Norovirus outbreaks on cruise ships continue

By Jenna Iacurci, Parent Herald February 25, 01:41 pm
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Cruise ships are on high alert for sightings of the norovirus this year.

Also known as the Norwalk virus or the stomach virus, the norovirus is a highly contagious gastrointestinal illness.

Ship-wide outbreaks are relatively common on cruise ships, and according to the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control, there have been three high-profile incidents, including a Caribbean Princess episode that affected 181 of 3,102 passengers; an outbreak on Norwegian Cruise Lines' Star, which affected 130 of 2,318 passengers; and one on Royal Caribbean's Explorer of the Seas, which infected 634 of 3,071 passengers and was so severe that it earned the ship the nickname "Exploder of the Seas."

Unfortunately, the best solution is to avoid cruise ships, where the virus can run rampant. But if you don't want to cancel your trip, experts say that washing your hands frequently with soap and warm water and minding what you touch can help prevent an infection. These prevention methods are no guarantee, and there's no vaccine against the norovirus.

One cruise blogger, Stewart Chiron, blames the media for distorting the truth about these outbreaks.

"No industry nor facility is as tightly regulated as the cruise industry," Chiron said. "Media like the cruise industry because it's very visual and attracts viewers, listeners and readers."

The CDC reported only seven confirmed norovirus outbreaks last year, which came to just 1,238 total afflicted passengers worldwide. But in 2012, the agency reported 16 norovirus outbreaks on ships.

Others take the opposing view and blame the cruise lines, like Kendall Carver, chairman of the International Cruise Victims Association. He says that despite screenings of passengers for gastrointestinal illnesses and promises to sanitization efforts on board after each outbreak, the industry can't contain the contagion.

"As the ships get bigger and bigger, the chance of an outbreak happening multiplies tremendously," Carver said. "It's only going to get worse."

The debate over which came first, the virus or the cruise ship, is ongoing, and the deserved compensation for those infected is another argument in itself that may never be settled.

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