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News item: Health officials have announced two new hantavirus victims, bringing the total number of people who contracted the deadly airborne disease at Yosemite National Park to six. The disease has killed two people since July, prompting park officials this week to close 91 tent cabins. They've also scrambled to send health advisory emails to thousands of campers who visited the cabins this summer. Read more at ABCNews
ANALYSIS by Dr. Don Donahue, Director, Firestorm Healthcare Response Team
Hantavirus: 4 Steps to Control and Prevention
Hantavirus first appeared in the United States in 1993, when a series of patients presented with mysterious illnesses and an unusually high case fatality rate—approaching 80%—in the Four Corners region of the United States, which includes the common boundary of the states of Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, and Utah and the autonomous Navaho nation. Subsequent investigation by the CDC revealed this disease was related to a virus first identified near the Hantaan River during the Korean War in 1950-1953 called Hanta virus.
Hantavirus is carried by rodents (the 1993 outbreak was attributed to deer mice) and is spread through body fluids (saliva and urine) and excrement, including the dust that results when these dry. Rodent control remains the primary strategy in and around the home for preventing hantavirus infection. Outdoors, one should be mindful of mice nests or droppings, particularly in structures or other enclosed areas that have been empty for a long time.
Hantavirus is present in at least 13 Western states. When hiking and camping, pitch tents in areas where there are no rodent droppings, avoid rodent dens, drink disinfected water, and sleep on a ground cover and pad. Avoiding exposure is the best prevention. If you must be in an area where contact with rodent urine or feces is possible, follow these recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):
1. When opening an unused cabin, shed, or other building, open all the doors and windows, leave the building, and allow the space to air out for 30 minutes.
2. Return to the building and spray the surfaces, carpet, and other areas with a disinfectant. Leave the building for another 30 minutes.
3. Spray mouse nests and droppings with a 10% solution of chlorine bleach or similar disinfectant. Allow it to sit for 30 minutes. Using rubber gloves, place the materials in plastic bags. Seal the bags and throw them in the trash or an incinerator. Dispose of gloves and cleaning materials in the same way.
4. Wash all potentially contaminated hard surfaces with a bleach or disinfectant solution. Avoid vacuuming until the area has been thoroughly decontaminated. Then, vacuum the first few times with enough ventilation. Surgical masks may provide some protection.
Early symptoms of hantavirus disease are similar to those of the flu: chills, fever, and muscle aches.
If you suspect you have been exposed or are experiencing symptoms (which typically emerge in 3-5 days), contact your physician or their local health department. As always, awareness is your best friend.
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