Cruise lines are required to report gastrointestinal outbreaks when they impact three percent or more of crew and passengers.
In response to the outbreak, Cunard staffers onboard have increased cleaning and disinfection. "We immediately initiated additional enhanced sanitation procedures to interrupt the person-to-person spread of this virus," the company notes in a statement today. "Our sanitation program ... includes such measures as thorough disinfection of high-touch surfaces like railings, door handles and elevator buttons; encouraging passengers to use correct hand washing procedures and enhancing this with the use of hand sanitizing gels placed throughout the ship; isolating ill passengers in cabins until non-contagious; encouraging passengers to use their own cabin's bathroom facilities; and providing regular verbal and written communication to passengers about steps they can take to stay well while onboard."
Cunard also sent specialists to the ship to provide support and asked its onboard medical personnel to collect specimens for analysis. The company confirms that Norovirus, an extremely contagious common virus, is the culprit.
CDC specialists have boarded the ship today during its call at Acapulco to "do an onboard investigation, distribute and analyze passenger and crew surveys, interview ill people, conduct an environmental health inspection, and make recommendations," according to its Web site.
Though QE2 may be the first ship of the year to experience the unwanted scourge of Noro, gastrointestinal illness is an equal opportunity offender. In December it struck significant (i.e. over three percent) percentages of passengers onboard Princess' Regal Princess and Sun Princess, NCL's Norwegian Wind, Holland America's Zaandam, Celebrity Cruises' Celebrity Summit and Carnival Liberty. Royal Caribbean wrestled with gastrointestinal illness on three ships during the month -- Serenade of the Seas, Adventure of the Seas and Freedom of the Seas. The situation was so severe on the latter that the CDC issued a rare "do not sail" recommendation and the line canceled several days of a week-long cruise.
Naturally, Norovirus, which occurs just about everywhere (only the cruise industry is required to report statistics), has been circulating through North America and the United Kingdom. In fact, the Hilton Hotel at Washington's Dulles Airport was closed this week for a significant scrubbing after 100 guests and 15 employees succumbed to the virus.
Take precautions to protect yourself -- whether on land or at sea; check out our tips in Norovirus: What You Need to Know.
--by Carolyn Spencer Brown, Editor