1 man dead from rodent disease at Yosemite

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(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 near 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 woman was expected to survive.

Hantavirus develops from breathing in particles transmitted by rodent droppings, urine or saliva. Early symptoms of hantavirus can include fever and muscle aches, chills, headaches, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain and coughing.  Symptoms can show up within 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.

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 apart 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.

The park concessionaire, the Delaware North Co., has been disinfecting cabins.

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.

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