Written by By Christopher Minaya, for CNN
Skiers should be on alert to a new virus this ski season, with two of the largest US ski areas already reporting cases of wintry illnesses. Experts are warning skiers and snowboarders to be prepared for a widespread illness and possible illness.
Sharon Bloom, associate director of public health and counsel for the California Ski Industry Association, says the virus was already on skiers’ radar last season, with reports of cases coming in from other states.
“We don’t think it’s going to be any worse than last year, where it was the presence of the viruses leading people to be out more,” she said. “There hasn’t been a whole lot of false reporting, it’s just been there. It seems like people are more familiar with it.”
Bloom adds that the virus typically manifests as both upper respiratory infections and flu-like symptoms — including chills, fever, cough and sneezing.
There have been cases of the virus in several US states this season, with the first reported cases reported in Colorado on August 23. Snowbowl and Brighton, in central Colorado, both reported cases of winter vomiting illness earlier this week.
The Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment warned people to “be cautious around snow,” and “avoid contact with large, fresh deposits of snow as they may be carrying these viruses.”
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Zoltan Csanyi, an infectious disease expert and doctor at the University of Colorado Denver School of Medicine, says the virus gets its name from its propensity to travel from person to person and from ski slope to mountain resort.
“Once you get the virus in your gut, it can stay there for a long time,” he says. “The virus remains dormant until it comes into contact with the water it can survive in, like a pool, lake or a hot tub.”
Illnesses can also be linked to the fact that the virus is generally weak.
“The virus can be very similar to the norovirus, which is the one that causes the stomach flu and vomiting,” Csanyi says. “It is rare to contract the winter vomiting virus unless you are relatively young and extremely healthy, but can be very serious in kids, who are still developing their immune systems.”
As winter approaches, we might see more cases of the virus, Csanyi says. It is possible that we’ll see these cases spread across the country, as skiers and snowboarders become more aware of the problem.
“It’s not very far away geographically, from a Canadian airport to a small ski hill in Colorado,” he says. “In the natural cycle of humans, we get our virus exposure in mid-November and our immunity starts to break down by the end of December.”
But he warns that symptoms of the winter vomiting virus usually clear up by the middle of March. And with less snow cover, there is also less snow for snowmobilers, mountain bikers and skiers to brush off in the form of slush.
“When things have less snow on the ground, the viruses in that snow are less able to survive, so you can get further from the snow base to the reservoir where the virus can be detected,” he says.
It is possible that this particular virus will become increasingly frequent, Csanyi adds.
“This is a reminder that with the amount of snow we have, some of it is potentially seasonable and some of it is not,” he says. “We don’t have much snowcover, that’s why a little bit of sun and that increasing temperature is working against us.”