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Second fatality from rodent-borne 'Hantavirus' at Yosemite

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A second person has died from a rodent-borne illness following a stay in one of Yosemite National Park's most popular lodging areas.

Federal epidemiologists learned of the fatality over the weekend, and federal officials say they're increasing efforts to warn visitors about Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome (HPS), which can be carried by dust particles that come into contact with the urine, saliva or feces of an infected deer mouse.

Four people recently contracted the illness, say public health officials, and in each of the four cases, visitors stayed in the "Signature" tent cabins at Curry Village, a cluster of rustic accommodations at the base of Glacier Point. About 1,700 visitors may have been exposed.

Yosemite officials say visitors who stayed in the village from mid-June to the end of August should beware of any symptoms of HPS -- which can include flu-like fever, aches, dizziness and chills -- and to seek medical help immediately. Officials say symptoms may develop up to six weeks after exposure. 

Park spokesman Scott Gediman told the AP that the Delaware North Company, which runs the park's lodging facilities, is working to shore up cabins to protect park-goers.

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

Earlier this summer, KPCC'S Stephanie O'Neill reported on an Inland Empire woman in her 40s who recovered from the disease, and a 37-year-old San Francisco Bay Area man who died. 

Sixty Californians have become ill from the virus since it first turned up in California nearly two decades ago, and a third of those who contracted it have died

Of the 587 documented U.S. cases since the virus was identified in 1993, about one-third proved fatal. There is no specific treatment for the respiratory illness.

The California Department of Public health offers these tips to avoid the virus: 

  • 1) Avoid contact with all wild rodents, their droppings, and nesting materials.

  • 2) Store all food items securely in rodent-proof containers.

  • 3) Examine the outside of all buildings, and seal any holes or other areas that would let rodents get inside.

  • 4) Before entering an enclosed area that may be contaminated with rodent material, allow it to air out for several hours.

  • 5) Surfaces where rodents may have been should be wetted with a dilute bleach solution before mopping up.

  • 6) Do not use a broom or vacuum to clean potentially contaminated areas.

  • 7) Promptly dispose of all cleaning materials when done, and wash hands and clothes.

This story has been updated.

With contributions from Stephanie O'Neill

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