Rare Disease Kills Yosemite Visitor

By TRACIE CONEAssociated Press

FRESNO, Calif. (AP) - A man died and a woman became seriously ill after contracting a rare rodent-borne disease that might have been linked to their stay at a popular lodging area in Yosemite National Park, officials said Thursday.

The man was the first person to die from hantavirus pulmonary syndrome contracted in the park, though two others were stricken in a more remote area in 2000 and 2010, officials said.

Testing by the Centers for Disease Control and the California Department of Public Health showed the virus was present in fecal matter from deer mice trapped in Curry Village, an historic, family friendly area of cabins.

"There's no way to tell for sure, but state health officials feel they may have contracted it here in Curry Village," park spokesman Scott Gediman said.

The names of the two people weren't released. The man was from Alameda County in the San Francisco Bay area. The woman from Southern California was expected to survive.

No other cases have been reported, but symptoms can show up one to six weeks after exposure. There is no specific treatment for the virus, and about one-third of people who contract it will die.

Hantavirus develops from breathing in dust particles contaminated with rodent droppings, urine or saliva. Early symptoms of hantavirus can include fever and muscle aches, chills, headaches, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain and coughing.

Spokesman Ralph Montano of the California Department of Public Health said the agency was advising anyone with those symptoms to get medical attention and let doctors know if they were camping in Yosemite.

Montano said thousands of people visit Yosemite every month, so it would be impossible to track everyone who had set foot in Curry Village.

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. Earlier this summer park officials placed some of the area off limits when a geologist's report revealed it is a rock fall hazard zone.

Both victims stayed at the park on overlapping days in June in canvas tent cabins located about 100 feet from each other, park officials said. Tent cabins are built on wooden platforms and are impossible to completely seal.

"It's a wilderness setting and the inspections have shown that the park concessionaire has done an excellent job at keeping them clean," Gediman said. "But there are rodents in the wilderness and some of them are infected and that's what happens."

There have been 60 cases in California and 587 nationally since hantavirus pulmonary syndrome was first identified in 1993. These two new cases bring to four the number of people stricken in California this year.

Most cases are in the eastern Sierra at higher elevations. The park's two previous cases were contracted in Tuolumne Meadows at 8,600 feet. Yosemite Valley is 4,000 feet.

Health officials say people should avoid contact with mice and other rodents. People should wear gloves and spray areas contaminated with rodent droppings and urine with a 10 percent bleach solution then wait 15 minutes before cleaning the area.

State health officials said their investigation showed that park concessionaire Delaware North Co. used good cleaning practices.

Company officials are telling visitors when they call to make reservations that the outbreak has occurred, said spokeswoman Lisa Cesaro. She said the company is working with the park service to come up with a plan to educate visitors about the potential danger.

"We are trying to see what ways we can educate visitors about hantavirus and the things they can do to keep themselves safe," she said. She said it's too early to tell whether the announcement has led to cancelled reservations at the hard-to-book village.

Starting next week, park officials will begin trapping and testing deer mice in Yosemite Valley.

"There's no way we're going to eliminate rodents, but we will continue to test and monitor them," Gediman said.


Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome Found in Two California Residents

The recent diagnosis of hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (HPS) in two Californians, one of whom died, has prompted Dr. Ron Chapman, director of the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) and state public health officer, to remind Californians to take precautions to prevent exposure to the virus that causes HPS at their places of residence, work, and recreation.

"Hantavirus is a rare but serious disease spread by rodents," Chapman said.

"This disease can frequently become fatal, but there are steps you can take to reduce your exposure."

Public health officials believe the two recent patients might have been exposed to mice droppings or urine that contained hantavirus while vacationing at Curry Village in Yosemite National Park.

CDPH and Yosemite National Park Public Health Service officers routinely conduct rodent surveillance to monitor deer mouse abundance and virus activity in mouse populations. Yosemite also conducts routine rodent proofing inspections of buildings and facilities throughout the park. Not all deer mice carry hantavirus, but deer mice with hantavirus have been found throughout the United States.

With recommendations from CDPH, Yosemite National Park has increased routine measures to reduce the risk of hantavirus exposure to Park visitors. These efforts include regular thorough inspection and cleaning of rooms and cabins, exclusion of deer mice and other rodents from buildings, maintaining good housekeeping and sanitation levels to discourage rodent infestations, and public education.

Since HPS was first identified in 1993, there have been 60 cases in California and 587 cases nationally. About one third of HPS cases identified in California were fatal. The two recent cases bring the total California case count for 2012 to four. Case-patients have been exposed to hantavirus in many areas in California where deer mice live, particularly from the eastern Sierra Nevada region and at higher elevations.

HPS is caused by a virus that individuals get through contact with the urine, droppings or saliva of infected wild mice, primarily deer mice.

Breathing small particles of mouse urine or droppings that have been stirred up into the air is the most common means of acquiring infection.

The illness starts 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.

When you are in wilderness areas or places that harbor mice, you 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.

-- Keep rodents out of buildings by removing stacked wood, rubbish piles, and discarded junk from around homes and sealing any holes where rodents could enter.

-- If you can clean your sleeping or living area, open windows to air out the areas for at least two hours before entering. Take care not to stir up dust. Wear plastic gloves and spray areas contaminated with rodent droppings and urine with a 10% 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. Wash hands thoroughly afterward.

-- Do not touch or handle live rodents and wear gloves when handling dead rodents. Spray dead rodents with a disinfectant and dispose of in the same way as droppings. Wash hands thoroughly after handling dead rodents.

-- If there are large numbers of rodents in a home or other buildings, contact a pest control service to remove them.

For additional information on preventing HPS, visit CDPH's Hantavirus Cardiopulmonary Syndrome and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Hantavirus Web site page:

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