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Tragedies at Yosemite

Two boys, aged 6 and 10, were swept away in 6 to 8 inches of water while wading in the Merced River NEXT TO THEIR PARENTS near the Vernal Fall Footbridge, today. The family of 15-20 relatives from the Los Angeles area began the hike at the Happy Isles trailhead, hiked about a mile (it is an UPHILL mile), and stopped at the Vernal Fall Footbridge at about 3 PM today. Park spokesman Scott Gediman said that the boys somehow got caught in the current of the shallow water and were pulled down the river, which is strewn with boulders.

The 10-year-old boy was pulled from the river about 150 yards downstream, and cardiopulmonary resusitation could not revive him. The 6-year-old boy has not been found. According to Gediman, the boys are either stepbrothers or half-brothers, and they have not been named because they are minors.

The drowning is the third this year in the Merced within Yosemite National Park. Others include a drowning in June on the south fork in Wawona and another near the Arch Rock entrance station, in the western portion of the park. Yosemite averages 12-15 fatalities per year. Roughly half are accidents, and half are other deaths, such as heart attacks. In 2011, when the water flow was VERY high, 20 people died, of which seven were water related.

The portion of the Merced (which is Spanish for “mercy”) near Vernal Fall and the Mist Trail is particularly merciless. About 2,000 people climb the trail to the footbridge each day and continue up the rock steps that are slippery with mist from the waterfall. Gediman noted that the portion of the river near the footbridge is about 50 feet wide with a calm surface that hides strong currents. According to

That’s what happened in July 2011 when three Central Valley residents wading above Vernal Fall were swept over the edge 317 feet to their deaths as dozens of tourists watched in horror. The victims, Ramina Badal, 21, a nursing student at the University of San Francisco, Ninos Yacoub, 27, of Turlock (Stanislaus County) and Hormiz David, 22, of Modesto had ignored warning signs and the pleas of other hikers and climbed over a metal guardrail.

Earlier that year, Kent Butler, 60, a professor from Austin, Texas, slipped at the bottom of the granite steps below Vernal Fall, landed on a rock and slid into the roiling Merced River, where he was swept away and drowned. In 2007, Kiran Yellajyosula, 27, of Santa Clara plunged off the thundering waterfall to his death when he leaned over to wash his hands in the river and lost his balance.

Parents and other adults – PLEASE use good judgment and protect children around rapidly moving bodies of water, like the Merced River near Vernal Fall.

In another Yosemite-related incident, public health officials announced today that a 37-year-old man whose name was not released, died in late July of the rare hantavirus infection, about six weeks after his stay in popular Curry Village tent cabins! A woman in her 40s who did not know the man but stayed in a tent cabin at the same time, about 100 feet away from his, also became sick from hantavirus, but is expected to survive, according to the California state Public Health Department.

Hantavirus is carried by mice and spread to humans by feces or urine of the rodents. Lab tests taken after the two people became ill confirmed the presence of the virus in fecal matter of mice trapped near Curry Village, which is a collection of tents and cabins in the eastern end of Yosemite Valley.

“The mice shed the virus in urine in feces, and when the urine or feces, or nests, are disturbed, the virus can become airborne <emphasis mine> and infect people,” said Vicki Kramer, chief of the state health agency’s vector-borne disease section.

Best of all, 😉 THERE IS NO CURE or virus-specific treatment for hantavirus infections. Treatment consists of hospitalization and help with breathing while the body of the patient tries to fight off the virus! Both of the Curry Village-related victims suffered from hantavirus pulmonary syndrome, the symptoms of which can appear as late as two weeks after exposure to hantavirus! Symptoms include flu-like symptoms such as fever, headache, and muscle pains (often in the back, hips, and thighs). In two to seven days, many patients have trouble breathing and can die.

“It’s supportive treatment only. We have pretty unacceptably bad options for treating hantavirus,” said Dr. D. Scott Smith, chief of infectious disease and geographic medicine at Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Redwood City. “By the time someone comes in with a bad cough and a fever, sometimes it’s too late.”

Since hantavirus was identified in the United States in 1993, there have been about 60 cases of hantavirus pulmonary syndrome reported in California. Approximately 1/3 of those patients died. This year, there have been four cases of hantavirus infections in California. The two cases of the Curry Village campers are the FIRST ever reported for Yosemite Valley. Two other cases of hantavirus occurred in visitors to higher elevation Tuolumne Meadows. The virus is most commonly encountered in the eastern Sierra and is rare in the lower elevations of the state.

In California, hantavirus is spread principally by deer mice, which have solid-color backs and white bellies and generally live at higher elevations. According to spokesman Gediman, crews that clean tent cabins are told to inspect rooms for mouse droppings, and Yosemite officials regularly monitor the activity of deer mice in the park.

State Public Health Department officials and officials from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) visited Yosemite and found no evidence of mouse infestations or unclean lodgings.

Gediman cautioned visitors to Yosemite and elsewhere in the Sierra to avoid leaving food in the open, which can attract mice, and to avoid contact with mouse feces or nests.

-Bill at

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