Norovirus Forces Cruise Ship to Stay in Port

We have been following the recent <"">norovirus outbreak that sickened over 400 passengers on a Celebrity Cruise lines trip last month. Of note, this is just one of eight such outbreaks this year alone, said MSNBC, previously. Four of those outbreaks took place in one week, said the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Now, said CNN, the CDC has made a no-sail recommendation for a minimum of four days for that Celebrity Mercury cruise ship while it investigates the ongoing norovirus outbreaks, said a CDC spokesman yesterday, reported CNN. “The CDC and the cruise line corporate staff have not yet determined why the controls that they were following have not been effective,” said CDC spokesman Ricardo Beato.

The CDC, which runs a cruise ship sanitation program, was recently criticized for doing a poor job of detecting dirty cruise ship bathrooms.

Now, the CDC’s Vessel Sanitation Program (VSP), a group that collaborates with the cruise industry to avert and manage these illnesses, boarded the ship yesterday to determine causes for the norovirus outbreak, said CNN. This is the third outbreak on that ship since the middle of February, added CNN. VSP inspected the ship following the first outbreak, in which 20 percent of the passengers fell ill, and made some recommendations to prevent more outbreaks, said CNN. The next sail was postponed for a day for cleaning; however 10 percent of the next passenger load was sickened with norovirus, said CNN. The recent trip saw a 19 percent illness rate, which has shortened the cruise and represents the ninth occurrence of gastrointestinal illness reported to VSP in 2010, explained CNN.

Post and Courier reported that, according to Royal Caribbean Cruise’s—Celebrity’s parent company—spokeswoman, Cynthia Martinez, 342 of 1,829 passengers fell ill on this trip. The previous trip reported 207 sick passengers and 419 on the trip prior to that, said the Post and Courier.

According to CDC spokesman Ricardo Beato, the four-day “no-sail recommendation” is “one of the last resources,” quoted the Post and Courier. “We haven’t determined why the controls that were in place after the first two outbreaks were not effective,” Beato said, reported the Post and Courier. The efforts discussed involved more cleaning and issuing twice-daily illness reports and disinfection plans delivered to the VSP. Beato said the moves are meant, “to really protect both the industry and the passengers from any future illnesses,” according to CNN.

Statewide, said the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control, 62 norovirus or suspected norovirus outbreaks have taken place in South Carolina alone in 2010, said the Post and Courier.

In 2009, there were a total of 15 cruise ship outbreaks of norovirus and experts are unclear why 2010 is seeing such an early rise, said MSNBC. According to a prior New York Times article, there have been more than 60 outbreaks of norovirus on cruise ships since 2005.

In November, we wrote that a norovirus was ruled as the culprit in another outbreak on a cruise ship. 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 too helpful. Norovirus outbreaks occur frequently in closed populations, such as cruise ship passengers.

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