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Jul 24

Virus Erupts at Old Faithful

Los Angeles Times (CA) | July 13, 2004
by Ashley PowersFeatures Desk

Typically linked with the confined quarters of cruise ships or hotels, the norovirus may have vacationed in Yellowstone National Park last month. At least 132 park employees and guests reported symptoms consistent with the stomach bug from late May through July 4, park officials say.

The illness, they say, probably spread from contact among contaminated people and objects, similar to when one child's cold infests an entire classroom. Most reports came from the popular Old Faithful and Lake areas, which house two of Yellowstone's three clinics.

The outbreak's source is unclear, says Park Service spokesman Al Nash, but food or water is unlikely because the infection would have struck more of the 585,000 people who visited the park during those weeks.

Seventy-one concession employees, 53 visitors and eight park employees became sick, most in a two-week period. The actual number is probably larger, says Charles Higgins, Park Service public health director, because the virus often isn't dire enough for a doctor visit.

The norovirus, or Norwalk virus, is a gut punch: The illness triggers short-term cramps, nausea and vomiting, though not fever. It infects at least 23 million people a year.

Copyright © 2004 Los Angeles Times