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Cruise ship outbreak: What is norovirus?

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It's the second time this month that a gastrointestinal outbreak has stricken passengers and crew members onboard a Royal Caribbean cruise ship.

According to FOX News, the Explorer of the Seas docked at St. Thomas in the US Virgin Islands Sunday so health officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention could board. They are investigating why some 300 people, passengers and crew members, reported gastrointestinal symptoms, mostly vomiting and diarrhea.

While tests are expected to confirm the cause later this week, the symptoms are consistent with norovirus — what many believe to be the onboard health culprit. According to the CDC, the highly-contagious norovirus causes your stomach or intestines or both to get inflamed, which can lead to:

  • Stomach pain
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Diarrhea

People in close or contained quarters, like a cruise ship, can be especially vulnerable to the norovirus.

The CDC reports that norovirus causes 19-21 million illnesses and contributes to up to 800 deaths every year. Norovirus is also the most common cause of foodborne-disease outbreaks in the United States.

At present, there is no cure, but the CDC recommends drinking plenty of liquids to replace fluids lost from throwing up or diarrhea.

“Those affected by the short-lived illness have responded well to over-the-counter medication being administered onboard the ship,” the Miami-based company said in a statement Sunday. “We sincerely apologize for the disruption to our guests’ cruise vacation.”

Royal Caribbean International is working with the CDC's Vessel Sanitation Program, and in the statement also described measures it is taking to prevent additional cases: "The ship underwent an extensive and thorough sanitizing to help prevent any illness from further affecting the cruise."

The ship had departed Cape Liberty, New Jersey on January 21 with more than 3,000 passengers and more than 1,100 crew members. The 10-day cruise will reportedly return two days ahead of schedule as a result of the outbreak.

Just over a week ago, Royal Caribbean had a similar, but smaller outbreak, with 66 people falling ill on the Majesty of the Seas cruise ship.