November 26, 2002
Call it the "sequel of the Amsterdam saga": there has been another outbreak of an undetermined virus -- most likely the bedeviling Norwalk strain -- on Disney Magic. Despite a strenuous scrubbing of the ship at Port Canaveral Saturday -- by an additional 200 "cast members" according to a Disney statement -- passengers on the follow-up cruise are coming down with a flu-like illness. At this point, the count is about 60 out of the 2,400 passengers onboard -- last week's Disney Magic voyage counted some 275 who became ill. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is still investigating last week's outbreak and has said they should be able to identify the exact virus strain by the end of the week. In the meantime, Holland America continues to be plagued by Norwalk-like outbreaks as news reports say that 10 passengers on Statendam's most recent voyage, which docked yesterday in San Diego, fell ill with symptoms. This is the second outbreak this month on Statendam -- 42 passengers caught the "flu" while sailing a Hawaiian itinerary in early November. A Holland America spokeswoman did not respond today to a request for information. The Norwalk virus has plagued cruise lines for years, particularly during summers in the Alaska/Northwest Canada region. It is very contagious and is spread through contact with surfaces touched by the infected -- anything from a stair rail to a casino chip. Symptoms include nausea, diarrhea and vomiting and it generally lasts about two days. Typically, when cruise ships report a significant affected percentage (about 3 percent or more), they undergo an intense super-sanitation process, swabbing down surfaces with extra-strong cleaning products. But, despite efforts of Disney Magic's "cast members," not to mention intensified preventive measures taken by Holland America's Amsterdam, the illness continues to spread. While cruise lines, particularly Holland America over the Amsterdam outbreaks, are taking a lot of heat from media and travelers over handling of information (and sensitivity towards passengers) about Norwalk Virus, the air-borne strain, highly contagious, is not limited to floating pleasure palaces. Norwalk and look-alike viruses have caused similar outbreaks in other places, from a school near Houston to a hospital in London. The virus flourishes from well populated and enclosed areas.