Going Backpacking? Beware of Norovirus


Now that we’re into the new year, many people are in full swing, preparing for their upcoming hiking season. For many, that season begins as early as March and extends well into October. And with record numbers of people hitting the trails, year after year, so is the incidence of contagious illnesses.

Most people are familiar with the typical Giardia and Cryptosporidium found in contaminated water. After all, it’s why purifying your water is so important and near the top of everyone’s list. But what is lesser known, yet just as bad, if not worse, is Norovirus.

Norovirus is a “HIGHLY” contagious gastrointestinal virus which is brought on by poor hygiene and often times thought to be a stomach flu, or food poisoning, because of it’s fast acting nature with signs and symptoms—Stomach pain, vomiting, diarrhea —coming on from 12 to 24 hours after contact. Last year, AT hikers seemed to experience record cases of people with Norovirus infections.

Norovirus is found in feces and vomit and transmitted when you come in contact with surfaces and people who carry the virus and

According to the CDC:


You are most contagious

  • when you are sick with norovirus illness and
  • during the first few days after you recover from norovirus illness.

You can become infected with norovirus by accidentally getting stool or vomit from infected people in your mouth. This usually happens by

  • eating food or drinking liquids that are contaminated with norovirus,
  • touching surfaces or objects contaminated with norovirus then putting your fingers in your mouth, or
  • having contact with someone who is infected with norovirus (for example, caring for or sharing food or eating utensils with someone with norovirus illness).

Norovirus can spread quickly in closed places like daycare centers, nursing homes, schools, and cruise ships. Most norovirus outbreaks happen from November to April in the United States.


Norovirus is hearty and has been shown to last on surfaces for months at a time

While there is not much one can do to completely be safe from it, there are quite a bit of things that can be done to help mitigate exposure while out on the trail, considering the trail is rife with people practicing poor hygiene

  • Wash hands thoroughly with soap and water after a bowel movement
  • Only use hand sanitizers which have Benzalkonium Chloride (Clorox hand sanitizer is one)
  • Do not shake anyone’s hand. Consider a fist bump as a hand shake.
  • Do not let anyone prepare your food
  • Do not share utensils or cookware with others, that also means no dipping your cutlery into each others containers for food sampling
  • Do not let people dive into your bag of snacks nor you in theirs. Instead, pour out the contents onto a receiving hand.
  • Consider all surfaces suspect to contamination (clothes, door handles, packs, flashlights, containers, stores, benches, hostiles, vehicles, people, tools, etc)

While one can’t completely eliminate exposure to the virus, lest one be a lone recluse, do try and limit physical contact with anything touched by others. Unfortunately, this is easier said than done. I mean after all, who doesn’t want to bite into a delicious burger and fries after a few days of hiking? Awareness is key.

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