Boaters Fall Ill

Five Grand Canyon boaters fall ill
By Cyndy Cole
Arizona Daily Sun Staff Reporter
Reprinted with permission

Five rafters on the Colorado River fell ill last week with symptoms that match norovirus, the common nausea and diarrhea-inducing virus. Norovirus has not been confirmed as the cause.

The boaters are scheduled to come off the river today [ed: publication date, 5-9-06] and be interviewed by health officials. Each was sick for between 12 and 20 hours, Hatch River Expeditions said, and has since recovered.

No other cases have been reported.

This is the fourth reported norovirus-like outbreak in the Canyon in the last six years. The virus typically feels like the flu or food poisoning. The Park Service did not notify the media and had not issued an alert to other outfitters as of Monday. River guides with Hatch were prompt in reporting the illness to the Park Service, as required, the park spokeswoman said. "Somebody showed up on the trip the first morning ill" and didn't notify the guides, said Steve Hatch, vice president of the river running company. "We didn't know that the person was sick until after they'd left." He suspects the illness isn't norovirus-related because the other 10 passengers on the trip didn't become sick.

Norovirus is highly contagious and could not easily be contained during an outbreak last year. The public health specialist for the park suspects norovirus, but has not confirmed anything. "It sounds like it's probably pretty well isolated to this one trip," said Adam Kramer, who manages public health for the Grand Canyon. "This is a really common illness, and it's estimated there are 23 million cases a year," he said.

Last summer norovirus spread to a wrestling camp at Northern Arizona University, infecting more than a 115 people and forcing university officials to disinfect three dorms, dining halls, the library and Skydome.

The most severe side effect is dehydration. The illness is most serious for people with compromised immune systems.

Passengers are evacuated by helicopter in rare cases, Grand Canyon spokeswoman Maureen Oltrogge said. And estimated 100 river passengers fell ill with norovirus in August and September last year.

Health officials traced that outbreak to bad lunch meat, Kramer said. In 2002, more than 130 Grand Canyon rafters and hikers became sick with a similar virus, according to news articles from that year.

Emissions from a waste treatment center that served Glen Canyon Dam were the likely cause, a National Park Service health consultant said at the time. And in 1994, the CDC investigated after about 100 rafters fell ill. The Park Service began requiring river runners to call in on a satellite phone if three or more of their passengers developed acute diarrhea or vomiting after other reports of gastrointestinal illness in 2000.

Cyndy Cole can be reached at or at 913-8607.