Preventing Norovirus When Camping, Hiking, or Outdoors
Norovirus is a very contagious virus that causes vomiting and diarrhea. Anyone can get infected and sick with norovirus.
It is easy to spread norovirus from infected people to others on camping and river rafting trips. In these settings, handwashing and clean water supplies can be limited, and people may be sharing small spaces. These factors can lead to quicker spread of norovirus among people on the trip.
Whether you are camping for just a night or backpacking across the country, it is important to know how to avoid getting sick from norovirus.
Before the Trip
- Check in with each camper in your group to make sure they are feeling well before leaving.
Early symptoms of norovirus include stomach pain and nausea. Norovirus is very contagious, so it is better to stay home and miss the trip if you are feeling unwell than to risk infecting everyone else with the illness. For larger group trips, consider using a symptom screening form to check for illness among campers.
During the Trip
- Wash your hands with soap and water, not just hand sanitizer.
While hand sanitizer can kill some germs, it does not work well against norovirus. Wash your hands with soap and water thoroughly and frequently for at least 20 seconds. It’s most important to wash your hands:
- After using the toilet or changing diapers.
- Before eating, preparing, or handling food.
- Before giving yourself or someone else medicine.
If no handwashing stations or bathrooms are available, bring a small bar of soap that can be easily broken down by the environment (biodegradable) and have clean water available to pour onto your hands. Do this at least 200 feet away from water sources.
- Drink and cook with only clean water. Norovirus particles and other germs can spread through the water you drink and use for cooking. Most portable water filters do not remove viruses like norovirus. Boiling water is the most reliable way to kill germs. Visit Water Treatment Options When Hiking, Camping or Traveling to learn more about water treatment options, or see visual water treatment guide.
- Keep bathroom areas away from your food.
Norovirus is spread when virus particles from feces (poop) or vomit enter someone’s mouth. This usually occurs when people eat, prepare, or touch food that has been infected, or when people eat without washing their hands first. If no bathroom facilities are available, create a toileting and washing area at least 200 feet away from food preparation areas, water sources, and the campsite. Dispose of human poop by burying it at least 8 inches deep and downstream from where people collect water.
- Consider carrying bleach wipes if you are using shared bathrooms.
While shared community bathrooms are usually maintained by staff, consider carrying bleach wipes to clean common surfaces before touching them, such as toilet seats or doorknobs. It is easy for bathroom areas to collect norovirus particles over time if anyone sick uses them. Cleaning and disinfecting surfaces are especially important for areas where different groups visit over a shorter time period.
- Prepare and cook your food properly.
Carefully wash fruits and vegetables with clean water (treated or provided at campsite) before eating them to clean off any norovirus.
What to Do If Anyone Gets Sick
- A person who is sick should not make, serve, or touch food for others.
People who are sick with norovirus can easily spread illness to others in the group. Avoid preparing food for others for at least two days after your symptoms end.
- Try to isolate people who are sick from other campers.
This is the best way to prevent the spread of germs. People who are sick should not use the same toilets or sleeping areas as those who are healthy. Consider carrying extra supplies if possible, like a hammock, to make separation easier. People sick with norovirus should also avoid swimming and other water activities until at least 1 week after their symptoms are gone.
To learn more about why these prevention measures are important, check out how 200 backpackers and river rafters got sick with norovirus at the Grand Canyon in 2022: Outbreak of Acute Gastroenteritis Among Rafters and Backpackers in the Backcountry of Grand Canyon National Park, April–June 2022 | MMWR (cdc.gov)