Ill-fated cruise returns to Seattle

Gastrointestinal illness hits 115 people on Celebrity ship

Posted: Sunday, June 11, 2006

SEATTLE - The Celebrity cruise ship Mercury returned to Seattle Friday morning with 115 people who had a gastrointestinal illness during their seven-night voyage to Alaska, the cruise company said.

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Three of the ship's 847 crew members also experienced the illness, a suspected Norovirus brought onboard by someone previously exposed. The Mercury carried 2,034 passengers on the voyage. Mercury sailed from Seattle on Friday, June 2, and visited Juneau, Skagway and Ketchikan, Hubbard Glacier and the Inside Passage.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Noroviruses affect 23 million Americans annually. The only illness more prevalent is the common cold.

"The reason you hear about Norovirus on cruise ships is because they are required to report every incidence of gastrointestinal illness," said Dave Forney, chief of the vessel sanitation program of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Protection, in a written statement. "Nowhere else in the public health system of the United States is Norovirus a reportable illness. Norovirus is not a cruise-ship illness, but an illness commonly seen in many settings throughout the United States."

Celebrity Cruises blames an increased number of Norovirus cases on land for the increase in incidents on board its ships. The company has instituted a new illness prevention program focusing on increased sanitation, enhanced cleaning procedures and special cleaning of "high touch" areas on the ship.

The company has added two additional doctors to its crew, bringing the total number of doctors onboard the Mercury to four, along with three nurses.

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