Reduce your chance of contracting communicable diseases

Maintaining good hygiene is the best defense for reducing your chances of contracting any illness. Following this guidance should not be dismissed. You can keep yourself and others healthy and safe. Gastrointestinal issues are an often preventable cause of wilderness medical emergencies. Do your part by washing your hands.

  • Wash your hands frequently with biodegradable soap at least 200 feet from water sources. When soap is not available, use hand sanitizer that contains 60-95% alcohol. Hand sanitizer is less effective than soap.
  • Avoid sharing food. Do not eat out of the same food bag, share utensils or drink from other hikers’ water bottles.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
  • Cover your mouth when coughing or sneezing. Use the crook of your arm (inner elbow) or use a tissue and dispose of it using Leave No Trace principles.
  • Avoid shaking hands or other close contact — instead, elbow bumps or waving are safer ways to greet others.
  • If you begin feeling sick, stay away from others and get off the trail.

Norovirus is particularly concerning

Norovirus is a very contagious virus. Outbreaks have occurred on long-distance trails around the nation. Illness often begins suddenly and lasts about 1 to 2 days, with stomach pain, nausea, diarrhea and vomiting. Noroviruses are found in the stool or vomit of infected people and on infected surfaces that have been touched by ill people, such as pipe gates or containers of water at a cache.

Please read the norovirus guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

  • Washing your hands with soap and water (at least 200 feet away from water sources) is particularly important. Be aware that alcohol-based hand sanitizer may be ineffective against norovirus.
  • Boil or chemically treat water. Most filters do not remove viruses, but can be used effectively in combination with chemical disinfection against a broad range of pathogens.
  • If you become sick with norovirus: Drink plenty of fluids and wash hands often. Seek medical treatment, especially if you become dehydrated or illness lasts more than a few days. Avoid contaminating common areas and surfaces. Stay home and/or away from others for two days after symptoms stop. If you are on trail, make sure that you are disposing of your waste properly.

Please report the date and location of any cases or outbreaks to the local health department.

(With thanks to our colleagues at the Appalachian Trail Conservancy.)

Photo donated by Justin McCormick.

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