A newer strain of a stomach bug was responsible for almost 700 illnesses that caused a cruise ship to return to port early on Jan. 29. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Thursday that the Sydney strain of norovirus was the cause of gastrointestinal illness on the Royal Caribbean’s Explorer of the Seas.
The ship carrying 3,050 passengers had left Cape Liberty, New Jersey, for a 10-day Caribbean cruise that had to be cut short. It was one of the largest norovirus outbreaks on a cruise ship in the last two decades.
Officials from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention boarded the ship in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands, to evaluate the severity of the outbreak. According to the CDC report today, 564 of the 3,050 passengers and 47 crew members aboard the Explorer of the Seas reported being sick.
Detected within the past two years, the Sydney is a fast-moving virus causing vomiting and diarrhea. Cruise ships are not the only places plagued by the Sydney bug. It affects facilities with close quarters such as nursing homes.
CDC officials said the Sydney norovirus has quickly become the leading cause of all norovirus cases in the United States. Some passengers had been complaining of symptoms shortly after the cruise began.
Norovirus is the leading cause of gastroenteritis in the U.S., causing about 21 million infections each year and 800 deaths. The best prevention, CDC officials say, is frequent hand washing with soap and thorough sanitation of places after people have been sick.
Guests will be compensated for cruise disruptions caused by the illness, Royal Caribbean announced.
Royal Caribbean officials said they used special cleaning products and disinfectants to clean the ship before it returned to its American home port. Then the ship will underwent a major sanitization program.
“Guests scheduled for the next cruise on Explorer of the Seas can be confident that all possible measures will have been taken to prevent further problems,” Royal Caribbean said in a statement.