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Norovirus outbreak: Hundreds fall ill to stomach bug, Caribbean cruise cut short

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A norovirus outbreak left hundreds of people falling ill to the stomach bug this week aboard a Royal Caribbean cruise line. Updated reports also announce that a Princess Cruises ship also returned to its Houston port early due to 178 passengers similarly getting sick. Both vessels were thus cut short several days ahead of schedule due to the massive sickness that spread to no less than 750 passengers in total, shares the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) this Friday. CNN also reports this Jan. 31, 2014, that while one cruise line cited “dense fog” as the primary reason for the ship heading back to port before its expected date, it has been confirmed that the contagious virus was likely the true cause of the premature mass departure.

The norovirus outbreak, which is known to cause many stomach flu-like symptoms including abdominal pain, vomiting, and diarrhea, struck a high number of both crew members and passengers aboard the Royal Caribbean’s Explorer of the Seas recently. The dangerous and highly contagious stomach bug — said to easily spread when many people are together in close quarters, such as on a cruise ship — was noted by the CDC to have hit over 600 victims on the vacation, cementing the outbreak as one of the largest ever recorded on a cruise ship in the past 20 years.

The sickness-ridden vessel was said to safely return to its U.S. port this Wednesday, a full two days ahead of its anticipated schedule. Four days prior to its landing, the CDC had stepped in to investigate claims of the norovirus, determine what may have caused it and the severity of the passengers and crew members falling ill to the stomach bug, and make safe the victims.

"No particular source has been identified, and it's quite possible a source won't be identified," the agency said.

Not long afterwards, the Caribbean Princess — owned and operated by the affiliate Princess Cruises — decided to cut short its own seafaring itinerary on Friday as well. According to the press release, a total of 11 crew members and 178 passengers were affected by the norovirus outbreak, and it was later in the afternoon that Center for Disease Control and Prevention officials boarded the cruise ship to help fully sanitize the vessel.

“The cruise line's official reason for ending the trip early was not the norovirus outbreak, but rather an impending forecast of dense fog this weekend at the local Houston port that was to be the cruise’s final call. However, the new report didn't sit well with a majority of passengers, with many believing they weren’t being told the whole truth about the actual stomach bug sickness aboard the ship as they disembarked on Friday."

A spokeswoman for the cruise line was adamant in noting that the prospect of fog making ship channels into the Houston port dangerous and unable to navigate was the only primary factor in turning the boat around.

However, noted one disbelieving passenger after hundreds fell ill:

"That's last Tuesday they tell us this, and they've never said anything different," he told a local news source. "I knew then nobody can predict five days in advance. I knew that that wasn't the case. They were just doing that to minimize their damages."

"Approximately five Royal Caribbean cruise line passengers still had norovirus symptoms as of Friday, added officials, describing the widespread sickness as 'a common but contagious illness which is widely circulating throughout North America.'"

As cited by the CDC, the gastrointestinal illness can lead to severe and painful symptoms, with signs of norovirus in an outbreak often including nausea, stomach cramps, vomiting, and diarrhea.

As staffers worked to disinfect a majority of public areas aboard the ship, sick passengers were said to be kept indoors and in their cabins. The cruise line has also offered a discount to passengers to compensate for the voyage being cut short, as well as additional opportunities on future cruises.

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