virus on its claws, and that was the route (of infection), through a scratch,” McLaughlin said.

Over a six-week span, the patient visited his doctor and local emergency room for an injury and was prescribed antibiotics, according to the bulletin. Eventually, when his condition deteriorated, he was hospitalized, where doctors sent tests to the CDC, according to state health officials, which ultimately identified the viral infection as Alaskan smallpox. He succumbed to the virus a few weeks later, state health officials said.

“The most recent (fatal) case was an elderly man who was immunocompromised, so his immune system was no longer going to be able to handle the infection,” Rogers said.

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Alaska public health officials recommend that doctors become familiar with the signs and symptoms of the virus and consider testing patients they may suspect have contracted the disease.

What to look for

If patients develop lesions, they should avoid touching them and keep them dry and covered, practice good hand hygiene and avoid sharing clothing and bedding with others, according to the state health department.

Those in regular contact with wildlife may need to take extra precautions, officials said.

“There are a lot of things you can spot from wild animals, and try to take the best precautions possible and be safe and hygienic in your contact with them,” Rogers said.

Alaska public health officials hope that knowledge of the relatively new virus will make it easier to identify possible future cases.

“What we hope is that over time, as more doctors realize not only that the Alaskan smallpox virus exists, but also what to look for and how to test for it, we will see more Alaskan smallpox diagnoses.” . in the months and years to come,” McLaughlin said.

“The recent unfortunate death of an immunocompromised person underscores the potential severity of Alaska smallpox in vulnerable populations, highlighting the critical need for increased awareness and diagnostic preparedness among healthcare providers,” Brownstein said.

“This case emphasizes the importance of monitoring wildlife diseases and their potential to impact human health, especially as human activities increasingly encroach on natural habitats,” Brownstein added.

By Sam