Our cruise attorneys here at Lipcon, Margulies, Alsina & Winkleman, P.A. have come to learn of a possible new Norovirus outbreak aboard a Celebrity Cruises ship. The Centers for Disease Control recently released a report showing that 95 passengers have fallen ill on board the Celebrity Infinity vessel. According to the CDC, the number of people who have fallen ill account for almost 5% of the total number of passengers on board the ship. Five crew members were also reported ill, raising the total number sick to 100.
Celebrity Cruises, in response to the illness, is currently in the process of implementing its outbreak prevention and response plan. The plan includes announcing the outbreak to crew and passengers, and encouraging people to practice good hygiene. The cruise line is also reporting all new cases on a twice daily basis to the CDC. The company is also consulting with the CDC for management of the outbreak when the ship arrives in San Diego. One of the measures currently in place is to plan a staged disembarkation procedure to limit the contact between well-passengers and those who have fallen ill.
While Norovirus has not been confirmed as the cause of the gastrointestinal illness, chances are that Norovirus is again the culprit. Norovirus is notorious for affecting confined populations like those found on board cruise ships, nursing homes, and schools. The virus can survive for long periods of time on surfaces that have not been cleaned and can also be transmitted through the consumption of raw or undercooked food that is contaminated with the virus.
It goes without saying that Norovirus will ruin any vacation. According to the CDC, the most common symptoms of the virus include: vomiting, diarrhea, cramps, nausea, and stomach pain. Fever, headaches, and body aches can also accompany illness. The virus can also lead to dehydration which may even result in a trip to the emergency room. Dehydration is a serious condition which may require the transmission of IV fluids. The virus often leaves passengers bedridden and unable to enjoy their vacations.
Every cruise line has its own outbreak and prevention response plan in place. The CDC requires cruise lines that have been affected by gastrointestinal viruses to increase their sanitation measures, advise ill passengers to self-quarantine, report the illness to the CDC regularly, and discontinue high-risk activities.
Yet many of these measures are in place to contain the virus once it has started to spread. What measures are ships required to take to prevent an outbreak in the first place? The CDC has implemented a vessel sanitation program along with regular inspections in order to keep passengers safe.
The CDC regularly inspects cruise ships to determine how well each ship adheres to the CDC’s standards of cleanliness. The CDC records each cruise ship’s scores and results for this program. Unfortunately, many cruise lines receive unsatisfactory scores by the CDC. Major cruise lines that have received unsatisfactory scores include Carnival, Celebrity, Holland America, Royal Caribbean, Princess Cruises, among others. These unsatisfactory sanitation practices lead to increased outbreaks.
Norovirus is very contagious. The virus is easily transmissible between infected individuals, from contaminated food or water, or from contaminated surfaces. However, cruise passengers can reduce their risk of contracting Norovirus by washing their hands regularly, avoiding touching their mouths, and avoiding consuming raw or undercooked foods when a known outbreak is taking place on board the ship.
Even so, cruise lines have a duty to passengers to maintain safe and sanitary conditions. Passengers who fall sick while cruising may have to miss time at work when they return home in order to recover from their illness. Moreover, passengers lose out on their much-anticipated vacation time.
The CDC continues to track this newest outbreak, and the hope is that Celebrity can contain the spread of the virus.