Less than a year after the hantavirus outbreak in Yosemite, another illness is spreading through two of America's most popular national parks.
A highly contagious gastrointestinal disease known as norovirus is affecting visitors to Yellowstone and Grand Teton—parks that share a border in northwest Wyoming. An estimated 200 people have become sick since the beginning of the summer tourism season, including 100 Yellowstone employees, 50 Grand Teton workers and at least 50 park visitors, according to park officials.
Symptoms were first reported on June 7 by a tour group visiting the Mammoth Hot Springs area of Yellowstone. Within 48 hours, park employees also began to fall ill. To prevent the further spread of the disease, officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are recommending several precautions:
- Visitors to the parks are encouraged to wash their hands frequently with soap and water. Alcohol-based sanitizer can also help reduce exposure
- Park employees who show signs of the norovirus should isolate themselves until they have been symptom-free for 72 hours
- Parks should increase cleaning and disinfecting efforts in all public areas
Norovirus causes an estimated 20 million cases of gastrointestinal illness in the United States annually. The disease is responsible for about 70,000 hospitalizations and 800 deaths each year, and is particularly dangerous for the elderly and young children.