CDC Solves Mystery of Norovirus on Hiking Trail

Virus often associated with cruise ships found a way to spread in the great outdoors
By Gina Carey,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 30, 2023 11:30 AM CDT
CDC Solves Mystery of Norovirus on Hiking Trail
   (Getty / Popartic)

Even in the great outdoors, people aren't safe from norovirus, the nasty stomach bug that plagued the popular Pacific Crest Trail last year. Now, the CDC knows why. NPR reports that a remote log cabin where backpackers stopped to use the restroom was the culprit in spreading the illness. CDC disease detective Arran Hamlet began investigating after reports of sick hikers came in through a volunteer at Washington Alpine Club Lodge. "We called the volunteer to find out more information, and they also told us they had heard of other sick hikers over the previous month," Hamlet tells Fox News. "This led us to search social media websites such as Facebook and Reddit."

Almost all the hikers surveyed became sick along a 73-mile stretch of the PCT in Washington. This helped Hamlet narrow down locations, ultimately leading him to a log cabin south of the lodge. It had a pit latrine and a nearby creek as a source of drinking water. Hamlet and his team hiked to the cabin, where they swabbed surfaces inside and took samples from the stream. The water samples were clean, but inside the cabin was another story. "Every single swab tested positive for fecal contamination," Hamlet said. The results were published in the agency's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

Shanna Miko, a nurse epidemiologist at the CDC, notes that while locations like this cabin along the trail are isolated, they serve as a hub for hikers and can see thousands of people per season. "These are very well-planned trips. For many people, they're once in a lifetime," she tells NPR. Because hikers share tips on where to stop in travel guides and online, this "trail wisdom" can also pass along viruses. Hand sanitizer and some water filters don't protect against norovirus due to its miniscule size and "extra sticky" nature. Miko recommends always washing hands with soap and water, and boiling drinking water for at least three minutes. (Norovirus struck again on a cruise ship this summer.)

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