Sea Princess Cruise Ship Hit with Norovirus Three Times in One Month

After being hit with <"">norovirus three times in just one month, Princess Cruises claims it has a handle on the pathogenic outbreaks that have plagued its Alaska cruise ships. According to Overhead Bin on MSNBC, 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—a 10-day tour ending May 30—was also affected by norovirus with 142 passengers sickened. That cruise ended on June 9 and, combined with the prior outbreak, resulted in enough illnesses for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to issue an alert, said MSNBC’s Overhead Bin. CDC alerts are based on the percentage of people sickened.

The cruise line’s onboard testing and the CDC’s sampling both confirmed norovirus.

A third Princess Cruises ship, the Coral Princess, also an Alaska cruise ship, experienced an outbreak of norovirus. That outbreak, which took place in May, saw 64 passengers sickened, said Overhead Bin.

The Sea Princess was held by Princess Cruises when it docked in San Francisco on June 9 for a “prolonged and intensive sanitization,” quoted Overhead Bin, citing a statement the cruise line released. Captain Jaret Ames of the CDC looked at the multiple 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 Overhead Bin.

Nothing was revealed, which prompted CDC staff to review 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 Overhead Bin.

The CDC released the Sea Princess to start the cruise it is currently on after sanitizing. A week into the trip, “There have been 13 passengers and two crew members with norovirus on this current voyage, which as the CDC says, isn’t considered a hugely escalated number,” Karen Candy, Princess Cruises’ manager of media relations, told, quoted Overhead Bin. The CDC will continue to follow the Sea Princess until it docks in San Francisco on June 19.

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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