Yosemite-Linked Hantavirus Continues To Wreak Havoc, Third Confirmed Death Reported
September 7, 2012

Yosemite-Linked Hantavirus Continues To Wreak Havoc, Third Confirmed Death Reported

Lawrence LeBlond for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online

Officials at Yosemite National Park are expanding their warnings to some 22,000 visitors, including more than 2,500 from abroad, after a third death has been linked to Yosemite hantavirus.

The update follows a worldwide alert issued Wednesday (Sep. 5) to around 10,000 people who visited the park from June to August who had stayed at the park´s popular Curry Village, where most of the infections are believed to have occurred. The village is made up of more than 400 tent cabins, of which 91 are “signature tent cabins” and played host to the rodents that carry the deadly virus.

The signature cabins are a suitable habitat for burrowing deer mice as they are well insulated, giving the rodents a warm place to hide out. These little pests also urinate and defecate inside these structures, and when their waste dries up it mixes with dust and can be easily inhaled, infecting anyone who breathes in the bacteria-laced air. Humans can also become infected if they touch contaminated surfaces, eat contaminated food, come into contact with rodent saliva, or are bitten by an infected rodent.

US officials said anyone who stayed at the cabins between June and August may be at risk of contracting hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (HPS) and should be checked out by their physicians.

A West Virginian has become the third person who visited the park in June to have died from the virus. In all there are now eight confirmed cases. The infection, which has no cure, takes up to six weeks to show symptoms and it is likely more cases will continue to crop up. One-third of hantavirus cases are fatal.

Park officials said they are getting around 1,000 calls per day from frightened visitors worried they may have been infected. However, Yosemite Ranger Kari Cobb said people who had not stayed in the Tuolumne area of the park and the High Sierra Camps, as well as Curry Village, should not be worried about getting infected. The virus is not known to transmit from human to human.

Confirmed cases so far include six people from California, one from Pennsylvania and one from West Virginia. French health officials are also investigating two suspected hantavirus cases from possible exposure during visits to Yosemite, according to a Reuters report.

Cobb said she could not confirm the Reuters report regarding the French hantavirus cases, saying the information has not come from Yosemite officials.

The park service recently extended the warnings to an additional 12,000 people who stayed at other high-risk areas in the park, bringing the warning total to 22,000. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says they are working to tackle the outbreak. It said it is urging all medical professionals to report diagnosed hantavirus cases to state health authorities.

Yosemite spokesman Scott Gediman said the additional alerts went out after an eighth confirmed case came from an individual who stayed at the Tuolumne Meadows Lodge and also camped out in the High Sierra wilderness. All other cases have so far been linked to visitors who stayed at Curry Village.

Gediman told Reuters that the High Sierra Cabins will remain open as the only confirmed case there was mild. He added that officials do regular inspections and “try to keep the rodents out.” But, he added, it´s impossible to ensure every tent is “rodent-proof.”

Gediman noted that notices were also being sent out to individuals who still had reservations to stay at the High Sierra Camps before they close on September 17.

Park officials said while they have been sending out alerts to past visitors and upcoming visitors with reservations, they added the outbreak has not led to a wave of cancellations.

“There have been cancellations, but it would be grossly overstated to say they're cancelling en masse. There's quite a bit of people out there still," Cobb said in an interview with BBC News.