A contagious virus is infecting people at California evacuation shelters amid the state’s most destructive wildfire in history

A contagious virus is infecting people at California evacuation shelters amid the state’s most destructive wildfire in history

A contagious gastrointestinal illness has sickened at least 145 people at evacuation shelters serving people fleeing the Camp Fire in Northern California.

The Butte County Public Health Department is working with the Red Cross and state and federal agencies to slow the spread of norovirus, a highly-contagious illness that can cause diarrhea and vomiting. As of Wednesday evening, 41 were experiencing symptoms, and 25 people had been hospitalized, the Butte County Public Health Department said in a release on Thursday.

Norovirus is the “leading cause of illness and outbreaks from contaminated food in the United States,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and outbreaks are common in schools, restaurants, cruise ships, and other places where people are in close quarters. It is spread through direct contact with an infected person, contaminated food or water, and by touching a surface contaminated by the virus, not washing your hands, and then touching your mouth.

There is no vaccine for the virus, which usually lasts between one and three days and causes nausea, stomach cramping, vomiting and/or diarrhea. Treatment includes staying hydrated, due to the fluid-loss that occurs as a result of vomiting and diarrhea.

Officials are taking precautions at the shelters, which include creating separate areas, hand-washing spaces, and bathrooms for sick evacuees. Additional medical support and education are also being offered, in addition to cleanings with materials known to be effective against the virus.

“This virus can spread quickly through the community,” Butte County Public Health Officer Andy Miller, MD, said in a statement. “Norovirus had begun to spread in our community even prior to the fires.”

The Camp Fire has burned at least 146,000 acres and was 50% contained as of late Friday night.

It has raged across Northern California in Butte County, in an area east of the city of Chico, where many of the shelters are located. The fire all but decimated the town of Paradise, and it claimed the lives of at least 71 people. More than 1,000 people are listed as missing by the Butte County Sheriff’s Office.

Local law-enforcement officials told The New York Times those numbers were “dynamic,” and could change. Some 50,000 people have evacuated to more than 1,300 shelters, CBS News reported on Wednesday.

As of Wednesday evening, these specific shelters were impacted by the norovirus:

  • 21 people out of a total of 179 evacuees were experiencing symptoms at the Neighborhood Church shelter.
  • 10 were experiencing the illness out of 352 at the Oroville Nazarene Church shelter.
  • Out of 142 people at the Butte County Fairgrounds shelter, nine were experiencing symptoms.
  • And one person out of 200 people at the East Avenue Church was experiencing the illness.
  • Both evacuees and volunteers alike have been sickened, and “the number of sick people is increasing every day,” the Butte County Public Health Department said.

BuzzFeed News spoke to some evacuees who are avoiding shelters and sleeping in cars and tents to avoid the illness.

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