Virus sickens 348 on ship

Norwalk-like virus infects 308 passengers and 40 crew members in Southeast Alaska

Posted: Thursday, June 03, 2004

Nearly 350 passengers and crew members aboard a Princess Cruises ship that docked in Juneau on Tuesday were stricken with a norovirus this week, cruise line officials said Wednesday.

As of Wednesday, 308 passengers and 40 crew members aboard the Island Princess complained of Norwalk virus-like symptoms. Altogether, 2,018 passengers and 896 crew members were making the weeklong voyage from Vancouver, British Columbia, to Whittier.

The illnesses were detected in Ketchikan on Monday, the second day of the cruise, when 180 people were reported ill, Princess Spokeswoman Julie Benson said. When the ship reached Juneau, only 43 reported being ill, she said.

The crew allowed passengers off in Juneau but advised those who felt ill to remain in their cabins, Benson said.

The ship arrived in Juneau at 7:30 a.m. Tuesday and left at 7:30 p.m. Princess picked up additional medical professionals in Juneau that it borrowed from some of its other six ships in Alaska, Benson said.

The vessel was in Skagway Wednesday and will probably continue on schedule although crews filed contingency plans with the Coast Guard to cut the trip short by one day, said Dean Brown, CEO of Princess Tours Division, which oversees Alaska operations. He said ill passengers and crews are recovering in isolated rooms.

The Island Princess is scheduled to cruise through Glacier Bay today and Prince William Sound on Friday, arriving in Whittier early Saturday. No more port calls are planned until it reaches Whittier, Benson said.

By that time, those taken ill will likely have recovered, Brown said.

Onboard testing confirmed the presence of the norovirus, which includes Norwalk and Norwalk-like viruses. The virus can cause diarrhea, stomach pain and vomiting for 24 to 48 hours. It is spread through food and water and close contact with infected people or the items they have touched.

"Right now, we have additional staff on board, special materials for sanitizing, additional medical staff and additional management staff from Los Angeles," Brown said. "We're very organized in dealing with the norovirus now. We have procedures in place proven to be effective. We're employing all of those procedures because the health and safety of our passengers and crew are our top priority."

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta is investigating the outbreak. A CDC team boarded the ship in Skagway to launch their investigation and help make sure the vessel is sanitized, according to a statement from the cruise line.

Princess Cruises contacted the CDC on Monday to report that many passengers had come down with gastrointestinal illness, said CDC spokeswoman Christine Pearson.

Brown said the source of the outbreak is unknown, but he suspects someone brought it onboard Saturday from Vancouver, where significant outbreaks have been reported recently. The cruise line also is working with Canadian Health officials to "implement an aggressive disinfection protocol and to investigate the cause of the outbreak," according to the company statement.

"The majority of people were affected all on the same day," Brown said. "A number of them have passed the isolation state."

The outbreak is the only reported case involving a cruise ship in Alaska this season, which began a month ago.

Last year, 55 passengers and five crew members contracted what appeared to be a norovirus during an Alaska trip on a Norwegian Cruise Line vessel, the Norwegian Sky.

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