NEW YORK — An unknown illness, suspectedÂ of being a norovirus, has sickened 194 passengers and 11 crew members aboard theÂ luxury cruise ship Queen Mary 2, causing vomiting and diarrhea, federal healthÂ officials said on Friday.
Earlier in the week, 189 passengers and 31Â crew members on the Emerald Princess came down with the same symptoms.
The symptoms are those of norovirus, a contagious microorganism that canÂ be acquired from an infected person, contaminated food or water, or by touchingÂ contaminated surfaces, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control andÂ Prevention.
Norovirus causes an inflammation of the stomach orÂ intestines called acute gastroenteritis, producing stomach pain, nausea andÂ diarrhea, and is the most common cause of acute gastroenteritis in the UnitedÂ States.
The Queen Mary 2, with 2,613 passengers and 1,255 crew members, is nowÂ docked in Saint Lucia in the Caribbean, according to ship owner Cunard Line,Â which is owned by Carnival Corp. The cruise left Brooklyn, New York, lastÂ Saturday and is due to return there next Thursday.
The CDC learned ofÂ the illnesses on the QM2 on Christmas Day on Tuesday, and of those on theÂ Emerald Princess last Saturday. Vessels are required to notify the agency when 2Â percent of those on board develop a gastrointestinal illness.
AlthoughÂ the microbial culprit remains unclear In both cases, another reason to suspectÂ norovirus is that the pathogen “has affected a number of schools, hospitals,Â nursing homes and children’s day care centers this winter” in the UnitedÂ Kingdom, Cunard said in a statement.
The UK’s Health Protection AgencyÂ reports that norovirus activity in the country is 83 per cent higher than lastÂ year.
The QM2 sails regularly scheduled crossings between New York andÂ Southampton, England, between April and late November, Cunard spokeswoman JackieÂ Chase said in an email. “In addition, many of our guests come from the UK.”
The QM2’s captain is advising passengers with gastrointestinal symptomsÂ to report to the medical center, Chase said. Those sickened are asked toÂ “isolate themselves in their cabin until non-contagious. They are also asked notÂ to proceed ashore, and any shore excursion costs will be refunded. Room serviceÂ is provided to affected passengers and every effort is made to make them asÂ comfortable as possible.”
Of the 194 QM2 passengers who had fallen sick,Â said Chase, all but 12 had recovered as of Friday.
In a post on the message board cruisecritic.com on Wednesday, aÂ woman who said her daughter was on the QM2 said she “just received a messageÂ from her indicating that the Norovirus is active on board.”
On Thursday,Â someone reporting being on the ship posted that “the restaurants are still full.Â The Captain last night recommended that people take all of their meals in theÂ full-service restaurants rather than the buffet, but the buffet remains open asÂ of this morning. We’ve been kept informed daily of the persistent cases.”
Another post said: “The crew are working like crazy to service all theÂ guests. At lunch today I noticed the hand rails on the promenade deck were wipedÂ three times in about 1 hour.”
In response to the outbreak, the QM2 crewÂ has increased cleaning and disinfection procedures, the CDC said, and is askingÂ passengers and crew to report cases of illness and “encourage hand hygiene.”
Medical personnel are also collecting stool specimens from illÂ passengers and crew, which a CDC lab will analyze to make a definitiveÂ diagnosis.
When the QM2 docks in Brooklyn, an officer from the CDC’sÂ Vessel Sanitation Program and an epidemiologist will board, conduct anÂ environmental health assessment “and evaluate the outbreak and responseÂ activities,” the CDC said.
Two officers boarded the Emerald Princess,Â also owned by Carnival, when it arrived in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, on ThursdayÂ and are conducting an environmental assessment.
The Vessel SanitationÂ Program has authority to inspect cruise ships that carry 13 or more passengersÂ and call at U.S. ports. It gave the Queen Mary 2 a perfect 100 on its mostÂ recent inspection this past summer, but found a few minor infractions, includingÂ a lack of serving utensils with breakfast pastries at a buffet.
Source: NBC News