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Yosemite hantavirus: Man sickened in 2nd area; 6,000 to be warned

Yosemite National Park
Officials at Yosemite National Park plan to notify about 6,000 additional people who stayed in the park's High Sierra camps this summer after a man backpacking through the area was sickened by hantavirus.

The Northern California man was the eighth confirmed case of hantavirus linked to the park in recent weeks, three of which resulted in fatalities. Other cases are being investigated, Yosemite spokesman Scott Gediman said.

The California man's case is unique, Gediman said, because he did not stay in the "signature tent cabins" in Curry Village, a popular park campground located well away from the High Sierra camps. The seven other cases are believed to have originated in Curry Village.

Park officials said the signature tent cabins had a design flaw that allowed the rodents to get inside. Other tent cabins in Curry Village and the High Sierra camps did not have the same problem.

The California man's case was also much milder, Gediman said. He recovered on his own, and only contacted his doctor after reading about the hantavirus outbreak in the news.

"This one's an outlier," Gediman said.

Spread through urine, droppings or saliva of infected rodents, hantavirus takes one to six weeks before causing symptoms in humans, officials said. The disease is generally transmitted when people come in contact with an enclosed area that has been infested by mice.

Only 587 cases of the rare disease were diagnosed nationwide from 1993 and 2011, of which about one-third were fatal, according to the CDC.

But the cases at Yosemite are perhaps even more unusual.

Park officials and public health authorities said they had not heard of more than one case of the disease in the same location within a year.

News of the outbreak rattled recent visitors as international warnings went out this week. Rangers have fielded thousands of calls from concerned travelers, and a spokeswoman with the concessionaire that handles park lodging said there was a 20% cancellation rate on the usually sold-out Labor Day weekend.

Yosemite park officials have already sent emails and letters to 3,100 people who reserved one of the 91 signature tent cabins between June 10 and Aug. 24. The national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said up to 10,000 people stayed in those cabins during that time and could be at risk.

Gediman said officials are still trying to track down where exactly the milder case of hantavirus originated. Known as the High Sierra loop, six campsites are scattered between 5 and 10 miles apart in Yosemite's high country.

The Northern California man visited four sites in the High Sierra loop -- Merced Lake, Sunrise, Vogelsang, and the Tuolumne Meadows Lodge — during his July visit, Gediman said.

Officials "thought very seriously" about closing the camps early -- Sept. 17 is the last day they are available for use this year -- but they decided to keep them open, Gediman said, after consulting with public health authorities.

Gediman stressed that even with the case's different origin, authorities still believe travelers who stayed at the Curry Village signature tent cabins remain at greatest risk.

"It is a concern and certainly a case that's outside of the envelope," Gediman said. "It does cause us concern, but we don't feel overall it changes things dramatically."

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-- Kate Mather

Photo: A hantavirus case has been linked to a second area of Yosemite National Park, pictured above. Credit: Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times

 
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