Not for the first time, suspected norovirus has caused an outbreak on a cruise ship. This time, the virus is bringing Princess Cruises’ Crown Princess ship home early from a Caribbean cruise.
Norovirus has plagued the Crown Princess for two consecutive cruises. Cruise ships have become somewhat notorious for these outbreaks and, as we’ve long written, norovirus outbreaks occur frequently in closed populations, like those found on these popular vacation destinations.
According to CNN some 60 crew and 114 passengers reported falling ill on the most recent Crown Princess voyage, said Princess Cruises. The same ship was cleaned for sailing after about 400 people fell ill on the last voyage. This new outbreak has forced the ship to return to port in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, tomorrow, two days earlier than scheduled, to undergo what Princess Cruises described as an extensive two-day cleaning, said CNN.
“We sincerely regret having to cut short our passengers’ cruise vacations because of this highly unusual situation. We will, of course, be refunding their cruise fare, arranging flights home, including covering change fees if air was not booked through Princess, providing hotel accommodation if necessary, and offering a 25% future cruise credit,” the cruise line said, according to CNN.
Another ship, the Ruby Princess, which returned to port as scheduled this weekend, reportedly had over 100 cases of gastrointestinal illness during its sailing run, said CNN.
Now, Princess is collaborating with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Vessel Sanitation Program to fight the suspected norovirus contamination on the Crown Princess. Enhanced cleaning will include, said Princess, a “thorough sanitization of all public spaces and surfaces including soft furnishing and carpets, railings, door handles and the like,” and staterooms will be cleaned multiple times before the next boarding, scheduled for Saturday, said CNN.
As we’ve explained, norovirus are a group of viruses that cause swelling in the linings of both the stomach and intestines, according to the CDC. A highly contagious, severe gastrointestinal illness commonly referred to as the so-called “stomach flu,” norovirus spreads quickly because it transmits easily through the vomit and feces of people sick with the illness. Contact with only a few particles can make a person ill. Norovirus, which can survive for weeks on surfaces at room temperature, can be difficult to eliminate, and can only be killed with chorine bleach. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers and other preparations are not helpful. People are generally considered to be contagious from when they feel ill to about three days after their symptoms subside; however, the virus can still be active in their vomit or stool for two weeks or more.
Last June we wrote that, after being hit with norovirus three times in just one month, Princess Cruises claimed it had a handle on the pathogenic outbreaks that plagued its Alaska cruise ships. Passengers and crew began exhibiting signs of illness in the middle of May with the sail of the Sea Princess. That trip saw 44 illnesses. Another Sea Princess cruise involving a 10-day tour ending May 30, was also affected by norovirus with 142 passengers sickened. That cruise ended last June 9 and, combined with the prior outbreak, resulted in enough illnesses for the CDC to issue an alert. CDC alerts are based on the percentage of people sickened.
A third Princess Cruises ship, the Coral Princess, also an Alaska cruise ship, experienced an outbreak of norovirus the previous May in which 64 passengers were sickened. Prior to that, we wrote that an outbreak took place in January on a Royal Caribbean Radiance of the Seas with hundreds of ill passengers. Just prior, 96 people on the Sapphire Princess fell ill on a Princess Cruise ship. Over 400 passengers on subsequent Celebrity Cruise lines trip were sickened in just one of eight prior such outbreaks in 2010; four took place in one week, said the CDC, which runs a cruise ship sanitation program that was criticized in 2009 for doing a poor job of detecting dirty cruise ship bathrooms. In 2009, there were a total of 15 cruise ship outbreaks of norovirus. And, according to a prior New York Times article, there were more than 60 outbreaks of norovirus on cruise ships since 2005.