Norovirus sickens more than 150; forces cruise ship to dock in Virginia

NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — A cruise ship docked in Norfolk has seen a recent outbreak of norovirus, according to the CDC.

The CDC says 153 of the 917 passengers and six crew members have all reported being ill during the ship’s voyage.

The cruise ship, Fred Olsen Cruise’s Balmoral, was welcomed into port at the Half Moone at Nauticus in Norfolk on Thursday.

Captain Bent Ivar Gangdal says the figure of 153 ill passengers spans a two-week period from when the ship’s voyage started. He added the ship currently has seven passengers with norovirus.

Gangdal addressed the outbreak in a news conference with local media on Friday.

Passengers have told 10 On Your Side’s Erin Kelly that they were unable to dock in Bermuda April 25 due to the illness.

The Balmoral left for Norfolk a full 24 hours early, after the decision was made not to dock in Bermuda as planned. Gangdal says they contacted the CDC and the port in Norfolk about the early departure from Bermuda.

Erin also reported Friday that passengers were exiting the Balmoral Friday morning

According to Gangdal, passengers who had not contracted norovirus got off the ship on Thursday. However, sick passengers have been told to stay in isolation until they are free of symptoms.

“It’s like a common-cold bug,” Gangdal said when describing the virus. “So when people are reporting it, they have been instructed to go to their cabin, and remain there for 48 hours.”

The Balmoral docked at Half Moone in Norfolk. Credit: Jeannie Cookson/Facebook.
The Balmoral docked at Half Moone in Norfolk. Credit: Jeannie Cookson/Facebook.

Gangdal says there were two U.S. nationals aboard the ship, with the rest of the passengers being from the United Kingdom. He confirmed that the ship had a case of norovirus on a previous cruise.

The Balmoral changed guests on April 16. Guests then began showing symptoms of the virus two days into the voyage, according to Gangdal.

CDC officials say the crew has taken several actions in response to the outbreak, including collecting stool specimens from affected passengers and crew members for testing.

The crew of the Balmoral is also sending daily reports of cases to CDC Vessel Sanitation Program officials.

Fred Olsen Cruise Lines issued the following statement on the outbreak to WAVY.com:

Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines can confirm that Balmoral has not been quarantined in Norfolk. A gastro-enteritis type illness has affected a number of guests on board its 34-night L1608 ‘Old England to New England’ cruise, which departed from Southampton on 16th April 2016. There are currently just seven guests in isolation, out of a total of 1,434 guests and crew on board, and the incidences have substantially reduced. There are no US nationals on board this cruise, with the majority of guests being from the UK.

Balmoral will be continuing to Baltimore this evening, as originally planned.

Fred. Olsen has been undertaking extensive sanitisation measures and cleaning of the ship, in accordance with its strict illness containment and prevention plan. It is believed that the highly-contagious gastric illness was brought onto the ship, and is spread by person-to-person – or surface-to-surface – contact. Clusters are more commonly seen in areas where people are in close confines, such as hotels, schools and hospitals, as well as cruise ships. Most people do not report incidences, but on a cruise ship, cases are particularly highlighted. Commonly, the illness abates within one or two days. Those guests who are affected are asked to remain in their rooms during this time – with complimentary room service and in-room entertainment.

Fred. Olsen is co-operating fully with all the necessary maritime agencies and authorities,‎ as Balmoral continues on her cruise, and will continue to make e‎very effort possible to ensure the safety and well-being of all its guests and crew on board, which is of paramount ‎importance. Fred. Olsen exceeds the requirements of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in that it isolates its guests in their rooms for 48 hours, instead of the 24 hours required by the CDC.

Fred. Olsen’s cruise ships meet, at all times, the highest safety, hygiene and health standards, and comply fully with the strict requirements and inspections of their Flag State, the Maritime and Coastguard Agency and other relevant authorities.

The same ship had a norovirus outbreak in 2010, with 293 reported illnesses then.

Norovirus, which is a highly contagious virus that causes stomach pain, nausea and diarrhea, causes around 20 million illnesses every year, according to CDC estimates. The CDC has listed several tips on its website for preventing infection, including:

  • Practicing proper hand hygiene
  • Taking care in the kitchen
  • Not preparing food while infected

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