Yosemite Park Visitors at Risk of Hantavirus Lung Disease: Warning

Officials are warning 1,700 visitors who came to Yosemite National Park during the months of June, July and August that they may have been exposed to a risk of developing hantavirus, a serious and potentially life-threatening lung disease carried by rodents, which may have already killed two visitors to the famous national park.

The cases of hantavirus illnesses among Yosemite Park visitors were reported in two different tourists, who did not know each other, but both stayed at tent-cabins in Curry Village during June 2012.

According to a statement released by the National Park Service on August 16, the Yosemite visitors contracted the hantavirus lung disease from exposure to deer mice droppings in the cabins. The hantavirus outbreak is also believed to have sickened at least two others.

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Yosemite Park Infections Linked to Curry Village Deer Mice

The famous Curry Village tent-cabins, located in the Yosemite Valley area of the majestic national park, are a favorite among tourists. The park contacted nearly 2,000 visitors who stayed overnight in any of the 91 rustic tent cabins of Curry Village on vacation to warn them about possible contact with hantavirus.

“The health of our visitors is our paramount concern and we are making every effort to notify and inform our visitors of any potential illness,” said Don Neubacher, Yosemite National Park Superintendent in a followup statement released on August 27.

The first victim, a resident of Northern California died of the virus in late July. The second death, a man from Pennsylvania, died mid-August.

Hantavirus Carried By 20% of Yosemite Park’s Deer Mice

Hantavirus is a rodent-borne lung disease contracted through contact with urine or droppings of infected deer mice. It usually occurs in rural areas or where forests, fields or farms offer a habitat for the rodents who often carry the virus. According to the National Park Service, as many as 20 percent of Yosemite’s deer mice, the common carrier of the virus, carry hantavirus.

Hantavirus is transferred to humans when they breathe air contaminated with the virus or come in contact with 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.

Tourists of the park who visited during the specified months and exhibit symptoms are urged to seek immediate medical attention.

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.

Since the hantavirus was first discovered in the United States in 1993, a total of 537 cases have been reported in the country, with approximately 60 cases occurring in California.

Photo Courtesy of MiguelVieira via Flickr/CC 2.0


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