Viking Cruises faces a significant setback, with over a tenth of Viking Neptune‘s guests experiencing gastrointestinal symptoms onboard the cruise ship Viking Neptune, which just concluded its cruise from Iceland to New Jersey. The incident has been confirmed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Additionally, several of the ship’s crew reported similar symptoms. The cause, according to CDC, remains unidentified.
Details of the Outbreak on Viking Neptune
110 of the 838 guests (12.65%) onboard Viking Neptune have reported symptoms of gastrointestinal illness, including abdominal cramps, vomiting, and diarrhea, according to a report from the CDC. Among the 455 crew members, 9 (1.98%) reported similar symptoms.
Viking Neptune, 47,800 gross tons and with a guest capacity of 930 guests, docked in Cape Liberty, New Jersey, today, June 20, concluding its voyage that began in Reykjavik, Iceland, on June 6, with stops in Greenland and Canada.
In response to the increased occurrences of gastro, Viking Cruises and the ship’s crew have increased cleaning and disinfection procedures, as outlined in the ship’s prevention and response plan.
They have also started collecting samples from those affected for pathogenic identification by the CDC lab. They are providing twice-daily updates on the number of gastrointestinal illness cases to the CDC’s Vessel Sanitation Program (VSP).
The CDC did not disclose the cause of the symptoms that guests experienced. However, the cruise length makes it more likely that more guests and crew members are infected.
Remember that the number of guests affected is measured from June 6 onwards, which means that not all guests were ill simultaneously.
Gastrointestinal Illness on Cruise Ships
The cruise industry had seen a decrease in gastrointestinal illness during the pandemic due to decreased activity and enhanced sanitation protocols. However, as the industry rebounds, so too has the prevalence of illnesses such as gastro due to Norovirus.
The CDC has recorded 13 instances on cruise ships this year, marking a slight increase in gastrointestinal incidents in the first six months compared to averages from 2017 to 2019.
The year began with around 5% of guests affected on P&O Cruises’ Arcadia during a cruise from January 3 to April 13. Later in January, Royal Caribbean International’s Brilliance of the Seas noted that 3.24% of guests reported gastro symptoms, as did Jewel of the Seas between January 28 and February 2.
Moving into February, Ruby Princess, operated by Princess Cruises, was hit with norovirus during a cruise from February 26 to March 5.
March saw a surge, beginning with Celebrity Cruises’ Celebrity Constellation from March 6 to March 17, followed by Celebrity Equinox from March 9 to March 18. Royal Caribbean International’s Enchantment of the Seas was hit twice in March – from March 11 to March 23, then from March 23 to March 31.
Towards the end of March, Princess Cruises’ Emerald Princess also experienced an outbreak, which continued into early April. April ended with another Princess Cruises ship, the Grand Princess, reporting illness onboard from March 31 to April 28.
In May, Holland America’s Nieuw Amsterdam and Celebrity Cruises’ Celebrity Summit reported affected guests and crew from May 6 to May 21 and May 15 to May 25, respectively.
Perspective on Norovirus Outbreaks
While the number of gastrointestinal illnesses on cruise ships may seem concerning, it’s crucial to understand that these occurrences are far less common than reported in mainstream media. When viewed in proportion to the number of passengers on cruise ships, illness is quite rare.
Cruise ships have high visibility, and any illness onboard garners significant attention from mainstream media. This is mainly because the contained environment of a cruise ship makes it easier to track and document these illnesses.
Additionally, cruise lines must report any gastrointestinal illness affecting over 3% of passengers or crew to the CDC, leading to detailed records and transparency that many land-based operations lack.
Conversely, restaurants, hotels, and other land-based establishments do not have the same rigorous reporting requirements, and thus many instances of illness can go unreported or undetected.
This leads to a perception that cruise ships have a higher incidence of illness when they simply have stricter reporting requirements and more transparent record-keeping.
While it certainly is concerning to hear that a significant part of the passengers onboard Viking Neptune experienced symptoms of gastrointestinal illness, keep in mind the hundreds of cruises sailing each week and how few outbreaks have occurred.
If you do go on a cruise, washing hands is still the most effective manner in protecting yourself, while you should always isolate if you do experience symptoms.