December 9, 2002
It appears that, for now, anyway, Norwalk-like outbreaks are no longer
bedeviling cruise lines. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention spokesman
Dave Forney reports that Holland America’s Amsterdam and Disney’s Magic --
both having sat out one cruise to prevent further spread of the viral
illness -- are sailing with a no-higher-than-normal percentages of ill
passengers. So, too, is Carnival’s Fascination, which has had “just a few
cases, nothing more than normal,” Forney says.
Ultimately, CDC investigations revealed that it was Norwalk that broke-out
on Amsterdam and Disney Magic. Whether that virus was the culprit on
Fascination, however, may never be known. “The Fascination staff failed to
collect stool samples (it’s in their protocol that they should have) so
we’ll never know,” Forney says.
The only ship still under investigation is P&O’s Oceana, which had more than
100 travelers report symptoms of Norwalk. Forney says that virtually
everyone afflicted arrived on the same charter air flight from the United
Kingdom where Norwalk is spreading amongst residents there.
The CDC sent an investigator to meet Oceana, which is sailing a Caribbean
itinerary, in Barbados on Saturday. While it was reported on CNN that the
port health authority of Barbados refused to allow Oceana’s ill passengers
to disembark during that port-of-call, tourism representatives today were
unable to confirm that fact (and a P&O spokeswoman disputed the story).
However, Forney does say that in the early days of the outbreak on Disney
Magic, authorities in Grand Cayman and Cozumel were leery about letting ill
travelers off the ship while in port. Officers from that vessel indeed did
ask passengers who had reported symptoms to stay onboard -- and required
sick crew to be confined to their cabins. Visits to those ports-of-call are
now back to normal.
In the wake of these outbreaks, Forney emphasizes that travelers should keep
a perspective. “We don’t downplay the fact that a lot of people got sick,”
he says. “But Norwalk Virus is the leading cause of non-bacterial
gastrointestinal illnesses.” Furthermore, he adds, the virus “is all over
the place. [The big difference] is that cruise ships have to report every
gastrointestinal case. It’s an extremely high surveillance for something
that, for land-based institutions, is non reportable.”