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Yosemite: Some scared off by hantavirus cancel Labor Day plans

August 31, 2012|By Mary Forgione | Los Angeles Times Daily Travel & Deal blogger
  • A fall photo of signature tent cabins in Yosemite National Park's Curry Village.
A fall photo of signature tent cabins in Yosemite National Park's… (Delaware North Companies…)

Don't have reservations for the weekend in Yosemite? No problem. Curry Village has openings.

The national park experienced a jump in cancellations after news broke earlier this month that two visitors staying in certain cabins in the Boystown section of Curry Village had become infected with the rare and sometimes deadly hantavirus.

On Thursday, the number of cases jumped to six, with two people having died from the disease transmitted by deer mice.

Lisa Cesaro, spokeswoman for the Delaware North Cos. Parks & Resorts, which operates cabins and other lodgings in Yosemite National Park, said she didn't know exactly how many guests decided to ditch their park vacation rather than risk getting sick. The company received a "heavy" number of calls after the news broke, she said.

As a result, visitors without reservations should be able to find cabins available during the usually packed Labor Day weekend. And those booked in what are called Curry Village's "signature tent cabins," now shut down, are being shifted to other cabins and lodgings.

Park officials say it's safe to visit Yosemite, and encourage those with vacation plans there to keep them intact.

Humans can get hantavirus by coming in contact with fresh mouse droppings, saliva or urine -- or dust and dirt containing them.

Yosemite's cases have been linked to guests who stayed in mid- to late June in a small number of the signature cabins, a design with a white canvas outer layer, thin insulation and sheet rock inside. The park has closed all 91 of these cabins while they are mouse-proofed and disinfected. Officials said it was unknown when the signature cabins would reopen to the public.

Yosemite has sent out thousands of letters to visitors who stayed in the cabins between June 10 and Aug. 24 to tell them to seek immediate medical attention if they show any symptoms of hantavirus pulmonary syndrome, or HPS.

"The disease begins with fever, aches, and flu-like symptoms, but can progress rapidly to life-threatening illness," says the notice on Yosemite's website. "The symptoms of HPS can occur from one to six weeks after exposure to hantavirus. Early medical attention is critical for individuals who contract hantavirus."

Anyone with concerns or questions should call the park at (209) 372-0822 between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.

Cesaro said hantavirus warnings and safety procedures have been added to the bear warning and other wildlife information that goes out with each reservation confirmation for lodgings in the park.

The hantivirus cases pose a puzzle for health authorities, who say it's rare for people to contract the disease in the same place.

How many Yosemite mice carry the disease? Park spokeswoman Kari Cobb says an estimated 14% of mice in the Curry Village area carry the hantavirus. Though the figure may sound alarming, it's consistent with the percentage of hantavirus-carrying mice throughout the state, she said.

There have been 587 cases confirmed in the United States between 1993 and 2011. About one-third of those have been fatal.

For more information, check out Yosemite's FAQs about hantavirus and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention safety tips for campers and hikers.

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