Yosemite tourist dies after contracting hantavirus

In this photo from Sunday Oct. 23, 2011, tents are seen in Curry Village in Yosemite National Park, Calif. A man died and a woman became seriously ill after contracting a rare rodent-borne disease that might have been linked to their stay at this popular lodging area in Yosemite National Park, officials said Thursday. The man was the first person to die from hantavirus pulmonary syndrome contracted in the park, though two others were stricken in a more remote area in 2000 and 2010, officials said. Testing by the Centers for Disease Control and the California Department of Public Health showed the virus was present in fecal matter from deer mice trapped in Curry Village, an historic, family friendly area of cabins. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

FRESNO, Calif. (AP) — A popular lodging area in Yosemite National Park could be linked to a rare rodent-borne disease that has killed a California tourist who stayed there this summer, officials said.

A man who stayed at Curry Village in June died after contracting hantavirus pulmonary syndrome. A woman who also stayed in a canvas tent cabin about 100 feet from him on overlapping days has become seriously ill, park officials said.

The virus was found in the feces of deer mice in the family friendly lodging area of cabins, according to tests by the Centers for Disease Control and state health officials.

"There's no way to tell for sure, but state health officials feel they may have contracted it here in Curry Village," park spokesman Scott Gediman said.

The man, who was from Alameda County in the San Francisco Bay area, would be the first person to die from the disease contracted in the park, though two others were stricken in a more remote area in 2000 and 2010, officials said.

Hantavirus develops from breathing in dust contaminated with rodent droppings, urine or saliva. Early symptoms include fever and muscle aches, chills, headaches, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain and coughing.

State health spokesman Ralph Montano said officials were advising anyone with those symptoms to seek medical attention and let doctors know if they were camping in Yosemite. He said thousands of people visit the park every month, so it would be impossible to track everyone who had set foot in Curry Village.

No other cases have been reported, but symptoms can show up one to six weeks after exposure. There is no specific treatment for the virus, and about one-third of people who contract it will die. The sick woman, who is from Southern California, was expected to survive.

Curry Village is the most popular and economical lodging area in the park, a picturesque assemblage of rustic cabins at the base of the 3,000-foot promontory Glacier Point. Earlier this summer, park officials made some of the area off-limits when a geologist's report revealed potential rock fall dangers.

Park concessionaire officials are telling visitors when they call to make reservations that an outbreak has occurred, said spokeswoman Lisa Cesaro. It was too early to tell whether the outbreak announcement has led to cancellations at the hard-to-book village, she added.

Health officials say people should avoid contact with mice and other rodents. People should wear gloves and spray areas contaminated with rodent droppings and urine with a 10 percent bleach solution then wait 15 minutes before cleaning the area.

State health officials said their investigation showed that concessionaire Delaware North Co. used good cleaning practices. The tents where both victims stayed are built on wooden platforms and are impossible to completely seal.

"It's a wilderness setting and the inspections have shown that the park concessionaire has done an excellent job at keeping them clean," Gediman said. "But there are rodents in the wilderness and some of them are infected and that's what happens."

Starting next week, park officials will begin trapping and testing deer mice in Yosemite Valley.

"There's no way we're going to eliminate rodents, but we will continue to test and monitor them," Gediman said.

There have been 60 cases in California and 587 nationally since hantavirus pulmonary syndrome was first identified in 1993. The two new cases bring the number of people stricken in California to four this year.

Most cases are in the eastern Sierra at higher elevations. The park's two previous cases were contracted in Tuolumne Meadows at 8,600 feet. Yosemite Valley is at an elevation of 4,000 feet.