Hantavirus Claims Two Yosemite Campers

A second person has died of a rare, rodent-borne disease after visiting one of the most popular parts of Yosemite National Park earlier this summer.

Yosemite National Park (Source: cdc.gov)

Park officials are warning past visitors to be aware of flu-like aches and symptoms and seek medical help immediately if they appear, the Associated Press reported.

The National Park Service Office of Public Health recently learned of a confirmed third case, and probable fourth case, of hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (HPS) in individuals who visited Yosemite National Park in June.

Yosemite officials said the four visitors may have been exposed while vacationing at the park’s Curry Village, and are warning those who stayed in the village’s tent cabins from mid-June through the end of August to beware of any symptoms of hantavirus, which can include fever, aches, dizziness, and chills.

An outreach effort is under way to contact visitors from that period who stayed in “Signature Tent Cabins,” which have more insulation and amenities than other tent cabins.

Hantavirus is a rare but serious disease. Since HPS was first identified in 1993, there have been approximately 60 cases in California and 587 cases nationally. About one third of cases identified have been fatal. There is no specific treatment for the virus.

(Source: cdc.gov)

HPS is caused by a virus that individuals get through contact with the urine, droppings, or saliva of infected rodents, primarily deer mice. Not all deer mice carry hantavirus, but deer mice with hantavirus have been found throughout the United States and Canada.

Most infections are caused by breathing small particles of mouse urine or droppings that have been stirred up into the air. If the virus is contracted, the symptoms appear one to six weeks after exposure with fever, headache, and muscle ache, and progresses rapidly to severe difficulty in breathing and, in some cases, death.

Early medical attention can greatly increase the chance of survival, so it is important to seek medical attention immediately if an individual experiences any of these symptoms and may have been exposed to rodents.

Curry Village is the most popular and economical lodging area in the park, a picturesque assemblage of rustic cabins at the base of the 3,000-foot promontory Glacier Point.

Ninety one of the 408 tent cabins in the village are of the “signature” variety where the four cases had stayed, which feature more insulation and amenities than the others.

This year’s deaths mark the first such deaths in park visitors, although two others were stricken in a more remote area in 2000 and 2010, officials said.

Yosemite National Park has set up a general, non-emergency phone line for all questions and concerns related to hantavirus in Yosemite National Park. The phone number is (209) 372-0822 and it will be staffed from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. daily.

The National Park Service Office of Public Health has issued a call for cases to state and local health departments nationwide, and is working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to heighten public health awareness and detection.

Rodent control (Source: cdc.gov)

The park and concessioner have also increased public education efforts geared towards visitors and park employees. This includes distributing information to all visitors entering the park, information at Curry Village registration area, and notifications throughout the park.

California Department of Public Health (CDPH) and Yosemite National Park Public Health Service officers conduct periodic rodent surveys to monitor deer mouse abundance and virus activity in mouse populations.

Yosemite National Park has conducted additional rodent trapping and is increasing rodent-proofing and trapping measures in tent cabins and buildings throughout the park. Structures throughout the park continue to be cleaned by following recommended practices and are inspected regularly. Yosemite also conducts routine rodent proofing of buildings and facilities throughout the park.

When people are in wilderness areas or places that harbor mice, individuals can take the following steps to prevent HPS:

  • Avoid areas, especially indoors, where wild rodents are likely to have been present
  • Keep food in tightly sealed containers and store away from rodents
  • When cleaning an area, open windows to air out at least two hours before entering taking care not to stir up dust
  • Wear plastic gloves and spray areas contaminated with rodent droppings and urine with a 10 percent bleach solution or other household disinfectants and wait at least 15 minutes before cleaning the area
  • Place the waste in double plastic bags, each tightly sealed, and discard in the trash and wash hands thoroughly
  • For additional information on preventing HPS, visit the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Hantavirus Web site page.

Worth Pondering…

Clean-up tip: Do not sweep or vacuum up mouse or rat urine, droppings, or nests.  This will cause virus particles to go into the air, where they can be breathed in.

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