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3rd Hantavirus death tied to Yosemite stay

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Health officials say a West Virginia resident has died from the outbreak of a rodent-borne illness linked to Yosemite National Park, bringing the hantavirus death toll from the Park to three.

Kanawha-Charleston Health Department director Dr. Rahul Gupta withheld the victim's name at a news conference Thursday. Gupta says the victim had visited the park since June.

Last week, Yosemite National Park officials said up to 10,000 people who stayed in certain cabins might have been exposed to hantavirus pulmonary syndrome. Gupta says the virus has now killed three people and sickened five others.

Yosemite spokeswoman Kari Cobb says both visitors stayed in one of the park’s 91 signature tent cabins. Those are now closed, as health officials from the California Department of Public Health and from the National Park Service Office of Public health continue to investigate.

There is no cure. People can be infected by inhaling the virus or by handling infected rodents. Infected people usually have flu-like symptoms including fever, shortness of breath, chills and muscle and body aches.

Hantavirus is spread to humans by airborne particles of deer mouse feces and urine found in poorly ventilated areas. Scientists with the National Park Service believe the tent cabin design — which include an interior — is a main contributor to the outbreak.

Between 15 to 20 percent of deer mice are infected with hantavirus, which can cause in humans a condition called Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome (HPS).

HPS can take up to six weeks before showing symptoms.

Health officials know of eight hantavirus cases among guests who stayed at the tent cabins, but there could be more. They are now contacting health departments throughout the nation and in more than three dozen other countries in an attempt to contact 10,000 park guests who stayed in Yosemite’s Curry Park tent cabins from June 10 through August 24.

Yosemite has also opened a full-time hantavirus call-in center, staffed by rangers.

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