Yosemite, hiking (144218470)
August 28, 2012

Hantavirus Blamed on Death of Second Person Who Visited Yosemite National Park In June

Lawrence LeBlond for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online

Hantavirus, a deadly virus that can be contracted from rodents--through their bites, saliva, urine or contact with feces--has claimed its second victim at Yosemite National Park earlier this summer, prompting park officials to warn past visitors to be on the lookout for flu-like symptoms.

The second victim contracted Hantavirus while visiting the park in June, park spokesman Scott Gediman said in a statement on Monday. The victim was believed to have contracted the disease while staying at the popular Curry Village tent cabins. There is one other confirmed case of the illness, and a fourth is currently under investigation.

All four visitors stayed at the village, which is located at the eastern end of Yosemite Valley, over a one-week period in mid-June. Park officials are in the process of contacting all visitors who stayed in the tent cabins since mid-June alerting them to seek medical attention if they believe they have any symptoms of infection.

“This is being taken very seriously,” said Gediman. “We've been able to isolate the cabin area, we've done the thorough cleaning, we're monitoring the area, we're trapping mice and testing them. We're making sure the cabins are shored up. We're being very active, and we have been since the cases came to light.”

Most people who contract hantavirus suffer flu-like symptoms at first, followed by severe headaches and muscle pains, and then after two to seven days, many begin having trouble breathing and can die. Patients can go up to six weeks after exposure before developing symptoms of hantavirus. There is no cure or virus-specific treatment for this virus.

The first victim reported was a 37-year-old man from Alameda County, California who died in late July. The second victim was a woman from southern California who survived the infection. The third victim is a man from outside California, who also died in late July. The fourth victim has not been confirmed as of yet, and no other information is available on that person.

Of the 587 documented US cases of hantavirus identified since 1993, about a third were fatal. Public health officials in Yosemite are not expecting to find more cases of hantavirus, but since it is a rare disease that can be difficult to diagnose, it is possible other victims may still be found, noted Gediman.

The two most recent cases were only reported to California public health officials this past weekend.

All four victims stayed in the village´s “signature tent cabins,” which have more insulation and other amenities, making them a more suitable habitat for nesting rodents.

Gediman said that it is not clear just how many people stayed in the signature cabins, but that 91 of the 408 cabins are signature tent cabins. He said contractors were working to make improvements in all the signature cabins, including replacing insulation and checking for areas where mice could get into the buildings.

“They're doing everything they can to eliminate areas where mice can get into the cabins,” Gediman told the San Francisco Chronicle℠s Erin Allday. “This was never because the cabins were dirty, it was never because we didn't take care of them. This is just because approximately 20 percent of all deer mice are infected with hantavirus. And they're here in Yosemite Valley.”

Hantavirus is spread primarily by deer mice, which live at higher elevations and, in California, are most common in the eastern Sierra. Lab tests in the first two victims confirmed that hantavirus was present in fecal matter from mice trapped near Curry Village.

These are the first cases ever to be reported from Yosemite Valley, although the park itself has had two cases in past years, 2000 and 2010, both in visitors to the higher elevations where deer mice typically thrive.

People who are planning to attend the park and have questions on safety precautions should call Yosemite National Park at 209-372-0822.