Hantavirus In Yosemite National Park Results In Two Deaths

The National Park Service is scrambling to deal with an outbreak of the deadly hantavirus in Yosemite National Park after two people who recently visited the region contracted the disease and died. So far there have been three confirmed cases of the virus and a fourth suspected case. Park officials fear that potentially hundreds of visitors may have been exposed, however, prompting them to release a statement on NPS.gov earlier this week.

That statement warned visitors who may have stayed in Yosemite’s Curry Village campsite to take extra caution in dealing with the symptoms, which can be easily mistaken for the flu. Early warning signs include a fever and muscle aches throughout the body, but the Park Service memo says that those symptoms can quickly escalate into a more life-threatening illness. Anyone who has visited Curry Village between mid-June and the end of August is advised to seek immediate medial assistance if they exhibit any of the symptoms.

The hantavirus is typically carried by rodents, such as mice, rats or squirrels who initially contract the disease from fleas. It can be passed on to humans through bites, although it more commonly spreads when people are exposed to locations in which the rodents have left urine and droppings. Particles of those waste products can sometimes be breathed in, resulting in possible exposure. The virus can appear anywhere from one to six weeks later.

In response to this outbreak, park officials have implemented rolling closures of the cabins at Curry Village so that they could each be given a thorough cleaning. They’ve also started trapping more deer mice, a common rodent in the area, to check for elevated levels of the hantavirus in the species.

Anyone who has questions or concerns over the virus are encouraged to call 209-372-0822 for more information. The number is staffed 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. daily.

[Photo Credit: Ben Margot/Associated Press]

Ten bizarre travel diseases that can ruin your next vacation

On some level, catching a weird disease or picking up a little-known tropical parasite on your travels gives you bragging rights. “Look at me, I’m so hardcore!” Trust me, I’ve been there. But with Multidrug-Resistant Tuberculosis (MDR TB) making headlines worldwide, I’d like to remind fellow travelers that these diseases are no joke, and even those of us with healthy immune systems and access to industrialized medicine aren’t impervious.

The reality is, you never know what you might be susceptible to. In my case, my doctors and medical research indicate that I may be lacking an enzyme that made me vulnerable to an extremely rare but serious tropical disease caused by the bacteria Bartonella bacilliformis, which causes Oroya Fever (and its precursor, Verruga Peruana). I’m still recovering from a three-year battle with the disease that has resulted in permanent organ damage because of a failure to protect myself against sand flies in the Amazon Basin region of Ecuador. Regular applications of DEET could have prevented that, as well as the various misdiagnoses of tuberculosis, histoplasmosis, and Hodgkin’s lymphoma, but that’s another story.

A lot of tropical and uncommon travel-related ailments are difficult to diagnose, and sometimes even more problematic to cure (if they don’t kill you, first). Statistically, however, most travelers–even if they’re in extremely sketchy parts of the world–will stay healthy if they take the necessary precautions. Having a trustworthy travel doctor is also helpful if you spend a lot of time in developing nations.
Being prepared before you leave home is key. You should never take travel wellness lightly, but don’t let fear ruin your trip. I certainly don’t follow every bit of medical advice out there (I honestly don’t see the point of traveling if not to eat epic quantities of street food.). If you’re going to be completely paranoid and don’t own a Hazmat suit, perhaps it’s better to stay home. But don’t ignore CDC warnings for recommended (or required) vaccinations, and if you know you’re going to be in a malarial or otherwise-dangerous insect-or-disease-inhabited region, prepare accordingly.

Just remember to do your research before you go, and remember that while it most likely won’t happen to you, it’s not impossible.

After the video (graphic, but it illustrates just how devastating TB can be, as well as provides important information on Multidrug-Resistant Tuberculosis), a gallery of bizarre diseases you’ll want to avoid during your travels.


Thirty years of AIDS: Smithsonian remembers the start of a pandemic

Thirty years ago this summer, the first official reports were released about a new virus that destroyed the human immune system. The virus was the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), which causes AIDS.

Since that time HIV/AIDS has become a global pandemic, claiming millions of lives and seriously damaging several developing economies.

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History is marking this grim anniversary with a special two-part exhibition at the Washington, DC, museum. HIV and AIDS Thirty Years Ago looks at the initial public and government response to HIV/AIDS from 1981-1987, and how the virus was first isolated. Archiving the History of an Epidemic: HIV and AIDS, 1985-2009 takes the story forward to look at society’s growing awareness of the problem and oral histories of those affected. There’s also an online exhibition.

For more information on how HIV/AIDS and how to protect yourself, go to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services HIV/AIDS information page or the government’s AIDS page for basic information about HIV/AIDS.

[Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons]

Measles infected passenger puts five airports on alert

Health officials have issued a warning to passengers and airport workers at five cities after a 27 year old woman flew from London to New Mexico infected with measles.

She had not been immunized for the disease and arrived in Albuquerque quite ill.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are working with the airlines to notify all passengers who were seated in her vicinity on the plane, but there are plenty of other opportunities to catch what she was traveling with.

Anyone that was within five rows of the woman is at risk of catching measles. Most people are immunized for measles at an early age, but those who did not receive the shot are now especially at risk, including babies and pregnant women.

The routes the infected passenger flew on are:

February 20 – London – Washington Dulles
February 22 – Baltimore – Denver
February 22 – Denver – Albuquerque

The CDC recommends that if you were on any of these flights you contact your family doctor. Symptoms include a runny nose, small red spots all over the body and a fever. If left untreated, the disease could lead to ear infections, pneumonia or even death.

Ten reasons I thought I had malaria symptoms (but I didn’t)

Sometimes, fear of the worst gets the best of you. That’s what happened to me last week when, having recently traveled to Zambia, I thought I had malaria symptoms. Am I crazy? No. Am I usually a hypochondriac? Not at all — but that’s partially due to the fact that I almost never get sick. As a matter of fact, that’s the issue behind #3.

Ten reasons I thought I had malaria symptoms (but I didn’t)

1. I had been in Zambia.

Pre traveling to Zambia, I went to the doctor to get shots for Hepatitis A and Typhoid (that one hurts like a jerkstore), as well as prescriptions for Cipro and Malarone — a malaria prevention medication. Every travel document I received warned me and rewarned me that I was visiting a “malaria zone,” and I definitely came home with a fair few mosquito bites.

2. I missed a pill. Maybe more.

You have to start taking Malarone a couple days in advance of travel, then take one at the same time every day until seven days after you get back. The pill, like most pills, is not 100 percent effective even if you get it right, but I didn’t get it right. One night, I forgot to take my pill until after dinner (I’d been taking it at 6 and took it at 10), and after I got back, I completely forgot to take one on a Saturday. I read my instructions and they said to just skip it and take the next one at my normal time.

And what? And pray?

3. I got a cold.

Most people wouldn’t think twice about getting a cold, but I am one of those lucky folks who almost never (knock on wood) gets sick. When I developed a fuzzy head and a cough about ten days after getting back, I couldn’t help but think, just in the back of my mind: “Do I have malaria?”

4. I Googled.

As anyone with a computer would, I googled the symptoms for malaria. Our friends at WebMD (I know) informed me that the incubation period could be anywhere from nine days to ten months. Great. Symptoms:

  • Fever.
  • Chills.
  • Headache.
  • Sweats.
  • Fatigue.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Dry (nonproductive) cough.
  • Muscle and/or back pain.
  • Enlarged spleen.

I wasn’t vomiting, didn’t know where my spleen was and hadn’t taken my temperature, but the rest was definitely going on. An even less heartening statement followed: “Symptoms may appear in cycles and may come and go at different intensities and for different lengths of time. But, especially at the beginning of the illness, the symptoms may not follow this typical pattern.”


5. I slept a ton.

I’m a good sleeper and all, but even after my cold symptoms started to diminish, I was suddenly sleeping like 10 hours per night, and feeling sleepy during the day. Does this happen to everyone now and then? Yes. But it was happening to me, Potential Malaria Victim Annie.

7. I felt “different.”

Perhaps it was psychosomatic, but I couldn’t help feeling that something was wrong. I was probably just still getting over the cold (and coping with the side effects of Nyquil), but I didn’t feel “normal.” I was sleepy, as I mentioned, and woozy and had no energy. This continued until a week after the cold hit. I wasn’t even getting as much work done as I should have been. At this point, I wasn’t sure I had malaria symptoms, but I was keeping an eye on it.

6. I had sudden, outrageous bathroom hell.

I’d been feeling nauseous all day. It had been my husband’s birthday the night before, so I attributed it to being out late, but suddenly, at 3:30 PM on a Tuesday afternoon, I was in the bathroom vomiting. It happened once, then again, and I still wasn’t feeling better. I sent an email cancelling my plans for the night, then was back in the bathroom. By an hour later, I had called my husband at work, sobbing and begging him to come home for fear I was going to pass out and choke on my own vomit. I was really sick. And, as the vomiting had finally come, I was pretty sure I had malaria.

8. I couldn’t move.

Unlike with the flu, during which you get a few minutes of glorious “I feel okay” time after you throw up, I was completely incapacitated. I spent twenty minutes just sitting on the bathroom floor with my cat looking at me pensively. When I finally made it into bed, the phone rang and I couldn’t look to see who it was, because even turning on my side made me dizzy and out of breath. I was obviously suffering from a violent strain of malaria, and probably near death. I lay paralyzed, worrying about my spleen.

9. I had a fever.

My husband came home terrified and immediately gauged that I had a fever (and kindly brought me Cheerios and a bucket). That was it. The final nail in my coffin. Even if I got better, I would have this strain of malaria for the rest of my life, however short that might be.

10. I’m an idiot.

My husband said “I’ve never seen you this sick!” … and that triggered me to think of the last time I’d been so sick. I couldn’t think of any instance, any precedent at all until … oh wait … that time I got food poisoning in London and threw up the second I got to Glasgow for about 18 hours straight. As I ate Cheerios one by one, about an hour later, my fever was gone. Shortly after that, I was eating Cheerios by handfuls.

At last, a far less dizzy me ventured into the restroom and had bathroom hell … the other way. I stepped out concerned that though I felt a little better, I was clearly still sick. My husband smiled and said “Honey, I think you’re in the final stages of food poisoning.”



So, after a harrowing food poisoning experience and a completely harmless cold, about two days later, I felt completely fine — and I have felt fine ever since. I write this not just to overshare, but to confess, and to assure you that if you’ve ever convinced yourself you have a possibly fatal disease after traveling, you’re not crazy.

Or, you know, we’re both crazy.

[Photo by James Jordan via Flickr.]