Well, it’s happened again. Although we seem to be told repeatedly by the cruise industry that norovirus outbreaks are sporadic and preventative measures are improving, in seems that once again, a cruise ship and its passengers have fallen victim to an outbreak.
Princess Cruise Suffers Large Virus Outbreak
This time it was a Princess Cruise line that experienced the outbreak. The cruise, leaving from Los Angeles, to Hawaii and then Tahiti, suffered an outbreak that affected 172 people on board. Most of the affected were passengers, but 14 crewmembers were sickened as well. The CDC, which conducted an immediate testing of the vessel, confirmed the outbreak was indeed norovirus.
Per CDC guidelines, the ship and the terminal will be scrubbed to try to eliminate any future problems.
This comes on the heels of an April outbreak on Princess Cruises, which sickened 152 people. That time, the culprit was both norovirus and E. Coli. And a February outbreak on a Holland America cruise line sickened 124 people.
How Disease Free Are the Cruise Lines?
Earlier this year, a CNN report said that cruise ships were “ripe for spreading illness.” In 2013, the CDC reported 1,300 people as being affected by the virus on cruises (although not all were from U.S. ports).
The cruise industry likes to remind everyone that the outbreak rate is not very large, considering about 10 million people go on cruise ships yearly. And, according to the CDC, norovirus affects about 21 million people on land, thus dwarfing the outbreak number on cruise ships.
The CDC does conduct random unannounced inspections of ships, to check for sanitary conditions and to ensure that proper preventative measures are being taken by ships. And some ships which had norovirus outbreaks scored as high as 98 out of 100 on previous inspections. The CDC and the cruise industry points to this as evidence that not every ship affected by the virus is unclean or unsanitary.
The CDC emphasizes that when there is an outbreak, measures can be taken to quell the spreading of the disease. This includes hand washing, isolation of the ill, and avoiding direct contact with public surfaces such as bathroom door handles. But obviously, this is much easier said than done, and in many cases, the measures may not be implemented until the virus has already spread.
It may be that the virus is just an expected risk of cruising, as there is no indication that ships with outbreaks are doing anything they shouldn’t, or failing to do anything they should. Still, it’s curious when one cruise line, such as Princess, experiences two major outbreaks in such a short period of time.
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