Centers for Disease Control Issues Report Regarding Cruise Ship Illnesses

Over the last year, this blog has discussed on several occasions one of the most prominent problems faced by the cruise industry, onboard outbreaks of gastrointestinal illness. Each year, there are dozens of such outbreaks, including those suffered by Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines’ Grandeur of the Seas in April, in which 111 of 2122 (5.23%) passengers and 6 of 790 (0.76%) crew; Royal Caribbean’s Explorer of the Seas in January, in which  630 of 3,071 (20.5%) passengers and 54 of 1,166 (4.6%) crew; and the Norwegian Gem in November, in which 111 passengers and 3 crew members (4.55% of the total number of people onboard) reported being ill with symptoms of vomiting and/or diarrhea. Our maritime attorneys are monitoring this information closely.

According to a recent publication by the Centers for Disease Control (“CDC”) the leading cause of norovirus, a common cause of gastrointestinal illness, is infected food handlers who work while sick and don’t regularly wash their hands. Despite this finding, and common knowledge that cruise ships are essentially floating restaurants, the report inexplicably concluded that one is far more likely to contract the norovirus in a restaurant than on a cruise ship.

The CDC report estimates that 20 million people get sick from norovirus each year, mostly from coming in close contact with infected individuals or by eating contaminated food. The report concluded that cruise ships account for only one percent of reported norovirus cases, while the other 99 percent of cases occur on land. Although this claim appears, on its face, to favor the cruise ship industry, it is likely misleading.

Assuming that the average cruiser spends one week each year on a ship, then 51 out of 52 weeks a year, or 98 percent of the time, that person is not on a cruise. This means that, each year, the person is much more likely to catch the norovirus while on land because they spend an overwhelming majority of the time there.

With regard to norovirus cases directly related to contaminated food, the CDC identifies ill cooks and waiters as the cause of the problem. The CDC report indicates that restaurant workers account for 70 percent of norovirus cases involving contaminated food, because: One in every five food service workers reports working while sick with vomiting and diarrhea and, food service workers practice proper hand washing only one out of every four times.

The CDC recommends that the best way to curb this problem is “requiring sick food workers to stay home, and considering use of paid sick leave and on-call staffing, to support compliance.” Obviously, this solution will not work on cruise ships where crew members live on the ship in close quarters.

Cruise lines have a duty to provide their passengers with a safe and sanitary environment.  Failing to establish and enforce proper cleaning and hygiene procedures may expose a cruise line to liability for negligence. As this blog has mentioned before, because cruise ship claims are subject to different laws and much shorter statutes of limitations, sometimes as short as one year, they are best handled by experienced cruise ship accident attorneys.

The Florida cruise ship accident lawyers of Gerson & Schwartz, P.A. are licensed to practice law in all of Florida’s state and federal courts and have been representing the victims of cruise ship negligence for over four decades.  If you or someone you know has been injured in a cruise ship accident or has been the victim of a crime while on a cruise ship, contact the maritime attorneys of Gerson & Schwartz, P.A. today.

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