A recent Celebrity Summit cruise took an unfortunate turn when a norovirus outbreak resulted in 152 guests and 25 staff members falling ill. The ship, operated by Celebrity Cruises, was sailing a cruise to Bermuda and South Carolina when the virus spread rapidly among the guests.
Norovirus, often called the ‘stomach flu’ or ‘stomach bug,’ is a highly contagious virus that can cause vomiting and diarrhea. It is particularly challenging to control on cruise ships due to the close living quarters, shared dining areas, and rapid turnover of passengers.
The CDC has hailed the response from the crew and the cruise line, adding they followed all protocols to the letter.
Norovirus Outbreak on Celebrity Summit
Celebrity Summit experienced an outbreak of Norovirus during a cruise from May 15 to May 25, which sailed from New Jersey to Oak Bluffs on Martha’s Vineyard; King’s Wharf, Bermuda; and Charleston, South Carolina. 152 guests, around 7% of the total guests onboard, and 25 crew members, around 2.6% of total crew, fell ill.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) investigated the incident, identifying the predominant symptoms among the affected individuals as diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, and headache.
This outbreak is one of 12 significant cases of gastrointestinal illness, of which five were confirmed Norovirus outbreaks, on international cruise ships reported by the CDC this year. Celebrity Cruises, Holland America Line, Princess Cruises, Royal Caribbean International, and P&O Cruises have all reported outbreaks onboard this year.
The figure is higher than in previous years, with 2022 seeing four instances and 2021 only one, although the global pause in operations played a significant part in those lower numbers.
In 2019, the year before the pandemic hit the industry, there were ten incidents, following 11 in 2018 and 2017. A CDC report highlighted the prompt and effective response by the crew onboard as guests began to fall ill.
CDC Hails Celebrity Summit‘s Response
In response to the Norovirus outbreak, the CDC has hailed the excellent response from Celebrity Cruises, and the crew onboard the Celebrity Summit cruise ship.
They ramped up cleaning and disinfection procedures following the ship’s outbreak prevention and response plan to curb the spread of the virus.
The company promptly informed the current guests about the situation onboard, emphasizing the importance of reporting illness and practicing good hand hygiene. They also collected stool samples from those experiencing gastrointestinal illness and sent these to the CDC laboratory for further analysis.
Read Also: Cruise Ship Illness: How to Protect Yourself
Celebrity Cruises also provided the CDC’s Vessel Sanitation Program (VSP) with twice-daily reports of gastrointestinal illness cases throughout the outbreak investigation. They have also consulted with VSP about their sanitation cleaning procedures and the process for reporting ill cases, ensuring they followed best practices.
Consequences of Sailing with Norovirus
Norovirus is often dubbed the ‘cruise ship virus’ due to the widespread media coverage that surrounds these events. Although the CDC states that norovirus is the most common cause of outbreaks on cruise ships, accounting for over 90%, it’s important to note that norovirus outbreaks on cruise ships account for only a tiny percentage (1%) of all reported outbreaks.
When a cruise ship sails with a norovirus outbreak, the impact on guests, crew, and the cruise line can be significant.
The close living quarters, shared dining areas, and rapid turnover of passengers on cruise ships make controlling a norovirus outbreak challenging. The virus can be brought onboard in contaminated food or water or by passengers who were infected while ashore.
Besides significantly disrupting the vacation experience for affected guests, there is a wide variety of consequences that cruise lines will want to avoid at all costs. For example, it can lead to closing specific areas of the ship, such as restaurants, swimming pools, and other spaces, to allow for thorough cleaning and disinfection.
The cruise line itself may face significant consequences. These can include financial losses due to additional cleaning, potential refunds or compensation to affected guests, and damage to the company’s reputation. The CDC may even require the ship to return to port early if the outbreak is severe enough.
Incidents like those we’ve seen this year can also contribute to a perception that cruise ships are prone to disease outbreaks. Therefore, cruise lines invest heavily in prevention measures, including stringent cleaning and sanitation protocols, to minimize the risk of such outbreaks.
Despite the occasional news reports about norovirus onboard cruise ships, it’s important to remember that these incidents are rare compared to the number of cruises that sail each year.
Thousands of cruises embark annually, carrying millions of guests, and only a small fraction experience such outbreaks. Despite what scaremongers online may tell you, the strict health and safety protocols make cruising one of the safest vacation options available.