With more than 200 reported cases of gastrointestinal illness among visitors and workers in Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks this summer, the National Park Service is urging visitors to be vigilant about hand washing while on vacation.
On June 7, several members of a tour group arrived in Mammoth Hot Springs complaining of stomach flu and other GI symptoms. Within 48 hours, numerous employees, whose jobs place them in contact with visitors, reported similar symptoms. Tests conducted on some of the sick visitors and employees came back positive for norovirus, the most common cause of acute gastroenteritis in the United States.
Over the past week, additional cases of GI illness among visitors and employees have been reported at both national parks. To date, those reports include more than 100 suspected cases of norovirus among employees in Yellowstone and about 50 suspected cases among employees in Grand Teton. Fifty visitors also went to medical clinics in Yellowstone with symptoms of gastrointestinal illness.
While only a small percentage of people have been affected, the National Park Service and all the businesses serving park visitors have instituted a variety of precautions intended to limit the spread of the virus. These include increased cleaning and disinfection of all public areas including stores, gift shops, restaurants and lodging facilities, and isolation of potentially infected employees until they have been symptom-free for at least 72 hours.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 21-million people in the United States contract norovirus every year. Norovirus is usually not serious. Most people get better in one to two days. Symptoms include stomach pain, vomiting, and diarrhea. This very contagious virus can be contracted by direct contact with an infected individual, by touching surfaces contaminated with norovirus, or by consuming contaminated food or drink.
Frequent hand washing with soap is the best way for individuals to limit their chance of contracting this virus. Alcohol- based sanitizers are not a substitute for soap and water, but serve as a temporary measure if soap and water are not available.
For more information, visit http://www.cdc.gov/norovirus/.