Close to 700 sickened on Caribbean cruise

NEW JERSEY, United States, Friday January 31, 2014 – When Royal Caribbean’s Explorer of the Seas sets sail this afternoon, it will do so with the dubious distinction of just having emerged from one of the largest outbreaks of illness on a cruise ship in the last two decades.

Hundreds of passengers and crew members fell ill this week, cutting the affected cruise short and forcing the ship to return to port in Bayonne, New Jersey on Wednesday.

According to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), its Wednesday count put the number of those sickened at 630 passengers and 54 crew members. The ship, which was on a 10-day cruise prior to the outbreak, was carrying 3,050 passengers.

Health investigators suspicions fell heavily on norovirus pending laboratory confirmation. If indeed norovirus is to blame, it would be one of the largest norovirus outbreaks in the last 20 years, the CDC said. A 2006 norovirus outbreak on a Carnival Cruise Lines ship also sickened close to 700.

Norovirus is highly contagious and spreads rapidly in closed environments such as ships, hotels and hospitals. It can be picked up from an infected person, contaminated food or water or by touching contaminated surfaces.

Sometimes mistaken for the stomach flu, the virus causes bouts of vomiting and diarrhoea for a few days.

On Sunday, CDC investigators boarded the ship during its US Virgin Islands port call. The experts said no single food or water source or other origin had been identified.

The CDC said it recommended to Royal Caribbean that people who are still experiencing symptoms be housed in nearby hotels or seen at medical facilities before travelling home.

By way of compensation, Royal Caribbean is providing all guests a 50 percent refund of their cruise fares and an additional 50 percent future cruise credit. It’s also reimbursing airline change fees and accommodations for guests who had to change plans for travelling home.

Additionally, stricken guests who were confined to their staterooms with the illness are being provided a credit of one future cruise day for each day of confinement.

After returning to port, Explorer of the Seas was sanitized and no one was allowed on board for 24 hours or more as an extra precaution, according to the cruise line. Click here to receive free news bulletins via email from Caribbean360. (View sample)