GRAND CANYON NATIONAL PARK - More than two dozen people who came in close contact with a National Park Service wildlife biologist found dead last week are being given antibiotics because he may have died of an infectious disease.
Eric York, 37, was found in his home at the Grand Canyon National Park on Friday. The Coconino County Medical Examiner suspects an infectious illness may have killed York because his lungs were filled with fluid and his body showed signs of pneumonia. Tests results are expected later this week.
Because of York's professional interests and hobbies, medical officials believe hantavirus and plague are possible causes, according to a Park Service spokeswoman.
The Park Service has located approximately 30 people who came within 6 feet of York in the days before his death and while retrieving his body, and all are being treated with a 7-day course of antibiotics as a precaution, spokeswoman Maureen Oltrogge said.
The Park Service also is holding meetings with employees and local residents to talk to them about the facts of the case, preventative measures being taken and how to avoid exposure to the two diseases. Hundreds have attended briefings in the past two days, Oltrogge said Tuesday.
Hantavirus is transmitted to humans through infected rodent droppings, urine and saliva and is not transmitted from person to person. Symptoms include fever, headache, joint pain and difficulty breathing.
Plague is transmitted primarily by fleas and direct contact with infected animals. When the disease causes pneumonia, it can be transmitted from an infected person to a non-infected person by airborne cough droplets. Those who were near York have been told to monitor themselves for high fever, chills, a cough or difficulty breathing.
Both diseases, while rare, are endemic in the Southwest.
York became ill on Oct. 30, and called in sick for a couple of days before being found dead in his home. As a wildlife biologist, he often came into contact with wild animals that can carry the plague or in areas where rodents congregate, Oltrogge said. He also was an avid outdoorsman, and liked to hike and hunt.