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Hantavirus cases linked to Yosemite rise to six, officials say

August 30, 2012 |  7:28 pm


The number of hantavirus cases linked to Yosemite National Park rose Thursday as public health authorities announced that three more cases of the rare, rodent-borne disease have been confirmed.

The California Department of Public Health announced two new cases and confirmed previous reports of the death of a Pennsylvania man and a non-fatal case involving a California resident, bringing the total number of hantavirus cases linked to the park to six.

Two people -- the Pennsylvania man and a California man -- have died from the disease, officials say. The remaining cases all involve California residents who are still recovering, said Yosemite spokeswoman Kari Cobb.

Park officials have been on alert since two cases of the disease were confirmed earlier this month, including the California man’s death. Officials have shut down the 91 “signature tent cabins” in Curry Village, where they traced the cases to deer mouse droppings found in the area. The first three victims all stayed in cabins within 100 feet of one another in mid-June, park officials said.

Cobb said Thursday that officials were still trying to determine where the other victims stayed.

Hantavirus is a rare disease -- only 587 cases have been confirmed in the U.S. between 1993 and 2011. About one-third of those cases have been fatal.

Health authorities say the Yosemite outbreak is particularly unusual, as they have never seen more than one case of hantavirus in the same location in a given year.

Spread through droppings, saliva or urine of infected mice -- or dirt and dust containing those byproducts -- hantavirus takes one to six weeks to show in humans, health officials said. Symptoms are initially flu-like, but can quickly turn deadly as one’s lungs begin to fill with fluid.

Yosemite has sent email or letters to about 2,900 people who stayed in the tent cabins between June 10 and Aug. 24, warning them to seek immediate medical attention if they start to show symptoms of the disease.

Cobb said the increase in number of cases showed that people were receiving the warnings and getting the medical help they needed. She said she couldn’t speculate on whether the number of cases would continue to rise, but that park officials “hope we have reached the maximum number of visitors” who were potentially exposed to the disease.

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— Kate Mather at Yosemite National Park

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Photo: Cases hantavirus have been traced to the "signature tent cabins" in Yosemite National Park's popular Curry Village. Credit: Ben Margot / Associated Press