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2 Florida cruise ships riddled with norovirus. Anyone surprised?

February 4, 2012 |  5:45 pm

Norwalk virus
Noroviruses like cruise ships. Current and recent passengers on two Princess Cruise Lines ships can now attest to this personally.

More than 200 people on the Ruby Princess and the Crown Princess, both bound for South Florida, were reporting gastrointestinal illnesses, company officials told Associated Press on Saturday. Those officials blamed a norovirus.

Noroviruses are no cause for hysteria, but they’re far from pleasant, causing vomiting, diarrhea and stomach cramps. They can also cause a low fever, headaches and muscle aches, but for folks cooped up in tiny cabins, aches are the least of their troubles.

The outbreaks are hardly the first for the cruise ship industry. And the passengers can’t say the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention didn’t try to warn them. 

“Facts About Noroviruses on Cruise Ships” lays it out: “Noroviruses are found in the stool or vomit of infected people and on infected surfaces that have been touched by ill people. Outbreaks occur more often where there are more people in a small area, such as nursing homes, restaurants, catered events, and cruise ships.”

But cruise ships. Why is it always cruise ships that make the news? The CDC explains that, for starters,  illnesses on cruise ships are actually tracked, allowing outbreaks to be identified and reported more quickly than they might be on land. As for the risk of illness, all that coming and going of passengers can increase exposure to others. And then, yes, there's the whole close-quarters factor.

The CDC even offers a “vessel sanitation program” to help the cruise ship industry prevent and control such illnesses.

Meanwhile, passengers waiting to embark on their own journey on the two ships were delayed by a few hours. Company officials apparently had some disinfecting to do.


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Photo: An electron micrograph of a norovirus, previously known as Norwalk-like virus. Credit: Public Health Image Library