"Spread of Deadly Virus Tied to Forest Decline"

"Around 2004, large numbers of aspens in the West began dying off, and with no immediately identifiable cause, scientists dubbed the phenomenon “sudden aspen decline.” Ultimatel, the die-back was pinned on a severe 2002 drought and heat wave that left aspen stands vulnerable to pests, cankers and fungi.

Now, a new study suggests that the decline of the West’s aspens is not just marring the landscape, but also helping to spread a strain of hantavirus fatal to humans.

The sin nombre virus -- Spanish for “nameless virus” -- is carried primarily by deer mice, whose numbers have surged in areas hit hard by the aspen die-backs, researchers from Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colo., reported at a scientific conference this month. Mice in areas of severe die-backs were three times as likely to carry the virus than those in less affected areas, the researchers found."

John Collins Rudolf reports for the New York Times January 13, 2011.

Source: NY Times, 01/13/2011