While some people will remember the hantavirus from their days of watching the X-Files, it is important to remember that it is actually a real virus that can cause life-threatening infections.
We were recently reminded of this in reports of a hantavirus outbreak in Yosemite National Park in which at least 9 visitors became sick, including 3 deaths. Visitors were exposed to the virus while hiking or staying at the Signature Tent Cabins in Curry Village or the nearby High Sierra Camps.
All visitors to Yosemite National Park this summer were recently alerted to this outbreak to raise awareness about this rare infection, including that:
- there is no evidence that people who stayed in other areas of Yosemite National Park are at increased risk for hantavirus infections
- hantavirus infections are not contagious and are instead spread from contact with the urine, droppings, or saliva of infected rodents (deer mice), with symptoms developing up to 5 weeks after exposure
Most importantly, visitors to Yosemite National Park should seek immediate medical attention if they have symptoms of Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome (HPS), which may begin with fatigue, fever, muscle aches, headaches, dizziness, chills, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain, and can then progresses to coughing and shortness of breath.
Since 1993, there have been at least 556 hantavirus cases in 34 states, including 31 deaths. Cases have ranged from children as young as age 6-years, all the way up to age 83-years, with a mean age of 37-years. Unfortunately, as with many viral infections, there is no specific treatment or cure for hantavirus infections, which makes learning to prevent them important.