Yosemite Hantavirus Threat Continues To Spread, 230000 Visitors Possibly Exposed

It continues to be bad news for the National Park Service as it struggles to deal with an outbreak of the hantavirus that was traced back to Yosemite National Park. The number of visitors who may have been exposed to the potentially deadly virus continues to rise dramatically and the NPS now says that it has alerted more than 230,000 people to the threat. That is significantly more than was originally suspected when this story first broke in late August.

When news of the outbreak was first revealed there were four confirmed cases that resulted in two fatalities. After an initial investigation, it was discovered that each of those patients had one thing in common: they had all spent time in the “signature” tent cabins at Yosemite’s Curry Village. Since that initial outbreak, the number of confirmed cases has doubled to eight with the virus claiming a third life as well.

Last week the Park Service announced that was expanding its warning message to more than 10,000 visitors from as many as 39 countries. Those travelers who were potentially exposed were sent letters and emails urging them to seek immediate medical assistance if they started to experience flu-like symptoms. It can take anywhere from one to six weeks for the virus to show those early warning signs and if caught early the victim can usually be saved.

In addition to the visitors who may have stayed at Curry Village, the Park Service is now sending additional warnings to others who may have spent the night at the High Sierra Loop campsite as well. The warnings extend to anyone who may have visited either location between June 10 and August 24 of this year.

The hantavirus is carried by rodents such as squirrels and mice. It spreads to humans when we breathe in contaminated dust particles left behind by the animals’ saliva, urine or fecal matter. It is believed that mice had crawled inside the walls of the tents in the Yosemite campsites and left such waste behind. When travelers stayed in those tents they were inadvertently exposed to the disease.

The National Park Service continues to maintain a help line for anyone who has concerns regarding the Hantavirus. They can be reached at 209-372-0822 from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. daily. You can also find out more information on the Hantavirus in Yosemite webpage and in the Hantavirus FAQ.

[Photo Credit: Ben Margot/Associated Press]