Norovirus Outbreak Impacts QM2 Holiday Cruise

December 30, 2010
(1:00 p.m. EST) -- Just in time for the new year, norovirus has arrived on Cunard's Queen Mary 2 (QM2). A minor outbreak of the illness, representing under 10 percent of passengers and crew, has struck the ship during its December 19 to January 3 Caribbean cruise.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as of December 28, 167 of 2,483 passengers (6.73 percent) have reported norovirus symptoms, as have 28 of 1,234 crewmembers (2.27 percent). Cunard spokesman Eric Flounders notes that "the maximum number of those with symptoms on any one day was 29 on Christmas Eve. It has been pretty much in single figures since."

Still, the outbreak has been stirring up discussion on Cruise Critic's message boards. Member shorebilly, who's currently onboard, posts that, "Many passengers [are] quarantined to their cabins, including our 12 yr old son for xmas eve, xmas and part of next day, and a few passengers expelled from the ship in Curacao for failing to maintain their quarantine." In a company statement, Cunard spokeswoman Jackie Chase confirmed that four passengers refused to obey ship protocol and remain in their cabins for 48 hours after consulting with the ship's medical team. She states, "Therefore, after having explained the situation carefully to them, and in accordance with our Booking Conditions and with the health and safety of all of our guests uppermost in mind, we had no choice but to ask them to disembark the ship in Curacao."

Cruzadict reported yesterday that "we are also on this cruise and the ship is still on red alert today. No drink menus on tables, no nibbles given automatically and the restaurant crew are really overworked as they have to work in shifts sanitising everywhere." The CDC confirms that Cunard has increased its cleaning and disinfection procedures onboard, in addition to having crewmembers dish out food at buffet venues and preparing a plan for a more thorough disinfection of the ship when it arrives in New York.

So just what is norovirus and how do you avoid contracting it?

Norovirus is a gastrointestinal illness that causes flu-like symptoms, such as vomiting, low-grade fever and diarrhea. It spreads quickly when many people are confined to a small area, such as a cruise ship -- but also nursing homes, dormitories and hotels -- and most outbreaks are reported during the winter months. The best way to avoid catching the illness is to wash your hands thoroughly before and after eating and when you use the toilet --cruise ships typically station hand sanitizer dispensers at the entrances of all restaurants -- and limit touching of other people.

For more on norovirus, see our feature story.

--by Erica Silverstein, Senior Editor