What is Norovirus and how do you avoid Norovirus while in the backcountry?
Norovirus is a nasty, nasty germ that causes severe cramping, vomiting, and diarrhea and is highly contagious. Symptoms tend to present themselves 12-48 hours after exposure and last one to three days; most of the time requiring treatment for dehydration.
You can continue to shed the virus in your feces for up to two weeks and can last several weeks to several months if you have an underlying health condition.
The virus is spread through vomit and feces of both humans and animals that are infected and contracted by eating food or drinking water that has been contaminated. Even just having close contact with an infected person can cause you to be infected with it.
Once an area has been infected it is hard to rid that area of the norovirus due to it being able to withstand hot and cold temperatures and most disinfectants are incapable of killing the virus. Just look at the Appalachian Trail, the norovirus has been hitting the same area for several years now.
The most common symptoms:
- throwing up
- stomach pain
- body aches
Tips to Avoid Norovirus
Wash Your Hands! – This should go without saying, but washing your hands after using the bathroom and before eating is the easiest way to prevent the spread of the norovirus. Make sure to wash them for at least 20 seconds (sing the ABC song)! Dr. Bronner’s Soap doesn’t weigh that much and a little goes a long way, so there’s no reason why you shouldn’t carry some with you when you are out backpacking.
Use Bleach Wipes – Chlorine Bleach kills the virus. Chlorine Bleach kills the norovirus dead. Keep some chlorine bleach wipes on hand so you can use them at shelters or areas where you know norovirus is running rampant. Remember that it is bleach, so make sure not to touch clothes or gear (otherwise you risk the chance of ruining them). You want to use something with at least a 2% solution according to the CDC. A good one is Clorox Healthcare Bleach Germicidal Wipes. You can even buy small packets to keep with you through outbreak areas.
Don’t Share Food -Don’t let someone else reach into your bag of chips and take some and don’t reach into someone else’s bag. Or something me and my husband do, eat out of the same Mountain House meal packet! Only accept food that is individually wrapped.
Don’t Share Drinks – This should go without saying, but one of the best ways to avoid norovirus is don’t let anyone drink out of your cup, water bottle, or flask, and don’t take a swig out of anyone else’s. You have no idea what their hygiene is like, so just don’t risk it.
Don’t Share Eating Utensils – Even if the person looks healthy, remember it can take up to 48 hours for symptoms to appear. Your best bet is to not share utensils at all.
Wipe down privy seats with bleach wipes before using – The AT is notorious for having norovirus outbreaks. If you have to stop, either skip the privy or at least wipe the seat down with a bleach wipe. And wash your hands super well afterward!
Wipe down bear cables (or box handles) with bleach wipes before using – If using a bear cable or box, make sure to wipe the handle or cable down before using, then wash your hands immediately after.
Most Hand Sanitizers have been shown to be ineffective at killing norovirus. – The CDC states, “Alcohol-based hand sanitizers can be used in addition to hand washing. But, they should not be used as a substitute for washing with soap and water”. Furthermore, the use of alcohol gel-based hand sanitizer has not only been proven to be ineffective but also increases the risk of contracting the virus. There are a couple of hand sanitizers such as Zylast and My-Shield that have been proven to be effective in killing the norovirus, so it might be worthwhile to use them instead of the gel-based ones which are ineffective.
It can be spread through water, so make sure to filter & use purification methods at all water sources where outbreaks have occurred. To avoid Norovirus, make sure to filter and disinfect all your water in known contaminated areas. Most filters will not remove the virus so you will also need to disinfect the water as well. For more information check out the CDC for information on water treatment in the backcountry,
The basic takeaway to avoid norovirus in the backcountry is to use common sense, and wash your hands after using the bathroom and before you eat. Not only will it help keep the Norovirus from spreading but also cold & flu germs along with other viruses that can make you sick! Just because you are backpacking doesn’t mean you should stop practicing good hygiene after using the bathroom or before eating!
Disclaimer: I am not a healthcare professional. Always seek professional advice from a medical professional before using any product that claims to kill viruses or bacteria. The information provided does not constitute medical advice and should not be taken as such. Use the information in this article at your own risk.
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