SciSun: Hunting for a Virus   Leave a comment

As you know, we’ve been sick here for a long time. VERY sick for a LONG time. Everyone’s better now – not yet 100%, more like 98.6 – but things are much better. What’s not better, though, is the health of some of the wildlife and human visitors to Yosemite National Park. A disease, called hantavirus, has been discovered in the park infecting small rodents – like wild deer mice ( Peromyscus maniculatus) – who can spread the disease to people visiting the cabins and camping areas where the mice like to hang out. Normally hantavirus is very rare, and it’s unknown why so many mice seem to have developed the disease in such a short time. Unfortunately the disease is severe and dangerous, sometimes fatal.

Yosemite is a giant National Park and wilderness area – over 1,200 square miles – and has millions of visitors a year, so it’s not like a mutant killer virus is going to spread across the world. Less than a dozen park visitors have shown signs of the disease; all who have become ill had stayed in the same campgrounds within a very limited area devoted to camping; and park rangers and officials are working hard to keep the campsites clean and warn people not to leave food or belongings out where mice can find them. (This is also a good idea when it comes to bears, and other wild animals, too. Bears don’t have huntavirus, or any other disease that humans can catch – it’s just generally a good idea not to give bears any reason to come into your campsite).

Deer Mouse UCAR

“I don’t understand it. I wash before and after each meal, and sometimes for no-reason-at-all. And every time, I use my own tongue!”

Some scientists think the millions of people that visit the park each year may actually be the cause of the virus developing so quickly, and warn that as more and more people are allowed to bring all the comforts of home into a wilderness area, it will be impossible to keep away the mice and other wildlife (who were there first, after all), and in the future we might see more and different types of diseases developing and spreading. The wilderness, environmental researchers point out, should be explored and enjoyed for what it is:  A unique, larger world than what most people experience every day. And and that doesn’t mean it’s an extension of your living room.


Michonne Says: “It’s never fun to get sick. In fact, it STINKS! Particularly if you’re a wild animal, getting sick could make other animals be mean to you or even try to hurt you because they think you might make others sick, or you could look weak and let dangerous animals attack. And wildlife can’t go to the doctor or even rest for very long – there’s no one to bring us food or water unless we get up and get it ourselves. It’s really tough. All we have are natural medicines that we learn about from others in our family (I suggest chewing on willow branches or piney cones), and not getting sick in the first place!!”

Posted October 7, 2012 by ECOVIA eco-adventure® in SciSun

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