Explorer of the Seas and Cruise Ship Illnesses: Norovirus Strikes Again

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The Explorer of the Seas is going to be a monumental task to clean . Image by Roger Wollstadt

The Explorer of the Seas is going to be a monumental task to clean up, thanks to the norovirus. Image by Roger Wollstadt

A cruise is supposed to be a fun vacation to exotic places, and a way to relax and enjoy your friends and family. However, sometimes cruises can take a turn for the worse, as the passengers and crew of the Explorer of the Seas cruise ship discovered.

Imagine 3,071  passengers and 1,165 crew members on a one-thousand foot cruise ship. Close quarters, out at sea and far from home, and everyone starts getting sick.

Not your ideal vacation is it? This isn’t the first time the norovirus, a gastrointestinal illness, has spread like wildfire on a cruise ship.

So before booking your next trip to paradise, plan ahead – are there ways you can prevent getting sick if an outbreak should occur?

Explorer of the Seas: Record Numbers Sick

According to CNN, at least 630 passengers and 54 crew members got sick; however, some passengers claim that there could have been as many as  a thousand people sick. Not all passengers reported their illness, and just kept to their rooms instead of going to the infirmary.

The Royal Caribbean’s Explorer of the Seas had the highest number of ill people in two decades, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data on cruise ship illnesses.

One passenger, Kim Waite from London, told CNN that the seas were really rough so they had to close the doors for two days, thus not having any fresh air. The ship also arrived late on the first day of the cruise and Waite wondered whether there might not have been adequate time to clean the ship before the passengers boarded.

The norovirus is a resilient virus is difficult to kill and spreads quickly. Image by GrahamColm

The norovirus is a resilient virus is difficult to kill and spreads quickly. Image by GrahamColm

Cruise Ship Cleanliness: Vessel Sanitation Program

Cruise ships have the opportunity to participate in a program from the CDC called the Vessel Sanitation Program (VSP). The Vessel Sanitation Program assists the cruise ships in preventing and controlling the introduction, transmission, and spread of gastrointestinal diseases.

CDC officials inspect the cruise ships on announced and unannounced occasions. They also help with the investigation, monitoring, and response to outbreaks.

Cruise ships that are in this program include those that have 13 or more passengers and have a foreign itinerary. Owners of cruise ships also pay a fee based on the size of the cruise ship for operational inspections, re-inspections, and onsite and final construction inspections.

Cruise ships that participate are required to report the total number of gastrointestinal illnesses (including zero cases) before they dock at U.S. ports after being in foreign ports, and must provide a different notification to the CDC when illnesses exceed two percent of the total number of passengers and crew members. CDC officials also provide health education to the cruise ship employees and passengers.

The data that the CDC collects reports the cruise line, the name of the ship, the year, sailing dates, and the cause. The CDC has been tracking cruise ship illnesses since 1994, and so far, the most common cause is the norovirus, also known as the stomach flu. While it is still unknown what the cause of the Explorer of the Sea’s illnesses, it is thought to be the norovirus; the CDC will know for sure once all paperwork is in.

Avoiding Norovirus on Vacation

You’ll find the norovirus in feces and contaminated water, so it maybe impossible to determine whether the norovirus outbreak started from someone who was sick boarding the ship, or from contaminated food and/or water. To protect yourself from future outbreaks, the CDC recommends that you wash your hands frequently, and avoiding touching public toilets and their door handles. Also – avoid raw shellfish, and any food or water that doesn’t smell fresh or looks like it could be contaminated.

Cleaning the cruise ship will be a monumental task for crews, as the norovirus is hard to kill and spreads everywhere. The CDC provides a 267 paged manual for keeping cruise ships clean…. It sounds like the Royal Caribbean crew members have a lot of cleaning to do.

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