Smaller crowds at Yosemite, CDC to join Hantavirus inquiry

Stephanie O'Neill/KPCC

Dr. Danielle Buttke a veterinary epidemiologist with the National Park Service Office of Public Health talks with Yosemite rangers and public information officers Scott Gediman and Kari Cobb about the hantavirus outbreak at the park.

The crowds are smaller at Yosemite National Park this Labor Day weekend, as some people cancelled their plans to visit because of the Hantavirus outbreak there.

Park officials say it will be a few days before they have a firm number on how many people visited Yosemite over the long weekend. But it’s clear that the crowds are smaller. Still, thousands chose to move forward with their Yosemite plans. Among them was Regina Panglinan of Dublin, California, who enjoyed a day trip on the Yosemite Valley floor Sunday with her husband, two children, the family dog, and some family friends.

“We kind of figured it’s contained, it’s in Curry Village [the Village’s signature tent cabins were the apparent ground zero of the Hantavirus outbreak],” said Panglinan. She was glad the park wasn’t crowded. “We love it!” she said.

While visitors enjoy the park this long weekend, some rangers are pulling unusual duty. In an upstairs room at the Yosemite National Park Adminstration building, three rangers are fielding several hundred phone calls a day about the outbreak.

They're answering questions about Hantavirus, and urging people to visit a doctor if they're experiencing any of its symptoms, such as muscle cramps, fever, headache, or nausea. Many of the calls are from the estimated 10,000 people who stayed this summer at the Curry village cabins from June 10-August 24. State, national and international health authorities are in the process of contacting each of them and asking them to call for more information.

Meanwhile, officials from the Centers for Disease Control plan to arrive in Yosemite on Tuesday. They will join scientists from the California Department of Public Health and the National Park Service who have been investigating the outbreak.

So far, six people are known to have been infected with hantavirus, which is spread in low-ventilation areas through the feces and urine of deer mice. Two of those infected have died.

National Park Service veterinary epidemiologist Dr. Danielle Buttke said investigators believe there are at least two main contributors to the Hantavirus outbreak: the particular design of the infected tent cabins, which have less airflow than others at the park, and a larger than usual deer mouse population around the cabins.

Yosemite’s infected cabins are now closed as scientists continue their investigation into the causes of the outbreak.

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