Royal Caribbean Cruise Illnesses Caused by Norovirus: CDC

Health officials indicate that nearly 700 passengers and crew members on a recent Royal Caribbean cruise were affected by the largest norovirus outbreak to occur in more than 20 years.

Officials from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) boarded the “Explorer of the Seas” ship at the U.S. Virgin Islands port call several days into the cruise itinerary.

Initial reports of the outbreak suggested that more than 300 Royal Caribbean cruise passengers and crew members were sickened while at sea. However, further investigation by health officials revealed that nearly 700 people were involved in the outbreak during the cruise to the Caribbean, which began January 21.

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A CDC lab officially confirmed the outbreak was caused by norovirus January 31, after extensive testing. However, no singular source or origin has been identified.

The outbreak caused widespread vomiting, diarrhea and nausea among individuals aboard the cruise ship. Officials have been investigating the Royal Caribbean norovirus outbreak for nearly two weeks, and indicate that it is possible a source will not be identified.

After the cruise ship returned to the United States, passengers recounted hundreds of people becoming ill and being forced to visit the infirmary. Other reports indicated that hundreds of people were vomited in buckets and bags in the infirmary and other areas, with many people too sick to leave their rooms.

Those confined to their rooms on the ship received meals delivered directly to their rooms. Other passengers were served meals by crew members wearing gloves and masks at covered buffet areas.

The “Explorer of the Seas” was scheduled for a 10-day cruise to the Caribbean, but it was cut short by several days after the outbreak of the illness surfaced. The ship carried 3,050 passengers and more than 1,000 crew members.

Many passengers were feeling better by the time the ship made it back to port in New Jersey; however many still were not feeling well and required hotel accommodations before they could travel home.

Royal Caribbean offered guests a 50% refund on cruise fares and a 50% future credit for use on a future cruise. Others who were confined to their staterooms were offered a credit of one future cruise day for each day of confinement.

Cruise officials have also said they are also reimbursing airline change fees and accommodations for guests who had to change plans for traveling home.

A Carnival cruise was also stricken with a Norovirus outbreak in 2006, which caused several hundred people to become ill. There have been nearly 200 confirmed cruise ship Norovirus outbreaks over the past 20 years.

Norovirus accounts for more foodborne illnesses than E. Coli and salmonella. Symptoms often last for three to five days and result in cramps, nausea, dehydration, vomiting and diarrhea. It is highly contagious and can be passed from one sick person to another, by contaminated food or water or by touching contaminated surfaces such as doorknobs and railings.

The “Explorer of the Seas” reportedly underwent a complete sanitization process, which took nearly 12 hours to complete. During the process workers used sprayers to produce electrically charged droplets of water to sanitize the ship. It was then quarantined from any human contact for more than 24-hours.

The has ship stayed on schedule for the next cruise, which was scheduled for departure last Friday to the Caribbean.

Photo courtesy of slgckgc via Flickr C.C. by 2.0

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