Hantavirus, a flu-like disease spread by rodents, was the cause of death for a California man camping in Yosemite National Park, officials from the California Department of Public Health confirmed.
The man, whose identity has not yet been revealed, died in late July after camping at the Curry Lodge area in June at the same time as another camper who is still recovering from the virus. Scott Gediman, a Yosemite spokesperson, said that such incidents are rare and ultimately unavoidable. "It's a wilderness area, and rodents live in the wilderness," he told the L.A. Times. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the virus can be contracted from rodent feces or bodily fluids that are ingested through the nose or mouth. It cannot be transferred from person to person.
Campers have a higher risk of contracting hantavirus because they sleep on the ground or in cabins in the wilderness. "If you see mouse droppings in your cabin, that's probably not a good place to stay," said Dr. Richard Besser, ABC News’ chief health and medical editor. Officials at Yosemite are working on cleaning out cabins and testing trapped mice for the virus, according to the L.A. Times.
Hantavirus is so rare that fewer than 600 cases have been reported in the United States since the virus was identified in 1993, according to ABC News. The California man would be the first to die of the virus from contracting it in the park.
The virus causes hantavirus pulmonary syndrome, which begins with average flu symptoms that escalate dramatically to “shortness of breath and coughing as the lungs fill up with fluid” in four to 10 days, Besser said. He added that the syndrome is fatal in about 40% of cases.
According to the CDC, “There is no specific treatment, cure or vaccine for hantavirus infection,” but intensive care can help the patient if the syndrome is recognized early.