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Royal Caribbean passengers struck by gastrointestinal illness

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MIAMI - Dozens of Royal Caribbean passengers returned from a cruise on Friday with an unwanted souvenir. Cruise line officials said that 66 of the 2,581 guests and two of the 844 crewmembers experienced a gastrointestinal illness.

Cruise line officials said that Royal Caribbean’s Majesty of the Seas returned to Miami with an illness thought to be norovirus.

Passengers say they were handed letters, warning about the illness, and were told over the intercoms to practice good hygiene.

"Those affected by the short-lived illness responded well to over-the-counter medication administered onboard the ship," according to a statement released by Royal Caribbean.

"When Majesty of the Seas arrived to Port Miami, Florida, today, we conducted an extensive and thorough sanitizing onboard the ship and within the cruise terminal, to help prevent any illness from affecting the next sailing."

The next cruise was delayed about an hour for the cleaning, officials said. Guests boarding the ship for Friday's cruise received a letter asking if they have experienced any gastrointestinal symptoms within the last three days.

"If guests are uncomfortable taking their cruise, for reasons related to personal health or otherwise, our staff assisted them in rescheduling their sailing for another time," according to the Royal Caribbean statement.

Only the common cold is more prevalent, according to health officials. Each year as many as 300 million people worldwide are affected by the norovirus. It causes vomiting and diarrhea and contributes to up to 800 deaths every year. Norovirus is the most common gastrointestinal illness that causes outbreaks on international cruise ships.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Vessel Sanitation Program posted updates about nine outbreaks of gastrointestinal illness on cruise ships last year. The agency posts the information when 3 percent or more of passengers or crew report symptoms to a ship’s medical crew during a sailing.

Majesty of the Seas had just completed a 4-night Caribbean itinerary that includes port calls Nassau and CocoCay, Bahamas, and Key West, Florida. During the cruise, ship workers did extra cleanings to keep the illness from spreading.

Cruise ship passengers are routinely asked upon boarding a ship whether they have experienced any flu symptoms in the last three days.

The ship left again Friday afternoon.

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