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Norovirus outbreaks on cruise ships not uncommon


It’s cruise season and that means it’s norovirus season for vacationers who opt for trips on the high seas.

The most recently reported outbreak of the highly contagious virus, which often starts as a foodborne situation, was on P&O Cruises ship the Arcadia. People were sick during the voyage which ran from Dec. 29, 2022, through Jan. 3, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The outbreak sickened at least 84 passengers on board the Arcadia, with additional illnesses likely among people who did not seek treatment. Ten members of the crew were sickened in the outbreak. People exposed to the virus late in the voyage could have started exhibiting symptoms after disembarking.

“The gastrointestinal illness cases reported are totals for the entire voyage and do not represent the number of active (symptomatic) gastrointestinal cases at any given port of call or at disembarkation,” according to the CDC.

Norovirus symptoms include severe vomiting and diarrhea that usually begins within 48 hours of exposure to the virus. Symptoms usually last two to three days. Some patients require treatment for dehydration.

In response to the outbreak the cruise line and crew on board the ship took the following action:

  • Increased cleaning and disinfection procedures according to the ship’s outbreak prevention and response plan
  • Collected stool specimens from passenger and/or crew gastrointestinal illness cases
  • Notified embarking guests of the situation onboard and encouraged illness reporting and good hand hygiene.

The CDC’s Vessel Sanitation Program staff is monitoring the ship’s response to the the outbreak and reviewing the sanitation procedures for the current voyage. From 2006 through 2019 — the most recent year for which complete statistics are available — passengers sailed on 252 cruise ships in the Vessel Sanitation Program’s (VSP) jurisdiction. The rate of acute gastro illness on cruise ships decreased during 2006-2019 for passengers and crew.

Cruise ships are particularly susceptible for norovirus outbreaks because of the close quarters for large numbers of people, according to the CDC.

“Norovirus is a very contagious virus. You can get norovirus from an infected person, from contaminated food or water, or by touching contaminated surfaces,” according to the CDC. 

The virus is particularly difficult to eradicate and can live on surfaces — including doorknobs, counters and other frequently touched surfaces — for long periods of time. It can also be transmitted via droplets in the air spread during vomiting.

Learn how passengers can protect themselves with these tips for healthy cruising.

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