Cruise viruses on rise in U.S.


Published: Friday, January 24, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 23, 2003 at 9:44 p.m.
ATLANTA - Noroviruses, the category of viruses that caused thousands of cruise ship passengers to fall ill last year, appear to be on the rise in the United States, federal officials said Thursday.
Further, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that about 41 percent of samples of noroviruses - which includes Norwalk and Norwalk-like viruses - tested last year were from the same strain, marking the first emergence of a predominant strain since 1994.
The viruses can cause diarrhea, stomach pain and vomiting for 24 to 48 hours. They are spread through food and water and close contact with infected people or things they have touched.
Noroviruses kept health officials on land - and at sea - busy last year. There are an estimated 23 million cases of the viruses yearly. Health officials believe they saw more cases than usual last year, but just how many isn't known because the disease is not tracked regularly.
"There is a genuine feeling that clearly we are seeing a lot more than we expect," said Dr. Marc-Alain Widdowson, a CDC medical epidemiologist.
The CDC documented multiple outbreaks in hospitals and nursing homes in Vancouver, Wash., New Hampshire and New York City.
Health officials in Vancouver typically are used to a single health facility having the virus. But in November and December, 220 patients and 107 staff members became ill in four norovirus outbreaks.
"We've had norovirus outbreaks before; what was surprising was the number of facilities affected," said Dr. Karen Steingart, health officer for Clark County Health District in Vancouver.
Officials promoted handwashing and made sure that sick staff remained at home, she said. Workers scrubbed down all parts of the nursing home or hospital afflicted to get rid of the virus.
"It's the thoroughness. You just have to constantly have been doing this," Steingart said. "It's the bedrails and the door knobs, really going through these rooms with a fine-toothed comb."
Near the end of last year, noroviruses were suspected in illnesses suffered by more than 1,000 passengers on cruise ships. The CDC investigated more than 20 outbreaks on cruise lines, more than it saw during the four previous years combined.
On the Net: CDC report: www.cdc.gov/mmwr

Reader comments posted to this article may be published in our print edition. All rights reserved. This copyrighted material may not be re-published without permission. Links are encouraged.

Comments are currently unavailable on this article

▲ Return to Top