P&O Passengers Hit With Hepatitis E on "Jinxed" Aurora

May 1, 2008

P&O Cruises has gone from a high to a low in a very short space of time.

Just two weeks ago the line was celebrating the launch of its newest and most innovative ship, Ventura. Now it has emerged that seven passengers who travelled on Aurora's 2008 world cruise have contracted the virus Hepatitis E, which can cause inflammation of the liver.

The passengers caught the virus while sailing onboard the 76,000-ton, 1,800-passenger ship, which left Southampton on January 7 and returned on March 28 after sailing around the world. Both P&O and the U.K.'s Health Protection Agency have released statements saying that the illness was most likely contracted by eating or drinking contaminated food or water whilst ashore and that person to person contact was uncommon and unlikely.

The U.K.'s HPA invited all passengers who were onboard the Aurora to take part in a study; approximately 1,100 passengers expressed an interest in volunteering, but only around 600 provided blood samples within the short timeframe available for Hepatitis E testing.

The ship has been the star in a series of not-so-great events in the past few years. The Telegraph's Web site reports that: "The outbreak is the latest in a run of jinxes to hit the £200 million Aurora. First the bottle of Champagne failed to smash when the Princess Royal named her in 2000. Then in 2003, 600 passengers and crew caught the Norovirus. Two years later the ship spent 11 days circling the Isle of Wight while an engine problem was repaired before a round the world cruise was abandoned."

So what is Hepatitis E? According to the HPA here are the facts:

Hepatitis E is an uncommon viral infection that can cause inflammation of the liver -- it usually results in a mild, self-limiting infection. Only in very rare cases does it prove fatal, with pregnant women at greater risk. Hepatitis E is a relatively uncommon cause of hepatitis in the U.K.; in 2006 there were 292 reported cases of which the majority were travel associated.

Hepatitis E can be acquired through eating contaminated food and water. Symptoms include yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice), darkening of the urine, and pale stools, which may or may not be accompanied by tiredness, abdominal pain and loss of appetite.

The average incubation period for Hepatitis E is 40 days (range 15 - 60 days), so people may have been exposed to a contaminated source some time before they experience symptoms.

The disease usually clears by itself within one to four weeks, and requires no specific treatment, although people in more at risk groups may require closer observation.

National tabloid paper The Sun has told how travellers "turned yellow and suffered severe sickness" after being struck with the liver infection.

P&O was unable to give the total number of passengers onboard throughout the 12-week cruise but said that 1,588 bookings were made. The ship received a score of 100 following their last inspection by the United States Public Health Service and was cleared by Southampton Port Health on April 6 as ready to sail.

--by Kelly Ranson, Associate Editor