News Column

Hantavirus Kills Yosemite Camper

Aug. 17, 2012

Joshua Emerson Smith, Merced Sun-Star (Merced, Calif.)

Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome, an uncommon disease transmitted by rodents, has killed one man and made another person ill after both returned from trips in Yosemite National Park.

According to health officials, the two people likely contracted hantavirus pulmonary syndrome after staying in Curry Village, a popular park location with cabins and restaurant facilities.

The victims were a man from the Bay Area and a woman from Southern California who stayed at the park in June, according to Yosemite spokeswoman Kari Cobb. The Bay Area man died in late July; the woman is recovering.

"They were on completely separate trips," Cobb said. "But they were within close proximity to each other, and they were in the cabins on overlapping days."

Public health officials searched the victims' homes as well as the cabins.

Though they discovered hantavirus at the cabins, it's impossible to say for certain that's where they contracted the disease. But since that's the only thing the two had in common, it's likely, official said.

"Hantavirus is a rare but serious disease spread by rodents," said Dr. Ron Chapman, director of the California Department of Public Health. "This disease can frequently become fatal, but there are steps you can take to reduce your exposure."

Hantavirus is transmitted through feces, urine or saliva of infected wild mice, primarily deer mice. Most people are infected by inhaling small particles of mouse urine or droppings that have been stirred up into the air.

Park officials said they routinely check deer-mouse populations and monitor for the virus.

"It's very very common for rodents to carry this disease," Cobb said. "We are stepping up education and outreach in light of this recent incident."

Park officials said they have increased measures to reduce visitors' risk of hantavirus exposure, including inspection and cleaning of rooms and cabins, exclusion of deer mice and other rodents from buildings, maintaining good housekeeping and sanitation levels, and educating the public.

If visitors notice rodent droppings, they shouldn't clean it up themselves, Cobb said, adding that staff is trained to safely dispose of the waste.

Symptoms occur one to six weeks after exposure starting with fever, headache and body pains. The sickness can make breathing difficult and in some cases cause death.

Other cases of hantavirus were believed to have originated at the park in 2000 and 2010.

Since hantavirus was first identified in 1993, there have been about 60 cases in California and four this year. One in three cases in the state was fatal. In the United States, 587 total cases have been reported.

Modesto Bee staff writer Patty Guerra contributed to this report.



Source: (c)2012 the Merced Sun-Star (Merced, Calif.) Distributed by MCT Information Services


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