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29-08-2012 | Article

Fatal hantavirus cases reported among Yosemite campers


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medwireNews: Campers who visited Yosemite National Park this summer may have been exposed to hantavirus, a potentially fatal rodent-borne pathogen, health authorities warn.

There have been three confirmed cases and one suspected case of hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (HPS) among people who stayed in rented tents or cabins in the park's Curry Village during a single week in June 2012. Two of the patients, both from California, died from the infections, says a statement released by the US National Park Service.

The service's Office of Public Health is attempting to contact approximately 1700 people who stayed in one of the park's "Signature Tent Cabins" at Curry Village from mid-June through the end of August.

"The health of our visitors is our paramount concern and we are making every effort to notify and inform our visitors of any potential illness," said park superintendent Don Neubacher in a statement. "Because people often don't get sick from hantavirus until one to six weeks after exposure, we are encouraging anyone who stayed in Curry Village since June to be aware of the symptoms of hantavirus and seek medical attention at the first sign of illness."

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the incubation time for HPS is not well documented, but appears to occur from 1 to 5 weeks after exposure to fresh urine, droppings, or saliva from infected rodents.

Early HPS symptoms are universal and include fatigue, fever, and muscle aches, especially in the large muscle groups - thighs, hips, back, and sometimes shoulders. In approximately half of all patients, infections may also be accompanied by headaches, dizziness, chills, and abdominal symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain, the CDC says.

"Four to 10 days after the initial phase of illness, the late symptoms of HPS appear. These include coughing and shortness of breath, with the sensation of, as one survivor put it, a '...tight band around my chest and a pillow over my face' as the lungs fill with fluid."

The disease has a mortality rate of 38%.

The National Park Service is working with state and local health authorities and the CDC to make the public aware of the potential risk. Park rangers and concessionaires are distributing information about the risk of hantavirus exposure and precautions to all visitors entering the park, and at the Curry Village registration area and other park venues.

By Neil Osterweil, medwireNews reporter