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A 12-day dream cruise with an estimated 4,000 passengers turned into a gastrointestinal nightmare when, shortly into the trip, more than 150 guests contracted norovirus gastroenteritis, a common and highly contagious form of food poisoning that is spread through contact with contaminated stool or vomit.
The illness is more commonly referred to as the stomach flu.
“There have been 158 passengers and a very small number of crew with gastroenteritis seen at the ship’s medical clinic over the duration of the cruise, announced Sydney public health expert Mark Ferson. “The outbreak is under control.” The ship, called the Diamond Princess, has since docked in Sydney and passengers have disembarked.
Outbreaks of norovirus are particularly common on cruise ships, where the tight quarters can facilitate an especially quick spread of the illness. Moreover, researchers have identified oysters, a mainstay of the cruise ship raw bar, as being quite susceptible to harboring norovirus.
In a study, researchers analyzed 1,077 samples of known strains of norovirus found in oysters and found that among those samples, 80 percent of human noroviruses matched those found in oysters, the majority of which were identified in coastal waters, where contamination by human sewage is more common.