The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has allowed Holland America Line ms Veendam, a cruise ship to set sail, Sunday night on a 15-day Panama Canal cruise, after completing its investigation of a possible norovirus outbreak that left the ship's passengers and crew members reporting of gastrointestinal illness.
CDC said that an epidemiologist and an environmental health officer from the agency's Vessel Sanitation Program had already boarded the cruise ship when it docked in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Saturday, to conduct an assessment and determine the outbreak. CDC also collected stool samples from the sick passengers and crew, which has been sent for laboratory testing.
There were 1,273 passengers and 575 members aboard the ship. Of those who suffered from vomiting and diarrhea during the 14-night voyage, 114 were passengers and ten were crew members.
The incident on ms Veendam is the fourth norovirus outbreak on a cruise ship in 2014 alone. The Norwegian Star, Royal Caribbean Explorer of the Seas, and Caribbean Princess also had confirmed outbreaks earlier this year. The outbreak on Royal Caribbean Explorer of the Seas has affected more than 600 passengers and crew making it the biggest outbreak on a cruise ship in the past 20 years.
Noroviruses, sometimes known as "stomach flu," albeit they are not related to influenza, and "food poisoning" because they can spread through contaminated food, are a group of contagious viruses that cause inflammation of the stomach and the intestines. CDC has reported that the virus affects about 20 million people in the United States every year and is responsible for as many as 800 deaths in the U.S. per year.
Notably, this isn't the first time that a mass illness broke out on ms Veendam. The 16-year old ship already had witnessed several cases of outbreaks, according to CDC's "Outbreak Updates for International Cruise Ships" posted online. The ship had two cases of norovirus outbreak in a span of three months in 2005 and had an E.coli outbreak last year.
Norovirus is incidentally spread through contaminated food and water as well as from contaminated surfaces and from infected persons and the outbreak on ms Veendam was apparently caused by poor sanitation.
The cruise ship had failed a CDC sanitation inspection in September and in CDC's 100-point scale of grading cruise ships, a score of 85 is considered as failing and ms Veendam got a mere 77.