Norovirus Outbreaks Reported On Alaska Cruises

It seems as if this year will follow last year in <"">norovirus cruise ship outbreaks. So far, 3 Alaskan cruises have been plagued with norovirus this year, a higher-than-normal incidence, said Mercury News, citing federal health officials.

Most recently, the Sea Princess was hit with twice on cruises ending May 30 and June 9. About 140 people were ill on each ship, which accounts for 6 percent of the passenger compliment and one percent of the crew, said Mercury News.

Captain Jaret Ames of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was part of the evaluation of what Mercury News described as “consecutive outbreaks.” “I was really trying to look at first whether or not something that was an onboard source for the illness, maybe something in the food safety system, the potable water system, the pools and spas and so forth,” he said, quoted Mercury News. Ames found nothing.

The CDC then reviewed onboard practices. “We did have some specific review we did in the areas of housekeeping and actual disinfection of cabins because we felt there were some cabins that repeated as cabins that had ill people in them and we wanted to make sure the disinfection in those cabins was done completely,” Ames said, quoted Mercury News. The Sea Princess was released for its current cruise following a thorough cleaning.

According to Ames, about 15 suspected cases of norovirus were reported on the ship’s current sailing, which is a little more than expected, reported Mercury News. Meanwhile Alaskan cruiser, Celebrity Millennium also suffered a norovirus outbreak on its May 20 sailing that reportedly sickened 113. The Coral Princess was hit with norovirus and E. coli outbreaks prior to the start of its Alaska sailings, noted Mercury News.

Norovirus outbreaks occur frequently in closed populations, such as on cruise ships, and 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 too 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.

We’ve long been writing about the ongoing incidences of norovirus outbreaks on cruise ships, including one 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 a recent 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.

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