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More cases of hantavirus at Yosemite; some camp cabins closed

August 31, 2012 |  5:03 am


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

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

Two people — the Pennsylvania man and a California man — have died. The remaining cases all involve California residents who are recovering, said Yosemite spokeswoman Kari Cobb.

Officials have shut down the 91 "signature tent cabins" in Curry Village, where they traced some 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. Cobb said officials are still trying to determine where the other victims stayed.

Only 587 hantavirus cases have been confirmed in the U.S. between 1993 and 2011. About one-third of those cases have been fatal.

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. Symptoms are initially flu-like, but can quickly turn deadly as one's lungs begin to fill with fluid.

Some recent Yosemite visitors expressed concerned. Steve Loughran spent the weekend of Aug. 18 in a Curry Village cabin with his wife and 10-year-old son, part of a summer holiday from Bristol, England.

Loughran said that when they arrived to stay at the non-signature cabins, they were not advised about the disease.

More unsettling, Loughran said, were the "layers of dust" and leftover almonds his family discovered underneath their beds.

"I still think our risk is very low, but there's just uncertainty," Loughran said. "We don't know what's going on right now."

Ara Ishkhanian, 46, of Burbank stayed in Curry Village about two weeks ago with his wife, three young children and in-laws. They weren't in the signature tents, but Ishkhanian said he spotted a deer mouse climbing on one of the family's bicycles during their stay.

They've spoken to two doctors and are waiting to see if any symptoms show.

"Right now we're just waiting for that five-week period to be over," he said. "We're a little nervous."


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--Kate Mather in Yosemite