Hiker Account: Blake Williams 2016
“Well, I've holed up here at the Fontana Dam Lodge for the last two days and now to be third because of Norovirus. It's been brutal and demoralizing. I won't give you gorey details but suffice it say I was chugging along the trail at a good pace and now this. Better to be here than hiking out in the woods I guess, but still... I'm hoping to gain some traction again and not feel so shitty (pun intended). Anyway, I guess I'll take another day to catch up on our politics or rewatch Chappie Gotta stay positive, right? Okay, I'm gonna go drink some water.”
Blake had the pleasure of coming down with norovirus while out on the trail. He had decided to stay put and keep himself hydrated while waiting for the virus to run its course. We can only speculate about how Blake contracted norovirus. It is normally spread through fecal matter which Blake could have contracted from a latrine, failed to wash his hands with soap and water, or picked it up off of a contaminated surface. Norovirus is comically referred to as Spewmageddon due to the symptoms that hikers experience such as vomiting and diarrhea.
Norovirus was first described in 1929 by Dr. J Zahorsky. Dr. Zahorsky was a pediatrician who documented and studied outbreaks of vomiting and diarrhea in his young patients. He concluded that poor hygiene was a major contributor to his patients' illnesses. This is a common issue while hiking on the AT as well. Hikers do not have much access to clean sanitation nor can they control the personal hygiene practices of other hikers.
What is it?
Norovirus is a gastrointestinal illness that infects people who have come into contact with contaminated human or animal feces. Norovirus can be transmitted by consuming contaminated food and water or coming into contact with surfaces or other people who have been contaminated.
What are the symptoms?
Hikers who have contracted norovirus can expect to experience symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea, and stomach pains. These symptoms will come on suddenly and can lead to dehydration.
Can it be treated while on the Appalachian Trail?
There is no treatment for norovirus since it is an illness that runs its course after 36-48 hours. Besides being sick and uncomfortable for a day or two, a hiker can risk dehydration. It is important to keep hydrated and avoid drinking water that has not been disinfected or filtered. Several hikers opted to tough it out and stay on the trail. The risk of dehydration is more severe for hikers who are young, elderly, or sick. Norovirus is not life threatening if a hiker has access to clean water.
Characteristics of Norovirus. Australian Government The Department of Health. 2010. Accessed December 4, 2016. http://www.health.gov.au/internet/publications/publishing.nsf/Content/cda-cdna-norovirus.htm-l~cda-cdna-norovirus.htm-l-2.
History of Norovirus. Norovirus Norwalk Virus & Information. Accessed December 4, 2016. http://www.norovirus.com/history-of-norovirus/.
Sprinkles. “Avoiding “Spewmageddon” How to Evade Norovirus on the AT.” Appalachian Trials. January 27, 2015. Accessed November 23, 2016. http://appalachiantrials.com/norovirus/
U.S. Trends and Outbreaks. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. December 10, 2015. Accessed November 18, 2016. http://www.cdc.gov/norovirus/trends-outbreaks.html.