According to the CDC, a large outbreak of acute gastroenteritis took place among Grand Canyon recreators earlier this year, from April 1 through June 17, during which time at least 222 rafters and backpackers became infected with serious illness expected to be norovirus-related.
As people started to become infected, it's likely that the highly transmissible nature of norovirus-associated acute gastroenteritis contributed to its rapid spread, especially considering the close-quarters situation present on many rafting and backpacking trips, with at least 191 rafters impacted, along with 31 backpackers.
Extreme vomiting and diarrhea were reported among those infected, with this being the largest documented outbreak of gastroenteritis to ever happen in Grand Canyon National Park.
It's not exactly clear what led to the rapid spread, though an investigation found that use of common campsites may have been a contributing factor. With parties placing portable toilets in similar locations, it's likely particles of norovirus could have been transmitted to surfaces, beach sand, and river water, where it could be passed between groups.
While contracting a norovirus-related condition under normal circumstances can be dangerous and very uncomfortable, contracting something of this nature in the backcountry poses an entirely new range of threats. In a place where many sanitary options are limited and obtaining clean water is often inconvenient, a high rate of spread and dehydration can become serious issues.
This case shows the importance of working to maintain sanitary conditions in the backcountry.
Here are a few tips for avoiding norovirus or spreading norovirus while in nature:
1. Don't throw up or defecate near water sources
2. Wash your hands before eating with soap and water
3. Avoid sticking hands into bags of food
4. Avoid physical contact with others on the trail
5. Bleach wipes can be used to wipe down at-risk surfaces, such as portable toilets and other items multiple people are touching
6. Don't share drinks
7. Don't share eating utensils
8. Always filter water and be careful when it comes to keeping filters clean
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