The National Park Service announced that an outbreak of gastrointestinal illness has been reported at the Grand Canyon between the months of May and June, with up to 90 individuals experiencing symptoms that closely resemble norovirus.
Noroviruses are a group of viruses that cause gastroenteritis or the inflammation of the stomach or intestines in people. According to CDC, norovirus is a highly contagious virus that causes diarrhea, vomiting, nausea, and stomach pain and anyone can get infected and sick with the virus.
The National Park Service Office of Public Health issued an illness alert on May 20 while also advising visitors against using water from the nearby Colorado River, side streams, pools and springs, Fox News reported.
The alert stated, “There may have been a time when it was safe to use such sources, but no longer. Any untreated water has the potential to cause illness if it is not properly and carefully disinfected.”
The National Park Service released another update on the illness alert on Saturday. Below is the excerpt:
The National Park Service Office of Public Health has received reports of gastrointestinal illness among >150 private and commercial river rafters and back-country campers during April and May 2022. Symptoms include nausea, stomach cramping/pain, vomiting, and diarrhea. These symptoms are consistent with norovirus, and we have confirmed norovirus from at least eight rafting trips.
Comprehensive control measures have been implemented, and since early June, there has been a marked decrease in reports of illness. We are continuing to monitor and investigate the situation in collaboration with partners at Coconino County Health and Human Services and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Norovirus is a highly contagious virus – you can get norovirus from an infected person, contaminated food and water, or by touching contaminated surfaces. Norovirus causes sudden-onset vomiting and diarrhea that lasts 1–3 days. On rafts and in camps, norovirus can spread quickly. The best way to prevent norovirus is to practice proper hand washing and general cleanliness and ensure the safety of your drinking water.
Public affairs specialist with the Grand Canyon National Park Service Joelle Baird told Fox News Digital on Thursday that they are trying to determine the source of the outbreak.
“We have a cooperative with NPS Office of Public Healthy, Coconino County Health and Human Services and the CDC all working together to try to understand the disease pathway and looking in particular at river and backcountry trips along the Colorado River,” Baird said. “That’s been the primary focus.”
“Norovirus is highly contagious — and once present, it can spread quickly among participants,” Baird added.
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Kristi Key of Arizona, an avid hiker who visits the park regularly, recounted to Fox News Digital how she recently helped summon a rescue helicopter after she saw a hiker on the Boucher Trail who was “violently vomiting.”
“I was on a solo hike on Boucher Trail, which is a pretty rugged trail,” she said, noting she has hiked it several times.
On May 14, 2022, she said she “got about four miles in when I came across a hiker looking a little distressed,” she told Fox News Digital.
“It’s not unusual [for people] to look distressed or exhausted hiking out of the canyon — so I didn’t think much of it, but I asked if he was OK and I kept going.”
Key added that she then “ran into another guy behind him — and he was asking how the trail was on the way out, and I told him it’s not easy. He said he had a couple of people that were pretty sick and he wanted to know how rough it would be for them.”
“At that point,” said Key, “it was starting to get really hot. I had my Garmin [smartwatch] with me and I asked him if he needed me to hit the SOS button, which alerts Garmin and hooks you up with a rescue if needed, because there is no cell service on the trail.”
“One was lying down under a tree,” she said.
The other one “was throwing up, so I told them I could get them rescued but they said no, they’d rest and cool off and said if they needed me they’d find me.”
Key said she went on her way for about an hour — and “then started making my way back. I saw the guys again and that’s when they asked if I could summon that rescue. They didn’t have much water left, and it was still quite a ways back out of the canyon. One of the guys kept violently throwing up.”
Key said she used her Garmin to send an alert and heard back “almost immediately.”