The norovirus is usually brought onboard by an already infected passenger. “They may be not feeling quite well and go on a cruise to relax a day or two before they get sick,” he said. “Once that starts in an enclosed population it spreads very readily.”
Government health officials boarded the Explorer of the Seas in the Virgin Islands on Jan. 26 to assist medical teams in containing the illness, according to CDC spokeswoman Bernadette Burden.
Passengers and crew who show symptoms are also asked to “self-quarantine” until they are well again, said Burden. Cruise ship medical staff provide care, making sure passengers have plenty of fluids and food when they can tolerate it.
Schaffner said medical crew will also encourage passengers and crew to observe “good hand-washing hygiene.”
He said cruise lines have good sanitation practices in place and are well-versed in these types of medical situations.
“We had a couple of people from our medical center go on cruises,” said Schaffner. "They both told me they are more obsessive about cleaning than we are in the hospital.”
At least one travel agent said her clients seemed unfazed by these occasional outbreaks.
“It’s really nasty,” Peggy Knipp of First In Service Travel in New York City said of the norovirus. “But we haven’t seen any decrease in cruise booking. Unfortunately, it’s as common as getting a cold.”
She said people are more apt to pay attention to hand washing and may bring sanitizers in their luggage, but they don’t want to stay home.
“Today it’s in the news and for a couple of days people won’t want to book a cruise. But once it’s out of the news, they will come back to cruising.”