Federal health officials reported Friday that 194 passengers and 11 crew members aboard the luxury cruise ship Queen Mary 2 have been sickened by what they suspect may be the norovirus, a pathogen that causes symptoms of vomiting and diarrhea like those affected are experiencing.
Likewise, 189 passengers and 31 crew members on another cruise ship, the Emerald Princess, also came down with the same symptoms of the norovirus – a contagious microorganism that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warns can be transmitted by an infected person, as well as from contaminated food, water, or just touching a contaminated surface.
Norovirus is the most common cause of acute gastroenteritis in the United States, causing an inflammation of the stomach or intestines that produces stomach pain, nausea and diarrhea. According to the CDC, norovirus causes around 21 million illnesses each year, requiring 70,000 hospitalizations and killing approximately 800 people on an annual basis.
Meanwhile, the Queen Mary 2, with its 2,613 passengers and 1,255 crew members, is now docked in Saint Lucia in the Caribbean, according to ship owner, Cunard Line, which is owned by Carnival Corp. The cruise ship left Brooklyn, N.Y. last Saturday, and is due to return there next Thursday.
The connection between the illnesses on both the QM2 and the Emerald Princess appear to be related to some type of contamination, although the microbial culprit remains unclear at this time. The CDC learned of the illnesses on the QM2 on Dec. 25, after learning about the illnesses on the Emerald Princess a few days before on the Saturday before Christmas.
Cruise ships are required to notify the CDC when two percent of those on board develop a gastrointestinal illness.
In a statement released from Cunard, it said that another reason to suspect norovirus as the cause of the sickness has to do with the pathogen having already “affected a number of schools, hospitals, nursing homes and children’s day care centers this winter” in the United Kingdom, Cunard said in a statement.
According to a report from the UK’s Health Protection Agency, norovirus activity in the country is 83 per cent higher than last year.
The captain of the Queen Mary 2 is advising passengers with gastrointestinal symptoms to report to the medical center, while asking those sickened to “isolate themselves in their cabin until non-contagious”.
There is no vaccine to prevent norovirus infection, nor is there any treatment available for those who are sickened from the virus. Antibiotics are useless because they fight against bacteria, not viruses.
According to the CDC, the best way to reduce your chance of getting norovirus is to wash your hands thoroughly, and if you do get infected, to refrain from preparing foods for others while making sure all your eating utensils, clothing, and other surfaces around you are thoroughly cleaned.