California Hantavirus Outbreak Occurred in Spite of Precautions

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The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) confirms six cases of recent hantavirus infection. Patients presenting with the disease had visited Yosemite National Park and stayed at or near the Boystown cabins of Curry Village.

Is the campground now closed?

Yosemite National Park officials closed all Boystown cabins on Tuesday. This closure remains in place indefinitely.

Are other Yosemite National Park campers affected?

Park staff is contacting all registered campers who "stayed in the Boystown area between June 10 and August 24." So far, no other cases of hantavirus infection are reported.

Is it possible for more infected campers to come forward?

Since the incubation time ranges from one to six weeks, it is possible that more cases will be reported.

How common is hantavirus in California?

As noted by the Desert Managers Group, between 1980 and 2006, California public health officials confirmed 46 cases of hantavirus. Nineteen patients were female, 27 were male. Sixteen cases proved fatal.

Who spreads the virus?

The recognized vector is the deer mouse (Peromyscus maniculatus), which is found throughout the State of California.

How did hantavirus infect the Yosemite campers?

The virus is spread via mouse feces and saliva. When the feces are swept up or otherwise disturbed, the virus becomes airborne. Breathing in the virus particles exposed the campers to the infection, which is known to lead to hantavirus pulmonary syndrome.

Is this type of outbreak unusual?

"We don't really know the basis behind this particular cluster of cases -- it may reflect the changing geographical distribution of the deer mouse, which typically favors higher elevations than Yosemite Valley," researchers from the University of California told Nature. Although Yosemite rangers acknowledge that more than 15 percent of local deer mice do carry the hantavirus, a 2010 change in cleaning protocols at the park was to protect against an outbreak.

Did California health officials report hantavirus infections in 2011?

No; the CDPH noted that there we no incidents of hantavirus cardiopulmonary syndrome reported between June 2011 and December 2011.

Were there prior virus outbreaks?

In its epidemiologic summary, the public health officials note that in 2001, 2005 and 2008 there were no cases reported at all. The highest number of reported cases occurred in 2002 and 2007. Officials identified possible sites of exposure as being in counties of Inyo, Mono, Alpine, El Dorado, Nevada, Plumas and Sierra.

Is camping in Yosemite National Park now unsafe?

CBS Sacramento quotes Department of Public Health officials, who encourage visitors to Yosemite National Park to not cancel their camping plans. Some visitors take the news of the hantavirus outbreak in a stride. "You're kind of in the woods and in their territory and mice are going to be here," a Fresno camper told CBS.

Sylvia Cochran is a Los Angeles area resident with a firm finger on the pulse of California politics. Talk radio junkie, community volunteer and politically independent, she scrutinizes the good and the bad from both sides of the political aisle.

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