Yosemite virus kills 1 in 3

2012-09-01 12:15
Tent cabins in the fall at Yosemite National Park in California. (AP)

Tent cabins in the fall at Yosemite National Park in California. (AP)

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Los Angeles - Some 10 000 visitors to California's Yosemite National Park could have been exposed to a deadly virus that kills one in three victims and cannot be treated, officials said on Friday.

So far, six cases of the rare hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (HPS) have been confirmed - two of whom have died - while a "multiple" number of other suspected cases of the rodent-borne disease are being investigated.

Yosemite authorities closed down the "Signature Tent Cabins" earlier this week at Curry Village, a popular lodging area in Yosemite Valley, the tourist centre of the scenic park visited by millions of people every year.

The National Park Service (NPS) has written to some 2 900 people who booked stays in the Boystown area tent lodgings between 10 June and 24 August, alerting them to keep an eye out for symptoms of HPS.

The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated the number of people who actually stayed in the tent cabins - those who booked plus their guests - at 10,000.

"On 24 August 2012, the tents were disinfected and visitors were relocated. People who stayed in the tents between 10 June and 24 August may be at risk of developing HPS in the next six weeks," it said.

The incubation period for HPS is typically two to four weeks after exposure, with a range of a few days up to six weeks. Symptoms include fever, chills, myalgias, cough, headaches and gastrointestinal ailments.

"The disease often progresses rapidly to respiratory distress, requiring supplemental oxygen and/or intubation, non-cardiogenic pulmonary edema and shock," the CDC said.

"There is no specific treatment available, but early recognition and administration of supportive care greatly increase the chance of survival."

Since the disease was first identified in 1993, there have been some 60 cases in California and 587 cases nationwide in the United States, around a third of which have been fatal.

 "Providers are reminded to consider the diagnosis of HPS in all persons presenting with clinically compatible illness and to ask about potential rodent exposure or if they had recently visited Yosemite National Park," the CDC said.

Although there is no cure for hantavirus, which has never been known to be transmitted between humans, treatment after early detection through blood tests can save lives.

"Early medical attention and diagnosis of hantavirus are critical," Yosemite superintendent Don Neubacher said in a statement. "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."

Yosemite spokeswoman Kari Cobb said rangers have answered some 1,500 phone calls from park visitors and others concerned about the disease. But she said the outbreak had not triggered a wave of cancellations

"Right now it's normal numbers for Friday," she said. "There have been cancellations, but it would be grossly overstated to say they're cancelling en masse. There's quite a bit of people out there still. It's still summer and a holiday weekend. It's still the summer crowds."

A national park service officials has said that public health officials warned the park twice before about hantavirus after it struck visitors. But it was not until this week that the hiding place for the deer mice carrying the virus was found.

Hantavirus is carried in rodent feces, urine and saliva, which dries out and mixes with dust that can be inhaled by humans, especially in small, confined spaces with poor ventilation.

People can also be infected by eating contaminated food, touching contaminated surfaces or being bitten by infected rodents.

Read more on:    us  |  health

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