Tuesday, December 3, 2002

MIAMI (AP) A Carnival cruise ship returned from a three-day voyage yesterday carrying nearly 200 people sickened by a gastrointestinal virus, with symptoms similar to those plaguing passengers on other cruise liners.
A total of 190 passengers and four crew members on the Fascination reported vomiting and diarrhea, but experts had not yet confirmed whether they had a Norwalk-like virus, said Tim Gallagher, a Carnival Corp. spokesman.
Norwalk-like viruses have plagued more than 1,000 people on other cruise ships in the past few months, including Holland America Line’s Amsterdam and Disney Cruise Line’s Magic, causing those companies to cancel one sailing each to thoroughly disinfect the ships.
The illness is seasonal, peaking in the colder months, and is not uncommon, said Dr. Steven Wiersma, the state epidemiologist.
“We’ve already seen some [cases] in Florida this is not just a cruise ship issue,” he said.
Dr. Wiersma said it was too early to tell whether the recent outbreaks represent a spike in occurrences.
He said more people are reporting being sick because of the increased attention given to the cruise ship cases. Officials of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have said there is no evidence that the cruise ship outbreaks are the work of terrorists.
The number of gastrointestinal illnesses on cruise ships has declined since 1990, CDC spokeswoman Bernadette Burden said yesterday, although the CDC does not have exact numbers.
CDC experts obtained lab samples from the Fascination and its passengers to determine whether a Norwalk-like virus caused the outbreak, with test results expected within five days.
The 855-foot Fascination carried 2,428 passengers and more than 900 crew members on its three-day voyage to the Bahamas.
The CDC was overseeing the cleaning of the ship, which was still scheduled for a late-afternoon sailing on a four-day cruise to Key West, Fla., and Cozumel, Mexico, Mr. Gallagher said.
“We’re taking all possible precautions given the recent incidence of Norwalk-like viruses on cruise ships,” Mr. Gallagher said.
Sickened Fascination passengers will not receive a refund or compensation, because most became ill late Sunday as the cruise ended.
The Norwalk virus, named for an outbreak 30 years ago in Norwalk, Ohio, and a group of Norwalk-like viruses are among several common microorganisms that can cause diarrhea, stomach pain and vomiting for 24 to 48 hours, according to the CDC. They are spread through food and water and close contact with infected people or things they have touched.
The Amsterdam, which was held at Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., for 10 days to be disinfected, departed on a 10-day Caribbean cruise Sunday with 1,261 passengers.
“We are very confident that we have broken the cycle,” said Rose Abello, a Holland America spokeswoman. “Can we guarantee that nobody will ever get sick? Absolutely not.”
Disinfecting the Amsterdam included steam-cleaning drapes, furniture, cushions and carpet, and even disinfecting poker chips.
Passengers on other Holland America ships, the Ryndam and Statendam, also have contracted the Norwalk-like virus on recent cruises. A lawsuit seeking class-action status was filed in Canada in August on behalf of Ryndam passengers.

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