Officials Stumped As Virus Hits 200 Passengers On Miami Cruise ShipDec 3, 2002 | South Florida Sun-Sentinel
The remarkable run of illness on cruise ships continued on Monday, with nearly 200 passengers on the Miami-based Fascination showing symptoms of Norwalk virus.
Passengers disembarking on Monday morning said many people got sick, including some children, on their three-night cruise to the Bahamas.
Still, the ship left Miami late Monday on a three-day cruise that also stops in Cozumel, Mexico.
Ship officials gave passengers details about the presumed ``Norwalk-like'' virus that plagued the Fascination's weekend trip to the Bahamas. But there was little information about specific actions the company took to avoid similar problems this time, said David Martinez, 22, a first-time cruise patron from Santa Barbara, Calif.
There were no reports of illnesses on the latest voyage as of Tuesday afternoon, Carnival Corp. spokeswoman Jennifer de la Cruz said.
On Monday, however, Vonda Mazzarella sat glumly after disembarking, still recovering from the effects of the virus.
"Vomiting, diarrhea, chills like crazy. I couldn't get warm," said the Pittsburgh homemaker. Her husband, David, a computer consultant, said they visited the infirmary Sunday night.
"There were 176 people signed in at 10 p.m., and they were still coming in," he said.
Health authorities say they can't find a common cause of the outbreak, other than sick passengers. Norwalk virus has hit at least three ships in the past month. The ships, Amsterdam, Disney Magic and Fascination, sail from different ports for different cruise lines.
Holland America Line's Amsterdam left Port Everglades on Sunday after a 10-day scrubbing. No one was reported sick on Monday, spokeswoman Rose Abello said.
Norwalk is a common gastrointestinal bug spread by personal contact. It can also be transmitted through food or water contamination. About 75 percent of those sick on Fascination ate in one of two main dining rooms, but that could mean they infected each other, said Steve Williams, Carnival's medical director.
A spokeswoman for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it was investigating the Fascination illness but it would be at least a few days before it could confirm it as a Norwalk outbreak. Carnival is treating it as if it is, said line President Bob Dickinson.
Separately, the CDC boarded the Radisson Seven Seas Cruise ship Mariner when it docked at Port Everglades on Monday morning, after it reported that 21 people fell ill from salmonella bacteria on the ship during its 10-day Transatlantic voyage from the Canary Islands.
CDC spokeswoman Susan McClure said the agency was reviewing medical logs on the ship, but that the outbreak appeared to be over.
Fort Lauderdale-based Radisson thinks eggs or ice cream from a supplier in Spain caused the illness, said Andrew Poulton, director of strategic marketing. A total of 15 crewmembers and four passengers got sick. The 700-passenger luxury liner left Port Everglades on Monday night on a 10-day Caribbean cruise.
Fascination also left on its scheduled 4-night cruise on Monday, but 42 of the ship's 1,056 cabins went empty. Carnival offered full refunds or future cruises to any passengers who didn't want to go. Dickinson said the 96 percent that declined the offer show why Carnival didn't cancel the trip.
"The numbers speak for themselves," Dickinson said.
Carnival disclosed it has had minor outbreaks of Norwalk-like virus on other ships, most notably on the Carnival Pride in March, when 60 people got sick. Williams said Carnival adopted tougher sanitary protocols about a year and a half ago after "epidemiological intelligence" hinted Norwalk was increasing on land. On the cruise that ended Monday, 190 passengers and 13 crew got sick.
He did not know why so many people got ill on Fascination. "The reality is that these cases happen all the time, and the problem is when they get out of control," Williams said.
Passengers started vomiting early Sunday and several said the ship was a mess by late in the evening.
Bridget Basile, 26, a teacher from San Francisco, was on the cruise as part of a family group of 32, of which 22 got sick. Her illness included stomach pains, vomiting, and faintness that made it hard to get up. She spent the last day of her cruise in bed. "I was up for an hour at the most," she said.
Her father, Ron Basile, who sells construction equipment in Chicago, said among those ill on Sunday night were several small children. "There were little ones getting sick early in the morning," he said.
Williams said that roughly 30 of the 190 struck ill were children. They are among several groups especially vulnerable to dehydration from diarrhea, he said.
Refunds were not offered to sick passengers because Carnival didn't do anything to cause the illnesses, Dickinson said. Carnival has seen "no particular change" in booking patterns, he said.
Williams dismissed the notion that the illness had been deliberately spread on cruise ships as a terror tactic. "Norwalk would be your last possible choice," because it is hard to cultivate in a lab and because it doesn't last for more than a couple of days at a time, he said.
Dickinson said a better explanation is that there is national outbreak of Norwalk that is not yet evident on land. Cruise ships concentrate crowds in a small space and have doctors that ask sick patients specifically about gastrointestinal disease, so cases are well reported, he said.
While declining to call it an epidemic, McClure said the CDC does believe Norwalk is "prevalent in the U.S. population and it is common to see it where people congregate."
To combat the virus, Carnival on Monday delayed the departure of Fascination for several hours to buy time for extra sanitary procedures. It added a fourth nurse to the current sailing. It also banned crew contact with other ships while Fascination was in port.
McClure said the CDC is not doing anything differently to respond to the latest upsurge in Norwalk cases on cruise ships. She said the agency is satisfied the system for reporting disease on cruise ships is working, but may sit down to re-evaluate procedures early next year.