Why Do the Cruise Lines Always Blame the Passengers When Norovirus Breaks Out?

Yesterday I mentioned that over one hundred people are sick with norovirus aboard the Crown Princess cruise ship which will be arriving in Galveston tomorrow at the end of a 20 day cruise from Italy.  This is the third outbreak of noro on this particular Princess cruise ship this year.

According to the Food & Drug Administration (FDA), although there are cases of noro illness transmitted by hand-to-hand contact, the most likely cause of a norovirus outbreak is contaminated water.  Contaminated food is also a likely culprit.

But if you study the last one hundred cruise ship norovirus cases, one thing is certain - the cruise line will always blame the passengers for bringing the virus aboard.

The New York Times just published a short (three sentence) article about the latest norovirus outbreak on the Princess ship. The newspaper reports that Princess is again pointing its finger at its passengers:

"A spokeswoman for Princess Cruises says more than 100 passengers and crew members contracted a stomach virus on one of its ships, the Crown Princess. The illness struck during a Venetian cruise due to end Saturday at Galveston. The spokeswoman said the cruise line suspects the virus was brought on board by passengers." 

If the cruise lines don't flat out accuse the passengers of being the problem, there will always be an implication that the passengers must not have washed their hands.

The amazing thing about the cruise industry is the frenzy activity when the ships come to port. A tremendous amount of provisions are brought aboard at every port, literally hundreds of thousands of pounds of beef, chicken, pork, fish and shellfish as well as every fruit and vegetable under the sun. Hundreds of thousands of gallons of water are pumped into the ship. The crew members get on and off the ship and of course the passengers do as well.

Cruise Ship NorovirusWas the food and/or water served to passengers on the ship contaminated? Did the passengers or crew eat contaminated food ashore?  Were the hands of a crew member involved in food preparation infected?

Proving exactly how the virus appears on a cruise ship is a difficult scientific process. But no one is engaged in such testing.  Yes, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) test to determine whether the gastrointestinal illness is due to noro or e-coli, but that's where the testing stops.

So the public is left with the blame game.  The Crown Princess has not even arrived at the port of Galveston where the CDC inspectors are awaiting. But Princess is already telling the New York Times that its contaminated ship is the fault of unidentified guests and their dirty hands.     

 

Photo Credit: Centers for Disease Control

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Comments (5) Read through and enter the discussion with the form at the end
Drazen - December 21, 2012 5:13 PM

I am crew member and I can say that 12 hour per day working in restaurant is probably not enough for cleaning to keep our guests safe and healthy . Everyone expecting from us to do something what is not possible and that is let guest wash their hands before they seat in restaurant. One of the biggest problems is that guest are allowed to take away food and keep in their cabins but they don't allowed cabin attendants to take that away because they scare of hunger. That food is the most dangerous because bacteria can easily and quickly to multiply. Take away food and eating with fingers is the point of all. Please take that once and for ever,when people go on vacation to relax and forget about everything that could cost them their health because they stop doing what they think and do on a daily basis. I CAN NOT wash my hands enough and cooks can not prepare enough fresh food as mush you can eat with unwashed hands. Stay safe!!!

Guy - December 21, 2012 6:31 PM

While there is nothing dispositive in circumstantial evidence, it is ludicrous that Princess looks no deeper than coincidence to explain *three* Noro outbreaks on the same ship in 12 months.

The reported distribution of 96 guests vs 4 crew in this latest outbreak strongly suggests something amiss in the passenger Food & Bev chain. Unless virtually all crew members avoid consumption of on-board tap water and ice, it seems statistically impossible that this outbreak is related to the ship's water supply.

The CDC's e-coli detectives have an amazing track record connecting the dots to identify the source of land-based outbreaks. Too bad their authority and mandate does not apparently include quarantine of a vessel to effect independent investigation, once a "beyond coincidence" threshold has been exceeded.

Job one would be to correlate the duties of sick crew members with their passenger contacts. Your prep line photo in today's blog graphically illustrates how one dirty gloved hand could infect dozens of guests.
A disturbing possibility is that of a disgruntled, disturbed crew member lashing out by working the prep line with a glove rendered intentionally septic with fecal matter -- a variant of the spitting-in-the-sandwich scene in Scorsese's "Casino."

The next investigatory step would be interviewing stricken guests to identify a common on-board dining or drinking venue. In our 20+ years of cruising, we note that guests often develop personal bar or dining preferences very early in a cruise, e.g. guests who prefer Lido buffet dining vs those who take all their meals in the full-service dining room. Rigorous testing of ice dispensers and other food service equipment in venues common to stricken passengers might quickly isolate the source.

You recently blogged about the extra steps taken by F&B Managers prior to a CDC inspection to help ensure a passing inspection, far beyond cleanliness standards when away from U.S. ports. We have personally witnessed these pre-inspection clean-fests, continuing into the wee hours the night before anticipated arrival of health inspectors.

Interestingly, Brazil is perhaps even stricter than the CDC. Per one on-board F&B manager with whom I spoke, Brazil levies hefty fines against ships failing their inspections. On each of our cruises touching Brazilian ports, we have witnessed Herculean pre-inspection cleaning frenzies.

Finally, on every line we've cruised, astute passengers witnessed a palpable change in food-service protocol upon approaching "inspection ports." Sneeze guards mysteriously appear where none previously existed, and buffet serving utensils are flipped 180 degrees, to be used only by gloved-handed servers instead of guests.

These anecdotes affirm that cruise lines habitually play fast and loose with the health of their guests. When there is a G.I. illness outbreak, it adds insult to injury that cruise lines routinely disclaim any responsibility, then fail to do their utmost to trace the source to help prevent a recurrence.

margaret donovan - December 23, 2012 9:58 AM

It doesn't surprise me about the novovirus on board. The last 3 cruises I've been on (one of which was the Crown Princess, one NCL & one Cunard) are not being stringent enough with passenger hand sanitation before touching the buffet serving utensils.

It would be well worth one employee enforcing this practice before passengers go through the line.

Terry Williams - December 26, 2012 12:34 AM

Tried to find out from Princess about sickness on crownd Princess and from CDC and were told by both there was no problem ?!!!!!! Houston TV and News paper report other wise 12-22-2012.
Princess is not keeping it's contract with passengers by not having a safe health wise ship for me to board. Princess statement is cancel and loose you money if you want. We take no responsibility for any illness, there fore you loose your money. BAD CUSTOMER RELATIONS. NO Information from CDC BIG cover up ------ DO NOT SAIL CROWN PRINCESS FOR AT LEAST 6 months

John and Becky G - January 7, 2013 2:38 PM

In November 2012 my wife and I were on a Viking River cruise of a lifetime and got a virus along with 17 others. Ship only holds 190 passengers so the percentage is relatively the same. We had to cut our trip short by 7 days and pay an astronomical charge to fly home last minute from Basel, Switzerland. We have a claim in with the cruise line since we bought the insurance for this cruise. We were careful to always wash our hands and use the antiseptic wash constantly but still got the virus. I don't think we have ever been that sick. My point, when we arrived home we had an email from Viking apologizing for our ruined trip but made sure to note it was not from anything they did wrong. They take no responsibility.

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