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Yosemite hantavirus outbreak stresses need for safe conduct in rodent-infested areas

A hantavirus outbreak at Yosemite National Park has claimed its third victim, and two other park attendees have recently become ill, bringing the total case count up to eight.

As such, Yosemite authorities — including the National Park Service and park contractor DNC Parks & Resorts — are sounding the alarm, sending emails and letters to those who vacationed in the High Sierra tents area and other park locations such as the Boystown tents in Curry Village, where seven of the eight infected were said to have resided. A total of 22,000 park visitors have received the warning thus far.

A sin nombre virus, Yosemite’s current hantavirus strain is carried by deer mice. It becomes airborne and thus able to enter the human body when a dusty area containing the animal’s droppings, urine or saliva is disturbed.

If the virus is contracted, patients will begin to feel ill anywhere from one to six weeks following exposure. Physicians should watch for the following symptoms — which could indicate life-threatening hantavirus pulmonary syndrome:

  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Dizziness
  • Abdominal pain
  • Shortness of breath and cough four to 10 days after initial symptoms arise.

Approximately 20 percent of rodents and mice nationwide are said to possess some type of hantavirus strain. With this in mind, physicians should inform patients of these proper cleanup procedures — from WebMD — to enact after a rodent infestation:

  • Eliminate all living rodents and seal the area to protect against new infestation.
  • Areas infested and dead animals should be sprayed with disinfectant (one part bleach to nine parts water) and left to sit for five minutes. Following the five-minute interval, areas should be wiped down while wet. Rubber or plastic gloves must be worn while wiping down area and disposing of dead animals.
  • Gloves should also be disinfected before they are removed. Hands should then be thoroughly washed.
  • Do not sweep or vacuum up rodent droppings as a means to ensure that possible hantavirus does not enter airflow.

Patients who are involved in rodent infestations or who are located in the Yosemite area should be prompted to contact their doctor immediately if any of the aforementioned flu-like symptoms arise. The best treatment, experts say, is catching the virus in its early stages.

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