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US sounds alert for hantavirus risk

SAN FRANCISCO -- U.S. health officials have sent warnings to 39 other countries that their citizens who stayed in Yosemite National Park tent cabins this summer may have been exposed to a deadly mouse-borne hantavirus, a park service epidemiologist said on Tuesday.

Of the 10,000 people thought to be at risk of contracting hantavirus pulmonary syndrome from their stays in Yosemite between June and August, some 2,500 live outside the United States, Dr. David Wong told Reuters in an interview.

Wong said U.S. Department of Health and Human Services officials notified 39 countries over the weekend, most of them in the European Union, that their residents may have been exposed to the deadly virus.

The lung disease has so far killed two men and sickened four other people, all U.S. citizens, prompting the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to issue a health alert.

Officials are concerned that more Yosemite visitors could develop the lung disease in the next month or so. Most of the victims identified so far were believed to have been infected while staying in one of 91 “Signature” tent-style cabins in the park's popular Curry Village camping area.

There is no cure for the disease, but early detection through blood tests greatly increases survival rates.

“I want people to know about this so they take it seriously,” Wong said. “We're doing our due diligence to share the information.”

Last week, park officials shut down the insulated “Signature” tent cabins after finding deer mice, which carry the disease and can burrow through holes the size of pencil erasers, infesting the double walls.

Officials are continuing to investigate additional possible cases of the disease, which has killed 64 Californians and about 590 Americans since it was identified in 1993, Wong said.

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