A Seattle news station King5.com reports today that norovirus sickened 100 people on Princess Cruises' Sapphire Princess cruise ship based in Seattle.
As we have reported in prior blogs, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) concludes that whereas "person to person" transmission of norovirus has been documented, "norwalk gastroenteritis is transmitted by the fecal-oral route via contaminated water and foods." The FDA reports that "water is the most common source of outbreaks and may include water from municipal supplies, well, recreational lakes, swimming pools, and water stored aboard cruise ships."
But Julie Benson (right), the PR person for Princess Cruises, blamed passengers for probably carrying Norovirus on board the cruise ship.
Of course, there is no proof of this. Ms. Benson is just a PR person and a script reader - not a doctor, scientist or epidemiologist. It is part of the cruise industry's play book to always blame the passengers for bringing norovirus aboard. It is far more likely - according to the FDA - that there is contaminated food or water on the cruise ship. How did Ms. Benson figure out that the passengers brought the virus aboard, rather than poor hygiene by the crew or infected food or water? The outbreak has not even been investigated by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
The CDC database for cruise ship norovirus outbreaks is here.
Blame-the-passengers is just the script that poor Ms. Benson has to read.
Passengers suffered through norovirus on several cruises on the the Grand Princess just last month. You can read about those cases here and here. One of the problems with Princess is that the cruise line charges passengers around a $100 just for a nurse to come to the cabin when a passenger is infected with norovirus. Some passengers didn't report their illnesses to avoid the excessive charges for "medical treatment." At the same time, Princess didn't try to sanitize cabins where no one reported an illness, as reported by this passenger. This may have led to additional outbreaks on the next cruise.
The passenger also thought that the public toilets on the cruise ships may be a problem. Disease experts have inspected toilets on cruise ships in the past, with disgusting results: Cruise Ship Norovirus - Clean the Damn Toilets!
Lawyers in the U.K. are suing the cruise line for improper cleaning procedures aboard the Grand Princess. The litigation is being handled by U.K. lawyers, Irwin Mitchell which specializes in travel law in England. The firm is demanding that passengers are informed of health risks on the cruise ship in advance of it sailing and given the choice of continuing their holiday, choosing an alternative or getting their money back. According to the Guardian newspaper, the Irwin Mitchell lawyers criticized that Princess is only devoting two hours for "extra cleaning:"
"The fact that this liner has been allowed to set sail again so quickly is astounding given the reports of such widespread illness on the preceding cruise . . . For maximum effect this would normally have taken at least two days. I struggle to see how a fully effective deep-clean of such a large ship could be achieved in a few short hours."
For other articles about the cruise ship sickness, norovirus, in general read here.
Were you aboard the Sapphire Princess or Grand Princess during these recent norovirus outbreaks? Were more passengers and crew infected than reported? How did the cruise line handle the problem? Please leave your comments below.
Don't forget to watch the video below:
June 8, 2010 Update:
AOL Travel published an article "Sick Ship in Europe and Alaska" about the Sapphire Princess as well as Celebrity's Constellation, where norovirus infected at least 204 passengers and 34 crew members. A comment by one reader: "What they don't tell you is Norovirus is often a food-borne illness. Food is cruise line's stock and trade. They don't want you to know that it may be coming from the kitchen!"
Julie Benson Twitter.com