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U.S. Urged to Combat Hantavirus on Islands

April 01, 1999

VENTURA — A population explosion of deer mice on the Channel Islands, and an epidemic among them of the potentially deadly hantavirus, has prompted top state health officials to urge the National Park Service to do something.

Recent studies show that as many as seven in 10 rodents on Santa Cruz and Santa Rosa islands are infected with hantavirus--more than any other region in the nation--which can cause a rare, but often fatal, disease in people.

News reports of the situation prompted the California Department of Health Services in February to launch an investigation into how the Park Service notifies the public and protects its workers on the islands, located off Ventura and Santa Barbara counties.

The state agency concluded that managers at Channel Islands National Park have erroneously assured the public and their employees that the form of hantavirus found on the islands is not harmful to people.

In fact, the island strain of hantavirus is the same form of the disease that killed two dozen people near the New Mexico-Utah border six years ago and has infected 15 Californians since. However, no one has ever become sick or died of hantavirus after a visit to Channel Islands.

Further, agency investigators found some park employees were uninformed about hantavirus on the islands and were not trained in ways to reduce the risk of infection.

The conclusions are contained in a March 23 letter that state Health Officer Dr. James W. Stratton sent to John Reynolds, the Park Service's regional director in San Francisco.

National Park Service officials could not be reached Wednesday for comment.

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