I recently attended a meeting hosted by John
Collins from the regional nps/phs office. This meeting was attended by
Park Service staff as well as representatives from the various groups
of river users. The main agenda of this meeting was to discuss last summer's
illnesses on the river and what we can do to help prevent future illness.
In the last several months this situation has been discussed with other
phs officers and people from Center for Disease Control (cdc). It has
been postulated that these illnesses were probably caused by a Norwalk
type virus. Because of inadequate reporting procedures and subsequent
ineffective response to the illnesses that occurred last summer, we do
not have any laboratory sample analysis. Therefore, we can not be absolutely
sure what really caused these illnesses.
This brought up several problems with the present procedures regarding
the handling of illness on the river and the reporting of these illnesses.
I have been appointed as the new nps Illness Reporting Coordinator. It
will be my job to work out the problems we have had in the past regarding
illness reporting. I have overhauled the reporting form that was developed
by the State of Arizona after the 1994 group of illnesses. I have also
developed a set of instructions to be included with the form. In that
way everyone will know how, when, and to whom an illness report is to
be made. I will be distributing the new form and instruction sheet to
all river users before the start of the main 2001 river season.
Since the most likely source of last summer's illness was the river
water, proper treatment of river water for consumption was discussed at
length at this meeting. Bacteria and protozoa are generally two microns
or larger and are easily filtered out by the filters commonly used on
the river. Viruses, on the other hand, are in the range of 0.025 to 0.25
microns in size. Since the vast majority of them are not filtered out,
treatment with chlorine or iodine is essential to making river
water safe to drink. Both steps are essential,
since some protozoa are easily filtered but are not affected by chlorine
while viruses are not filtered out but are easily deactivated by chlorine.
Even though harmful viruses may not always be present in the river system,
they are present often enough to warrant absolute adherence to a filtration
plus disinfection protocol for treating river water. Proper hand washing
has also been discussed. Hand washing is a very essential procedure to
help prevent initial illness or the spread of illness on river trips.
The use of the alcohol based hand sanitizers is being encouraged whenever
there is not a hand wash station set up. It takes about 30 minutes for
a sanitizer to effectively treat river water. Therefore, at lunch stops,
it is recommended that people use soap and river water to prewash hands
followed by the use of the alcohol hand sanitizer. This is also recommended
for food handlers at camp when hand washing is needed before the 30 minute
set up time for a hand wash station. We would also encourage to have the
hand sanitizer available at hiking or “pit” stops to be used
As mentioned earlier, I should have the illness form and instruction sheet
out by the first part of February. I will also be working on some instructional
materials on water treatment, hand washing and food safety. Hopefully
these will be out very soon as well. I will be attending the spring gts
meeting and will be meeting with the outfitters before the season gets
People becoming ill on the river is a very serious situation. Not only
is it a potentially life threatening problem, but it also seriously affects
the whole river experience for everyone involved. Hopefully, with education
and cooperation, we can cut down on the prevalence of illnesses on the
river. I hope all of you have a very happy and safe year. I look forward
to meeting as many of you as possible either on the river or wherever.