(1/26/14, 1:40 p.m. EST) -- In a statement, Royal Caribbean confirmed itinerary changes, which included bypassing a scheduled call on Labadee and heading for San Juan, where the ship underwent extensive cleaning on Friday. Line representative Janet Diaz also tells us that reports of two Norovirus-related deaths onboard are inaccurate: "We can confirm that the reported fatalities ... are false," Diaz said. "It is a rumor and untrue."
The number of affected passengers currently stands at 577 (18.9 percent).
(3:40 p.m. EST) -- Passengers onboard Royal Caribbean's Explorer of the Seas are facing a small outbreak of an unspecified gastrointestinal illness, the CDC is reporting on its website.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as of January 24, 2014, 281 of 3,050 passengers (9.21 percent) have reported Norovirus-type symptoms, as have 22 of 1,165 crewmembers (1.15 percent).
Cruise Critic first learned of the outbreak from member island284 who quoted from a friend's email: "The captain canceled the Welcome Back reception for tonight... We are not stopping at Labadee but continuing on to San Juan. Will get there at 8 pm and stay there until 10 pm the next day."
In response to the outbreak, crew have increased cleaning and disinfection procedures, as well as public announcements notifying passengers of the outbreak and encouraging hand washing and case reporting. A CDC Vessel Sanitation Program environmental health officer will board the ship in St. Thomas to conduct a health assessment, evaluate the outbreak and response and take samples.
The ship's next sailing, January 31, will be delayed for extensive shoreside sanitation.
Explorer of the Seas is the second Royal Caribbean ship to be hit by Norovirus so far this year. Less than 2 percent of passengers and crew on a recent Majesty of the Seas sailing were hit by the bug.
Norovirus is a gastrointestinal illness that causes flulike symptoms, including vomiting, low-grade fever and diarrhea. It spreads quickly when many people are confined to a small area, such as a cruise ship -- but also hotels, schools and hospitals. The best way to avoid catching the illness is to wash your hands thoroughly before and after eating and when you use the bathroom.
--By Dori Saltzman, News Editor