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Environmental Health

Preventing Norovirus When Camping, RVing, Hiking, or Outdoors

What is Norovirus?

Norovirus is a very contagious virus that causes vomiting and diarrhea. It can easily be spread from infected people to others while on camping and backpacking trips or during outdoor festivals. In these types of settings, handwashing and clean water supplies can be limited, and people may be sharing small spaces. These factors can lead to a quicker spread of norovirus among people. 

Whether you are camping for just a night, attending a multi-day festival, or backpacking across the country, it is important to know how to avoid getting sick from norovirus. 

What To Do Before Your Trip

Check in with each camper in your group to make sure they are feeling well before leaving. 
Early symptoms of norovirus include stomach pain and nausea. Norovirus is very contagious, so it is better to stay home and miss the trip if you are feeling unwell rather than risking it and possibly infecting others with the illness. 

What To Do During Your Trip
  • Wash your hands with soap and water, not just hand sanitizer.
    While hand sanitizer can kill some germs, it does not work well against norovirus. Wash your hands with soap and water thoroughly and frequently for at least 20 seconds and dry with disposable towels. It’s most important to wash your hands: 

    • After using the toilet or changing diapers. 
    • Before eating, preparing, or handling food. 
    • Before giving yourself or someone else medicine. 

If no handwashing stations or bathrooms are available, bring a small bar of soap that can be easily broken down by the environment (biodegradable) and have clean or filtered water available to pour onto your hands.  

  • Do not share food and drinks. Norovirus particles and other germs can spread through the food you eat and liquids you drink. It can also easily spread through inanimate objects such as utensils, cups, and water bottles.
  • Keep bathroom areas away from your food.
    Norovirus is spread when tiny virus particles from feces (poop) or vomit enter someone’s mouth. This usually occurs when people eat, prepare, or touch food that has been infected, or when people eat without washing their hands first. If no bathroom facilities are available, create a toileting and washing area at least 200 feet away from food preparation areas, water sources, and the campsite.
  • Avoid an area if someone vomits. When someone vomits, tiny drops of norovirus can aerosolize and spread into the air up to twenty-five feet away. The virus particles can then contaminate surfaces or food and even enter a person’s mouth if they inhale the tiny droplets. All surfaces in an enclosed area should be cleaned with a ½ cup bleach to 1 gallon of water bleach solution after a person vomits and all open food should be discarded or thoroughly washed if possible.
  • Carry bleach wipes if you are using shared bathrooms.
    While shared community bathrooms are usually maintained by staff, carry bleach wipes to clean common surfaces before touching them, such as toilet seats or doorknobs. It is easy for bathroom areas to collect norovirus particles over time if anyone who is sick uses them. Cleaning and disinfecting surfaces are especially important for areas where different groups visit over a short time period.
  • Prepare and cook your food properly.
    Carefully wash fruits and vegetables with clean water before eating them to clean off any possible norovirus. Always wash your hands before preparing food and try to wear gloves if you are handling food for other people. Don’t prepare food for other people if you have had vomiting or diarrhea in the previous three days.

What To Do if Someone Gets Sick
  • A person who is sick should not make, serve, or touch food for others.
    People who are sick with norovirus or other gastrointestinal viruses can easily spread the illness to others in the group. Avoid preparing food for others for at least three days after your symptoms end.
  • Try to isolate people who are sick from other campers.
    This is the best way to prevent the spread of germs. People who are sick should not use the same toilets or sleeping areas as those who are healthy. Consider carrying extra supplies, if possible, like a hammock, to make separation easier. People sick with norovirus should also avoid swimming and other water activities until at least one week after their symptoms are gone.

For more information about Norovirus, click here.