Brazil quarantines cruise ship over ‘some kind of food poisoning’

My parents are set to return today from their latest cruise out of Florida.

Hopefully their experience was better than that of the 1,987 passengers and 765 crew members aboard the Vision of the Seas, operated by Royal Caribbean International, who were ordered by health officials in Brazil to remain aboard after some 310 people suffered "some kind of food poisoning.”

The ship was allowed to leave Buzios Thursday afternoon and was expected to arrive in Santos around midnight. An agency spokeswoman said passengers who showed no symptoms would be free to leave. Those still ill would be taken to hospitals for treatment, with expenses paid by Royal Caribbean.

If cruising on a ship you’re now less likely to barf; norovirus outbreaks down

USA Today today says the U.S. Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta recorded just 13 outbreaks of gastrointestinal illness on cruise ships in 2009, down from 15 in 2008, 21 in 2007 and 34 in 2006.

The decline, moreover, came even as the number of people cruising continued to rise. The Cruise Lines International Association says the industry carried 13.2 million passengers in 2008, the last year for which data is available, up from 12.6 million in 2007 and 12.0 million in 2006.

Cruise ships arriving in U.S. ports must report all cases of gastrointestinal illness treated by on-board medical staff to the CDC’s Vessel Sanitation Program division, and a separate notification is required when the number of cases exceeds 2% of passengers and crew. When the number of cases exceeds 3% of passengers and crew the CDC issues a public report.

Fewer cruise ship norovirus outbreaks in 2007

The South Florida Sun-Sentinel reports that cruise passengers got a break last year, as serious cases of gastrointestinal illness at sea fell sharply after setting a record in 2006.

Last year, there were 16 confirmed outbreaks of norovirus on ships monitored by the CDC, down from 29 outbreaks the year before.

Federal ship regulators say cruise lines have become the model for fighting outbreaks of norovirus, which spreads easily and causes flu-like symptoms for 48 to 72 hours.

Capt. Jaret Ames, head of the vessel sanitation program at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, said,

"They’re much better at it today than they were in 2002."

Last year, 12.6 million people took a cruise worldwide. The cruise Web site calculates that at least 4,159 passengers fell ill with norovirus.

Steps to avoid norovirus on a cruise:

Don’t touch door handles, handrails or other communal surfaces and then touch your mouth or nose. Wash your hands often.

Make use of alcohol-based hand sanitizers, especially in food-service areas.

Before booking a cruise, compare health inspection reports of vessels and cruise lines.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Web site — — provides inspection scores. Any score below 85 is considered unsatisfactory.

Preventative handwashing limits pissed off passengers

The Evening Standard reports that 78 passengers have been stricken with norovirus and confined to their cabins on what has been dubbed The ‘Curse of Camilla’ cruise ship  on only its second cruise.
The passengers, including former Formula 1 motor-racing champion Sir Jackie Stewart, dubbed the Canary Islands trip the "cruise from hell" after complaining about poor room service, blocked toilets, a lack of Christmas decorations, cold food and extra charges for tea and coffee. They complained hygiene standards were "appalling" and that the outbreak was connected to poor food handling.

Passengers said it was only after the virus struck that Cunard provided alcohol-based hand gel to combat its spread – by which time it was too late.

Jean Trainor, 49, from Blackburn, Lancashire, said,

"No hygiene rules were implemented until people fell ill. If they had been, maybe this could have been avoided. There has also been problems with lavatories not flushing. Everyone I’ve spoken to is pissed off, including the crew because they’re having to put up with all the guests moaning. I resent having paid £7,500 to be on this cruise. I’ll never sail on the Queen Vic again."

Ron Wade, 71, from South Lanarkshire, said,

"I was very surprised that nobody was being told that they must wash their hands in antiseptic lotion as a matter of course. Since people became ill, we have all been advised not to use the public loos to stop the spread of the virus. Unfortunately, some of the loos in our cabins have been blocked."

The Evening Standard says that when Cunard’s £300million MS Queen Victoria luxury liner was officially launched by Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall in Southampton three weeks ago, the bottle of champagne failed to smash against the bow, prompting superstitious speculation that the ship was cursed.

Maybe. Or maybe cruise ships and their staff need to go out of their way to encourage handwashing and hygiene. And proper handwashing requires access to proper tools; before the outbreak happens.