Two Die After Hantavirus Outbreak In Yosemite

Two people have died after an outbreak of the hantavirus at a camp in Yosemite National Park. The disease is transmitted by infected rodents.

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.

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And I'm Melissa Block. Yosemite National Park, in California, has sent out an alarming message to 1,700 people who visited this summer. They may have been exposed to hantavirus. That's after three people were infected, and two of them died - as NPR's Ina Jaffe reports.

INA JAFFE, BYLINE: The three park visitors who contracted the hantavirus had two things in common. All stayed in one of the 91 so-called signature tent cabins at Curry Village in Yosemite Valley, and all three stayed there in June. Carrie Cobb is a park ranger there.

CARRIE COBB: So what we have done, as a park, is gone through our list of guests who have stayed in Curry Village and specifically, in those tent cabins for the months of June, July and August; and notified them, via email, of the possible connection of hantavirus.

JAFFE: Hantavirus is carried by rodents, mainly deer mice. People can become infected when they're exposed to the saliva, droppings or urine. The signature tent cabins have wooden walls and floors. Cobb said those cabins are now empty, and being retrofitted.

COBB: Of course, this is Yosemite National Park. It is a very wild place, and eradicating every possible mouse that may carry the hantavirus is just - it's impossible.

JAFFE: Yosemite visitors have been stricken with the hantavirus before - once in the year 2000, and once in 2010. In both those cases, the people were staying in a more remote section of the park, and both survived. Getting a cluster of three infections in a brief period of time, is fairly rare. There have been fewer than 600 cases since the virus was first discovered, in 1993. About a third of the patients died. Dr. Pierre Rollin, of the Centers for Disease Control, says the symptoms are similar to the flu, at first. But very quickly, shortness of breath sets in. There's no treatment for the virus itself. Rollin says patients need to be hospitalized quickly.

DR. PIERRE ROLLIN: Just putting the people on respirator help them. Otherwise, you have this failure - respiratory failure, and the patient can die very quickly.

JAFFE: The California Department of Public Health has been working with the Yosemite staff, to help them reduce the risk of hantavirus exposure. And that's a task that park visitors should leave to the professionals, says Dr. Vicki Kramer.

DR. VICKI KRAMER: If rodents do invade an area, it's important not to sweep, not to vacuum - because that causes the virus to become airborne, and that's how people can then get the virus.

JAFFE: The 300 or so cabins in Yosemite's Curry Village that have not been implicated in the hantavirus outbreak, are still receiving visitors. Ina Jaffe, NPR News.

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