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Food Safety News

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Cruise Ships Rocked by Stomach Illnesses Last Week

Norovirus suspected

Nearly 400 passengers and crew aboard 2 different cruise ships were throwing up last week — but not from seasickness.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Monday that at least 121 people traveling on Royal Caribbean’s Vision of the Seas and 276 people aboard Princess Cruises’ Ruby Princess fell ill with gastrointestinal symptoms last week.

Illnesses were characterized by diarrhea and vomiting, likely caused by Norovirus, which infects the intestines and most commonly affects people in enclosed spaces such as cruise ships, daycares and nursing homes.

The Vision of the Seas, which was returning from an 11-day voyage to the Caribbean, docked Friday in Port Everglades, Florida. A total of 118 out of the 1,991 passengers were sickened on that trip, as were 3 of the 765 crew members.

Patients were treated for symptoms with over-the-counter medication available on the ship, according to a statement from Royal Caribbean.

Royal Caribbean staff collected stool samples from 5 ill passengers and crew and submitted them to the CDC  for laboratory analysis.

Staff also increased onboard sanitation measures during the outbreak.

“During the sailing, we conduct enhanced cleaning onboard the ship, to help prevent the spread of the illness,” said Royal Caribbean in a statement.

The boat left for its next the same day it arrived, after undergoing sanitization both onboard and at the cruise terminal, according to the company. Embarking passengers were notified of the illnesses that had occurred on the last trip.

The Ruby Princess returned from a 7-day voyage to the Eastern Caribbean Sunday, docking in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. On that vessel, 266 of the 3,129 passengers fell ill, along with 10 of the 1,189 crew members.

“At the first sign of higher-than-expected cases of illness aboard the Ruby Princess, the highest level of sanitation procedures were implemented, and these continued throughout the day before the next group of passengers boarded the ship (Sunday) afternoon,”  said Princess Cruises representative Karen Candy in an emailed statement to Food Safety News. “These pro-active procedures will continue throughout the subsequent cruise as well.”  

CDC reports that staff “attempted collection of stool specimens from passenger and crew gastrointestinal illness cases” onboard the Ruby Princess while people were ill.

The Ruby Princess, which also departed for another voyage the day she arrived, left a bit behind schedule Sunday after she was thoroughly disinfected and sanitized, noted Candy.

Passengers boarding the ship for the next cruise were given a letter notifying them of the outbreak on the previous voyage, according to the CDC.

Both vessels are scheduled to report to CDC’s Vessel Sanitation Program daily on their next voyages.

Last year, CDC documented seven different Norovirus outbreaks on Princess Cruises’ boats. Two of these occurred on the Ruby Princess.

Two Norovirus outbreaks were reported on Royal Caribbean cruises in 2012; one of them was on the Vision of the Seas. 

Cruise ships have been working on improving sanitation methods to protect against Norovirus, which is transmitted via the fecal-oral route and spreads quickly among concentrated groups of people.

Candy described Princess Cruises’ sanitation plan in the event of an outbreak:

– High-touch surfaces like railings, door handles and elevator buttons are thoroughly disinfected.

– Passengers are encouraged to use correct hand-washing procedures. To enhance this, hand sanitizing gels are placed throughout the ship.

– Ill passengers and affected crew should be isolated in cabins until non-contagious.

– Passengers are encouraged to use their own cabin’s bathroom facilities.

– Self-serve buffets are converted to full service.

– Staff make regular announcements and written communications to passengers outlining precautions to take while onboard.

© Food Safety News
  • I took the Ruby Princess last fall and we left late because they were doing a special cleaning of the ship…I wonder if they shouldn’t check the food itself. The buffets are enormous and food is left out for hours, between the preparation and meals. And there are smaller buffets and grilled food that are open all day long in case you didn’t eat enough at mealtime. Everything looks delicious, but maybe they need to rein in the 25 hr. food service and re-evaluate what can be outside and what needs more refrigeration and cooking. We loved the trip and had a ball, but being sick on board is not fun.

  • Amorette

    Hand sanitizing gels are placed throughout the ship, it says.  As I understand it, norovirus laughs at hand sanitizing gels so they just give a false sense of security.

  • Tammy

    We returned last week from the Florida Jax port on a cruise to the Bahamas we were on a Carnaval ship. 2 of our 4 party came down sick second day out with all the symptoms of the Norovirus. We also talked to other guest that was sick as well they had puck bags up in hallway’s, But i have not heard anything about this particular ship being contaminated i’am thinking because they already had 1 ship come back into port that very day with most crew and passengers sick and the other three with engine trouble….And i did take precaution washing my hands all the time using the gel everywhere i went, i have traveled before and i’am very cautiouse when i travel and still have been very sick fro three days home after the trip was over..

  • Olivia Mo

    Well, I’m ALWAYS a paranoid cruiser, and I pack like I’m a member of the CDC…Lysol brand 111. disinfecting wipes, hand washing, won’t touch elevator buttons, door handles…you know all the good stuff, I’m on it. SO, back in Feb , while safe at HOME, I caught noro virus from my husband. HE had mild symptoms compared to the hell on earth I had. I had noro virus about 8 years ago, it was nothing compared to this, this one gave me two hours of retching, a fever of 101 for two days, aching legs, nausea, and the other stuff….I did not eat for 5 days…..

  • Olivia Mo

    By the way, I have two theories, first I think transmission my come through THE HOTELS thousands of people stay in prior to boarding, think about all the surfaces people touch in an room. All it takes is ONE infected person, who may not yet be symptomatic to spread it..
    Second, has anyone looked at common links between people who initially contract noro while cruising? For example, it always starts with one person, or a family, and then it spreads, what if the infected party used let’s say the steam room, what about the hot tub, what about the pool? IF you want a disease to have maximum ability to spread, those places would be ideal venues.

  • katie_43

    Oy Vay! With all the beautiful things to see on dry land….sans way too much food at your “fingertips” ….a cruise is not for me!

  • hco

    It’s the water stations on the 15th floor

  • hco

    OUT of 6 two got sick. Family shared food drinks. At 11 pm last night on board 2 went up for water on Lido 15th floor at 11p.m. or so and got sick several hrs later. It was bacterial, not viral and needed antibiotics. The water tanks upstairs were not cooled, we drank the water not thinking and that wasn’t norovirus

  • Hstone

    I was on the Oceania approx July 5-16. Starting the last 2 days I was unable to eat and vomiting. When I got home I continued to vomit and had diarehea since. How do I find out if anyone else got ill on this scandanavian cruise?