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CDC reports cruise ship outbreaks mostly norovirus

The holiday cruise season is steaming toward the New Year having logged less than one foodborne illness outbreak a month thus far in 2017 that met the CDC’s criteria for public posting.

As of Dec. 8, there had been 10 such outbreaks involving nine ships from five cruise lines, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The percentage of passengers sickened on the cruises ranges from 3.3 percent on a Holland America ship to 22.8 percent on a Lindbald Expeditions ship.

Holland America has had the most outbreaks worthy of posting, according to the CDC’s Vessel Sanitation Program (VSP) website. The cruise lines with outbreaks so far this year that meet the criteria for CDC posting, along with the number of passengers sickened, total number of passengers on board and the percentage of passengers sickened are:

  • Celebrity 1 cruise 173 of 3,034 (5.7%)
  • Holland America 5 cruises
  1. 82 of 2,143 (3.832%)
  2. 73 of 2,210 (3.30%)
  3. 167 of 2,086 (8.02%)
  4. 46 of 1,473 (3.12%)
  5. 68 of 1,480 (4.59%)
  • Lindblad Expeditions 1 cruise 13 of 57 (22.81%)
  • Oceana 1 cruise 23 of 639 (3.60%)
  • Princess 2 cruises 157 of 2,016 (7.79%) and 184 of 2,957 (6.22%)

As has been the case since at least 1994, the vast majority of outbreaks on cruise ships for which a cause is determined involve norovirus. For 2017 so far, seven outbreaks were norovirus and one was C. perfringens enterotoxin. The cause was undetermined in two outbreaks.

In 2016 the CDC posted information on 13 foodborne illness outbreaks on cruise ships. The cause was undetermined in one outbreak in 2016. One outbreak was from E. coli, 10 were from norovirus and one involved both norovirus and E. coli.

The CDC only posts cruise ship outbreaks when they meet the following criteria:

  • Fall within the purview of the Vessel Sanitation Program (VSP);
  • Are sailing on voyages from 3-21 days;
  • Are carrying 100 or more passengers,;and
  • Are cruise ships in which 3 percent or more of passengers or crew reported symptoms of diarrheal disease to the ships medical staff during the voyage.

“When sailing from a foreign port to a U.S. port, cruise ships participating in the VSP are required to report the total number of gastrointestinal illness cases –including zero (cases) – evaluated by the (ship’s) medical staff at least 24 hours before the ship arrives at the U.S. port,” according to the CDC.

“VSP also requires cruise ships to send a separate notification when the GI illness count exceeds 2 percent of the total number of passengers or crew onboard.”

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