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Hantavirus potential in Death Valley?

San Francisco
Destination Expert
for Death Valley Junction, Death Valley National Park
posts: 10,411
reviews: 41
Hantavirus potential in Death Valley?

Anyone who has been awake in the past few days knows that Hantavirus has “overrun” Yosemite. The news media have widely reported the 6 cases (2 fatal) among Camp Curry visitors, and anyone who was there recently is being urged to seek medical advice for any flu-like symptoms. Based on the number of camps and the 100% occupancy rate in summer, thousands of people may have been exposed. The incubation period is up to 6 weeks, so they could get sick later and not necessarily make a connection. The NPS is considering asking the World Health Organization to help notify international visitors,

This is already a big topic on our sister forum, and this thread isn’t meant to duplicate the ones over there. It’s meant to remind DV visitors that they can get it.

Potential for Hantavirus infection exists through the Western U.S., INCLUDING DEATH VALLEY. All staff, allied agencies, concessions, contractors, residents, researchers, etc. are provided info on Hantavirus safety. I received the info this past summer, as I did before (it's packaged with info about Africanized honeybees).

Here, the main carrier is believed to be the cactus mouse, rather than the deer mouse associated with the virus elsewhere. Regardless of what critter is carrying it, the usual way they give it to us is by contact with airborne dust or vapors containing dried urine, feces, or saliva of infected rodents. It enters the body by the usual routes that any hazardous material does: inhalation, ingestion of contaminated food or water, contact with eyes, other mucous membranes, or broken skin.

The best preventive measure, which is not always possible, is to avoid areas where concentrations of such dust can be found. Since we have to breathe, disturbance of the dust is the greatest risk. Backcountry cabins are notorious, and campers can be exposed if they set up too close to established rodent burrows. Using a cot raised off the ground or a tent with a floor are two ways campers can be safer.

Few casual park visitors know the NPS has an Office of Public Health. It works with other agencies to protect park visitors or residents from all kinds of bad things. Its website has a section on Hantavirus where you can find far more detailed info than would be appropriate in a travel website.


I was in on the first Hantavirus epidemic in 1993 when I spent some time in the Navajo Nation, which was “Ground Zero.” Many victims were otherwise healthy young folks in their 20s and 30s. I still recall going to the clinic in Ganado AZ for an unrelated purpose, and the hundreds of people, including many families, lined up to see doctors, RNs, or PAs. The atmosphere was tense, but I was impressed by the relative calm; folks were waiting patiently and there was no yelling or pushing, and no squads of riot police to control the kinds of mob scene that would be almost normal in a city. Unlike many viral illnesses where the very young or old are most affected, Hantavirus equally threatens people of all ages and health conditions. Also, unlike most viruses, it has never been known to spread from human to human. There is no known vaccine or cure, only treatment for the symptoms, and you just either get better or you don’t. The human mortality rate is 30-40%, so it isn’t something to take lightly.

My main newspaper sources, www.sfgate.com and www.deseretnews.com , have had lots of coverage of the Yosemite cases, so you can look there or on your own favorite fish-wrapper. Obviously, ones based in the Western U.S. are best.

While we are busy panicking over Hantavirus, let’s keep it all in perspective by remembering that the mosquito-borne West Nile virus is now in 47 states, and this year almost 1600 people have been infected and 66 have died. Death Valley, as the driest place in North America, does not have much of a mosquito problem. Not to take any virus lightly, but all in all, even considering the potential for Hantavirus, the actual risk of getting a deadly illness here is quite low.

posts: 43
1. Re: Hantavirus potential in Death Valley?

Oh my God! We'll be in Death Valley and Yosemite between Sept 23 and the end of Sept. Should we be worried. If I cancel my trip, I'll lose thousands.

Uden, The...
Destination Expert
for Road Trips
posts: 47,633
reviews: 42
2. Re: Hantavirus potential in Death Valley?

We have been to Death Valley 5 times and still live to tell.

Thousand Oaks...
Destination Expert
for Israel
posts: 8,662
reviews: 13
3. Re: Hantavirus potential in Death Valley?

The response by Tucana (#1) is exactly the opposite of what Frisco is striving for; an educated and clear view of exactly what the issue is to prevent hysteria and misinformation.

Unlike other stories written by the frenzy induced media what Frisco wrote is fact based, concise, and designed to give people an educated base to help aid your vacation plans.

Kudos to Frisco.

Dr. Z

San Francisco...
posts: 4,365
reviews: 88
4. Re: Hantavirus potential in Death Valley?

As long as you are not eating or breathing mouse poop the chances of contracting the virus are slim to none . The problem is Yoesmitie is that the cabins in Curry Village are infested with mice

Thousand Oaks...
Destination Expert
for Israel
posts: 8,662
reviews: 13
5. Re: Hantavirus potential in Death Valley?

I am quite certain that folks do not willingly injest mouse feces!!!!

The contaminated feces and urine are injested, usually through inhaled dust particles which are contaminated, in normal everyday situations. Cleaning, walking, sweeping, etc can kick up dust.

By the way, hantavirus can not be transmitted human to human.

Dr. Z

San Francisco
Destination Expert
for Death Valley Junction, Death Valley National Park
posts: 10,411
reviews: 41
6. Re: Hantavirus potential in Death Valley?

I am not a health professional, but Dr. Z is, and understands where I am coming from.

Accuracy and the public good are not always the #1 goal of newspaper, TV, and web stories. Not that the media don't care about us, but they need to sell advertising space, which is done by getting the public stirred up.

We cannot tell you to either come to the parks or stay away. The decision is yours, and we want it to be an educated one. With correct information, you’ll make wise choices, free of false assumptions and blind hysteria, or at the opposite extreme, false invincibility and blind optimism.

It's OK to read some news to basically see what’s going on, but don't OD on MSN or CNN. See what medical, epidemiological, and public health specialists say. And read the alert on the Yosemite website; the park staff is the "boots on the ground," and rangers are not just "tree cops," but botanists, entomologists, herpetologists, geologists, and other trained scientists. Above all, they are public servants. The precautions are simple and straightforward, not onerous or costly. They come from people who know their stuff and represent the best practices to keep you safe.

I work intermittently in Death Valley. I love parks of all kinds. In my last week of summer before the start of school year commitments, I went to Pinnacles National Monument, a park with a climate nearly as dry as Death Valley where rodent residue can dry up and get airborne just as readily. Would I go back next week if I had time, or would I go to Death Valley or Yosemite?

Here is more food for thought. I just looked this up. The CBC just reported that TORONTO has had 46 West Nile virus cases this summer! Who would have thought? All of Ontario has had 82 cases, with others reported in Quebec, Manitoba, Alberta, and Saskatchewan. And according to recent statistics, California has about 3,000 traffic fatalities a year, an average of 8 per day. It's likely that while I wrote this post and you read it, someone died or was seriously injured on a road or street somewhere in this state, far greater than the chances that someone was exposed to Hantavirus.

Knowing what I do, and having so much expert knowledge and advice available to all of us, I would go, and I'd do those reasonable things to stay safe, and I’d have a good time. I hope you’ll do the same

Fortaleza, CE
posts: 6,550
reviews: 335
7. Re: Hantavirus potential in Death Valley?

Any such problem is over-reported by the media, unless it affects me directly, then it's under-reported.

Oakland, California
Destination Expert
for Yosemite National Park
posts: 6,198
reviews: 26
8. Re: Hantavirus potential in Death Valley?

Thank you for such a rational and useful explanation. While I empathize with those who stayed in the Signature Tents in Yosemite where the infestations were recently found, the idea that this makes Yosemite or any outdoor recreation area an unsafe place to visit is ungrounded. Arming oneself with good information is the best thing to do.

Oregon Coast
Destination Expert
for Crescent City, Oregon Coast, Oregon, Redwood National Park
posts: 34,357
reviews: 747
9. Re: Hantavirus potential in Death Valley?

Tucana-7, you have about a *gazillion* more chances of being killed in a car accident whilst you are driving to, around and back from Death Valley and Yosemite than you have of contracting hantavirus!

Dublin, California
posts: 10,313
reviews: 30
10. Re: Hantavirus potential in Death Valley?

Oh good, now you have me worried about driving.