is the leading cause of vomiting and diarrhea in the United States. Humans can acquire AGI from microorganisms in water from protozoan parasites, enteric bacteria, and viruses (human or animal) during outdoor recreational activity, and through consuming water that is potentially polluted by fecal waste. Each year, the CDC
reports that the number of NoV cases in the US are approximately 20 million vomiting and diarrhea illnesses, 900 deaths (mostly in adults 65 years and older), 109,000 hospitalizations, 465,000 emergency department visits, and 2.3 million outpatient visits (mostly children).
Norovirus infection can be acquired at any time of year. Transmission is typically human-to-human, requires only a small inoculum (<100 viral particles), and is spread via several mechanisms. Most common is the fecal-oral route. Spread may also occur through aerosolized droplets containing viral particles (usual during vomiting), direct contact with an infected person or consumption of contaminated food and water.
Signs and Symptoms
The symptoms of NoV infection are nonbloody diarrhea, vomiting (nonbloody, nonbilious), and stomach pain. Severe dehydration, resulting from diarrhea and vomiting, is the most serious complication of NoV illness. Low-grade fever, nausea, and stomach cramping may also be present. Average incubation is 24 to 48 hours and symptoms usually last 12 to 72 hours. Viral shedding in stool is maximal over the first 24 to 48 hours after onset of illness; with a mean duration is four weeks. Immunocompromised hosts may have persistent viral shedding in feces for several months.
Norovirus Diagnosis and Treatment in the Backcountry
A possible NoV infection should be suspected in all patients with AGI symptoms. Confirming the diagnosis with stool testing is impractical (especially in a wilderness setting) and generally not necessary. Fortunately, viral AGI is self-limited and is generally treated with simple supportive measures, most important of which are fluid repletion and nutrition. No specific antiviral or vaccines
(in clinical trials) are currently available and antibiotics are not indicated. Patients without active vomiting or signs of significant volume depletion should be rehydrated with fluids, e.g., water, sport drinks, diluted fruit juices, etc. Fluid repletion can be augmented with saltine crackers and broths or soups. Once vomiting has stopped and appetite returns, patients can be encouraged to eat small meals as tolerated. Restricted diets are generally not necessary, but bland, low-residue foods may be more tolerable. Evidence to support the BRAT diet (Bananas, Rice, Applesauce, and Toast) is lacking, as is proof to support exclusion of milk and dairy products. The value in use of probiotics or zinc in AGI is not well established. Antiemetics (ondansetron) and antimotility medications (loperamide) may be useful for excessive vomiting or excessive fluid loss from diarrhea, respectively.
When to Evacuate Patients
Most individuals with AGI can be managed with supportive care in the outpatient setting, including wilderness. Indications for hospitalization include any individual with signs of severe dehydration; ongoing, intractable vomiting; excessive bloody stool or rectal bleeding; severe abdominal pain; prolonged symptoms (more than one week); AGI in patients 65 years or older with comorbidities (e.g., diabetes mellitus, immunocompromised), and pregnancy. GC backcountry air evacuations may be initiated by communications to GC EMS agencies via satellite phone or digital texting devices such as InReach, cell phones (functional in very limited locations), or in person to the NPS Ranger Station at Phantom Ranch (River Mile 88). The GC Regional Communication Center emergency line is (928) 638-7805.