350 Sick on Celebrity Cruise Ship


Approximately 350 people who fell sick on a cruise ship are feeling better with medication, writes the Associated Press (AP). The Celebrity Mercury left its South Carolina port on February 15 destined for the Caribbean.

Celebrity spokeswoman, Cynthia Martinez, said that 326 of 1,800 passengers began reporting gastrointestinal ailments such as upset stomachs, vomiting, and diarrhea on Sunday, said the AP. Twenty-seven of the 850 crew members have reported similar symptoms, added AP. So far, the cause of the outbreak is unknown.

After arrival in the Leeward Islands, an additional physician and two nurses were brought on board to assist. The vessel is due to arrive in Charleston on Friday, said the AP.

Norovirus was deemed the source in more than 60 ship outbreaks since 2005, according to the New York Times. Occurring frequently in closed populations, such as a cruise ship, Norovirus can live at room temperature on surfaces for weeks. Chlorine bleach seems to be the only effective means of elimination.

Last November, a study published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases indicated that clean public bathrooms on ships are imperative to ward off  Norovirus, however, those responsible for sanitation are not doing a stellar job. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), responsible for monitoring cruise ship cleanliness, is also rather derelict in detecting dirty cruise ship bathrooms and other areas of concern.

The study used undercover health care professionals to evaluate the “Thoroughness of Disinfection Cleaning” of six standardized objects (toilet seat, flush handle or button, toilet stall inner handhold, stall inner door handle, restroom inner door handle, and baby changing table surfaces) with high potential for fecal contamination in cruise ship public restrooms. The investigators used a solution visible only under ultraviolet light to mark objects, which were monitored for five to seven days to evaluate if the solution had been removed by cleaning or disinfecting.

Fifty-six cruise ships, less than 30 percent operated by nine large cruise lines, were inspected from July 2005 through August 2008. During the three-year study, there were 19 outbreaks of intestinal illness. Although the survey was not designed to detect Norovirus or establish the cause of any specific illness, restroom cleanliness scores were slightly lower on ships that had outbreaks. The investigators discovered that only 37 percent of 8,344 objects in 273 randomly selected cruise ship public restrooms were actually cleaned daily.

The CDC Vessel Sanitation Program, although not perfect, lists inspection scores and corrective action measures for cruise ships. Interestingly, the Celebrity Mercury’s last inspection was 10/22/2009 with an acceptable score of 94 out of 100. Inspection scores below 85 are NOT acceptable, says the CDC. It is prudent to check a ship’s score before booking a cruise. A high score is not a guarantee that an illness will not occur, but it is an indication of the crew’s diligence regarding sanitation. The appropriate website is: www.cdc.gov/nceh/vsp/