Mystery as at least 118 Grand Canyon tourists 'are struck down with highly contagious norovirus' in two months: Woman describes calling chopper after finding group violently vomiting

  • Health officials have recorded at least 118 illnesses resembling the contagious norovirus in the Grand Canyon National Park since May
  • The norovirus causes vomiting, diarrhea, body aches and fevers, and is spread through close contact with someone with the virus
  • It is currently unknown how many of the recent cases have been caused by the virus, which is difficult to detect if samples aren't collected in time
  • The debilitating illness can cause chaos out in the park, as one hiker came across a sick party that needed a rescue chopper
  •  Krisiti Key, of Prescott, Arizona, said two of the hikers were violently ill and vomiting, and a third hiker got sick following the rescue

The Grand Canyon National Park has seen more than 110 cases of a gastrointestinal illness closely resembling the highly contagious norovirus since May, health officials said. 

As of June 10, the park listed at least 118 people who have become sick with symptoms similar to those of the norovirus, which causes vomiting, diarrhea, cramping, body aches and a mild fever, the Grand Canyon News reported. 

The Grand Canyon National Park, the National Park Service Office of Public Health, Coconino County Health and Human Services, Arizona Department of Health Services and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are working to identify the cause of the outbreak, which saw cases erupt last month. 

One such case came on May 15, when a hiker trekking the canyon came across two people affected by the illness who were vomiting and stuck with their friends with no water. 

'I came on to two hikers, violently ill, and no water left,' Krisiti Key, of Prescott, Arizona, said in a Facebook video detailing the ordeal to save them with a rescue chopper. 

'So, yeah, I had my Garmin within reach and hit SOS, and we've got the rangers on the way.'  

Krisiti Key, right, said she came across a hiker and his sick friends, who she helped rescue while out in the Grand Canyon National Park on May 15

Krisiti Key, right, said she came across a hiker and his sick friends, who she helped rescue while out in the Grand Canyon National Park on May 15

Key said one of the hikers was violently ill and throwing up. She said a ranger later told her he had the norovirus, as officials record 118 cases resembling the virus since may

Key said one of the hikers was violently ill and throwing up. She said a ranger later told her he had the norovirus, as officials record 118 cases resembling the virus since may

One of the sick hikers was able to get out of the trail by himself while another was airlifted

One of the sick hikers was able to get out of the trail by himself while another was airlifted

Health officials are working to track down the cause of the illness afflicting tourists at the Grand Canyon National Park

Health officials are working to track down the cause of the illness afflicting tourists at the Grand Canyon National Park 

Posted by Kristi Key on Sunday, May 15, 2022

WHAT IS NOROVIRUS? 

Norovirus, the winter vomiting bug, is a stomach bug that causes vomiting and diarrhea.

It usually goes away in about two days.

The main symptoms are nausea, diarrhea and vomiting. Some people also have a high temperature, a headache and aching arms and legs.

Symptoms usually start one or two days after being infected.

People can usually manage their symptoms at home. The NHS recommends drinking lots of fluids and avoiding dehydration.

The virus is spread through close contact with someone with the virus, or eating food that has been prepared by them.

It can also be passed on by touching objects that are contaminated with the virus and then touching your mouth.

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In her Facebook post, Key said she was on a solo hike in the park's Boucher Trail when she came across a group of four hikers and greeted them, noting that one of them seemed worse for wear. 

A regular on the trail, Key warned the hikers that the trek was only going to get harder, and advised them to avoid it after learning that one of them had been throwing up the night before. 

The hikers declined Key's offer to call for help using her Garmin, a radio tool that contacts emergency services, so she continued on her trek.

After completing her hike and returning, Key said she found the group in the same spot, with one of them showing clear signs of illness as they continued to throw up and were nearly out of water. 

Although one of the sick pair hiked out of the trail, Key stayed with the other sick hiker and the rest of the group until a rescue chopper arrived about three hours later.  

'Everyone was safe and rested,' Key wrote, 'But, come to find out, the healthy Hiker was now in his room throwing up! 

'The Rangers actually think it's norovirus that got them sick! Come to also find out, it's rampant right now at the [Grand Canyon] Village, and several rescues happened on the same trail that same week for the exact same thing!' 

Health officials say the 118 infections have spanned 16 different trips in the park and Colorado River backcountry, with the most recent case reported on June 2. 

Jan Balsom, Chief of Communications at the Office of the Superintendent at Grand Canyon National Park, said alerts have been issued about the gastrointestinal illnesses since May 20. 

'We haven't seen something like this kind of outbreak in about 10 years,' Balsom told the Daily Beast

Officials are working to investigate the root of the outbreak, as well as identifying how many norovirus cases are included. 

'It is unknown at this time what the source of the illness is,' the National Park Service Office of Public Health said in a statement. 

Balsom noted there is a limited amount of time during which investigators can collect stool samples to confirm a norovirus infection. 

'[Officials] have been following up with interviews from participants from trips who have gotten sick,' Balsom added . 'They've been testing poop scans to try to determine whether or not it is noro.' 

Key recounted the incident as she waited with the hikers for three hours for the rescue chopper
She said the group was low on water, with one hiker cotninuing to vomit

Key (above) recounted the incident as she waited with the hikers for three hours for the rescue chopper. She said the group was low on water, with one hiker continuing to vomit

The rescue chopper was able to rescue the party, while Key hiked back to the lounge

The rescue chopper was able to rescue the party, while Key hiked back to the lounge

She said one of the healthy hikers (left) had later gotten sick from the same illness

She said one of the healthy hikers (left) had later gotten sick from the same illness 

The virus is primarily spread through close contact with someone with the virus, or eating food that has been prepared by them.

It can also be passed on by touching objects that are contaminated with the virus and then touching your mouth.

The Grand Canyon Hikers' Facebook group has also issued a warning about the outbreak, saying that rivers in the area have been contaminated with the virus. 

Shelby Sundquist, a member of the group, urged hikers to treat their drinking water to avoid contamination after she herself got sick with the norovirus in May. 

'I was lucky: I got sick hours after I hiked out of the canyon. I could not have hiked out or cared for myself if I'd begun vomiting in the canyon,' she wrote. 

'GC's public health officials are tracking the situation. Apparently it's a big one.' 

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At least 118 Grand Canyon tourists have been struck down with highly contagious norovirus since May

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