US warns of possible worldwide epidemic triggered by deadly Yosemite virus

AFP Photo/Anne-Christine Poujoulat
At least two people are dead as a result of a deadly mouse-borne virus spotted at Yosemite National Park in California and feared to have spread across the world.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued a health alert after a lung disease caused by the hantavirus pulmonary syndrome killed two American males and sickened four others. Health officials believe that an outbreak spread by mice at Yosemite Park outside of San Francisco is the culprit and that as many as 10,000 people around the world are thought be at risk of developing symptoms, which include headache, fever, muscle aches, shortness of breath and coughing, as well as, in some cases, death.

"I want people to know about this so they take it seriously," Dr. David Wong tells Reuters. "We're doing our due diligence to share the information."

First discovered in 1993, the virus kills around one-third of those infected, taking the lives of nearly 600 Americans in less than two decades. Officials at the park have been taking extra precautions since an infestation of deer mice apt to carry the virus was found in one of Yosemite’s “Signature” tent-style cabins, of which the park has more than 90. Since last week, all of those cabins have been closed to visitors.

In the latest outbreak, the virus is thought to have infected visitors of the park who stayed at Yosemite between June and August of this year, which includes as many as 2,500 persons who reside outside of America. In response, the US Department of Health and Human Services has notified 39 countries, most in the European Union, that their residents may have been exposed.

"If you stayed in the Signature Tent Cabins in Yosemite National Park, USA, since June 2012 & have #Hantavirus symptoms, see a doctor,” The World Health Organization tweeted on Wednesday.

Yosemite gets around 4 million visitors each year and is now reaching out to travelers that they believe have stayed in their Signature cabins this year. Since its discovery in 1993, Yosemite has identified two cases of hantavirus in travelers staying at the park.