Friday, June 21, 2013

Trouble at Old Faithful

Yellowstone and Grand Teton have just begun their tourist season but without the excitement it normally brings. 
A highly contagious virus has at least 200 people sickened this month.
The Norovirus, commonly called “food poisoning” or “stomach flu” causes your intestines, stomach or both to become inflamed (acute gastroenteritis), diarrhea, vomiting, fever, headache and abdominal pain has found its way to the lives of outdoor enthusiasts.
Highly Contagious for anyone, the norovirus causes around 21 million illnesses in the United States and can be especially serious for young children and older adults who account for some of the average 800 deaths a year.
Not related to the “flu” (influenza) the norovirus can be spread relatively easy. The most common forms of transmission are being in contact with contaminated food/drinking liquid, a contaminated surface, or in close quarters with someone who is already infected.  In areas with a large population in close quarters like daycares, nursing homes, and cruise ships the virus spreads quickly.
Now imagine an expected turnout of close to 6 million visitors during the season.
These Wyoming national parks will be taking a huge hit to their tourism dollar with visitors being fearful of becoming sick. The parks will attempt remain open although there is an advisory warning requiring businesses to increase their cleaning and disinfection of all public areas. The warning also advises any visitors to wash their hands to prevent spreading the infection. Workers that have been potentially infected have been asked to isolate themselves until they have been symptom free for at least 72 hours.
The illness, first diagnosed around June 7 by a group visiting Yellowstone National Park, has affected over 100 Yellowstone employees, 50 Grand Teton workers and at least 50 recorded visitors. More are anticipated to be undiagnosed.
Currently there is no vaccine for the norovirus but there are ways to prevent it. Practicing proper hand hygiene is one of the top priorities, washing your hands consistently while handling food, after using the toilet, or after any contact with fecal matter and infected individuals.  Poor Food preparation and handling is one of the leading causes of transmission of this virus. Wash and cook your food thoroughly. It has been proven the norovirus can survive cooking temperatures as high as 140 degrees F.
Clean, wash and disinfect any areas potentially contaminated due to vomit or fecal contamination. Surface areas are easily cleared utilizing household chlorine bleach (5-25 tablespoons of bleach per gallon of water).  Clothes and linens should be handled with care while wearing rubber or disposable gloves.