Norwalk Ebbs Away

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.”