Navajos Decry Muerto Canyon Hantavirus Site

<i> Associated Press</i>

The hantavirus that has killed at least 40 people, including many Navajos, should not be named after a canyon on their reservation, the Navajo Nation Council says.

The council voted 52 to 0 last week to ask the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention not to recommend naming the virus Muerto Canyon Hantavirus.

The CDC proposed the name recently, saying it was following a custom of naming diseases after the spot where they were discovered. The agency doesn’t officially name diseases, but makes recommendations to an international scientific body that does.


CDC officials said the name refers to an obscure spot south of Grants, N.M. But Navajo Nation officials say there is no Muerto Canyon in New Mexico, and believe the name is a reference to Canyon del Muerto--or Canyon of Death--located in Canyon de Chelly National Monument on the reservation in northeast Arizona.

The illness, which progresses quickly from flu-like symptoms to acute breathing difficulty and often death, first appeared last spring in New Mexico and Arizona.

The virus, which is spread in the urine and feces of deer mice, has caused 69 illnesses, 40 fatal, in 17 states around the country, the CDC said Friday.