Vomiting bug strikes down thru-hikers on Appalachian Trail

Man hiking with poles feeling sick
(Image credit: Getty)

The National Park Service (NPS) has issued a warning to hikers after a suspected outbreak of norovirus among thu-hikers on the Appalachian Trail.

On March 21, the NPS Office of Public Health published a Gastrointestinal Illness Alert, explaining that hikers in Tennessee and Georgia had been struck down by symptoms including nausea, stomach pain and cramps, vomiting, and diarrhea. 

For regular hikers, it might sound very familiar. In 2022, dozens of hikers on the Pacific Crest Trail began to feel unwell with similar symptoms, which were identified as an outbreak of norovirus. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention launched an investigation, and in 2023 published their unsavory findings.

Communicable disease expert Arran Hamlet surveyed hikers along a 70km stretch of trail, and identified one particular rest stop as a potential source of the problem: a simple cabin with a pit latrine and stream for drinking water. 

Hamlet and his team swabbed the toilet and every surface in the cabin, and tested the stream water. The water was clean, but every swab from the cabin tested positive for human fecal contamination. 

Avoid norovirus on the trail

The NPS is currently working with parks, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, and other organizations to pin down the source of the latest outbreak. In the meantime, hikers are warned to stay away from others when sick, and limiting contact and avoiding cooking for people if they have been ill within the last 72 hours.

You should wash your hands regularly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Hand sanitizer alone doesn't work well against norovirus, and should only be used together with proper handwashing.

Human waste should be disposed of properly (ideally packed out in a WAG bag), and water should be both filtered and disinfected before drinking. For more advice, see the CDC's official guidance on norovirus

Cat Ellis

Cat is Homes Editor at TechRadar and former editor of Advnture. She's been a journalist for 15 years, and cut her teeth on magazines before moving online. She helps readers choose the right tech for their home, get the best deals, and do more with their new devices.