Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Killers from the Past

Yosemite National Park is a destination for several million people every year. 
It has beautiful waterfalls, lush sub-arctic meadows, a crystal river with snowmelt water so cold it makes your ankles numb.
It also has so much congestion that some roads are closed to cars during the summer.  It has marauding bears that are so used to handouts, they’ll rob your campsite.
And it has killer chipmunks.
Killer chipmunks?
Yep, this year hantavirus has hit the chipmunk and rodent populations native to Yosemite.
Hantavirus is not always limited to the rodent populations in California.  The most notable outbreak came from the Navajo areas of New Mexico in 1993.  That year, 48 people were reported infected and more than half of them died.  In the U.S., a total of 587 cases have been identified to date, with an overall mortality rate of 36.39%.
This year, though is different.  On Monday, park officials confirmed that two people have died, a third is ill and a fourth case is probable.  They also emailed about 1,700 people who may have come in contact with the virus.
And if possible hantavirus exposure isn’t enough, rodents—those cute striped chipmunks and golden ground squirrels who run through your campsite—can also carry plague.
Yep, the Black Death has made one Oregon man seriously ill this summer as he was being a Good Samaritan.   A stray cat was choking on a mouse and the man tried to save the cat, getting bitten for his trouble and contracting a case of bubonic plague carried by the mouse.
Actually, the bacteria that causes plague is carried by the fleas that inhabit the rodents, and the virus that causes hantavirus is contained in urine, dropping or saliva of infected rodents.
So you can still catch pictures of those cute chipmunks sitting on rocks, chittering away.
But use some caution, don’t get too close and don’t try to pick them up.
Hantavirus is a newly-discovered disease, but plague, the Black Death of the Middle Ages, has a long and terrible past with humans.

Michele Drier is the author of the Kandesky Vampire Chronicles.  Book Three, Plague: A Love Story, is currently available in ebook from Amazon at http://amzn.to/N4Pzlr
Visit her at her website, www.micheledrier.com
or contact her at mjdrier@gmail.com

1 comment:

  1. OMG and to think I let those cute little pointy eared squirrels climb up my pants leg when we went hiking there.