Crewmember on Olympic Security Cruise Ship Has Leprosy

February 20, 2010
(12:15 p.m. EST) -- Canadian health officials confirmed on Friday that a crewmember aboard Holland America's Statendam has leprosy. The 55,819-ton, 1,258-passenger cruise ship is docked in Vancouver and being used to house Royal Canadian Mounted Police and Canadian military forces for the 2010 Winter Games.

According to a statement from Holland America, the crewmember worked in the engine room and was diagnosed with the condition during a routine examination on Thursday. Health Canada and Vancouver Coastal Health were consulted immediately, and the man was treated locally. He has since traveled home for continued treatment under the care of medical staff (as of press time, we've yet to determine where home is).

The crewmember is said to have had no contact with other passengers, and there have been no reports of other cases of the disease onboard Statendam.

Vancouver Coastal Health said in a separate statement that neither the passengers nor the public are at any risk. The condition, which is also known as Hansen's Disease, is caused by a bacterial infection that affects the skin and nerves and can lead to disfigurement and blindness if left untreated. Known since biblical times, leprosy has left an indelible mark on human society over the millennia. But while the disease still affects large numbers of people in parts of Africa and South America, it is not considered highly contagious and is easily treated with antibiotics, according to the World Health Organization.

Cases of leprosy are extremely rare in the developed world. Canadian provincial health officer Dr. Perry Kendall told The Vancouver Sun that British Columbia only sees one or two cases a year.

Statendam is one of three ships being used as temporary accommodations for some 7,500 security personnel during the Vancouver Olympics. HAL's Oosterdam and Carnival Elation are the other two.

--by Dan Askin, Associate Editor