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Yosemite hantavirus warning to tourists

4th September 2012

Public health officials in the United States have warned that around 10,000 people who visited the iconic Yosemite National Park this summer may be at risk of contracting the deadly hantavirus, which is carried by mice and rats.

yosemite

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), patients who show symptoms of hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (HPS), a lung disease caused by the virus in humans, should send samples to laboratories for testing, if they had stayed at the California park's tent cabins between June and August this year.

Six cases of hantavirus-linked diseases have been confirmed from the Yosemite outbreak, with two deaths, while the authorities are still investigating further suspected cases in a number of areas across the US.

Meanwhile, the UK's Health Protection Agency is warning around 100 British nationals who visited Yosemite this summer that they may be at risk.

However, no cases among UK nationals have yet been reported of the disease, which can take as long as six weeks to produce symptoms, and is fatal in around one third of cases.

Around 1,000 calls a day are flooding a hantavirus hotline set up by Yosemite, where the outbreak was traced to tent-style cabins in the popular Curry Village camping area.

"An estimated 10,000 persons stayed in the 'Signature Tent Cabins' from June 10 through August 24, 2012," the CDC said in a statement. "People who stayed in the tents between June 10 and August 24 may be at risk of developing HPS in the next six weeks."

The disease is believed to have been carried to the insulated tent cabins by deer mice, which can squeeze through holes the width of a pencil, and were found nesting between the cabins' double walls.

Deer mice are known carriers of hantavirus, and the park said it had already managed to make contact with around 3,000 groups of people who had stayed in the cabins this summer.

Park authorities had advised them to seek immediate medical attention if they experienced any of the symptoms of hantavirus.

Initial symptoms of HPS are similar to those of influenza, and can include headache, fever, aching muscles, shortness of breath and coughing. Infection with the virus can lead to severe breathing difficulties and death.

According to CDC, symptoms do not usually emerge for 2-4 weeks after initial exposure, although some cases emerge within just a few days, and others not for six weeks.

While there is no cure for the virus, early diagnosis and treatment are crucial for boosting an infected person's chances of survival. There are no known cases of hantavirus transmission between humans.

Yosemite is one of the most popular national parks in the US, attracting nearly four million visitors annually, 70% of whom gather in Yosemite Valley, the location of Curry Village.

While the park had already received warnings about hantavirus cases from public health officials, employees only discovered where the deer mice were hiding this week.

Hantavirus is found in rodent droppings, urine and saliva, all of which dry out and form part of dust that can be inhaled by humans in small, poorly ventilated spaces.

Bites from infected rodents, touching contaminated surfaces and eating contaminated food can also facilitate transmission of the virus.

 

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