Yosemite National Park officials have been sealing off hundreds of food storage boxes in response to an apparent outbreak of a deadly rodent-borne disease in the park this summer.
Public health officials have yet to identify the cause of the hantavirus outbreak in Yosemite Valley’s Curry Village that has killed three park visitors who stayed there in June, but the park has further “rodent-proofed” the food boxes in each of Curry Village’s more than 400 cabins to reduce possible risk, according to National Park Service spokeswoman Vickie Mates.
“Any information about (the outbreak) being tied to the boxes is purely speculative,” she said.
The boxes, which are intended to keep bears away from the area, have drainage holes on the bottom that park officials have been sealing off, Mates said.
She said the park has already completed work on hundreds of boxes since the initial cases of hantavirus were reported last month, but the exact number and their locations were not released.
So far, nine cases of hantavirus have been tied to the park this summer. All but one of the victims stayed in “signature tent cabins” in Curry Village during the middle of June or early July.
Three of those cases ended up being fatal.
The park responded to the outbreak by sending notices to all registered guests who stayed in Curry Village during the month of June and closing off all 91 “signature tent cabins.” The number of notices doubled when a case was confirmed in a visitor who stayed in the High Sierra Camps of Tuolumne Meadows.
After the ninth case of hantavirus was confirmed last week, even more notices were sent to visitors with the hopes that it would reach a total of 230,000 who were possibly exposed from June to September.
A hotline was also set up for questions about the disease and situation in Yosemite. It received about 1,500 calls in its first week, but the rate of calls has been steadily decreasing, Mates said.
The hotline received 26 calls Monday, according to Mates.
Visitors also haven’t been shying away from the park, despite the national media coverage of the outbreak, Mates said.
The park reported 683,730 visitors in August of this year, which is down from 724,934 during the same month in 2011.
Mates said the park believes the primary reason for the larger number of visitors in August last year was due to the near-record high snowpack in 2011 that created raging waterfalls and attracted more people later into the season.
She noted there were only 683,661 visitors in August 2010, less than was seen this year.