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Kanawha County hantavirus death connected to Yosemite outbreak

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A person from Kanawha County who recently traveled to Yosemite National Park in California has contracted Hantavirus and died, health officials said Thursday.

The local death marks the third across the nation since the outbreak - which has been associated with those who have stayed at the park -- began in June. There have been eight confirmed cases of the illness, health officials said.

Citing respect for the person's family, Dr. Rahul Gupta, executive director of the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department, declined to identify the person who died or give their age or gender. He also would not say when the person died, when they traveled to Yosemite, or whom, if anyone, the person traveled with.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the outbreak has been associated with visitors who stayed at the Signature Tent Cabins in the Curry Village area of the park. Park officials are also contacting visitors who stayed at those cabins between mid-June and the end of August, asking them to get medical help if they have symptoms of the illness, according to the CDC.

The California Department of Public Health and the Yosemite National Park Public Health Service officers are doing rodent surveys as well as monitoring the virus in the park's mice population, according to the CDC.

Gupta said he is not concerned that more people in Kanawha County may have gotten the virus, although he said the department is investigating.

"At this point, I would say that the time has lapsed in a way that there should not be a concern," Gupta said.

Early symptoms of the disease include fatigue, fever, and muscle aches, especially in the thighs, hips, back and sometimes shoulders. People may also experience headaches, dizziness, chills and stomach problems such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and pain. Four to 10 days later, the infected person may experience coughing, shortness of breath, and pressure on the chest.

The incubation period for Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome is typically two to four weeks after exposure, but can range from a few days to six weeks.

No treatment for the illness exists, but early diagnosis and supportive care can greatly increase the likelihood of survival, health officials said.

Health department officials are asking anyone who has experienced the symptoms and has traveled to Yosemite to contact their health care provider.

The disease is rare but statistically about one in three people who contract the virus will die, Gupta said.

As opposed to the West Nile virus, Hantavirus affects people similarly regardless of age or health, he said.

Rodents -- mostly deer mice-- spread the virus, Gupta said. The illness is not spread from person to person, he said. People contract the disease by breathing in dried particles from the rodents' urine, saliva or feces, Gupta said.

It's not likely that people would get the disease from rodents in their houses, Gupta said.

"The type of mice that tend to infest homes are quite different than the ones we're talking about," Gupta said. "... They are not usually, commonly found in homes."

In West Virginia, deer mice are most densely populated in higher elevations.

Since 1981, there have been three cases of Hantavirus and one related death in West Virginia, Gupta said. Reach Lori Kersey at lori.kersey@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1240.


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