In a story from Los Angeles, The AP reports that a 9th case of hantavirus has been linked to Yosemite National Park. It's not an epidemic yet, and no cause for alarm, one might think. But there is a worrying observation tucked into the middle of the AP story.
The AP says the disease is rare--587 cases were diagnosed in the U.S. between 1993 and 2011. "But the cases at Yosemite are more unusual. Authorities said they had not heard of more than one case of the disease in the same location within a year."
What can that mean? To my mind, that demands follow-up. This is the first cluster of cases in one place ever? If so, it's a more important story than the coverage so far suggests. Katherine Harmon addresses this question in a good science piece at Scientific American, but others should be addressing it, too.
A post at the Wall Street Journal on Sept. 9 by Vauhini Vara and Betsy McKay took issue with whether Yosemite officials had done an appropriate job of warning visitors of the risk. The reporters talk to visitors, one of whom says, "I can't tell you how reckless I feel this is."
Kate Mather and Anna Gorman wrote a substantial piece on Sept. 10 in the Los Angeles Times, addressing why hanatavirus remains a mystery nearly 20 years after its discovery in the U.S. The New York Times sent Norimitsu Onish to Yosemite for a story in which visitors say they were wary but not deterred from coming to the park for vacation. It reports that park officials sent emails and letters to 30,000 summertime visitors, warning them of the risk. (The AP says the park service sent emails to 230,000 people.) The Times reports that the park service has closed 91 tent cabins in Curry Village that could harbor the rodents that transmit the disease.
This smells to me like a story that demands more coverage, and not coverage about what visitors are doing--coverage about what scientists and public health officials are doing.