Norovirus confirmed in cruise ship report

Inspector finds no red flags in sanitation after outbreak on Veendam

Posted: Thursday, July 17, 2008

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently verified that the outbreak of illness on the cruise ship Veendam in June was a norovirus.

Twelve of 556 crew members and 112 of 1,313 passengers, or 8.5 percent, got sick during the Holland America Line cruise ship's voyage from June 13-20, from Vancouver through Alaska. Most sick people had diarrhea and vomiting, according to CDC records.

Those records show the Veendam had two norovirus outbreaks in 2004, three in 2005 and one in 2006.

Most cruise ship outbreaks reported to the CDC turn out to be norovirus, according to the CDC's online records.

Cruise ships are required to report to the federal agency when 2 percent of the people aboard get reportable gastrointestinal illness, which is qualified as three or more episodes of loose stools in a 24-hour period, or after vomiting with either loose stools, abdominal cramps, headaches, muscle aches or fever.

Noroviruses cause diarrhea and vomiting. Most people recover after a day or two. People get sick by eating food, touching surfaces or contacting people contaminated with the virus.

The Veendam reported an outbreak June 17, when the ship was in Juneau.

So far this year, the CDC has confirmed nine outbreaks on cruise ships in United States waters. All but one were confirmed in the lab as noroviruses.

Five of the nine were Holland ships, plus two others were owned by the same parent company, Miami-based Carnival Corp. & PLC. The company had half the market share of North America cruises last year, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

A state environmental monitor who was staying aboard the Veendam as the outbreak began reported that the ship was battling GI illness. The monitor found no evidence that the ship wasn't following proper protocols.

A single line in the Ocean Ranger's report, "Sanitation in food preparation areas," was marked "C," for compliant.

The Ocean Ranger program began in full force this year. About 90 percent of ships have a ranger aboard who inspects wastewater discharge and sanitation protocols. DEC also conducts in-port inspections.

"The vessel has put itself in a code red situation for gastrointestinal illness as a precaution," wrote the Ocean Ranger, Joseph Parks of Crowley Marine Services Inc., in his June 15 report to the state.

Parks reported that the cruise ship's preventive measures included "frequent and intensive sanitizing regimes throughout the ship," ditching the self-service salad bar, removing salt and pepper shakers and collective snacks in bars, and removing magazines and paperback books.

Guests who had been ill over the last three days had to reschedule appointments, and plastic gloves were available in the casino, Parks reported.

The CDC does more detailed health inspections periodically on the Veendam and other cruise ships, and posts inspection reports online. Inspections of below 85 are considered unsatisfactory.

The Veendam scored 96 out of 100 in its most recent inspection on April 6.

A CDC inspector found numerous minor violations, including soiled or moldy areas, plumbing that needed backflow prevention, and some food that was being stored at unsafe temperatures:

"(Two to three) trays of a prepared panna cotta dessert were 54 degrees Fahrenheit and were discarded, and one container of mascarpone cheese was 45 degrees Fahrenheit, and it was blast-chilled immediately. Action: Staff reinstructed on proper storage and cooling of potentially hazardous foods."

• Contact reporter Kate Golden at 523-2276 or e-mail

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