How to Avoid the Thru Hiker Plague

We are in the midst of a record breaking hiker season! It’s not even the end of March and we at Mountain Crossings have surely seen somewhere between 800 and 900 thru hikers, though keeping a tally is impossible. Despite our feelings about the wide openness of the wilderness surrounding the Appalachian Trail, thru hikers live in incredibly close quarters to one another. They are also the least likely they have ever been to properly take care of their hygienic needs because of the lack of available resources. These two factors can cause the perfect breeding ground for what has been dubbed The Thru Hiker Plague, aka, Norovirus.

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What is Norovirus?

Noro, as most people call it, is a highly contagious stomach bug that inflames the intestines and results in nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.

How do you get Norovirus?

Noro is spread very easily from one person to another. Touching infected surfaces (such as a privy), eating food or water that has been contaminated (such as shared food between hikers), and contact with infected individuals (like a hand shake) or their infected personal items (such as their gear) are all ways to contract Noro.

How do you prevent Norovirus?

When your typical bathroom is nothing more than a mouldering privy, it is difficult to stay clean. Most hikers simply use anti-bacterial gel after using the toilet. THIS WILL NOT KILL NOROVIRUS! The only way to truly kill Noro is to use soap and water to wash your hands. You should wash before eating and after using the toilet. Avoid hikers who you are have Noro or have recently had Noro, as they are still contagious up until two days after having felt better. Also avoid sleeping in shelters, touching largely communal items such as the log book at a shelter and avoid using the privies. If you have or had recently had the Norovirus, try to stay away from large groups of hikers whenever possible to help cut down on the spread of the virus.

What do you do if you get Norovirus?

If you contract Noro, you will quickly dissipate from the strong hiker you were into a weakened ball of vomit and diarrhea. It is a fast coming sickness that lasts for 24 to 48 hours but leaves you depleted of your body’s nutrients and very fatigued for several days afterwards. If you are on trail when the sickness hits you, make every effort to get to a road and get to a motel or another safe place. Be conscientious of the fact that you are very contagious. Let any one who may help you out know that you are sick and try a hard as possible to not pass the sickness along. Avoid hiker hostels and other places hikers gather frequently in an effort to lessen the spread of Noro. If you are unable to make it off of the trail, set up camp somewhere where you can stay far away from people and yet reach help if needed, (such as the far outreaches of a shelter), though far away from a reliable water resource and other hikers. Be sure to drink as much water as possible to resupply the fluid lost in a bout of Norovirus. Be conscientious of where you are being sick. Keep it far away from communal areas, water resources and the trail itself.  As soon as possible, wash as many personal items as you can and for several days after feeling better, be mindful that you are still contagious.

IF YOU OR SOMEONE YOU KNOW GETS THE NOROVIRUS, CONTACT THE ATC AND REPORT THE INCIDENT BY EMAIL stomachbug@appalachiantrail.org!!

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One thought on “How to Avoid the Thru Hiker Plague

  1. Pingback: Thru Hiker Communication at it’s Best | Mountain Crossings at Neel Gap

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