2 more Yosemite visitors have mouse-borne virus

Associated Press Modified: August 30, 2012 at 9:16 pm •  Published: August 30, 2012
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FRESNO, Calif. (AP) — Two more Yosemite National Park visitors have been found with a mouse-borne virus blamed for the deaths of two people, bringing the total number of infections to six, state health officials said Thursday.

Anita Gore, a spokeswoman for California Department of Public Health, said the discoveries were made through the agency's investigation into cases of hantavirus pulmonary syndrome at the famed park.

The infections spurred park officials to close 91 tent cabins at Curry Village in Yosemite Valley, where five of the six infections occurred. Gore said one of the infected people may have been in another area of the park.

"Our investigation is trying to determine which area of the park that person visited," Gore said.

Over the past three weeks, two people have died of hantavirus pulmonary syndrome after staying in cabins at Curry Village in Yosemite Valley.

Park officials said the double-walled design of the cabins that were closed Tuesday made it easy for mice to nest between the walls. The disease is carried in the feces, urine and saliva of deer mice and other rodents.

The two that died had stayed the so-called "Signature" cabins. Mike Gauthier, Yosemite chief of staff, said the design of the luxury cabins that are new to the park allowed for rodent infestation.

"We just weren't aware that design would lead to it," he said.

The illness begins as flu-like symptoms but can quickly affect the lungs. It can take up to six weeks to incubate. Five of the people who fell ill are known to have stayed in the tent cabins in June or July, and warnings have gone out to visitors who stayed in Curry Village in June, July or August.

The hantavirus outbreak occurred despite efforts by park officials to step up protection efforts last April. A 2010 report from the state health department warned park officials that rodent inspection efforts should be increased after a visitor to the Tuolumne Meadows area of the park fell ill.

The new hantavirus policy, enacted April 25, was designed to provide a safe place, "free from recognized hazards that may cause serious physical harm or death."

It came after the state report revealed that 18 percent of mice trapped for testing at various locations around the park were positive for hantavirus. The report said park officials should take steps to prevent mice from entering areas where people sleep.

"Inspections for rodent infestations and appropriate exclusion efforts, particularly for buildings where people sleep, should be enhanced," it said.

"We worked with Yosemite to evaluate risk and make recommendations to reduce the possibility of transmission to people," added Vicki Kramer, chief of the health department's vector-borne disease section. "That included reducing the number of mice, and excluding them from structures."

In 2009, the park installed the 91 new, higher-end cabins to replace some that had been closed or damaged after parts of Curry Village, which sits below the 3,000-foot Glacier Point promontory, were determined to be in a rock-fall hazard zone.



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