Saturday, December 29, 2012

Passengers on Queen Mary 2 sickened by unidentified pathogen

An unknown illness, suspected of being a norovirus, has sickened 194 passengers and 11 crew members aboard the luxury cruise ship Queen Mary 2, causing vomiting and diarrhea, federal health officials said on Friday.

Earlier in the week, 189 passengers and 31 crew members on the Emerald Princess came down with the same symptoms.

The symptoms are those of norovirus, a contagious microorganism that can be acquired from an infected person, contaminated food or water, or by touching contaminated surfaces, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Norovirus causes an inflammation of the stomach or intestines called acute gastroenteritis, producing stomach pain, nausea and diarrhea, and is the most common cause of acute gastroenteritis in the United States.

Each year, norovirus causes some 21 million illnesses, of which 70,000 require hospitalization. It kills about 800 people a year, the CDC says.

The Queen Mary 2, with 2,613 passengers and 1,255 crew members, is now docked in Saint Lucia in the Caribbean, according to ship owner Cunard Line, which is owned by Carnival Corp. The cruise left Brooklyn, New York, last Saturday and is due to return there next Thursday.

The CDC learned of the illnesses on the QM2 on Christmas Day on Tuesday, and of those on the Emerald Princess last Saturday. Vessels are required to notify the agency when 2 percent of those on board develop a gastrointestinal illness.

Although the microbial culprit remains unclear In both cases, another reason to suspect norovirus is that the pathogen "has affected a number of schools, hospitals, nursing homes and children's day care centers this winter" in the United Kingdom, Cunard said in a statement.

The UK's Health Protection Agency reports that norovirus activity in the country is 83 per cent higher than last year.

The QM2 sails regularly scheduled crossings between New York and Southampton, England, between April and late November, Cunard spokeswoman Jackie Chase said in an email. "In addition, many of our guests come from the UK."

The QM2's captain is advising passengers with gastrointestinal symptoms to report to the medical center, Chase said. Those sickened are asked to "isolate themselves in their cabin until non-contagious. They are also asked not to proceed ashore, and any shore excursion costs will be refunded. Room service is provided to affected passengers and every effort is made to make them as comfortable as possible."

Of the 194 QM2 passengers who had fallen sick, said Chase, all but 12 had recovered as of Friday.

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