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Entries in Hantavirus (5)

Wednesday
Sep052012

For Hantavirus Survivors, Yosemite a Painful Reminder

Hemera/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- When Jennifer Benewiat first came down with a fever on Christmas 2010 at her home in Wichita, Kan., she thought it was the flu.

What she didn't know was that she had a deadly illness called hantavirus, which would stop her heart three times in ten days.

"I get upset still because I had no idea, and it's just a mouse," Benewiat said. Hantavirus is carried in airborne particles of urine or feces from infected mice, which can be inhaled by people. "It's really scary, and people don't realize the danger that comes from something so little."

As the number of Yosemite campers at risk for hantavirus climbs to 10,000, including people in 39 countries outside the United States, those who have survived the deadly airborne disease are reminded what they went through and the struggle that still lies ahead.

"There's a perception that once a patient has left the hospital, that the patient has completely recovered and can go about their normal routines just like before, but that's not really the case," said Marjorie McConnell, a medical sociologist at the University of New Mexico who founded the Hantavirus Survivors group on Facebook and Twitter.

McConnell started the group a few years ago to give survivors a place to support one another. It now includes 42 survivors and their family members, including a few new faces in light of the outbreak at Yosemite.

Benewiat, 29, said the hantavirus group on Facebook first alerted her to this summer's Yosemite outbreak, which has already killed two people and infected four others. As she read, overwhelming fear passed over her for a moment. It's the same sensation she gets every time she reads about a new hantavirus case as a result of her post-traumatic stress disorder, she said.

It all started with a 104-degree fever and flu symptoms that wouldn't go away, Benewiat said. It's still not clear where she inhaled the virus. The first time she went to her doctor's office, he ran a number of tests, but found nothing. He sent her home with medicine for nausea.

When nothing changed the next day, he told her to go to the emergency room, where doctors performed more tests. But they still didn't know the mystery illness they were treating, and Benewiat was beginning to fear passing it to her 2-year-old twins, her infant, her mother or her sister.

"The first doctor she saw in the ER was just going to send her home," said Benewiat's mother, Gayle Collins, 52, as she fought off tears. "If she would have went home, she would have died in her sleep that night." Benewiat's oxygen level dropped while she was at the hospital. Within a few hours, Collins was signing paperwork to put her on a ventilator.

A doctor friend from New Mexico, where hantavirus is more common, recognized the symptoms right away. They tested Benewiat for hantavirus, but the results would take more than a week to process before they could get an actual diagnosis.

That was time she didn't have, but sure enough, a chest X-ray revealed that her lungs were full of fluid, a common symptom of hantavirus pulmonary syndrome. Of the 587 reported hantavirus cases in the United States, 36 percent of them resulted in death as of December 2011, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Benewiat's fever reached 107 degrees and she fell into a coma. Doctors decided to keep her unconscious as they pumped her full of medicine and steroids. Collins stayed by her daughter's bedside the whole time except when doctors inserted a chest tube to drain Benewiat's lungs. Collins said she was afraid her daughter would feel pain even in her comatose state and couldn't watch.

Benewiat's recovery was touch and go for 10 days as her kidneys and liver failed, Collins said. Doctors had to resuscitate her three times. Finally, her body began to fight the virus on its own and doctors brought her out of the coma. She was temporarily paralyzed from the neck down because of the steroids, and would have to learn again to walk and feed herself in a rehabilitation center after she left the intensive care unit on January 20, 2011.

"She didn't understand where she was," Collins said. "She knew she had had that flu at one time, but she didn't understand where she was. She thought she'd been kidnapped."

Even though Benewiat has returned to a normal life, she said people don't realize how much physical and emotional pain she's faced in the aftermath of hantavirus pulmonary syndrome. Her life now includes depression, PTSD, anemia and chronic pain. Her mother also worries about her kidney function, which is regularly tested.

When Benewiat's therapist suggested she find a support group for survivors, she learned that she wasn't alone.

"I think it's particularly important for folks dealing with these processes to be able to discuss the issues since recoveries may be similar but not identical," McConnell said of the group. "The Facebook survivors can empathize and offer advice to one another, which is an important part of the recovery process."

One survivor, Charlotte Winter of Santa Fe, N.M., said doctors told her family that if she'd been airlifted to the University of New Mexico Hospital just 10 minutes later, she would have died. When she arrived there, her heart stopped, and she was blue from head to toe. She, too, was in a coma and on heart and lung bypass for a number of days.

It has been five years now since she was stricken. "While I look okay today, the overwhelming fatigue and other aftereffects of HPS cause me to be disabled," Winter wrote in an email to ABC News.

In light of the Yosemite outbreak, McConnell's group of survivors have started a Tumblr page, which includes news articles and updates from government health departments.

Health officials have already emailed 3,000 people who camped at Yosemite's now-closed signature cabins from June through August, urging them to keep an eye out for symptoms, seek medical attention early, and let doctors know about their hantavirus risk. The number of people at risk is reported to be 10,000.

"The Facebook survivors are keen on getting education and awareness out into the public so appropriate cleaning methods are utilized," McConnell said. "Survivors don't want anyone else to go through what they experienced, or perhaps lose a life."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Friday
Aug312012

Campers Question Yosemite National Park's Response to Hantavirus

Hemera/Thinkstock(YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK, Calif.) -- Although Yosemite National Park has closed 91 cabins to prevent visitors from getting a deadly airborne disease called hantavirus, it's not clear whether park officials have done enough to prevent the disease and inform guests -- or whether they're spreading accurate information.

A hantavirus outbreak this summer has sickened four park visitors, killing two of them.  The disease comes from inhaling or ingesting particles of mouse feces or urine and has a 40 percent mortality rate.

Although it's not clear how long the virus survives outside the mouse's body, Dr. William Schaffner, the chairman of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, said that when the mouse feces and urine dry, they become more dangerous because they can easily be carried into the air and breathed in.

But Schaffner's information directly conflicts with what Yosemite park ranger Kari Cobb told ABC News on Wednesday.

"As soon as it hits sunlight or dries, then it kills the virus," she said.  "It's something that has to be contacted relatively quickly after leaving the mouse's body."

She was not available on a subsequent call to her office to discuss where she got her information.

Despite an email sent out this week to warn 3,000 campers who stayed in the mouse-infested cabins, this isn't the first time Yosemite has had a hantavirus case originate on its campgrounds.

A 54-year-old woman was hospitalized in Sept. 2010 after 10 days of "abdominal pain, fever, nausea and shortness of breath", according to a 2010 California Department of Public Health (CDPH) annual report.  She was diagnosed with hantavirus about two weeks after a visit to Yosemite, and noted that she saw mouse droppings on a table and watched one or two mice run across the floor.

The woman survived, but her illness sparked a hantavirus risk assessment for the park's Tulane Meadows campsite, which California Watch posted online.  CDPH concluded that the park lacked a protocol for mouse prevention, was using inadequate sterilization methods, and had tents with gaps between the walls and the floor or other openings that could allow mice to get inside.

The document also suggested providing each cabin with hantavirus information, which would warn them to avoid contact with mice and report infestations to park rangers.

But campers, including Salomon Varela, who visited the park days before officials announced that a camper exposed to hantavirus at Yosemite died, said no such information was provided.

"I would have liked at least a warning so I could have been vigilant about it," said Varela, who brought his 2-year-old son and allowed him to play in the dirt and under the tent during their trip.

Varela said he read about the disease when he got home, the same day his son came down with a 102-degree fever.  He took the toddler to the doctor's office and waited three days for the fever to subside before he could relax.

He likened the situation to beach lifeguards who see a shark in the water but don't tell the swimmers.

"Where's the huge sign?" Valerna said.  "They're warning people about the falling rocks, the bear, to stay on the trail.  Why not the virus outbreak?"

Cobb said park officials didn't know about the hantavirus cases during the dates Varela visited Curry Village -- Aug. 12, 13 and 14.  Park officials found out on Aug. 16, the same day they sent out the news release, she said.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Aug302012

Threat of Hantavirus Lingers For Yosemite Campers

BananaStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Instead of basking in post-vacation nostalgia, the people who camped at Yosemite National Park this summer are worriedly watching for signs of a deadly airborne disease called hantavirus, which has already killed two campers since July.

About 700 people dialed Yosemite's hantavirus hotline in the first 24 hours it was open Tuesday, looking for information about whether they could have contracted the disease and what to do if they might have it, said park ranger Kari Cobb.

Earlier this week, the National Park Service sent health advisory emails to the 3,000 people who stayed in Yosemite's "Signature Cabins" from June 10 to Aug. 24 this summer to let them know about a disease outbreak that struck four park visitors, killing two of them. The disease comes from inhaling or ingesting particles of mouse feces or urine.

It has a 40 percent mortality rate, but takes one to six weeks to incubate, leaving people frightened and uncertain. Flulike symptoms -- chills, muscle aches, fevers -- initially appear, and the disease progresses rapidly. Within a day or two it can be very difficult to breathe.

Alma Fernandez, 21, said she was afraid she could catch the disease by biking by Curry Village during her family vacation to Yosemite in July.

"I started reading the news about it, so it just kind of freaked me out," said Fernandez, a Bakersfield College student. "Can you just walk by and catch it? I didn't know."

As it turns out, you can only get the disease shortly after it leaves the mouse's body, because the virus dies when the droppings dry up, Cobb said. Fernandez asked a few questions on a Yosemite Facebook page and said she checks the news on Yosemite's website regularly.

"It's been almost six weeks since I've gone there, so thank God no one that I went with has had anything wrong," she said.

But for those who stayed in the Curry Village, it's a different, more stressful story.

Jeena Galvan-Martin, 37, of Stockton, Calif. said she couldn't get a reservation to camp at Yosemite this summer, so she brought her 3-year-old and her 11-year old to the park for a day trip the first week in August. When another group didn't show up for its reservation, park officials offered the available Signature Cabin to Galvan-Martin and her family.

"I don't know if this is fortunate or unfortunate," Galvan-Martin said. "When I heard, I was scared to death."

Galvan-Martin, a stay-at-home mom, said she called the hotline when it opened yesterday to ask whether she can test her kids for the disease before they have symptoms. But since victims can't get diagnosed until they have symptoms, she's keeping an eye on her children for now. So far, everyone seems to be fine.

"It's been nerve-wracking," Galvan-Martin said. "I have a 3-year-old. She catches everything."

Saloman Varlena knows how she feels. He said his 2-year-old son played in the dirt and under the family's tent in Curry Village for three days starting Aug. 12. The day after the Varlenas got home was Aug. 16, the same day the National Park Service learned of and announced the first hantavirus death.

Varlena said he read about the hantavirus at Yosemite the same day his son's temperature climbed to 102 degrees.

"We were real worried about that," Varela said, adding that he rushed his son to the doctor's office and waited three days for the fever to subside before he could relax. "You worry about the bear; you worry about the mountain lion. You don't tend to worry about the mouse."

He was so disturbed the officials didn't tell him about hantavirus that he called this week, pretending to make a reservation just to see if the registration official would tell him about the outbreak. When he asked about it, he said they told him they were still investigating.

"Somebody died in July," he said. "That's all I need to know."

The California man died in late July from hantavirus pulmonary syndrome, which starts with flulike symptoms, including fever and fatigue, but progresses by making it difficult for victims to breath. A second person from Pennsylvania died from the illness this week. Two others are believed to have contracted the disease as well. They all stayed in the Curry Campgrounds at Yosemite.

But not all tents at the Curry campground are thought to be problematic, Cobb said. Of the 408 stationary tents and cabins guests can rent for the night, only 91 have mouse problems, she said.

The 91 Signature Cabins built in 2009 have a structural problem that allows mice in, so they were all vacated on Monday to allow construction workers to "retrofit them so that they are completely mouse-proof," Cobb said. Guests have been relocated to other parts of the campsite or other parts of the park.

She did not know how much the renovations will cost, but said they were prompted by the hantavirus outbreak.

"This is Yosemite National Park," she said, adding that it's a wild place. "It's quite a chore, but we're identifying which part of the cabins are allowing mice to get in, tearing portions apart and rebuilding."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Aug282012

Hantavirus Kills Second Yosemite National Park Camper

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK, Calif.) -- A second person has died from a rare virus after camping at Yosemite National Park, according to park officials.

The camper, whose name and gender have yet to be released, died from hantavirus pulmonary syndrome, a flu-like disease spread to humans by exposure to rodent droppings and urine.  The person had been camping in the California park's Curry Village Campground, where at least three other campers are thought to have acquired the virus this summer.  Two of the four known cases have been fatal.

"The health of our visitors is our paramount concern and we are making every effort to notify and inform our visitors of any potential illness," park superintendent Don Neubacher said in a statement, explaining how the flu-like symptoms of hantavirus pulmonary syndrome can take up to six weeks to appear.  "We are encouraging anyone who stayed in Curry Village since June to be aware of the symptoms of hantavirus and seek medical attention at the first sign of illness."

Early symptoms include fatigue, fever, chills, muscle aches and headaches as well as stomach pain, nausea and diarrhea, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  But in less than 10 days, those symptoms give way to coughing and shortness of breath as the lungs fill with fluid.

"There is no specific treatment, cure or vaccine for hantavirus infection," the CDC warns on its website.  "However, we do know that if infected individuals are recognized early and receive medical care in an intensive care unit, they may do better."

Hantavirus can enter the body through the mouth and nose by breathing in or ingesting tiny particles of rodent feces, urine or saliva, according to the CDC.  In rare cases, it has also been transmitted through rodent bites.  Hantavirus cannot pass from person to person through touching, kissing or blood transfusions.

Since it was first identified in 1993, fewer than 600 cases of hantavirus pulmonary syndrome have been reported nationwide, more than a third of which have been fatal, according to the CDC.

Most people are exposed to the virus in their own homes, according to the National Institutes of Health.  But campers might have a heightened risk because of close contact with forest floors and musty cabins.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Friday
Aug172012

Rare Virus Kills Camper at Yosemite National Park

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- A California man has died after contracting a rare virus in Yosemite National Park, according to officials from the California Department of Public Health.

The man, whose name has not been released, died in late July from hantavirus pulmonary syndrome, a flu-like disease spread to humans by exposure to rodent droppings and urine.  He had been camping in the California park's Curry Village Campground, where hantavirus has been detected in deer mice.

"Nearly 40 percent of people who develop this syndrome die from it," said ABC News' chief health and medical editor, Dr. Richard Besser.

Since hantavirus was first identified in 1993, fewer than 600 cases have been reported nationwide.Most people are exposed to the virus in their own homes, according to the National Institutes of Health.  But campers might have a heightened risk because of close contact with forest floors and musty cabins.

"You'd want to keep your campsite clean and food-free to keep mice away," Besser said.  "If you see mouse droppings in your cabin, that's probably not a good place to stay."

Like the flu virus, hantavirus can enter the body through the mouth and nose by breathing or ingesting in tiny particles of rodent feces, urine or saliva, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  In rare cases, it has also been transmitted through rodent bites.

Hantavirus cannot pass from person to person through touching, kissing or blood transfusions, according to the CDC.

The man from Alameda County in the San Francisco Bay area is the first person to die from the disease contracted in the park, although two others were stricken in a more remote area in 2000 and 2010, officials said.

Hantavirus causes flu-like symptoms, starting with fever, body aches and fatigue, Besser said.  But in four to 10 days, "the severe symptoms kick in: shortness of breath and coughing as the lungs fill up with fluid," he said.

People with flu-like symptoms who might have been exposed to rodents or their nests should see their doctor immediately, according to the CDC.

"There is no specific treatment, cure or vaccine for hantavirus infection," the CDC warns on its website.  "However, we do know that if infected individuals are recognized early and receive medical care in an intensive care unit, they may do better."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio







ABC News Radio