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State Health Department: Proceed With Camping Plans Despite Hantavirus Outbreak

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SACRAMENTO (CBS13) – The state’s Department of Public Health says we should continue with our plans this holiday weekend even if they include camping at Yosemite National Park.

Six confirmed cases of hantavirus there, in which two visitors died, are giving people second-thoughts about playing outdoors.

Tonight, we’re taking a closer look at this potentially fatal disease and what you can do to protect you and your family.

“I’ve never been so sick in my entire life,” said Nicole Lapeyrade, a Placerville resident.

Nicole says for six weeks, she felt she was going to die after staying at Yosemite’s Curry Village in early July.

“My muscles hurt, I had a really bad sore throat, every time I got up, I wanted to pass out,” said Nicole.

Thinking she had the flu or pneumonia, Nicole didn’t see a doctor but because she’s a physician’s assistant, she did get a blood test at her lab.

The results showed she had the antibodies for hantavirus, meaning she was exposed to the virus.

“If this is the hantavirus, I feel extremely lucky,” said Nicole.

Lucky because since hantavirus was first identified in 1993, there have been 587 documented U.S. cases, and about a third were fatal.

Here in California, the Department of Public Health tells us there’s been 63 cases, 21 of them deadly.

“This is the first time we’ve had a cluster of cases like this,” said Vicki Kramer, Ph.D., chief of Vector-Borne Disease Section, Department of Public Health.

Dr. Kramer says the six confirmed cases out of Yosemite this summer are rare.

While hantavirus is uncommon, you still need to be careful.

“If you do see rodent droppings or nests, don’t sweep those up, don’t vacuum. Wet down the droppings or nests with a bleach solution, wait a few minutes and then clean it up,” said Kramer.

The virus is transmitted, usually by deer mice, when people come in contact with infected rodent urine, saliva or droppings and by breathing infected particles.

It’s not spread human to human.

Symptoms take one to six weeks to develop. They include fever, headache, muscles aches, dizziness, chills, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal pain.

You can also develop a cough and breathing problems as your lungs fill with fluid.

Yosemite park officials sent emails and letters to 2,900 visitors who stayed at Curry Village’s Signature Tent Cabins between mid-June and late August.

All 91 of those cabins have now been shut down indefinitely.

While some people have cancelled trips to Yosemite, others aren’t worried.

“You’re kind of in the woods and in their territory and mice are going to be here,” said Carlette Smiley, a Yosemite visitor from Fresno.

“I don’t think the public should be afraid. They just need to be aware,” said Kramer.

As for Nicole, had she known she had hantavirus, she would’ve seen a doctor right away.

“Go to the ER immediately, don’t take the chance like me,” said Nicole.

Nicole plans to call public health officials about her hantavirus case.

To date, the six confirmed people who contracted hantavirus visited Yosemite between early June and mid-July.

The two who died were a 37-year old Alameda County man and a Pennsylvania man.

The other four people infected are California residents. Three have recovered and one is currently hospitalized but improving.

We spoke with a Yosemite Park ranger Thursday and asked her what their message is to the public.

She tells us hantavirus isn’t new nor is it specific to Yosemite National Park. Any time you have any interaction with rodents, whether it be at home or out camping, you need to take precautions. This includes wearing gloves, a mask and spraying disinfectants.

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