May 20, 2003
Media reports to the contrary, Norwegian Cruise Line's Norwegian Sky, sailing Alaska itineraries out of Seattle, did not have an "outbreak" of Norovirus on its most recent voyage, ending Saturday. In a statement, NCL said: "we know with certainty that approximately two and a half percent of the guests on board Norwegian Sky's six-day voyage departing May 11 from Vancouver to Seattle reported to the ship's medical center during the cruise, with various symptoms of stomach flu generally lasting 24 hours. This is an incidence level that falls below the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) threshold for an 'outbreak'. Nevertheless, we have been in close touch with the CDC and continue to be." Indeed, according to protocol, the captain of Norwegian Sky immediately contacted the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, which monitors health issues on cruise ships. "They let us know ahead of time they were starting to see cases," says the CDC's Dave Forney, "and were initiating their protocols." According to Forney, an "official" outbreak on a seven day cruise is considered when three percent of passengers have reportedly fallen ill with a gastrointestinal virus. At this point -- while still pretty early in the Alaska season -- no ships have had three percent or more. The CDC says that NCL Sky, now on a follow-up cruise, is reporting to them daily as a follow-up measure and, as of today, has seen no significant issue with Norovirus. Even though Norovirus (formerly known as Norwalk Virus) has intermittently plagued cruise ships sailing the summer season in Alaska/British Columbia for years, last autumn's high-profile series of outbreaks, primarily in the Caribbean, spread across numerous cruise lines and raised awareness of the easily-spreading gastrointestinal illness to new heights. As a result, health officials have much more knowledge of the cause and effect of Norovirus, which Forney calls the "the most common cause of GI illness in the U.S." And cruise lines have developed far more sophisticated means of preventing its spread, from enhanced sanitizing to quarantining those exhibiting symptoms.