Three hundred passengers and crew members have fallen ill aboard a Royal Caribbean cruise ship that departed Tuesday from New Jersey. Halfway through the 10-day cruise, people aboard the ship started becoming sick, suffering from vomiting and diarrhea, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The Explorer of the Seas cruise was heading toward St. Maarten, a Caribbean island, when reports started coming in that passengers were falling ill. Out of 3,050 passengers and 1,165 crew members, about 281 passengers and 22 crew members fell ill from a quick-spreading illness suspected to be a highly contagious norovirus. The cruise ship stopped Saturday in San Juan, Puerto Rico, to completely sanitize the ship; it was due to stop in Haiti but the plan was to go straight to San Juan to began the sanitation process on the cruise ship. The cause of the illness outbreak is not known but the CDC will board the Royal Caribbean ship Sunday to “conduct an epidemiologic investigation, environmental health assessment, and evaluate the outbreak and response activities.” The ill passengers and crew members did respond well to over-the-counter medications.
The Royal Caribbean International line just recently had an outbreak Jan. 17, when its four-day Majesty of the Seas cruise had to return to dock to deal with a norovirus outbreak. Sixty eight people became ill, two of them crew members. The ill aboard this ship also responded well to over-the-counter medications.
U.S. cruise lines had seven norovirus outbreaks in 2013, a decrease from a high total of 35 in 2006. The CDC says approximately 21 million people fall ill with from the norovirus bug every year in the United States.
What is the norovirus? It is a highly contagious virus that is easily spread via an infected person, contaminated food or water, and by touching contaminated surfaces. The virus is the most common cause of gastroenteritis, which is likely the illness affecting passengers aboard the Royal Caribbean cruise ship, and the most common cause of foodborne illnesses. The virus quickly spreads in enclosed spaces such as daycare centers, schools, nursing homes and cruise ships.
To prevent norovirus infection, wash hands thoroughly with soap and water, especially after using the bathroom, changing diapers and always before handling, preparing or eating food. Thoroughly wash fruits, vegetables and all seafood. The tricky thing about the norovirus is that it can survive high temperatures so cooking seafood such as shellfish at a high temperature may not kill the norovirus so if any food is suspected of contamination, it is best to dispose of it.
Should someone fall ill with the norovirus, it is best to avoid caring for anyone else who is ill, and avoid preparing meals for them. A person with norovirus must take care to focus on recovery and avoid caring for others until at least two or three days after recovering from the norovirus.
Thoroughly clean and disinfect surfaces soiled with vomit and diarrhea. A solution of household and chlorine bleach is ideal. When washing laundry that may be contaminated, take care to use rubber gloves while handling the infected items and wash hands after handling them. Then wash laundry at the highest level possible, and then machine dry afterwards.
By Juana Poareo