Viral illness hits cruise ship passengers

Posted: Sunday, June 09, 2002

ANCHORAGE - A viral infection that commonly strikes cruise-ship travelers in Alaska has struck again.

More than 250 cruise-ship, tour-bus and railroad passengers have reported daylong bouts of nausea, vomiting and diarrhea since Memorial Day.

The bug was first reported by vacationers May 25 after they disembarked from the 2,000-passenger Ocean Princess, said Tom Dow, vice president of public affairs for the Seattle-based Princess Cruises and Tours.

Since then, about 270 passengers have reported the symptoms. One of the passengers required hospitalization in Anchorage, although it was unclear whether the virus or some other malady was the cause, Dow said. Most passengers were back on their feet within a day, he said.

One case was reported in Juneau on May 29, but a spokesman for Bartlett Regional Hospital could not confirm that the tourist was a passenger on the Ocean Princess, which was docked in Juneau that day.

Fourteen new cases were reported elsewhere on June 3.

Such viruses are not uncommon on tour ships and buses, where people are crowded together and often unable to keep up their usual standards of personal hygiene, said Dr. Beth Funk, an epidemiologist with the Division of Public Health.

"We have it almost annually, because people are moving around in small groups," she said. "It can spread pretty efficiently among travelers."

Unlike influenza, the virus is not considered a serious, life-threatening illness, Funk said. People who contract it typically feel sick for one day, but start recovering the next.

The source of the Ocean Princess outbreak could be difficult to ascertain, Dow said.

Princess Cruises stepped up sanitation measures throughout its Alaska operations the day the outbreak was recognized, Dow said. Those include additional sanitizing and disinfection in sick passengers' rooms, tour-bus rest rooms and lodge guest rooms.

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