SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Nation/World

January 28, 2014

Cruise ship returning to US after illness outbreak

KINGSTON, Jamaica — A Royal Caribbean cruise ship headed back to its home port in the U.S. yesterday after hundreds of passengers and crew members fell ill with vomiting and diarrhea during what was supposed to be a 10-day getaway in the sun.

The Miami-based company announced Sunday evening that it was cutting short the Explorer of the Seas’ jaunt in the Caribbean a few hours after officials from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention boarded the ship to investigate the illness during its U.S. Virgin Islands port call.

According to the CDC, 577 out of 3,050 passengers reported being ill during the voyage that left Bayonne, N.J., last Tuesday. That’s nearly 19 percent of the vacationers. Forty-nine crew members also got sick.

Royal Caribbean’s medical team said the symptoms were consistent with the common and highly contagious norovirus. It is rarely fatal, but the CDC says it can be serious, especially for youngsters and older adults. The virus spreads quickly in closed quarters through contaminated food or liquids, contaminated surfaces and direct contact with an infected person.

CDC spokeswoman Bernadette Burden said tests would have to confirm what caused the illness outbreak on the 15-deck ship. Five samples were shipped to the U.S. health agency’s lab Sunday.

“We won’t know for a couple of days what the pathogen is. Cruise ships are unique. It can be difficult to identify a specific source,” she said in an email yesterday.

She said there had been no fatalities and no one was removed from the ship.

An Explorer of the Seas passenger named Arnee Dodd fell ill aboard the ship last week and was quarantined, as the other sick people were. In a Sunday tweet to The Associated Press, the Connecticut woman said: “We are all better, quarantine is over, and ship has been sanitized every day.”

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