Cruise ship sick toll nears 700 on return to US

2014-01-30 07:32
People look out from the Explorer of the Seas cruise ship as it docks at a berth in Bayonne. (File, AP)

People look out from the Explorer of the Seas cruise ship as it docks at a berth in Bayonne. (File, AP)

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Bayonne - A cruise ship on which nearly 700 passengers and crew fell ill has arrived at its home port in New Jersey after a Caribbean voyage was cut short by an outbreak whose cause has not yet been determined.

One woman aboard the Explorers of the Sea yelled, "We made it!" as the ship docked on Wednesday. Other passengers, with blankets wrapped around them, stood on deck to watch the ship pull in.

Bill Rakowicz of Canada said he suffered from vomiting, pain and diarrhoea and that his experience was simply "awful".

The US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention said its latest count puts the number of those sickened at 630 passengers and 54 crew members. The ship was carrying 3 050 passengers.

Health investigators suspect norovirus, but lab results are not expected until later this week.

Highly contagious

If norovirus is to blame, it would be one of the largest outbreaks in 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 diarrhoea for a few days.

The CDC said it recommended to cruise operator Royal Caribbean that people who still have symptoms be housed in nearby hotels or seen at medical facilities before travelling home.

CDC investigators boarded the ship during its US Virgin Islands Port call on Sunday. They said no single food or water source or other origin has been identified.

Explorer of the Seas is on track to depart at its originally scheduled time on Friday afternoon on its next cruise, a 9-night trip with port calls in Puerto Rico, St Thomas, the Dominican Republic and Haiti, a Royal Caribbean spokesperson said.

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