Third Hantavirus Death Linked to Yosemite Park, As Warning Expanded

A third person has reportedly died from a hantavirus infection linked to an outbreak among visitors to Yosemite Park, as federal health officials have expanded warnings to include another 12,000 visitors who stayed at the park over the summer.

Yosemite National Park indicates that individuals who were in the High Sierra Camps may have been exposed to the virus, which kills one out of every three people it infects. This warning is in addition to the 10,000 visitors alerted last week about the risk of hantavirus among those who stayed at Yosemite’s Curry Village “signature” tent cabins.

The additional warnings came after officials confirmed a third hantavirus death among a Yosemite park visitor, who passed away on Thursday. At least 8 people overall have been confirmed as having hantavirus after visiting Yosemite. Their identities have not been released.

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On September 4, the World Health Organization stepped in and issued a global alert for Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (HPS) linked to the famous park.

“Travellers are advised to avoid exposure to rodents and their excreta,” the warning states. “Adventure travellers, backpackers, campers and travellers with occupational exposure to rodents in countries or areas at risk for Hantaviruses should take precautions to exclude rodents from tents or other accommodation and to protect all food from contamination by rodents.”

Health officials believe the Yosemite Park hantavirus outbreak was started by deer mice, who were able to invest the double-walled Signature tent cabins of Curry Village. A previous report estimated that about 20% of the deer mice in the park carry the Hantavirus.

Hantavirus is transferred to humans when they breathe air contaminated with the virus or come in contact with deer mouse saliva, urine or droppings infected with it. The deer mouse is native to the central and western United States and Canada.

The disease can incubate for up to six weeks until common symptoms, which are often confused with influenza, appear. Early symptoms include fever, headaches, muscle aches, stomach problems, dizziness and chills. Symptoms typically develop between one and five weeks after exposure and later symptoms of the virus also include coughing and shortness of breath.

Hantavirus has a mortality rate of 38 percent. A blood test can diagnose the virus and while there is no official treatment, it is commonly combated by placing a patient in intensive care and offering oxygen therapy.

Photo Courtesy of MiguelVieira via Flickr/CC 2.0

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