Grand Canyon visitors are getting ‘explosive gastroenteritis’ after possible norovirus outbreak

File photo of the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon.
File photo of the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon.(thewiselord from Getty Images)
Published: Jun. 29, 2022 at 8:21 AM MST|Updated: Jun. 29, 2022 at 10:36 AM MST
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GRAND CANYON, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) -- Grand Canyon officials are trying to figure out what has been making dozens of people violently sick over the past few months.

The National Park Service says more than 150 river rafters and back-country campers have reported gastrointestinal illness since April. Many of those sick have consistent symptoms of norovirus, which causes nausea, vomiting, and stomach pain associated with diarrhea. Park officials say visitors from at least eight camping trips tested positive for the virus.

“We haven’t seen something like this kind of outbreak in about 10 years,” Jan Balsom, a spokesperson for the park, told blog site The Daily Beast.

On the public Facebook group, “Grand Canyon Hikers,” a woman named Kristi Key reported hiking along Boucher Trail when she heard about many hikers getting sick. “I talked to one of the guys, and come to find out two of their group had started throwing up pretty violently the night before and that morning,” Key wrote. She said one of those hikers ended up throwing up when they returned to their hotel room.

Key was hiking through in May when she stumbled upon backpackers that looked under the weather. They asked her how difficult the trail was. “I said it’s still a pretty hard trail. He said, because the two gentlemen—the one you just saw and there’s one behind me, they’re sick. They’ve been violently throwing up,” Key said.

She said at first they declined needing a rescue. However, after she ate lunch and hiked back, she came across the same group. One of the men hadn’t stopped throwing up and they were getting low on water. “They had enough water when they started their day but if you’re throwing up and throwing up the water you need, you’re going to run out of water,” Key said.

Key called for a rescue helicopter and help arrived about three hours later. She said she feels like she was in the right place at the right time. “For four people, a liter and half is not even remotely close enough and they would have had to wait a long, long time for people to come get to them. I think it was just the right time,” Key said.

Everyone’s asking for the story so here goes. I was hiking solo on Boucher Trail. It’s a brutal trail even before the...

Posted by Kristi Key on Sunday, May 15, 2022

What is norovirus?

Norovirus is a contagious virus that spreads through touching contaminated surfaces or food and drink. You can also get norovirus with someone infected with the virus, and you’ll often start feeling sick within 12 to 48 hours. According to the CDC and the National Park Service, the virus can spread quickly on rafts or while camping. Symptoms include sudden vomiting and severe diarrhea lasting anywhere from one to three days. Fever, headache, body aches, dehydration, and chills are other commonly reported symptoms.

What can I do to prevent norovirus?

Park officials say “point-of-use” water filters, like those often found in water bottles, won’t remove norovirus; any water should also be chemically disinfected. You can also boil water for at least one minute or at least three minutes if you are above 6,500 feet. At this time, the Grand Canyon says it’s still safe to drink from spigots or park-provided fountains. Health experts also recommend staying vigilant about hygiene and other areas where sanitation could be a concern.