The Grand Canyon is a vast, vibrantly painted geological wonder, prized for its awe-inspiring stratified architecture, which has been splendidly carved over millions of years. Up close, it’ll blow your mind and stop your breathing—and if you’ve had seizures recently, it can violently flush your colon and cause your granola bar to vomit.
That’s right—the majestic natural wonder has been the site of a months-long outbreak of gastrointestinal illness, most likely caused by norovirus. The virus was confirmed to cause illnesses between at least eight rafting trips. In total, more than 150 river rafters and backcountry campers have fallen ill since April, according to a recent update from the Grand Canyon National Park Service.
While many may have sought out outdoor grandeur in hopes of escaping the pandemic coronavirus, it seems they met a different germ instead, hollowing out the inn at a pace comparable to that of the Colorado River. was rapidly affecting the southwestern section by several orders of magnitude. Colorado Plateau. Between the smoothly carved buttresses and the intricately sculpted ellipsoidal shapes, park-goers are blown away from both ends in a hot second. And instead of reaching both the north and south rims during their journeys, some are forced to stay on the edge of a much smaller basin.
It is unclear how exactly the disease is spreading among visitors, and clusters of diseases have hit unconnected parts of the park. But the Park Service has warned that the highly contagious virus could spread rapidly on river tours and camps. It can be spread directly from person to person through contaminated food and water or through contaminated surfaces. The Park Service advises visitors to wash their hands regularly and practice general hygiene, avoid sharing food, stay home if they feel sick, and isolate people who develop illness during travel.
The park also warns against drinking water from canyon features, including the Colorado River, waterfalls, pools, streams, and shore canyons, or inadvertently getting your mouth watering when reconstituted in such waters. If visitors are required to use canyon water sources during backcountry trips, the water must be filtered and then either chemically disinfected or brought to a rolling boil.
While frightening to experience, norovirus is usually not life-threatening. But the Park Service warns that a severe case of gastroenteritis can easily become dangerous in an extremely hot, physically demanding environment. On Tuesday, the park posted another high heat warning, saying the interior of the valley is expected to reach 110 °F (43 °C). There have also been several reports of rescue, in which sick people are being taken out of the valley by helicopter.
But even for those who are able to venture out on their own, the escape will be a painful trek. The park reminds visitors that they are not allowed to leave behind any toxic mud they spew while in the canyon. As the Park Service notes, “If a restroom is not available, all human body waste solids can be transferred to a portable toilet or a specially engineered bag waste containment system (capable of being securely sealed and capable of being treated with enzymes and containing polymers). Human solid waste. Vomit should also be kept in a sealed container and carried out of the valley.”
The good news is that ever since the park began offering advice on illnesses, case reports have slowed. The majority of cases were reported in May, which suggests that the outbreak may have subsided.