Norovirus Outbreak on Caribbean Princess Cruise Ship

Diamond Princess NorovirusThis morning I received an email from a reader of Cruise Law News who said that the Princess Cruises' Caribbean Princess cruise ship will be arriving in Houston tomorrow night 36 hours or so early due to a norovirus outbreak. 

This evening the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that the Caribbean Princess has suffered an outbreak affecting the following people infected during its current January 25th - February 1st cruise:

  • 162 of 3102 passengers (5.22%); and
  • 11 of 1148 crew members (0.96%)

The CDC has not yet announced the type of pathogens involved in this latest cruise ship infection.

A Houston newspaper said the virus was norovirus.

The newspaper also said that Princess Cruises issued a statement today saying "that the trip was cut short by one day because of thick fog expected over the weekend."

Yeah, right.

Princess Cruises was recently featured in Time Magazine's Top 13 Worst cruise Ship Norovirus Outbreaks.  

Princess Cruises had five of the worst outbreaks: Crown Princess (January 2010) - 396; Crown Princess (February 2012) - 363; Ruby Princess (March 2013) - 276; Coral Princess (February 2009) - 271; and Sun Princess (July 2012) - 216.

The last gastrointestinal illness outbreak on a Princess cruise ship involved the Diamond Princess just two weeks ago.

How is Princess handing this latest outbreak? Leave a comment below or join the discussion on our Facebook page.

January 30, 2014 Update:  Cruise expert Professor Ross Klein received information from cruise passengers indicating that there were problems with norovirus on the prior cruise:

"From a reader: Passengers have been notified that during the current cruise there has been an increase in the number of cases of gastrointestinal illness amongst passengers caused by Norovirus. In response, we have arranged for the ship to undergo a prolonged and additional disinfection in Houston on Saturday, January 11, 2014. As a consequence, cruise check-in and embarkation will be delayed until 2:00 pm.

This was also noted by a passenger who just disembarked the ship who said, "Cabins on both sides of us had to be sanitized due the passengers being sick."

January 31, 2014 Update: "Blame Game: Princess Accuses Passengers of Starting Norovirus Outbreak on Caribbean Princess."  "Not our fault" says the PR people at Princess Cruises. How about letting the experts conclude their investigation first?

 

Photo Credit: Wikipedia / Yankeesman312

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Comments (18) Read through and enter the discussion with the form at the end
John Goldsmith - January 30, 2014 8:18 PM

Fill me in here folks,
Is the CDC a government agency?
If so can they not compel the ships to remain achored until cleared?
If not, Can the U.S. Government hold the Vessel in port until such time that it is cleaned.
Any Laws without teeth, will be will not be of any use.
Now there is another ship, another outbreak and whether you agree or not Jim, there is a reduction in people buying cruises. We are somewhat concerned, hence we will be doing on land holidays this years. And watching how the reporting goes on these ships.
Thanks

Priscila - January 30, 2014 8:55 PM

I work on Princess and I worked in another companies before. Is amazing that in 8 years I only experienced norovirus on americans ships... But, americans companies are more carefull about it as well... The others were durty (like MSC CROCIERI) and I never heard about norovirus there...

Anyway... We, as crew members, are really carefull about this and we do our best onboard. But when we spray alcohol gel on passenger's hands they clean their hands in their pants!! They don't wash hands after using the toillet!! So, even if we, crew members, are very clean and work hard following USPH rules, we need passengers cooperation!! (Of course we have amazing passengers too!!)

I got norovirus once... Even cleaning all my working space and washing my hands all the time, but if everybody were like this less ppl would get ill...

WASH YOUR HANDS!! USE ALCOHOL GEL!! IF YOU HAVE ONE OF THE SYMPTOMS, REPORT IMMEDIATELY!! Don't go to the shops and ask for medicine... Call purser's desk and ask for assistance!!

Bob Ganson - January 30, 2014 10:24 PM

We were on Caribbean Princess last week (Jan. 18 sailing). The ship delayed boarding for about 1 hour due to disinfecting. On board, we experienced a high degree of attention to personal hygiene. At dinner we were served bread and butter, but could not have it on our table. In the buffets, you could not serve yourself but had to be served by staff. I did not hear of any norovirus on our cruise and certainly did not experience it ourselves.

Jane Doe - January 31, 2014 12:50 AM

On the Caribbean Princess now ( Jan 30) waiting to disembark tomorrow morning in Houston. Princess claims we came back early because of fog. Did not tell passengers the primary reason with Noro virus. Unhappy with Princess being disingenuous. Why not just tell us were coming back because of the Nora virus. Is it possible there a financial ramifications?

Arno Ahrens - January 31, 2014 2:23 AM

We want to help the Cruise Lines.
www. Steripower. de. On all German Cruise Ships
AIDA, TUI, Hapag Lloyd, Phoenix ....!!!
Perfekt Handdesinfektion. And no
Outbreaks in the last years.

Richard Fain - January 31, 2014 8:56 AM

I think it is reprehensible that Princess engage in such trickery. Shame on them!
I would only sail on RCL ships. You get a lovely one week Caribbean cruise plus you can actually drop a few pounds along the way as part of our "blow chow" shipboard activity!

advin vaz - January 31, 2014 9:40 AM

I have was working for Ncl company as sanitation for 8 eight the only you can prevention novo vires by washing hands in warm water in 90 to 115 F and sanitary the hole ship and forger the all round every night in all area

Cheryl Cozad - January 31, 2014 9:48 AM

My husband and I were on the Caribbean Princes for the Jan. 11-18 cruise. Twenty minutes before reaching the embarkation port we received an email saying the ship was delayed due to fog and the need to sanitize the ship due to a Noro virus outbreak. We were delayed 4 hours. On board we were told if we experienced any of the symptoms to immediately call medical at 911. On that same intercom message it said you will not be charged for this call. I contracted the symptoms 3 days into the cruise and called medical. They immediately came up and treated me (and I found out later I was charged $135). Each day I was called twice a day to see how I was doing and our room was sanitized twice a day. I was not allowed to leave my room from Wed. thru late Fri. afternoon despite telling them I felt fine Thurs. and Fri. I had to miss 2 ports and half my cruise. When I wrote a letter to the Princess customer relations department all they said was that the CDC approved of the way they were handling the situation and therefore there would be no reimbursement to me on my losses. Obviously what the CDC approves of has little to do with how you treat your customers. People who came down with the virus and did the right thing in reporting their illness to prevent others from getting it should be compensated for their losses. Princess knew there was an outbreak on this ship and we were given no prior notice to be given the chance to cancel. Cruise ships need to be held accountable. Some form of compensation should be given to those who report the illness, abide by the rules and end up missing most of the cruise that they paid a lot of money to enjoy.

Barbara Smith - January 31, 2014 1:19 PM

My husband and I along with 11 other people were on the Jan 11- 18 Caribbean Princess sailing out of Houston! We were notified of the virus on the prior sailing and were delayed for our departure. We was so appreciative of the way the crew handled everything. We are so sorry to hear about people getting infected to this virus.

Laura - January 31, 2014 3:27 PM

I've worked for Princess many years and we rarely go under norovirus problems in the staff section. But once a passenger gets sick is easily spread. The reason is simply because hygiene is not enforced strongly to passengers and if it is, passengers are in the impression that is not part of their responsibility to wash their hands or stay in their cabin if sick or even see the doctor because "it's too expensive." Princess has spoiled passengers to the point that workers have to clean after them 24/7 and if one gets sick it's the company's fault. If hygiene was enforced strong to passengers for example: to not eat if washing their hands wasn't done. Or not enter the ship if sick period. Because it will not only ruin other passengers' vacation but they will get the staff sick. Staff members are isolated if we have any virus, but not passengers. Which in fact they should be isolated too!

Jane Gedvilas - January 31, 2014 3:38 PM

I was on the Jan 18th sailing. Extra precautions were taken all week by the ship so that there would be no further outbreaks of this from the previous week. I saw nor heard of no illness during our cruise. Perhaps they should set back the boarding time each week and do a through cleaning to insure this does not happen. It would certainly be less expensive for them than offering discounts after the fact.

Sam - January 31, 2014 5:16 PM

Get over it, it is just alittle GI
It happens more than anyone knows, I have worked on ships for well over 4 years. If employees get it, they are quarenteed. Passagers get "isolated" but end up leaving their cabin not listening to instructions.. going to the buffet or getting flagged at dinner for showing up. Wash your hands more often.

Faye Whiddon - January 31, 2014 5:49 PM

These cruises are nothing more than bacteria festivals...with toilets that do not flush properly, gross people serving themselves the leftover food with unwashed hands. A one-time disgusting experience for me.

Bogie - February 2, 2014 12:58 AM

..been on the Caribbean Princess ..no problem
...been on the Sapphire Princess ..no problem
..expect to be on Emerald Princess soon.
Tips:
wash hands often ....sanitize hands before and after going through a buffet line ...avoid touching things with hands as much as you can ....carry an alchohol based hand sanitizer with you, and use it as often as you feel you must.

Enjoy your cruise!!! Stay healthy!!!

Lyn - February 4, 2014 2:22 PM

We sailed on the Coral Princess Jan 19 -30 2014 they also had a norovirus outbreak which did not make the news. Had we known that this cruise line is owned by Carnival we would never have gotten on the ship.

Jeff - February 26, 2014 11:44 PM

If you follow the news at all, you know there have been several cruise ship outbreaks that led to truncated voyages over the last few weeks due to Norovirus. Some new records have been hit, with one ship reporting more than 700 cases. After returning to port, infected passengers were advised to go to local hotels and quarantine themselves until they were better.

If you've never been on a cruise, they are wonderful (sans an outbreak, of course). You get an entire vacation packaged with room, food, excursions, activities, entertainment, etc. in one, easy-to-schedule price— and you typically see a variety of amazing destinations in only a few days that would otherwise be a logistical feat (or nightmare) to schedule on your own. I say that because I'm a big fan, so this post isn't intended to deter you from a cruise. It might lead you to do a little more research on the cruise line you choose, however… and hopefully save you a virus.

Crisis Communications in Full Swing

After the first outbreak was reported, I actually communicated over social media with one woman who was on the ship with the largest number of cases. She said the staff were standing in front of the buffet lines with a pump bottle of hand sanitizer, and other staff members were spraying and wiping a sanitizing chemicals wherever they could. They looked calm on the outside, but it was clear they were all a bit panicked on the inside... they just didn't know what else to do.

Then I saw classic PR crisis communications in full play (and I can't blame them): the cruise line brought in a solution for spraying sanitizer, and posted an official response with plenty of pics next to the new machines and the company providing the services. And yes, that's what Level4 Bio offers (it wasn't us… yet!), but there are some big differences… which I'll come to in a bit.

So What is Norovirus, Really?

In laymen's terms, it's the winter vomiting bug, and a common cause of diarrhea (gastroenteritis). According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Noroviruses cause 19-21 million infections, 56,000-71,000 hospitalizations and 570-800 deaths every year in the United States. Norovirus infection is sometimes misnamed "stomach flu", however, Gastroenteritis is not associated with flu, a respiratory infection.

Norovirus infection outbreaks are more likely to occur in crowded or closed communities, such as cruise ships, long-term care facilities, prisons, overnight camps and dormitories - places where the virus can spread rapidly from human-to-human.

According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, the most common causes of human norovirus infections are contaminated foods, shellfish, ready-to-eat foods that were handled by infected workers (salads, ice, cookies, fruit and sandwiches), or any food contaminated with the feces or vomit of an infected person.

And What Are the Cruise Ships Possibly Missing?

I saw several articles before the holidays commenting that this might be a tough virus winter… but ships are being hit pretty hard… imagine 700+ people on a self-contained vessel all vomiting and chained to the commode. There's nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. Cleaning staff are entering rooms, cleaning as best they can, but spraying and wiping with rags, which can often cause more cross contamination and spread the virus further.

As far as I can discern (and from my exchanges with passengers), they are using hand sanitizers, and some other sanitizing chemicals (possibly water-based) and spraying / wiping high traffic areas. I've watched videos on this new sanitizing spray service that one cruise line is promoting and while spraying their sanitizing chemical, they have to put large trash bags around TV's and other electronics.

I also happen to know their chemical is extremely noxious, and not safe for anyone to be around soon after a service. I would like to warn that cruise ship, but I'm not able to reach anyone to get a message into the right person. Trust me, I've been trying. They might be trading one problem for another. And clearly from that company's own promotional videos, they can't sanitize machines, metals or fine electronics… which on a cruise ship, equates to a lot of areas that are likely being completely missed, but that are high traffic areas:

Slots / gaming machines in casinos
In-room electronics such as phones, TVs
TVs and phones in public access areas
Buffet tables and food-warming heaters
Entire kitchen facilities
Computers and control machinery in staff areas
Elevators and staircase rails
Room doors and electronic key entry devices
Metals such as vents, fans, doors, etc. in common areas and public access restrooms
and probably much more
Many viruses prefer warm areas, so electronics are a common breeding ground and therefore a common transmission point. And with so many people in close quarters and roaming the same acres of ship as 2000+ other passengers, there's an endless list of places where noxious, water based chemicals simply cannot do an effective job.

Clearly, much is being missed.

The Bigger Picture

Hand sanitizers are a very small part of the solution and clearly in all of these latest cruise ship scenarios, weren't terribly effective in containing the virus. And we've been posting social media and notes to the CDC for years, yet they still recommend hand sanitizers, and this:

Clean and disinfect contaminated surfaces

After throwing up or having diarrhea, immediately clean and disinfect contaminated surfaces. Use a chlorine bleach solution with a concentration of 1000–5000 ppm (5–25 tablespoons of household bleach [5.25%] per gallon of water) or other disinfectant registered as effective against norovirus by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

To have an effective infection control protocol, you need to sanitize entire areas - not just where passengers are 'expelling.' The operative part is highlighted in red… "Use a chlorine bleach solution with water…" This isn't an EPA / green solution. You can't put chlorine or noxious chemicals into close, crowded quarters like a cruise ship (or anywhere, in all honesty) or risk them going into the ocean.

The real solution is the last part of their recommendation: "OR OTHER DISINFECTANT" — the problem is, people don't know what else is available that can address an entire cruise ship from floor to ceiling, top to bottom and everywhere in between. And a solution that can completely saturate metals, machines and fine electronics without damage or corrosion.

An Alternative to Consider

It's our blog, so yep - we're going to say it. Here are some great reasons why the cruise ships should give us a look:

We can completely saturate metals and fine electronics absolutely anywhere (and any material, for that matter) without any damage or corrosion.
Our solution is lab tested to effectively kill a long list of viruses and bacteria including Norovirus on any surface.
Our sanitizing formula is EPA approved, and our machines are FDA registered.
Our patented technology atomizes our chemical formula and dries in minutes - leaving areas clean and ready for almost immediate use.
There are absolutely no noxious chemicals, no rinsing, no wiping, no chlorine bleach or other harmful chemicals that are harmful to people or the environment.
We started Level4 Bio to help prevent outbreaks and save even 1 life from the often devastating effects of harmful pathogens. My sincere hope is that many people read this and pass it on, and ideally, it gets to the right decision makers at the cruise ship companies so they can consider an alternative, since clearly the current sanitizing techniques are not quite doing the job.

I welcome your comments, and if you're headed on a cruise soon, I wish you a safe and healthy voyage!

Jeff Halmekangas
President
Level4 Bio

Rosalyn Berger - April 7, 2014 8:30 PM

Ok folks I am on code red alert on Crown Princess today. We embarked four hours late on Saturday so they could ditto all of the above. We cannot touch anything,
I have plastic gloves and am eating in International Cafe no restaurant no buffet . Upon embarking they herded us like prisoners in different areas all yelling, if you are Elite you can have coffee and cold sandwich but if Platinum or less you cannot. Finally gave us ticket for water. They really are not handling this repeated episode well. Today had wonderful Sonoma day but coming back to our restrictions is annoying . They cannot use lime or lemon in various venues, why cause they are refrigerated so those are not allowed. Some of older ships on this line should be scraped by now. Somethin something not kosher really. Evidently today we were informed again call 911 don't leave rooms when your tummy is bummy. Illness is back and rearing it's ugly head . Some singles like myself pay double and nothing is done really for all the fears they are planting in heads . The first day was the shocking day when police informed me at 1215, you will out here until 3 or 4 pm to clear the ship!!!!

Bill - September 29, 2014 5:02 PM

The Cruise Industry could greatly decrease the outbreak of these cases by changing their refund/exchange policy. Many passengers simply lie about not being sick to board the cruise because these cruise ships will not reimburse or credit them for a future cruise should they be honest and tell them they have a serious contagious illness.

I did the right thing recently and did not board a cruise I was dying to go on and lost $1,500. The MSC cruise line would not even consider and exchange for a future cruise. How absurd is that. If you have a letter from a doctor stating this they should do right by their clients and offer a refund or credit for a future cruise.

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