Alaska confirms first fatal case of Alaskan box disease
Alaska health officials have confirmed the state’s first fatal case of Alaskan box disease — a recently discovered viral illness.
An elderly, immunocompromised man from the Kenai Peninsula, south of Anchorage, died while undergoing treatment in late January, the Anchorage Daily News reported.
It is one of only seven cases of Alaska smallpox, the Alaska Department of Public Health said in an announcement Friday.
“People shouldn’t necessarily be worried, they should be more aware,” said Julia Rogers, state epidemiologist. “So we hope to make doctors more aware of what Alaskabox virus is, so they can identify the signs and symptoms.”
The double-stranded DNA virus, which comes from the same genus as smallpox, monkeypox and cowpox, was first identified in an adult in Fairbanks, Alaska in 2015. It is more common in small mammals, such as voles.
Diagnosing the deadly case, the first identified outside Alaska’s interior, took months, as previously Alaskan smallpox cases had shown only mild symptoms in patients — typically a localized skin rash and swollen lymph nodes.
Other patients diagnosed with the virus did not require treatment, but all had healthy immune systems, health officials said.
Officials said the man’s immunocompromised condition likely contributed to his death. How he contracted the virus is still unclear.
The man lived alone in the woods and reported no recent travel. Officials said it was possible he contracted Alaskabux disease from a cat he lived with that frequently caught small mammals and scratched him when his symptoms began.
The cat tested negative for the virus – but it could be spread from its claws.
In September, the man noticed a red bump in his right armpit and prescribed an antibiotic. But after six weeks, his symptoms increased and included fatigue and pain.
He was hospitalized in Anchorage and underwent “a battery of tests” in December and tested positive for cowpox. Additional testing by the Centers for Disease Control revealed that it was in fact Alaskan smallpox.
Health officials said his condition initially improved after a week of intravenous medication, but he died in late January after suffering kidney and respiratory failure.