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Home National & State Parks Yosemite Despite Hantavirus Concerns, National Park Service Says Yosemite Safe To Visit

Despite Hantavirus Concerns, National Park Service Says Yosemite Safe To Visit

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Even as Yosemite National Park continues to scale up its public health response and outreach as a result of six confirmed cases of hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (HPS) in individuals who visited the park this year, officials said the park is safe to visit.

"While there is a small risk of Hantavirus throughout the United States wherever rodents are found, there is no reason to alter your plans in and around Yosemite ... and to enjoy all the park has to offer," officials said.

curryvillage_tentcabinsTo date, HPS has been confirmed in six persons who visited the park between early June and mid July 2012.

Five are California residents and one is a resident of Pennsylvania.

The Pennsylvania patient and one California patient have died; three have recovered and one is currently hospitalized, but improving.

Four, including both fatalities, lodged in the "signature cabins" of the Boystown area of Curry Village; one lodged in an unspecified area of Curry Village, and one is still under investigation.

The six individuals infected are residents from the Sacramento region, San Francisco Bay area, Southern California and one from Pennsylvania.

All reported cases were contracted in mid to late June 2012 and in that location only, officials said. As of Sept. 1, 2012 there is currently no evidence of exposure in any other location or time frame.

On Aug. 28, per recommendations from the California Department of Public Health (CDPH), Yosemite National Park closed all tent cabins in the Boystown area indefinitely.

As of Sept. 2, rangers said 91 Signature Tent Cabins remain closed. All others are open.

The National Park Service has issued communications to guests who had stayed in the Boystown area between June 10 and Aug. 24, alerting them to the HPS concerns and recommending that they seek medical attention if ill.

The National Park Service Office of Public Health is working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to heighten public health awareness and detection and has issued a call for cases to state and local health departments nationwide.

"Early medical attention and diagnosis of Hantavirus are critical," said Don Neubacher, superintendent for Yosemite National Park. "We urge anyone who may have been exposed to the infection to see their doctor at the first sign of symptoms and to advise them of the potential of Hantavirus."

deer_mouse_cdcHantavirus is a rare, but serious disease that occurs throughout the United States and is caused by a virus that individuals get through contact with the urine, droppings or saliva of infected rodents.

The types of Hantavirus that cause HPS in the United States cannot be transmitted from one person to another. Early medical attention is critical for individuals who contract Hantavirus.

If the virus is contracted, the symptoms appear one to six weeks after exposure with fever, headache, and muscle ache, and progresses rapidly to severe difficulty in breathing and, in some cases, death.

An extensive outreach effort is underway by Yosemite National Park and the park concessioner to contact visitors who stayed in the "Signature Series Tent Cabins" at Yosemite's Curry Village since mid-June where four of the confirmed cases have stayed.

As many as 10,000 visitors may be at risk, officials said.

"We have contacted 3,000 people that had reservations at the Signature Tent Cabins between June and August 2012," a park spokesperson told OldWestNewWest.com Travel & History Magazine on Sept. 1. "Each of those 3,000 people could have (had) multiple people staying in their cabin with them. So, an estimated number of people affected is approximately 10,000."

A non-emergency phone line has been set up for questions and concerns related to Hantavirus in Yosemite National Park. The telephone number is (209) 372-0822. The phones are staffed from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Hantavirus information is distributed to every visitor entering Yosemite and notices are posted throughout the park.

"The park and public health officials are contacting visitors and raising awareness in the medical community to increase the chances that any additional cases that may be incubating will be successfully diagnosed and treated early," stated Dr. Danielle Buttke, an epidemiologist with the National Park Service Office of Public Health.

Some Precautions Advised

The majority of typical visitor activities are associated with limited or no risk of exposure to Hantavirus. However, some precautions are advised in order to reduce the likelihood of exposure to Hantavirus, especially for travelers in natural areas that harbor mice or those engaged in outdoor activities (such as camping or hiking).

When in areas or places that harbors mice, visitors can take the following steps to prevent HPS:

  • Avoid touching live or dead rodents or disturbing rodent burrows, dens, or nests
  • Keep food in tightly sealed containers (including those stored in bear boxes) and store away from rodents
  • Take care not to stir up dust
  • Minimize storage of luggage and other materials on floors
  • Contact housekeeping or maintenance if signs of rodents are present, including feces or urine
  • Do not pitch tents or place sleeping bags in proximity to rodent feces or burrows or near possible rodent habitat (e.g., dense brush or woodpiles)
  • Avoid sleeping on bare ground. Use a cot with the sleeping surface at least 12 inches above the ground or use a tent with a floor
  • Dispose of all trash and garbage promptly in accordance with campsite regulations by burning, discarding in rodent-proof trash containers, or packing it out in rodent-proof containers

The park is a natural environment that contains wild animals including deer mice, rangers said.

While it is impossible to eliminate all mice from Yosemite National Park, the park and concessioner conduct routine rodent proofing and pest management inspections and assessments of buildings and facilities throughout the park.

If visitors notice rodent droppings, they should contact a staff member immediately, rangers said. The NPS and DNC staff are trained and equipped to respond to evidence of rodent activity.

Individuals who visited Yosemite outside of this area and time frame, but who are experiencing flu-like symptoms should use their own discretion regarding contacting their health care provider, officials said. Early medical attention is critical for individuals who contract hantavirus.

For additional information on preventing HPS, visit the CDC's Hantavirus website at
www.cdc.gov/hantavirus/index.html .

 
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