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.