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]

Yosemite Hantavirus Threat Expands To 39 Countries

Last week we told you about an outbreak of the Hantavirus in Yosemite National Park that resulted in the deaths of two people with a possible exposure to hundreds more. Now the true scope of that exposure is becoming more clear as the National Park Service has warned that as many as ten thousand people may be at risk. Worse yet, the NPS says that 2500 of those could be from up to 39 different countries around the globe.

The first cases of the virus, which is carried by mice, squirrels and other rodents, were traced back to Yosemite’s Curry Village, a camp ground of sorts that featured a number of tent cabins. The initial health warning for the disease went out to 3100 people who stayed in those tents between June 10 and August 24 of this year. The letter urged anyone who felt ill with flu-like symptoms to seek immediate medical attention. So far there have been six confirmed cases including the two fatalities.

Park officials are now blaming the exposure to the virus on a design flaw in the tent cabins they use at Curry Village. That flaw allowed mice to get inside the walls of shelters where they would leave droppings and other waste. The disease spreads through exposure to those droppings, as well as saliva and urine from the infected rodent, and can take anywhere from one to six weeks for the first symptoms to manifest. There is no cure for the Hantavirus, although early detection greatly increases the chance of survival.

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.

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]

Hanta Virus in American Southwest

The Hanta Virus is a little known problem of those who live and travel in the American Southwest. Unfortunately, Hanta has a reputation for killing people and should be taken seriously. A recent article discusses a case from February, 2008. Knowledge of transmission and prevention are needed to prevent a great “Indiana Jones” style adventure, visiting ghost towns, from making you very sick.

Hanta Virus first got major media attention with an outbreak in New Mexico in the early 1990’s. The “Four Corners” area (Arizona, New Mexico, Utah and Colorado) was the epicenter of infectious disease and epidemiological research. This outbreak allowed researchers to determine that the disease is spread through contact with infected rodent urine and feces. Spread of Hanta between humans, directly, is not common and believed impossible.

Rodents are ubiquitous in the American Southwest and they are the primary vector for disease transmission. People especially vulnerable to this are hikers and backpackers and those who live in more rural areas. Exploration of ghost towns is a popular vacation activity and caution should be taken when doing this. These ghost towns attract the rodents and visitors to these buildings are putting themselves at potential risk through contact with animal urine and feces. However, of more than 100 reported cases, only 2 have come from hikers. The rest are from people cleaning their garages, vacation homes and other areas that include rodents excreta. Bleach solution and rubber gloves are proper protection measures, along with adequate ventilation while cleaning vacation homes or garages.

Hanta Virus symptoms include a flu-like illness with muscle aches and pains, headaches, nausea and vomiting and fatigue being common. There is no cure for Hanta Virus and care is supportive (treating the symptoms only). Worse is the Hanta Pulmonary form that classically appears after the person appears to have recovered from the initial infection. The person;s lungs fill with fluid and progression can be quite rapid, in hours in fact.

There have been 76 cases in New Mexico, since 1993, with 31 deaths.