June 5, 2002
The “Norwalk Virus” struck some passengers on Ocean Princess last week as the ship sailed from Seward to Vancouver. The illness affected 81 passengers and 36 crew -- about 4 percent of the 2,040 passengers and 852 crew who were on board -- and was reported promptly to both the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Health Canada. Norwalk Virus is a highly contagious gastrointestinal affliction -- in this case moderate -- whose symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal cramps. It is spread very easily in contained areas -- cruise ships can be an easy target -- by person-to-person contact as well as through the air.
The numbers of those who fell ill on this particular voyage were amazingly low, says Health Canada’s Jamal Harb. “Credit has to be given to Princess for implementing strict preventive measures,” he says. “This kind of virus has a high attack rate and usually affects a lot of people.”
On Princess’ part, the ship, mid-cruise, immediately went to “level 2” sanitation, which calls for more intense -- and more frequent -- cleaning with stronger-than-usual disinfectants. Beyond that, staffers are distributing information to passengers on board all of its ships in Alaska that suggest precautionary tips -- “wash hands frequently and attempt to always use your own cabin's facilities” -- among others. It has also asked travel agents to alert their Princess/Alaska-bound clients.
Harb says that Norwalk Virus has been making the rounds in British Columbia and Alaska and that it appears passengers were already suffering from the illness when they boarded the ship in the first place. “We saw there were cases on the first and second day of the cruise,” he says, noting that the virus takes between 24 - 48 hours to show up in the first place.”
Health Canada -- the Canadian equivalent of the U.S.’ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention -- is in daily contact with Ocean Princess’ health officers throughout the next voyage, which left Vancouver Saturday and is due to arrive in Seward a week later. Jamal says the “numbers are very low on this current cruise because of Princess’ preventative measures.”
Princess spokesperson Denise Seomin confirms Harb’s report, saying “we have had a small percentage of cases across other cruises/Princess ships in Alaska, but the numbers of those affected is continuing to fall, and the situation appears to be mostly contained.”