Hantavirus Claims Third Victim at Yosemite National Park

Target: Christine Lehnertz, Regional Director (Pacific West Region), National Park Service

Goal: Provide better information and quicker responses to park-wide alerts and crises.

California’s Yosemite National Park has recently come under fire now that news emerges that a third person has died from contracting the deadly hantavirus after visiting the park earlier this summer. As of now, eight people who visited one of the camps on the 1,100 square mile park are known to have become infected; the other five are expected to make a full recovery. However, recent visitors are expressing concern that park employees could have done more to prevent the spread of the virus and protect guests.

There is no known cure for the rodent-borne hantavirus which spreads through contact (or from breathing in air that has come into contact) with the urine, saliva, or droppings of infected animals. The hantavirus can then lead to fatal diseases like the hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (HPS), a disease all eight of the visitors are known to have contracted; an estimated 38% of people who contract the disease eventually die from it. In a 2010 survey by the California Department of Public Health found of the mice tested in Yosemite, 18% carried the virus.

Despite the park contacting past visitors about the issue, many fear that the park service handled the situation “irresponsibly,” and that sites that were known to have been infected should have been dealt with before additional campers were allowed access. “I can’t tell you how reckless I feel this is,” said a psychiatrist from California, who visited the park this summer with his 5-month-old son. “If you have an amusement-park ride where people are dying, you don’t keep the ride open while you fix it.” While the affected cabins and tents are now being dealt with, future visitors can only hope that the park acts with increased urgency in the future. Tell the regional director of the National Park Service to develop a better emergency response plans for future crises.

PETITION LETTER:

Dear Ms. Lehnertz,

After visiting Yosemite National Park this summer, visitors may now fear that their health and lives may have been exposed to unnecessary risk and danger. Because of the eight cases of the hantavirus known to have left the park (and the consequent death of three of these individuals), questions are arising about whether or not park employees could have done more to alert current and future visitors about the threat.

With the situation currently being taken care of, it can only be hoped that similar situations in the future will be handled with greater urgency. For the safety and peace of mind of future and current visitors, trust in the National Park Service is incredibly important. As an officiating member of the National Park Service, you are in important position to be making great change to the way Yosemite National Park handles instances of crises. All that is asked is that in the future all steps are taken to keep park visitors as safe as possible against these avoidable dangers.

Sincerely,

[Your Name Here]

Photo Credit: The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment

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