Hantavirus Strikes Yosemite
Ten years ago my dentist, while probing the delicate reaches of my underflossed gums, used to regale me with tales of his wife. An epidemiologist for the state of California, she would occasionally lead teams of technicians to scour backcountry cabins for evidence of Hantavirus, a then-rare, life-threatening disease spread largely via the urine and feces of deer mice. On the way back from one such search, he recounted, her moon-suited team encountered a pair of hikers, who took one look at them and fled back down the trail.
Hantavirus is pretty scary stuff. Recently, two recent visitors to Yosemite National Park have died from it, after apparently contracting it in the famous tent cabins of Curry Village. Seventeen hundred others may have been exposed to it, and the park is now reaching out to those who stayed in the tent cabins from mid-June through August. Park goers are warned to be aware when flu-like symptoms--fever, headache, and muscle pains--turn into breathing difficulty. Of the 60 cases of Hantavirus reported in California since 1993, one third have been fatal.
Like West Nile Virus, Hantavirus is a disease we're all going to have to get acquainted with in our new, warmer world. Here's what I reported in "Heat Wave," one of Sierra's early articles on global warming back in 1997:
The weather extremes caused by global warming can also lead, indirectly, to outbreaks of deadly hantavirus, the acute, often fatal respiratory illness that broke out in the Four Corners region of New Mexico in 1993, eventually killing 76 people nationwide. Hantavirus is transmitted to humans by rodents, whose populations boom when plentiful rainfall follows an extended drought--both more frequent occurrences with global warming.
As with the year's record heat wave, searing drought, hellacious wildfires, and shrinking polar regions, the spread of Hantavirus is just another sign that climate change is already upon us. Our friends at the League of Conservation Voters are circulating a petition, trying to get the subject on the table at the upcoming presidential debates. You can find more information here.
Photo by GlobalP/iStock