If you have been online (and you wouldn’t be reading this unless you were…) then you have heard about the hantavirus outbreak happening here in beautiful Northern California. Yes, right in my own backyard, there is a disease that comes from some very innocent looking critters. Infected mice, specifically Deer Mice, though others can carry it as well.
The hantavirus is of particular concern to those who like to camp, hike and generally enjoy the great outdoors (me included).
What is particularly scary about this disease is that is does not matter how strong you are or how “pumped-up” your immune system is, it is devastating to contract. It is a disease that almost 38% of people who get it, don’t get over it (i.e. death). Those who do get over it are left scarred for the rest of their lives, from PTSD to compromised immune systems to almost everything in between. (See http://news.yahoo.com/hantavirus-survivors-yosemite-painful-reminder-140411545–abc-news-health.html for more information and cases).
This disease is spread by the inhalation of infected excrement (urine/feces) particles. Although only 5 people have contracted the disease, 2 have died and the other 3 are currently in the hospital, ranging from serious to critical. In fact, it is so serious that Yosemite National Park has sent a warning to tens of thousands of visitors, advising them that they may have been exposed to the virus.
The good news is that you don’t have to spend your weekends camping in front of your television in order to avoid the hantavirus. There are several simple, easy steps you can take to ensure a healthy and happy camping/outdoor experience.
1. If you decide to clean your camp area, be sure to wear a mask to avoid inhaling any stray infected particles as you sweep, rake, shovel or perform other activities that could have you potentially inhaling these particles.
2. Wash your hands!
3. If you are staying in one of Yosemite’s fabulous accommodations, be sure to allow Yosemite staff to do the cleaning, they are trained and will do it right.
4. Don’t be paranoid. Even though this disease is very serious, remember that it has only affected 5 people. Hundreds of thousands visit Yosemite every month. Just be wise and you’ll probably be just fine.
5. If you do start to have flu-like symptoms after a camping trip, do go and see your doctor. Remember, it takes almost a full week to see the results of a hantavirus infection, time is of the essence.
Hantavirus is nothing to sneeze at. But, by taking some sensible precautions, you can have an enjoyable, worry-free camping trip. Remember, without health, there is no wealth.
~Dr. Matt Huseboe