Why do hundreds of Grand Canyon tourists suddenly fall ill?

While hiking through Grand Canyon National Park, Christy Key stumbled upon a disturbing sight: four hikers are resting on the side of a trail, looking a little shabby. Upon learning that the two campers had been severely nauseous the previous night, Key offered to call a rescue team, but the group refused. But when she saw that they were sitting in the same place on the way back, and one of the travelers was still sick, she knew it was time to call for help.

Eventually a helicopter appeared, delivering the man, who was vomiting, to safety. But that experience stuck with Key, who told The Daily Beast she’s walked hundreds of miles in the Grand Canyon and still has never met a hiker whose illness wasn’t related to dehydration or heat. After a once-healthy member of the hapless group fell ill later that day, Key began to suspect that a virus was to blame.

Key is not alone in her tale of nauseating grief as Grand Canyon National Park is currently experiencing an outbreak of a gastrointestinal illness that is very similar to norovirus, an illness that can cause vomiting, diarrhea, cramps, body aches and mild fever. . According to the CDC, norovirus is “highly contagious” and anyone can become infected – the disease can be spread by direct contact with an infected person, by contact with a contaminated surface, or by ingestion of contaminated food or drink. Although symptoms can become very unpleasant, norovirus rarely results in death or serious illness.

As of June 10, 118 people were known to have contracted the gastrointestinal virus in the park, according to Grand Canyon News. The infections spanned 16 different trips along the Colorado River and outlying areas.

Most of the cases were registered in May, and the last case was registered on June 2. The park has been issuing gastrointestinal virus warnings since May 20, according to Jan Balsom, head of communications, partnerships and external relations for the Office of the Superintendent of the Grand Canyon National Park.

“We haven’t seen anything like this in about 10 years,” Balsom said. In fact, Balsom herself experienced what she called an “unusual” spread of gastrointestinal illness when a woman on a river trip she recently took became ill with a stomach virus less than 12 hours into the journey. The woman, however, does not know if she has been infected with norovirus or another disease, and this predicament illustrates many of the difficulties of investigating an outbreak.

There is a limited amount of time during which stool samples can be collected to confirm a norovirus infection, Balsom said. River trips usually go through this critical window, meaning that it is often not possible to accurately diagnose a person’s illness.

The park asks visitors to make sure their water isn’t just filtered, as norovirus is not killed by filters at points of use. It must be either chemically disinfected or boiled. It’s the same…


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