Can the Cruise Industry Ever Escape Norovirus? What Our Maritime Attorney Thinks of the Latest Outbreak

Lipcon, Marguiles, Alsina & Winkleman, P.A

NorovirusThere’s a plague in our midst; one that’s been invading cruise ships for years. It’s sly, evasive, and cannot seem to be controlled. This little bug is fast-spreading and potentially life-threatening. Friends, we are talking about Norovirus. That pesky bug that affects hundreds of cruise passengers – and crew members – every year, leaving victims literally sick to their stomachs.

Attention has been mostly focused on the recent Ebola outbreak, but we can’t forget about Norovirus, because like Ebola, it has the potential to be fatal. This virus is basically a form of the stomach flu, with symptoms (including vomiting and diarrhea) lasting about three days. Doesn’t seem too bad at first, but the symptoms can become extremely severe, leading those who become infected with the virus to become quarantined in their room.

Most people who are sick don’t even realize they have the virus until symptoms manifest, but they are still contagious. And even those who do show symptoms don’t usually think much of it, dismissing the entire ordeal as just regular food poisoning or a bad stomach ache. So, these individuals will board a cruise ship not thinking twice about being contagious. They then proceed (inadvertently of course) to spread the virus via contact with inanimate objects that others on board will likely touch as well, including door handles, tabletops, and rails. They might even share food or eating utensils with loved ones. And before you know it, voila, you’ve got a Norovirus outbreak on a cruise ship.

Unfortunately, Norovirus does spread extremely fast – especially because a cruise ship is one giant floating box, filled with confined spaces and corridors and lacking sufficient ventilation outlets. Sometimes the virus spreads without much that a cruise line can do to stop it, but other times it spreads because a cruise line failed to properly sanitize a ship or to quarantine those who have been diagnosed with Norovirus.

Perhaps some of these factors could have played a role in a recent Norovirus outbreak aboard the Princess Cruises vessel, Crown Princess. Well, given the fact that the ship reported another outbreak back in April – along with an E. coli outbreak – we can’t help but lean toward lack of sanitation as the decisive factor in this latest outbreak. We’ll have to wait and see what reports determine, but for now, let’s take a look at the details.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “158 of 3,009 passengers (5.25%) and 14 of 1,160 crew members (1.21%)” aboard the Crown Princess have become ill with the dreaded gastrointestinal virus. The notice states that Princess Cruises and Crown Princess crew members are taking steps to handle the outbreak, including increasing sanitation protocols, notifying passengers about the outbreak, and planning separate debarkation procedures for those who have been infected.

The CDC also reported that a Vessel Sanitation Program (VSP) environmental health officer (CDC agents charged with examining cruise ships calling on U.S. ports for proper sanitation) boarded the vessel in San Pedro, California on November 16 to conduct an assessment of the outbreak and evaluate the cruise line’s response measures, but we haven’t heard an update yet.

Hopefully those who became ill were properly quarantined and recover quickly. If you’ve planned a cruise vacation and are worried about contracting Norovirus, check out our blog Should You Be Worried About Contracting Norovirus On Your Next Cruise Vacation? for helpful tips from our maritime attorney, Jason Margulies.