Hantavirus Takes Over Yosemite National Park

Visitors to California’s Yosemite National Park got a bit more than they bargained for after visiting the park earlier this summer. At least eight people have reportedly been infected with the deadly hantavirus after spending time in one of the camps at the 1,100 square-mile park. And with news that a third camper (the other five are expected to make a full recovery) has died from the disease, recent visitors are expressing concern that park employees could have done more to prevent the spread of the virus and protect guests.

There is no known cure for the rodent-borne hantavirus which spreads through contact (or from breathing in air that has come into contact) with the urine, saliva, or droppings of infected animals. Upon entering the body, the hantavirus can lead to fatal diseases like the hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (HPS), a disease all eight of the visitors are known to have contracted. The disease is characterized by a high fatality rate–an estimated 38% of people who contract the disease will eventually die from it.

Because deer mice are a common carrier of the disease, the California Department of Public Health conducted a test in 2010, to estimate how prevalent the disease was in the park. They found that 18 percent of the mice tested from the park carried the virus. Even so, it is rare that humans will become infected with the disease; however if conditions allow, than the transmission is possible. Such was the case at Yosemite’s Curry Village area and High Sierra camps, where the infected persons were known to have camped. Scott Gediman, a Yosemite spokesperson maintains that the camps in question have since undergone a deep cleaning, and the risk is once again minimal.

But that might not be enough according to visitors. Despite the park contacting past guests about the issue, many fear that the park service handled the situation “irresponsibly,” and that sites that were known to have been infected should have been dealt with before additional campers were allowed access.  The biggest issue revolves around whether those camps and tents where the disease was present should have been off-limits to other campers before they were cleaned. For example, visitor Chris Reid, 61, visited Curry Village on August 16—the same day the park learned of the disease—and was not informed about the possible danger during her visit. Reid stated that had she known about the risk she would have left the camp.

“I can’t tell you how reckless I feel this is,” said a psychiatrist from California, another camper who visited the park this summer with his 5-month-old son. “If you have an amusement-park ride where people are dying, you don’t keep the ride open while you fix it.”

According to park officials, everything that could have and should have been done has been taken into account. “We feel that we took the most transparent approach possible,” explained Gediman. “As new information became available, we took the most appropriate.” Despite the disagreement, what can be certain is that the park must take better steps to alerting patrons of similar situations in the future. To petition the regional director of the National Park Service to develop a better emergency response plans for future crises such as this, sign the petition here.


Photo Credit: cnr07.llnl.gov/

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