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Virus Sickens Nearly 200 People Aboard Cruise Ship

Dec 3, 2002 | AP

A Carnival cruise ship returned from a three-day voyage yesterday carrying 194 people sickened by a gastrointestinal virus, with symptoms similar to those affecting passengers on other cruise liners.

The 190 passengers and four crew members aboard the Fascination reported vomiting and diarrhea, but specialists had not yet determined whether they had a Norwalk-like virus, said Tim Gallagher, a Carnival Corp. spokesman.

Symptoms similar to the Norwalk virus have afflicted 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 rare, 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 whether 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.

Officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have said there is no evidence that the cruise ship outbreaks are the work of bioterrorists.

The number of gastrointestinal illnesses on cruise ships has declined since 1990, CDC spokeswoman Bernadette Burden said yesterday, although she said the CDC does not currently have exact numbers.

CDC specialists obtained lab samples from the Fascination and its passengers to determine whether a Norwalk-like virus caused the outbreak, with test results expected within five days, Burden said.

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

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

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