Norovirus Surges: Cruise Ships Battle Alarming Outbreaks

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Daniel is a copywriter who has well and truly been bitten alive by the 'travel bug'. After ticking off several North American National Parks and exploring Europe by train, his sights are now set on South East Asia. Usually with at least one camera locked and loaded, you'll find Daniel wherever there are mountains, lakes or beaches.

American travelers are encountering rough seas due to the troublesome Norovirus, a highly contagious gastrointestinal virus.

Recent reports from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reveal a sharp increase in Norovirus cases, reaching the highest levels in the last ten years.

Norovirus cruise
Image Credit: Depositphotos.

Often mistaken for a “stomach bug,” Norovirus is a highly infectious virus that results in inflammation of the stomach and intestines. The most common symptoms are nausea, stomach pain, vomiting, and diarrhea.

The virus is typically spread through eating contaminated food, touching contaminated objects and then touching the mouth or eyes, or ingesting small particles of fecal matter. Cruise ships are, therefore, hot spots for transmission.

An infected person is most contagious when symptoms are present and usually within the first few days of feeling better. Cases typically last between 24 and 48 hours but can be more severe in the young and elderly.

According to the CDC, there have been 13 outbreaks on cruise ships in the current year. This represents the most significant number of incidents involving Norovirus in a single year since 2012, and it’s worth noting that we’re only halfway through the year.

Throughout 2022, there were just four outbreaks of the gastrointestinal virus, even with travel numbers reaching their peak post-pandemic.

Norovirus Cruise
Image Credit: Canva.

Most major cruise lines have been hit by the outbreak, including Celebrity Cruises, Holland America, P&O Cruises, and Viking Cruises. The latter had a recent outbreak onboard its Viking Neptune ship, where more than 100 passengers fell ill, around 13% of those traveling.

A spokesperson for Viking Cruises told the Wall Street Journal that they believe the outbreak “originated from a shoreside restaurant in Iceland where a group of guests dined during their free time.”

The CDC estimates nearly 2,000 passengers, across 13 outbreaks, have reported falling ill during their voyages, with a further 240 crew members. Cruise ships are required to report any gastrointestinal illnesses to the CDC before arriving in a foreign port or when 2% of the crew of passengers show symptoms.

Due to this, some have been quick to downplay the risks. “Because cruise ships report illnesses to the CDC, there is more visibility and faster reporting to health authorities, which should not be confused to mean a higher incidence rate onboard,” a spokesperson for the Cruise Lines International Association told the Wall Street Journal.

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