Cruise Ships See Spike in Norovirus Outbreaks

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July 11, 2023 – Outbreaks on cruise ships of norovirus and other gastrointestinal illnesses are on a record-setting pace this year.

The most recent outbreak happened on the Viking Neptune ship that sailed June 6 through June 20, when 110 of the 838 passengers on board reported being ill, as well as 9 of the 455 crew members. The CDC report on the norovirus outbreak stated that the main symptoms were abdominal cramps, vomiting, and diarrhea.

“We believe the gastrointestinal illness originated from a shoreside restaurant in Iceland where a group of guests dined during their free time,” a representative of the Viking cruise line told CNN.

This year, there have been 13 outbreaks of GI illnesses on cruise ships, according to the CDC. That’s tied for the most since 2016 and sets a track toward tallying the most outbreaks in a year since 2006, when there were 34. 

The CDC reports outbreaks from cruise ships under the CDC’s Vessel Sanitation Program jurisdiction that have 100 or more passengers, have a foreign itinerary with U.S. ports, and are on trips lasting at least 3 days. An outbreak is defined as 3% or more of passengers or crew reporting symptoms of gastrointestinal illness to the ship’s medical staff.

The spike in cruise ship outbreaks is not mirrored across the U.S., according to the CDC, which says this past 1-year period saw 988 outbreaks of norovirus. That number is below the total seen since 2012, and a typical year sees about 2,500 outbreaks. 

Norovirus is the most common cause of vomiting and diarrhea among people of all ages in the U.S., causing up to 21 million illnesses annually, the CDC says. It’s also the leading cause of foodborne illness. In addition to eating contaminated food, direct contact with infected people or contaminated surfaces also puts people at risk. Hand washing is a top prevention strategy.