Hantaviruses are negative sense RNA viruses in the Bunyaviridae family. Humans may be infected with this virus through rodent bites, urine, and saliva or contact with rodent waste products. Some of these viruses can be potentially fatal in humans causing hemorrhagic fever and worse. In recent days two deaths have been the result of this rare rodent-borne disease after visits to Yosemite National Park. People who have visited the park since June should seek immediate medical attention if they have symptoms indicative of hantavirus, officials said Monday. In addition to the two people who died, a third person was confirmed to have the illness, and a fourth is suspected to be infected. All four stayed at the park’s popular Curry Village in June, the Los Angeles Times reports.
Hantavirus symptoms, which appears one to six weeks after exposure, include fever, headache, and muscle aches, and can quickly progress into difficulty breathing. The disease is contracted by coming into contact with the urine, droppings, or saliva of infected rodents—specifically, deer mice.
Hantavirus can enter the body through the mouth and nose by breathing or ingesting in tiny particles of rodent feces, urine or saliva, according to the CDC. In rare cases, it has also been transmitted through rodent bites. Hantavirus cannot pass from person to person through touching, kissing or blood transfusions.
The park concessionaire is attempting to contact visitors who stayed in a Signature Tent Cabin from mid-June through the end of August to advise them to seek immediate medical attention if they exhibit any signs of hantavirus.
The fatality announced Monday involved an adult male from out of state, Gediman said. One of the two people recovering was an Inland Empire woman in her 40s. Gediman said he had no details about the second person.
“The health of our visitors is our paramount concern, and we are making every effort to notify and inform our visitors of any potential illness,” said Don
Neubacher, the park superintendent, in a prepared statement.
The park district, working with the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is asking state and local health departments nationwide to be on the lookout for other suspected cases.
Every park visitor is now being handed information about the hantavirus and notifications are posted throughout the park, Gediman said.
For the most part, the tent cabins remain open. “We’ve done a thorough cleansing of them,” he said.
Park officials have been retrofitting the tent cabins to block areas where mice might enter, Gediman said.
The park is also increasing its rodent trapping.
Two people became sick with the hantavirus after visiting Yosemite in previous years — one in 2010 and another in 2000. They had stayed in Tuolumne Meadows, and both survived.
Since it was first identified in 1993, fewer than 600 cases of hantavirus pulmonary syndrome have been reported nationwide, more than a third of which have been fatal, according to the CDC.
Most people are exposed to the virus in their own homes, according to theNational Institutes of Health. But campers might have a heightened risk because of close contact with forest floors and musty cabins.
Hantavirus has been detected in deer mice at the Curry Village Campground, according to park officials.
This is not the first time hantavirus infections have been linked to Yosemite National Park. Two campers became ill in 2000 and 2010 but survived, the Associated Press reported.
The park is now warning campers to take extra precautions to protect themselves by, among other things, airing out sleeping areas before entering and keeping food in tightly sealed containers.
Yosemite has set up a non-emergency phone line for questions regarding the disease, which will be staffed daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.: (209) 372-0822.
Contributor D. Chandler