Hoarding, Rodents, and The Yosemite

Glenn Dean, a National Parks Occupational Safety and Health Specialist, inspects tent cabins for mice entry points at Curry Village at Yosemite National Park on Tuesday, September 4th.

Not cleaning out your basement can occasionally lead to some devastating consequences. Last week, the CDC reported an outbreak of hantavirus.

The National Park Service announced that there were 8 confirmed cases of Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome (HPS) in visitors who stayed at Curry Village in Yosemite National Park since June of this year. Public health officials believe that these visitors may have been exposed to hantavirus while staying at the Signature Tent Cabins in Curry Village.

Hantavirus is carried by mice, in their urine and feces, and is an airborne infection. The mice not suffer from the disease but humans do. Humans are thought to become infected when they are exposed to contaminated dust from the nests or droppings of mice. Contaminated dust is frequently encountered when working in or cleaning long-vacated cabins, sheds, or other enclosed areas. Infection is not passed between humans.

It affects the lungs and the symptoms resemble those of influenza–fever, chills, nausea, vomiting. The C.D.C. Web site quotes one survivor as saying that it felt as if he had a “tight band around my chest and a pillow over my face.” The worst case scenario is respiratory failure and internal bleeding.

The last time an outbreak of hantavirus made the news it was in 1993 concerning an outbreak on an Indian reservation in the Four Corners area of the southwest. It was due to a case of hoarding in trailers and tents where mice bred in dark, crowded little rooms.

As of now, five people are ill from the Yosemite outbreak and three have died. Health officials predict that up to 10,000 guests could have been exposed to hantavirus from  sleeping in the cabins since June 10.

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