West Virginian's Death Associated With Hantavirus Outbreak At Yosemite National Park

A West Virginia resident's recent death is being linked to a Hantavirus outbreak at Yosemite National Park, raising to three the number of fatalities thought to be connected to stays in the scenic park. The deaths all involve visitors who stayed in "Signature Tent Cabins" in the Yosemite Valley, according to park officials.

With as many as 10,000 guests having stayed in the tent cabins this summer, Yosemite officials and representatives from DNC Parks & Resorts at Yosemite, Inc., have been trying to contact those guests to alert them of the outbreak. Those efforts reportedly have extended to more than three dozen countries.

On Thursday, officials with the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department in Charleston, West Virginia, said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed this week that "laboratory specimens have tested positive for Hantavirus in a Kanawha County resident who passed away recently as a result of the illness. The person had visited Yosemite National Park in recent months."

Since June, the release went on, "eight confirmed cases of HPS have been associated with staying at Yosemite, while three of the ill persons have died."

A park release Thursday said "the five remaining individuals are either improving or recovering. The confirmed cases include six individuals from California, one from Pennsylvania, and one from West Virginia." Seven of the eight individuals stayed in the Signature Tent Cabins, the release said.

"One of the eight confirmed cases of (Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome) stayed in multiple High Sierra Camps in Yosemite (a different area of the park than Curry Village) in July, and that the stay in the High Sierra Camps is the most likely source of that person's infection," the statement read. "This individual exhibited mild symptoms and is recovering."

Hantavirus 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 park said. 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.

Along with the outreach to past park visitors, Yosemite officials have set up a non-emergency phone line -- 209-372-0822 -- for questions and concerns related to Hantavirus, and are distributing Hantavirus information to every visitor entering Yosemite. Notices also have been posted throughout the park.

Comments

So hantavirus has now spread beyond Curry Village. I got the email yesterday since I stayed in the High Sierra Camps in July, also. I think Delaware North is going to have to vastly improve its housekeeping standards in the tent cabins or watch its business dry up. Patch all holes in the tents. Tell people not to eat at all in the cabins so dropped crumbs don't attract the rodents. In Curry and Tuolumne, wash the blankets and comforters more often. Who can enjoy a visit to lodgings that harbor a disease with a 30% fatality rate?

Hantavirus has been pervasive in the park and the rest of the Sierra Nevada range for years. It has been contracted in other parts of Yosemite in the past. Something like 20% of the deer mice are carriers. The deaths are rare because transmission to humans is rare, not because the virus is rare.

If 20% of the deer mice carry hantavirus, then all the more reason for the concessionaire to build and maintain lodgings that will not harbor deer mice.

Most national park deaths are due to the foolhardiness of visitors, i.e. getting into swift water and drowning, falling off rocks where they had no business being, etc. But these poor souls were merely breathing and sleeping with no idea that their cabins had nests containing a rodent that carried a disease that has a 30% mortality rate.

I understand that under the conditions it would be impossible to keep mice out of the tent cabins completely. But these Signature Cabins had drywall and insulation lining the canvas that made a perfect home for mice. And I suspect that the infrequent washing of the blankets and comforters meant that tiny mouse droppings were embedded in the material and breathed in by the guests.

I also suspect the dirty wool blankets at Curry. So, Curry employees never got sick? Do they ever use those dirty wool blankets? Where are the blankets stored when not in use? I have stayed at Curry several times, and I never, ever touch those blankets. They're disgusting. I bring my own sleeping bag. I think Curry should ditch the blankets and tell visitors to bring their own sleeping bags. Curry should provide bed sheets only.