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Norovirus suspected in cruise ship illnesses

Outbreak among hundreds of passengers on Explorer of the Seas could be one of the largest ever

AP

Passengers aboard a cruise ship on which hundreds fell ill recalled days of misery holed up in their rooms as it returned to its home port Wednesday from a Caribbean trip cut short by what is suspected to be among the largest norovirus outbreaks of its kind in the last 20 years.

Travelers aboard the Explorer of the Seas recounted hundreds throwing up and stricken passengers having food brought to their rooms. Others were served from covered buffets by crew members wearing gloves and masks during an outbreak that sickened nearly 700 passengers and crew members on the ship operated by Royal Caribbean.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said its latest count puts the number of those sickened at 630 passengers and 54 crew members. The ship, on a 10-day cruise that had to be cut short, was carrying 3,050 passengers.

Health investigators suspect norovirus, but lab results are not expected until later this week. If norovirus is to blame, it would be one of the largest norovirus outbreaks on a cruise ship in the last 20 years, the CDC said. A 2006 norovirus outbreak on a Carnival Cruise Lines ship also sickened close to 700.

Norovirus — once known as Norwalk virus — is highly contagious. It can be picked up from an infected person, contaminated food or water or by touching contaminated surfaces. Sometimes mistaken for the stomach flu, the virus causes bouts of vomiting and diarrhea for a few days.

The cruise line said most guests who fell ill were up and about as the ship headed to port. It said seven people were still sick when the ship reached port.

CDC investigators boarded the ship in the U.S. Virgin Islands. They said no single food or water source or other origin has been found. The ship will be sanitized and no one will be allowed aboard for more than 24 hours.