A headline in the NoroBlog intrigued me - "Cruise Ships Causing Norovirus Outbreaks in Ports?" - indicating that norovirus is "often associated with cruise ship sickness." The article also raises the question whether cruise ships can infect the local port communities.
The cruise industry's PR people have been fighting the connection between norovirus and "cruise ship sickness" for many years.
Last week the cruise industry's trade organization, Cruise Line International Association (CLIA), wrote a letter to the Daytona Beach News Journal complaining that a writer made a connection between the virus and cruise ships and concluded that this is an illness that happens "often" on cruise ships.
CLIA's letter to the editor stated: "the overwhelming majority of norovirus outbreaks take place at land-based locations, such as schools, day care centers, hospitals and nursing homes." The one comment to the letter, from a passenger on the norovirus infected Queen Victoria cruise ships, dismissed the letter as "more cover-up from the cruise spokes people."
CLIA has made the "its-a-lot-worse-ashore" argument before. But arguing that it has a better record than day care centers and nursing homes seems counter-productive to the cruise line's image. Of course day care centers with a million kids who have not mastered the art of going to the toilet and washing their hands and then wipe their runny noses all over the toys are going to be a hotbed of viruses. And anyone entering a nursing home filled with incontinent geriatrics can instantly smell feces entering the facility.
The Food Poison Journal (affiliated with the Noroblog) reports that "outbreaks of gastrointestinal illness, and norovirus in particular, are not new to the cruise industry. In fact, the phenomenon prompted the CDC to create and oversee a "vessel sanitation program (VSP)."
Arguing against the label "cruise ship sickness" is a waste of time. The real debate should be whether sick cruise ships pose a health hazard to the local port communities.
In the past six weeks, the United States considered blocking the arrival of the Queen Victoria because of a norovirus outbreak - U.S. to Block Arrival of Queen Victoria After Norovirus Outbreak? - and a week earlier the U.K. considered impounding the Balmoral cruise ship because of a similar outbreak - "Cursed Cruise Ship" Balmoral At Risk of Being Impounded As Hundreds More Suffer Vomiting Bug.
The South Carolina Post and Courier ran an interesting article "Norovirus Confirmed Aboard Mercury" which reported on the concern that the Celebrity Mercury cruise ship - with over 400 norovirus infected passengers - could infect people living in Charleston.
The newspaper reports that Katie Zimmerman, a project manager with the Coastal Conservation League, received frantic calls and e-mails from residents concerned not only about infected passengers entering the city but also about trash from the ship entering local waters.
Cruise ships like the Mercury can dump completely untreated sewage 12 miles offshore. Although the article concludes that waste from the Mercury poses no risk to marine life or people who eat local seafood, there is a risk of contaminated water infecting shellfish which filter-feed.
In this day and age, it is barbaric to think that hundreds of CLIA cruise ships routinely dump human waste into the sea. Cruise lines dump waste because they register their cruise ships outside of U.S. jurisdiction in places like Liberia and Panama which don't care what the cruise lines do.
The thought of a cruise ship like the Mercury dumping hundreds of thousands of gallons of norovirus infected feces just 12 miles offshore South Carolina is particularly disgusting.
Even the worst run child care facilities and nursing homes don't do that.
Sick cruise passenger Bill Mahler's Food Poison Blog
Cruise Cleaners Telegraph.co.uk "Cruises: Norovirus Questions & Answers"