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Jul 24

Mystery Flu' Likely From River

The Arizona Republic | November 1, 2002,br /> by Mary Jo Pitzl, The Arizona Republic

A virus that caused at least 130 cases of stomach flu among Colorado River rafters over the summer may have come from the river, national parks officials said this week. Possible sources of the Norwalk-like virus are a sewage-treatment plant at Glen Canyon Dam and the waters around Lees Ferry, the popular starting point for river expeditions, said Chuck Higgins, a regional public health consultant for the National Park Service who led a health investigation into the "mystery flu."

The preliminary findings don't mean the river through the Grand Canyon is unsafe, but it does warrant caution.

"The lesson here is it's an open body of water," Higgins said. "It can become contaminated."

Parks officials will step up educational efforts about hygiene habits, said Maureen Oltrogge, spokeswoman for Grand Canyon National Park.

The park recorded at least 130 cases through mid-September of travelers who became sick to their stomach. There were 59 cases in the first two weeks of June.

The virus has flulike symptoms that include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and stomach cramping, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Higgins said the investigation suggested that the flu could have come from travelers carrying the virus when they arrived for their river trips. However, that's less likely because trips that relied heavily on river water for drinking were five times more likely to have rafters develop the flu than those who brought their water, he said.

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