1,700 Yosemite Visitors May Have Been Exposed to Hantavirus

By Sophie Bushwick | August 30, 2012 12:23 pm

deer mouse
Humans can contract hantavirus when they inhale particles
from the waste of an infected mouse

Between hantavirus‘ first documented appearance in 1993 and the end of 2011, the CDC counted a total of 587 cases, with 211 deaths, more than a third of those infected. So you can see why recent visitors to Yosemite National Park were dismayed and frightened when the park recently warned that 1,700 of them might have been exposed to hantavirus while staying in the tent cabins at the park’s Curry Village.

Hantavirus is a respiratory disease that first causes flu-like symptoms, then coughing and shortness of breath, and can eventually lead to fatal lung or kidney failure. It doesn’t spread from person to person, but humans can contract it through contact with airborne particles from the feces, urine, or spit of an infected rodent, primarily deer mice. And because the virus can incubate in the body for weeks before symptoms appear, it wasn’t until this past weekend that Yosemite officials were sure that two patients who died from hantavirus had contracted the disease when they visited the park back in June.

The park has since sanitized and retrofitted the dwellings of Curry Village, but visitors who stayed there earlier this summer may have already been exposed to hantavirus—since the initial two patients, two more cases, one confirmed and one probable, have been reported. Those Yosemite visitors who show symptoms of hantavirus should seek medical attention—although there is no specific treatment for the virus, oxygen can help patients breathe and anti-viral medication can protect the kidneys.

Image courtesy of Hanta1 / Wikimedia Commons

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine
  • jojfc

    That can’t be good for tourism. Good thing everyone’s broke at the moment.

  • Uh oh

    Won’t anyone walking in the area get infected, like if you stoped at the info center, shuttle, or parking lot?

  • toyotabedzrock

    I guess cutting the federal parks budget affected the sanitation of the parks, who would have guessed.

    But I’m sure their individual freedom will overcome the virus! Without any help from that Menacing Government Subsidized Emergency Room Care!


  • Jockaira

    It is theoretically possible, but much more likely and of greater concern are persons who spent days and nights in cabins or tents visited by infected rodents. These closed-in areas would concentrate virus particles in the ambient air and constant rebreathing of that air by humans would increase the risk greatly.

    The risk of hantavirus exposure is not confined solely to national parks. Any area near wildernesses including residences situated nearby can harbor hantavirus-infected rodents.

    Of special concern are fecal droppings anywhere in your house. If you don’t want to call in a hazmat team to deal with them, a reasonable precaution would be to wear a properly-fitted dust-filter mask during the clean-up. If possible, the entire area to be cleaned should be wetted down with water beforehand to reduce dust from dried feces.

    Cleaning materials or equipment should be disposed of afterwards or cleaned in a strong bleach solution and dried thoroughly in fresh air and sunshine. Do not re-use possibly contaminated materials and do not re-use equipment until it is cleaned. This would only spread the contamination.

    Areas used infrequently should always be kept clean and dust-free by cleaning on a regular preventive schedule. This will deter many rodents from setting up housekeeping in your house and thereby reduce their incidental traffic.

  • Sparkicus

    I had reservations for Tuolumne Meadows and Upper Pines for this week and cancelled them before going to Burning Man. I think I dodged a bullet.


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