More than 100 cases of gastrointestinal illness have been reported at Grand Canyon National Park this month, with some testing positive for the norovirus, according park officials
The gastrointestinal illness cases were found mostly in visitors who had gone on trips in the Colorado River, but some were also reported in people who went on backpack trips within the Grand Canyon’s remote backcountry, Joelle Baird, a public affairs specialist at Grand Canyon National Park, told USA TODAY on Friday. In all, 118 cases of gastrointestinal illness have been reported at the Grand Canyon since June 10.
The high numbers of infections this month comes after the national park in Arizona reported “increasing reports of gastrointestinal illness among river users and backcountry campers” in May.
According to the May statement from Grand Canyon National Park, the symptoms for the recorded cases were “consistent with norovirus.”
Norovirus is a highly contagious virus that can be caused through contact with an infected person or by consuming contaminated food and water, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Norovirus symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea and stomach pain.
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According to Baird, public health officials in coordination with the Coconino County Health and Human Services Department and the CDC tested fecal samples for the presence of norovirus on eight infected river trips. Samples from all of the trips tested positive.
Because of the findings, “we can be pretty confident at this point that what has been going around and causing so much gastrointestinal illness in our backcountry users is norovirus,” Baird said, adding that they still can’t confirm that all 118 cases are norovirus.
The national park did not specify the number of confirmed norovirus cases.
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The highest level of reported cases were reported in mid and late May, Baird said. “Since then, it’s kind of plateaued off a little bit,” she added, noting that they’re still going through the data.
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Gastrointestinal illness cases have been reported at the Grand Canyon in the past, but the reach of the recent numbers is alarming.
“When norovirus does make its way into the Colorado River and impacts users, it’s not uncommon for it to spread rapidly and infect potentially a whole river trip,” Baird said. “However, the number of different trips impacted by this is a little more concerning. And that’s why we’re working [in] coordination with the county as well as the CDC to try to understand this outbreak more fully.”
In the park’s May alert, the Grand Canyon urged visitors to follow practices to help prevent norovirus transmission – including ensuring your drinking water is filtered and disinfected, washing your hands regularly and avoiding groups if you’ve felt ill within the last 72 hours.