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170 Sick In Latest Cruise Ship Outbreak

Dec 2, 2002 | AP

A Carnival cruise ship returned from a three-day voyage Monday carrying more than 170 people sickened by a gastrointestinal virus, with symptoms similar to those plaguing other cruise liners.

A total of 171 passengers and four crew members on the Fascination reported vomiting and diarrhea, but experts had not yet confirmed whether they had a Norwalk-like virus, said Tim Gallagher, a Carnival Corp. spokesman.

So-called Norwalk-like viruses have plagued more than 1,000 people on other cruise ships in the past few months, including Holland America Line's Amsterdam and Disney Cruise Line's Magic, causing those companies to cancel one sailing each to thoroughly disinfect the ships.

The illness is seasonal, peaking in the colder months, and is not uncommon, said Dr. Steven Wiersma, the state epidemiologist.

"We've already seen some (cases) in Florida this is not just a cruise ship issue," he said.

Wiersma said it was too early to tell if the recent outbreaks represent a spike in occurrences, since more people are reporting being sick because of the increased attention given to the cruise ship cases. CDC officials have said there is no evidence that the cruise ship outbreaks are the work of terrorists.

The 855-foot Fascination carried 2,428 passengers and more than 900 crew members on its three-day voyage to the Bahamas.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was overseeing the cleaning of the ship, which was still scheduled for a late-afternoon sailing on a four-day cruise to Key West and Cozumel, Mexico, Gallagher said.

"We're taking all possible precautions given the recent incidence of Norwalk-like viruses on cruise ships," Gallagher said.

CDC officials did not immediately return calls seeking comment Monday.

Sickened Fascination passengers will not receive a refund or compensation because most became ill late Sunday, the last full day of the cruise.

The Norwalk virus, named for an outbreak 30 years ago in Norwalk, Ohio, and a group of Norwalk-like viruses are among several common micro-organisms that can cause diarrhea, stomach pain and vomiting for 24 to 48 hours, according to the CDC. They are spread through food and water and close contact with infected people or things they have touched. The incubation period is about two to three days.

The Amsterdam, which was held at Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale for 10 days to be disinfected, departed on a 10-day Caribbean cruise Sunday with 1,261 passengers.

"We are very confident that we have broken the cycle," said Rose Abello, a Holland America spokeswoman. "Can we guarantee that nobody will ever get sick? Absolutely not."

Holland America Line Inc. also is owned by the Miami-based Carnival Corp.

Disinfecting the Amsterdam included steam cleaning drapes, furniture, cushions and 300,000 square feet of carpet, and even disinfecting poker chips. One passenger on Sunday's sailing, retired doctor Larry Lavoie, said he wasn't worried because the Amsterdam is now "the cleanest ship on the ocean."

Passengers on other Holland America ships, the Ryndam and Statendam, have also contracted the Norwalk-like virus on recent cruises. A lawsuit seeking class-action status was filed in Canada in August on behalf of Ryndam passengers.

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