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More than 200 Passengers Sickened from Norovirus on Cruise Ship

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Back in April, two cruises full of vacationers were making their way to San Diego when it was discovered that hundreds of passengers were suffering from norovirus. While it’s not rare for the flu or food poisoning to break out on a cruise ship—with so many people in close quarters, it’s bound to happen—this was something much different. To make matters worse, one of the ships docked in San Diego, was inspected and cleaned before picking up another group of passengers and taking them to Florida, bringing remnants of the virus with it.

A Tale of Two Ships

Both ships involved in the initial outbreak are owned by Royal Caribbean Cruises.  On the Celebrity Infinity, the CDC reported that 112 passengers were infected. The Royal Caribbean Legend of the Seas has 114.

Fortunately, those big numbers actually equal a small percentage of the total passengers aboard each chip. For the Celebrity Infinity, it was only about 5%. On the Legend of the Seas, that number was more like 6.5%. In total, there were just eight members of the crew sick from both boats.

Norovirus

Norovirus’ symptoms include diarrhea and vomiting. It’s the number one cause for viral gastroenteritis and travels through contaminated food and water, as well as via contact from one infected person to another. Even contaminated surfaces can potentially hand off the virus to an otherwise healthy person.

According to the CDC, the virus is extremely contagious, especially when thousands of people are confined to just one vessel.  The acute gastroenteritis it causes leads to inflammation of the stomach and/or intestines. This is what causes the nausea, stomach pain, diarrhea and vomiting. Every year, the sickness will be responsible for roughly 20 million people becoming sick with gastroenteritis. Somewhere between 56,000 and 71,000 of those people will end up in the hospital. Furthermore, approximately 700 will eventually die from the infection.

While anyone can be infected by norovirus, it’s especially dangerous for the elderly and children.

Royal Caribbean Responds

There’s no word yet on what caused the breakout. However, the CDC actually mentions cruise ships on their website as a prime location for norovirus to spread quickly. Last year, a cruise ship departing from New York Harbor suffered an outbreak that eventually struck 500.

For their part, Royal Caribbean announced that they were taking their directions straight from the CDC in an attempt to best address the sickness, inhibit it from spreading and preventing another disaster from occurring.

Other precautions they mentioned taking included:

  • Increasing procedures for proper cleaning and disinfection
  • Announcing news of the outbreak to passengers and staff onboard
  • Support case reporting
  • Encourage better hand hygiene

Whether or not these efforts will have an effect is yet to be seen. As we mentioned earlier, this is at least the third major outbreak in under a year involving norovirus and a cruise ship.

It’s not necessarily looking good though.  Before the Legend of the Seas was cleared to leave port in San Diego, it had to be submitted to inspection by the CDC. The results were not encouraging. Inspectors discovered that lounge chairs located around the pool had eight times more than the average amount of bacteria present. Worse still, a spoon that was being used in the buffet line had 20 times the average.

While norovirus is normally not lethal, it’s obviously not a sickness you want to come down with, especially when you’re on vacation. Unfortunately, one of the most popular destinations for getting away is also one of the best places for this virus to stay. Hopefully steps can be taken to limit exposure in the future.

Sources:

http://www.cdc.gov/norovirus/