CDC Says Cruise Ship Norovirus Outbreaks Uncommon, But That May Be Misleading

Yet another cruise ship has been stricken with an outbreak of the norovirus. Don’t be confused—this isn’t a repeat of a previous post. Norovirus outbreaks seem to happen so often on cruises that it often seems like the same news is being reported over and over again.

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What happened now?

This time, guests on a Princess Cruise departing from Australia were affected, in an outbreak bad enough to prompt one guest to call it a “cruise from hell.” About 100 guests have been affected, but it doesn’t appear that the cruise will be terminated early.

Despite the repeated norovirus outbreaks, the CDC has recently issued a report saying that norovirus outbreaks on cruises are actually much less frequent than those on land. The CDC claims that there are 20 million norovirus outbreaks on land, and that there is a 1-in-5 chance of catching it. That’s compared to the 1 in 12,000 chance of catching it as a cruise ship passenger, according to the CDC. Cruise ships work with the CDC in tracking, reporting and monitoring norovirus outbreaks.

Norovirus Outbreaks

Certainly, it’s true that cruise ship outbreaks are less common than those on land. But that statistic is somewhat misleading for two reasons.

First, unlike in day to day life, norovirus can be controlled in a closed environment, with diligent cleaning, and disinfecting, by a diligent cruise ship operator. Thus, when norovirus breaks out on a ship, there is a strong possibility that someone from the cruise line wasn’t doing their job.

Second, norovirus outbreaks on cruises can spread like wildfire due to the closed environment of a cruise ship.  In fact, a recent study demonstrated how easy it was to contaminate food sources by transmitting norovirus from a latex glove. Norovirus is known to thrive in close, crowded spaces.

Third, norovirus may be much more debilitating and incapacitating on a cruise ship. Unlike the comforts of home, with the doctor down the street, and your own bed to lay it, a cruise may have limited medical facilities, the living quarters may not be ideal, and it’s just plainly more difficult to deal with serious stomach illness in a different location than the comforts of your own home.

And of course, unlike on land, norovirus passengers likely paid hundreds or thousands of dollars for their trip, money wasted when illness hits. And there is no legal requirement that your cruise fare be refunded if you’re struck with the virus. In fact, only in the largest of outbreaks which tend to make news (meaning, bad publicity), are passengers refunded after an outbreak.

The cruise lines aren’t ignoring this. Royal Caribbean recently contracted with a company that manufactures a disinfectant that supposedly stops the norovirus from thriving on cruise ships, and will add the sprayers to the 10-30 they currently keep on board each ship. Royal Caribbean has had three norovirus outbreaks just in 2014.

Let Our Attorneys Help You

Were you sick or injured at sea or on a cruise? Talk to the Florida cruise ship accident attorneys at Gerson & Schwartz, P.A. for a free consultation to discuss your rights under maritime laws.

Photo Credit: GMF-Productions via Compfight cc

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