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Hantavirus in Yosemite: 230,000 more visitors notified

September 13, 2012 |  9:18 am

Yosemite National Park has again broadened its outreach regarding a recent outbreak of hantavirus, sending notifications to an additional 230,000 people who stayed at the park since early June.

Park officials have already sent thousands of letters to those who stayed overnight in the "signature tent cabins" of Curry Village and lodging in the High Sierra Loop, where eight cases of hantavirus have been traced since mid-June. Three of those cases were fatal.

The new letter, which some recent visitors received via email Wednesday, was sent "because we have heard from concerned guests" who stayed elsewhere, according to a Yosemite statement.

"As you may be aware, Yosemite has been in the news recently related to hantavirus pulmonary syndrome," the letter begins. "Your recent overnight visit to Yosemite did not include a stay in lodging where the known hantavirus infections might have occurred; however, we wanted to take this opportunity to increase public awareness about hantavirus."

"Public health officials have no evidence at this time to indicate that persons who stayed elsewhere in the park this summer were at increased risk of exposure to hantavirus," it continues. "Nevertheless, we want to ensure that all our guests have accurate and current information on hantavirus."

Many people who stayed in the park this summer have complained of what they considered a lack of information from Yosemite officials. Park spokespeople have said the initial notifications went to the group of visitors considered most at risk.

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

The disease is rare — 587 cases were diagnosed nationwide from 1993 to 2011, of which about one-third were fatal, according to the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

But the cases at Yosemite are more unusual. 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 has rattled visitors, who travel across the globe to the national park. Park rangers have fielded thousands of calls through an emergency hotline. The World Health Organization has issued a global alert, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has notified 39 countries whose citizens were at risk.

Meanwhile, public health authorities and park officials are continuing their investigation into what prompted the outbreak. A larger-than-normal deer mouse population could be a contributing factor, officials said Wednesday.


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Photo: Signature tent cabins in Curry Village are now closed indefinitely as an investigation into the hantavirus outbreak continues. Credit: Tomas Ovalle / For The Times