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CHANNEL ISLANDS PARK CLOSURE SOUGHT; GALLEGLY WANTS PUBLIC NOTIFIED REGARDING PRESENCE AND DANGER OF HANTAVIRUS IN AREA.

Byline: Don Holland Daily News Staff Writer

U.S. Rep. Elton Gallegly called Tuesday for the temporary closure of Channel Islands National Park, where an Oxnard boy was exposed to a mouse carrying the antibody against the potentially fatal hantavirus.

In a letter to the National Parks Service, the Oxnard Republican urged the agency to close the park until it devises a way to notify the public about the presence and danger of the virus.

``I think we can delay access to it for two or three weeks until public notification is given that there is a potential hazard here,'' Gallegly said in a phone interview.

He also criticized the agency for what he said was a downplaying of health risks.

``I think that they're concerned that it would probably have an effect on tourism,'' Gallegly said. ``Until such time as we have a resolution, I think the minimum we can do is advise the visitors of the risks, just like you would on a package of cigarettes.''

Gallegly also called for a congressional hearing into the Parks Services' handling of the hantavirus. And because the virus has infected an estimated 70 percent of the deer mice at the Channel Islands park, Gallegly called on parks officials to eradicate the rodent population.

Park officials are considering Gallegly's request to temporarily close the park, although they are not sure that is necessary, said park spokeswoman Carol Spears.

``We do feel we have an effective means of informing the public and the state Department of Health has told us we are doing all we possibly can,'' said Spears, noting hantavirus is found all over the southwestern United States.

Hantavirus warnings are posted at the park's Oxnard visitors center and on bulletin boards at entry points and campgrounds throughout the five-island park, she said.

``To tell you the truth, I don't know if the congressman's office knows what we are doing because they have not contacted us,'' Spears said. ``We're certainly open to viable suggestions.''

Concern about the hantavirus resurfaced when an Oxnard boy and his family sailed to Santa Rosa Island over the Memorial Day weekend and came into contact with a baby deer mouse, Spears said.

Two boys played with the mouse, which later tested positive for hantavirus antibodies - not the disease itself, Spears said. One boy's mother knew that the island's mouse population carried the disease, so she brought the mouse back for testing after finding out the boys had been playing with it.

So far, the boys have not shown any symptoms of the disease, which causes the lungs to fill with fluid, officials said.

In the last few years, more than 100 people nationwide have died of hantavirus. Sixteen cases have been reported in California in the past two years.

The disease can be spread by airborne particles of dried feces or urine from infected rodents. Humans can also contract the disease from direct contact with the blood or saliva of mice.

Flu-like symptoms develop about two weeks after exposure, but the disease progresses rapidly to breathing difficulties and shock as the lungs fill with fluid. Hantavirus is fatal about 60 percent of the time.
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jun 9, 1999
Words:527
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