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Fri, July 01

Grand Canyon warns of norovirus concerns for backcountry users and river trips

The Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park. (Wendy Howell/WGCN)

The Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park. (Wendy Howell/WGCN)

GRAND CANYON, Ariz. —The National Park Service said to date there have been approximately 12 river and backcountry groups that have reported gastrointestinal illness, with up to 90 individuals experiencing symptoms, consistent with norovirus.

Those symptoms include nausea, stomach cramping/pain, vomiting and diarrhea. Other symptoms include headache, body aches and mild fever.

The National Park Service Office of Public Health and Coconino County Health and Human Services warn that those symptoms are consistent with norovirus, which has been confirmed on at least one rafting trip.

The offices at Grand Canyon and the county are working on alerting all backcountry and river users of the reports of illness. The county and NPS Office of Public Health are continuing to closely track cases to determine if they are linked to certain backcountry areas of Grand Canyon.

Norovirus and other GI illnesses are contagious and spread very easily, including through direct contact with an infected person, touching a surface or object contaminated with norovirus or eating food or drinking liquids contaminated with norovirus. Norovirus can be found in an infected person’s vomit or feces even before they experience symptoms. The virus can also stay in feces for two weeks or more after symptoms resolve. It is important to continue frequent hand washing during this time.

There have been increasing reports of GI illness over the past month and Coconino County Health and Human Services and NPS Office of Public Health recommend the following actions:

• If you are ill or have been ill within the last 72 hours, do not join a group trip. If you become sick, stay away from others and keep your distance from anyone in your group who is ill.

• Wash your hands regularly, particularly before and after using the toilet and before eating meals. Handwashing with potable or treated water and soap is preferable to using hand sanitizer. Hand sanitizer should have at least 70 percent alcohol. Ensure hands are appropriately dried with a clean paper towel.

•Avoid sharing food and drinks and putting your hands into shared food sources. Pour food into individual plates/bowls and do not share food, plates, cups, or utensils. Don’t touch the nozzle of water dispensers.

• Ensure water is not only filtered, but also chemically disinfected, as point-of-use filters will not remove norovirus from your water. Alternatively, boil your water to a rolling boil for at least one minute. More information on safe drinking water is available here: https://www.nps.gov/grca/planyourvisit/safe-water.htm.

• During visits to water features throughout the canyon (e.g., waterfalls, pools, streams, side canyons) do not drink from non-potable water sources.

Symptoms typically begin 24 to 48 hours after exposure to the virus. A very small amount of virus can make someone sick.

Norovirus illness is often mistakenly called “stomach flu,” although norovirus is not related to influenza. Influenza is a respiratory illness, with symptoms that include high fever, chills, body aches, sneezing, runny nose, sore throat, and/or coughing. Norovirus is not a respiratory illness and is not spread through breathing or coughing.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), norovirus is the leading cause of illness and outbreaks from contaminated food in the United States. Norovirus outbreaks frequently occur in settings where people live in close quarters and can easily infect each other and many of these outbreaks occur in food service settings.

Although the symptoms may be severe, norovirus rarely causes serious illness or death. There is no specific medicine to treat people with norovirus illness. Individuals with norovirus symptoms should drink plenty of liquids to replace fluid lost from throwing up and diarrhea to prevent dehydration. If you or someone you are caring for is severely dehydrated or has concerns, contact your healthcare provider.

More questions can be directed to Grand Canyon National Park Public Health Service Officer, LCDR Ronan F. King at Ronan_King@nps.gov or (202) 891-8599

More information on norovirus is available at www.cdc.gov/norovirus/about/index.

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