More Than 150 Cruise Ship Passengers and Crew Members Fall Ill to Norovirus

More than 150 passengers and crewmembers aboard a Princess Cruise ship fell sick with gastrointestinal illness when a Norovirus outbreak occurred on a round-trip cruise from San Francisco to the Hawaiian Islands.

The 15-day voyage aboard the 951-foot-long Star Princess cruise ship disembarked from San Francisco’s James R. Herman Cruise Terminal at Pier 27 on April 29 with the next scheduled stop in Hawaii.

However, as passengers enjoyed the ship’s four pools, nine whirlpool spas, and numerous restaurants and bars, and as crewmembers went about their tasks, some of the ship’s occupants began to feel ill.

Passengers began reporting to the ship’s medical center with gastrointestinal illness, according to Karen Candy, a spokeswoman for Princess Cruises.

During the voyage, 135 of the 2,588 passengers and 16 of the 1,093 crewmembers reported being ill, according to LaKia R. Bryant, a health communication assistant with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

An onboard laboratory conducted rapid testing and confirmed that Norovirus was the cause of their illness, Candy said.

Stool specimens that were collected and tested onboard are being transferred to the CDC for additional testing, according to Bryant.

Star Princess is the sixth cruise ship so far in 2015 to have a documented Norovirus outbreak prior to arriving at a U.S. port, according to the CDC.

Coral Princess, also operated by Princess Cruises, had a Norovirus outbreak just last month, according to the CDC.

In 2014, the CDC reported eight documented cases of Norovirus outbreaks on cruise ships, down from 16 documented cases aboard cruise ships in 2012.

Seven of the Norovirus outbreaks in 2012 were aboard cruise ships operated by Princess Cruises, according to the CDC.

The virus is extremely contagious and easily transmitted from person-to-person, according to Candy, especially if meticulous attention is not paid to personal hygiene.

Those who fell ill on the Star Princess exhibited symptoms including diarrhea and vomiting, according to the CDC’s website.

Once the Norovirus had been detected, Candy said the ship’s crew stepped up sanitation procedures to interrupt the person-to-person spread of the virus.

Candy said high-touch surfaces such as railings, door handles and elevator buttons were sanitized, passengers were encouraged to wash their hands thoroughly and hand sanitation gels were placed throughout the ship.

Ill passengers were isolated in cabins until deemed non-contagious and passengers were encouraged by the ship’s crew to use their own cabin’s bathroom facilities, Candy said.

According to the CDC, Norovirus is the leading cause of disease outbreaks from contaminated food in the United States.

The virus causes the infected person’s stomach or intestines, or both, to become inflamed, known as acute gastroenteritis. Along with vomiting and diarrhea, the infected person also experiences stomach pain and nausea, according to the CDC.

Candy said no one disembarked the cruise ship due to illness and that upon the ship’s return to San Francisco’s James R. Herman Cruise Terminal on Thursday, passengers disembarked and a thorough cleaning of the vessel was conducted.

According to Candy, Princess Cruises was in regular communication with the CDC regarding their efforts and that due to response procedures developed in conjunction with the CDC, “new case presentations trended downward and we did not have any ill guests by the end of the cruise that returned to San Francisco.”

Bryant said that when the ship docked in San Francisco, two CDC Vessel Sanitation Program environmental health officers, as well as two epidemiologists, boarded the ship.

They conducted an environmental health assessment and evaluated the outbreak and the crew’s response activities.

Candy said embarkation for the next cruise was delayed in order to conduct the cleaning, but that Star Princess departed Thursday evening on a two-day cruise to Vancouver before spending the summer season conducting seven-day cruises between Alaska and Vancouver.

Hannah Albarazi, Bay City News

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