Nothing is more rewarding in the American experience than escaping into the vastness of our nation’s wilderness, taking the time to breathe deep breaths of crisp woodland air and bathe in the azure pools of glacial water that pepper the West. That is, unless doing any of those things makes you come down with a nasty gastrointestinal bug – then you’d probably wish you’d have stayed within close proximity to a toilet.
Unfortunately, this is exactly what has happened to over 200 employees and visitors at Yellowstone National Park. The outbreak of norovirus (also known as the common stomach flu) started on June 7, when a group touring the Mammoth Hot Springs complained of stomach pain and presumably made a mess of their hiking shorts. Not long after the group reported their tummy aches, around 50 other visitors and upwards of 150 park employees came down with similar symptoms.
While this sounds terrible and downright icky (think about taking a nature potty when you have the stomach flu), it could be a lot worse. In fact, it already has been:
The norovirus outbreak is just the latest one to hit the national parks. Last year, Yosemite National Park experienced an outbreak of the deadly hantavirus.Infection with hantavirus, often contracted through contact with contaminated mouse feces or urine, can lead to hantavirus pulmonary syndrome, which can be fatal, according to the CDC.
During last summer’s outbreak, eight people were sickened and three died. To stop the spread of disease the National Park Service tore down the buildings where the outbreak was centered and are currently trapping and testing mice for the hantavirus.
If you’re heading to Yellowstone and worried you’ll wind up exploding from both ends the entire time, try not to fret. Any major disease outbreaks in national parks (since they’re apparently a “thing” now) are listed on their websites, and many sporting goods stores sell special camping soap to help you combat any rogue germs.
Also remember that you could be dying from rat poop instead of pooping your pants. It’s all about perspective.