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Hantavirus Claims Second Victim

Officials warn about disturbing the air in potentially contaminated areas.

Yosemite National Park health officials have confirmed that the deadly Hantavirus has been confirmed in four people who stayed in the park’s Curry Village in June. Two have died.

“An outreach effort is currently underway by the park concessioner to contact visitors who stayed in Signature Tent Cabins at Curry Village from mid-June through the end of August,” park officials said in a news release Monday. “These individuals are being informed of the recent cases and are being advised to seek immediate medical attention if they exhibit any symptoms of hantavirus.”

Those symptoms include fever and achiness, which quickly moves into the lungs, causing painful respiratory distress. Anyone who has these symptoms is urged to tell their doctors if they were at Curry Village in Yosemite, and that hantavirus had been detected there.

Park employees have been trapping rodents for weeks now, and are increasing rodent-proofing and trapping measures in tent cabins and buildings throughout the park, the news release said. Buildings all over the park are being cleaned using the CDC’s recommended practices and are regularly inspected for rodent droppings or any other signs of infestation.

Additionally, YNP Superintendent Don Neubacher has announced two Employee/Community Meetings on Wednesday, August 29, at 10 a.m. and again at 6 p.m. in the Yosemite Valley Auditorium, to provide additional information and an opportunity for people to ask questions directly of park leadership.

“As with all major incidents in Yosemite, the dissemination of clear and accurate information is key to ensuring proper action and reaction by park staff and the public,” Neubacher told park employees. “It is vital that you take the time to review the Hantavirus information available.”

Yosemite National Park has also set up a general, non-emergency phone line for all questions and concerns related to hantavirus in the park. The phone number is (209) 372-0822 and will be staffed from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.

What you should do

If it’s time to clean out the garage, or that old tool shed, be careful. Where there are mice, there is a potentially deadly virus lurking in the corners, where the rodents leave behind infected urine and feces.

So don’t get out the Shop-Vac, or even a broom or duster. Arm yourself with a surgical mask, latex gloves and a big roll of paper towels. By doing so, you may prevent yourself or your loved ones from becoming infected with hantavirus, or what health officials now refer to as the rare but often fatal Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome (HPS).

You can only become infected with the virus by inhaling rodent droppings or urine that gets stirred up in the air, or by eating food that has come into contact with mouse waste.

Hantaviruses were first identified in 1993 after a healthy young man living in the Four Corners area of New Mexico, Arizona, Utah and Colorado, died very quickly, in May, after being rushed to the hospital with an unexplained pulmonary illness. Doctors were told that the man’s fiancée had died a few days earlier after suffering a short time from similar respiratory symptoms and fever. The search for a cause was on.

Blame it on deer mice

By November, officials had found the culprit: deer mice. Thirty percent of the deer mice they captured tested positive for hantavirus. While it is possible for other rodents to be infected, but in California, the deer mouse is the only species known to carry the Sin Nombre virus, a specific type of hantavirus found in the western U.S., according to the state’s Department of Public Health.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes in its fact sheet about hantavirus, that an infected person cannot transmit HPS to another human. So don’t worry about caring for an ill friend or relative. The virus is almost always found in the feces and urine of deer mice.

Deer mice are similar in size to house mice – between 4 and 7 inches long, including the tail. While house mice are usually solid in color, however, deer mice are grey or brown on top with white bellies. They have large unfurred ears.

Where, when did it start?

Through July 3, 2012, the CDC reports, 602 cases of HPS were reported in 34 states in the U.S., including 50 in California. Only New Mexico, Colorado and Arizona have reported more hantavirus cases than California.

Of these 602 cases, 36 percent resulted in death. Those numbers are going up each month. People contracting the virus have ranged in age from 6 to 83, with a mean average of 37 years.

For more information from the CDC on hantavirus, click here.

How to protect yourself

California’s Department of Public Health offers these tips for preventing rodent-borne hanta virus in and around your home:

• Avoid working or moving around in poorly ventilated rooms or buildings that may be infested with rodents. Open doors and windows to air it out first.

• Clean items and areas potentially infected with rodent urine or feces with a 10% bleach solution or other disinfectant, using a mop, sponge or paper towels, preferably while wearing a protective mask, available in hardware stores. Do not sweep or vacuum. Double-bag waste materials and dispose of them in covered containers.

• Wear rubber or latex gloves while cleaning or handling potentially contaminated materials. Wash hands and all exposed skin with soap and water when finished.

• Do not handle any rodents, live or dead.

• Keep food in rodent-proof containers.

• Keep garbage in tightly covered containers.

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Sierra News Online

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