Health Officials Warn Of Hantavirus At Yosemite National Park

By Amir Khan on September 5, 2012 10:17 AM EDT

mouse
U.S. health officials have sent warnings to 39 countries that tourist who stayed in cabins in Yosemite National Park may have been exposed to the hantavirus -- a rodent born disease that is potentially fatal. (Photo: Creative Commons: angeladellat)

U.S. health officials have sent warnings to 39 countries that tourist who stayed in cabins in Yosemite National Park may have been exposed to the hantavirus -- a rodent born disease that is potentially fatal. More than 10,000 people were exposed to the disease between June and August - 2,500 of whom live outside of United States.

The disease has so far killed two and sickened four others, prompting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to issue a disease alert. The disease can take up to six weeks to before people begin to show symptoms, and officials worry that more people will start showing symptoms within the next month.

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"I want people to know about this so they take it seriously," Dr. David Wong, a park service epidemiologist, told Reuters. "We're doing our due diligence to share the information."

The exposure occurred in one of the 91 "Signature" tent-style cabins in Yosemite's Curry Village camping area. Officials shut the area down after finding deer mice, which carry the hantavirus and can burrow through holes the size of a pencil eraser, infesting the cabins.

"There are rodents and some are infected and that's what happens," Scott Gediman, a park spokesman, told the Washington Post. "This is a wilderness setting. It has nothing to do with the cleanliness of the cabins."

Since 1993, when it was discovered, the hantavirus has killed 590 Americans. Symptoms include headache, fever, muscle aches and coughing. As the disease progresses, breathing becomes more difficult and can lead to death. There is no cure, but early detection can lessen the severity of the disease, so officials said that anyone who visited Yosemite and develops flu-like symptoms should get to the doctor immediately.

The virus is transmitted by rodents, and although it is fatal in 34 percent of cases, there is no known cases of human to human transmission.

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