Saturday, September 15, 2012

The Hantavirus, Yosemite, Colo.,

One of the most feared and dreaded subjects in vet school is Bacteriology.

We lovingly called it "Bac-T." Every class gets a pseudonym. Most to provide a connotation of the despair it will inflict on your college life.

This class is the formal introduction to all of the diseases that affect animals and stem from every tiny micro-scopic organism. It is a whirlwind of bugs with incredibly confusingly long and unpronounceable names. The binder for this class alone took up two 4-inch binders. It was mind-numbing, back-breaking, and boring. For most of us that hour of class it was sheer hell each day.

After you get through the vernacular,the toe-tripping terminology, the microscopic content, and accept that you have to pass the class to graduate, you realize that this class is exactly like the 5 stages of grief. You "deny" that 1 subject can constitute 8 inches of paper, you are "angry" that you have to learn about bugs when you want to study mammals, you "bargain" with your psyche that you can in fact remember all of this minutia, you get "depressed" when you fail (and by fail I mean I got a 20, yep, 20 % on my first pop quiz), then you "accept" that those before you have done it, so you can, will, and have to, too.

After the first half of BacT was done I sort of realized that I liked bugs. Well, maybe not the bugs themselves, I liked the diseases. Of them I liked bubonic plague, (I like saying the name, soo full of impending doom,,,and such an interesting disease, weird, I know, that's the beauty of biology). I also like hantavirus. So when one of these guys make the news I have to read every last article.

I think that even though I am oddly fascinated by these diseases I don't think I will ever meet them in person, (a very, very, good thing because they are very, very, deadly), because the Mid-Atlantic area, which is where I practice has no cases. Those Colorado, Rocky Mountain Vets get the cool diseases. I get Lyme, (boring, and not at all fun to say).

When you get out of school you learn that these little bugs you spent so much time trying to remember are the cause for great loss and personal devastation. I know that for me it is always far easier to understand, appreciate, and recognize disease when it has a "real story" behind it.

I have seen dogs die from Lyme disease. When I find myself in the exam room trying to talk an owner into vaccinating, I think about why I think this particular vaccine is important I remember sitting with those dogs, watching them die a death of organ failure over 2 or 3 days. For the owners it often comes as a blindsided blow. Their dog was fine a few days ago and now there is no treatment available and certain death in front of them.

Here is a recent article on hantavirus.

I had a friend on facebook tell me that he just left Yosemite park and he is worried about his daughters health.

These diseases are real, and they really take lives every year. If I could do vet school over again I would sit in class and put the stories to the diseases and appreciate what 8 inches of paper means to lives around the globe.

Yosemite officials trap, kill mice after hantavirus outbreak

Mike Groll / AP, file
A female deer mouse has a monitor attached to her left ear at the Adirondack Ecological Center in Newcomb, N.Y. Yosemite National Park is trapping and killing the deer mice, which can carry the deadly hantavirus, after an outbreak there over the summer.
SAN FRANCISCO - Yosemite National Park has begun trapping and killing deer mice whose growing numbers may have helped create the conditions that led to a hantavirus outbreak that has infected eight park visitors, killing three, public health officials said Tuesday.
Yosemite officials in recent weeks have warned 22,000 people who stayed in the park in California over the summer that they may have been exposed to the rodent-borne lung disease, which kills over a third of those infected.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has also sounded a worldwide alert, saying visitors to the park's popular Curry Village lodging area between June and August may be at risk. Park officials have closed nearly 100 tent cabins in Curry Village infested with deer mice, which carry the virus.
"From an ecological perspective, it appears that there was an unnaturally high population of rodents in the area. We are being proactive and reducing the population," Danielle Buttke, a veterinary epidemiologist for the National Park Service, told Reuters.
California's Yosemite National Park is warning more than 20,000 past visitors they are at risk of exposure to the potentially deadly Hantavirus after it claimed another victim. Three people have died out of a total eight people infected after using cabins in the park this summer. NBC's Janet Shamlian reports.
Buttke said the mice were being trapped in several areas of the park for monitoring purposes but believed they were being killed only in the Curry Village area, using snap traps.
Seven of the eight people confirmed to have been infected are believed to have contracted the virus in the village, while one stayed elsewhere in the park.
Yosemite doubles scope of hantavirus warning to 22,000; third death confirmed
'Perfect storm'
Public health officials trapped three times as many deer mice in the park's Tuolumne Meadows last week than were caught in a 2008 period, indicating that the deer mice population has grown, said Dr. Vicki Kramer, chief of vector-borne diseases at the state Public Health Department.
Dr. Charles Chiu, an infectious disease specialist at the University of California, San Francisco, said the growing deer mice population might help explain the outbreak.
"This could be an explanation for why we're seeing this particular cluster," Chiu said. "What you may have is the perfect storm of conditions: Increasing prevalence of deer mice and campers with the same or common exposure to (lodging) infested with deer mice."
Officials are concerned that more Yosemite visitors could still get sick because the virus can incubate for up to six weeks after people breathe it in. There is no cure for the syndrome but early detection and hospital care increase survival rates.

The CDC warns that thousands of campers at Yosemite National Park could be at risk for the hantavirus. NBC's Miguel Almaguer reports.
The virus can cause severe breathing difficulties and death. Early flu-like symptoms include headache, fever, muscle aches, shortness of breath and coughing.
Mice's role in ecosystem
Last month, authorities began trapping rodents in Yosemite to examine whether deer mice there were more likely to be infected with the hantavirus than deer mice elsewhere, Buttke said, but found they were not.
When authorities first identified the Yosemite hantavirus outbreak, rangers balked at the idea of trying to exterminate the deer mice, arguing that the mice play an important role in the Yosemite ecosystem.
US officials sound worldwide alert for Yosemite hantavirus
But when they realized the deer mice population had swelled, they decided to thin it in an effort to rebalance the ecosystem, Buttke said. She theorized that weather combined with visitors bringing in food led to Yosemite's abundance of deer mice.
Deer mice release hantavirus in their urine and droppings. People can contract the virus when they breath contaminated air. Children rarely contract the virus, probably because it is often transmitted when adults sweep or vacuum droppings or cut and stack wood.
'Fortunate to be alive': Girl, 7, contracts bubonic plague at Colorado campground
People usually contract the virus in small, confined spaces with poor ventilation. They also can become infected by eating contaminated food, touching tainted surfaces or being bitten by infected rodents.
The disease has killed 65 Californians and some 600 Americans since hantavirus was identified in 1993, but it has never been known to be transmitted from one person to another.

The full article is available at;

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