FRESNO, CA - Yosemite National Park officials are saying up to 10,000 people who were guests in certain lodging cabins might have been exposed to a deadly mouse-borne hantavirus.
Park concessionaire Delaware North Co. sent letters and emails this week to nearly 3,000 people who reserved the insulated "Signature" cabins between June and August, warning them that they might have been exposed.
The cabins hold up to four people. Spokesman Scott Gediman said Friday that could mean up to 7,000 more visitors might have been exposed.
UC Davis Vector-Borne Disease Ecologist Janet Foley believes there may be several reasons for the recent outbreak: the dry winter left food in scarce supply, and sent deer mice into closer contact with people in the wilderness.
"I do suspect that it has to do with the climate, climate change, it's just a harsh year for animals, hard on all the animals this year," Foley explained.
Scientists believe it could be an example of a conflict between wildlife and people in the outdoors.
What's happening at Yosemite is unusual enough that it raises the question of whether the hantavirus could be mutating. Could there be a new strain of the disease given the 2 recent deaths and 6 cases which all stem from Yosemite?
"That would not be my most likely hypothesis, but it's possible," Foley said. "I think we need to take that into consideration."
The park is receiving more than 1,000 calls a day as visitors frightened about a growing outbreak flood phone lines seeking reassurance.
The health department said taking precautions is always a good idea if you come into contact with the deer mice or their droppings.
"They should clean that up by wetting the droppings or nesting the material down with a bleach solution and then waiting a few minutes and cleaning it up with gloves," California Public Health Department Vector Born Disease Chief Vicki Kramer said.
The Associated Press and News10/KXTV