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Stomach Virus Sickens More Than Six Dozen Cruise Line Passengers

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MIAMI - When Carnival Cruise Lines' Legend pulled into Port Everglades Saturday morning, not everyone was smiling from the rails.

More than six dozen passengers on the eight-day southern Caribbean trip were stricken with a stomach illness marked by diarrhea and vomiting.

The previous Legend cruise had even more sick guests. The illness was believed to have caused by norovirus, a family of highly contagious viruses, according to public health officials.

On this trip, just over 3 percent, or 73 out of 2,378 passengers on board, reported similar symptoms, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Four of 913 crew members were also affected. "It's an outbreak by definition," said David Forney, chief of vessel sanitation for the CDC, who cautioned that the virus was an extremely common one, afflicting 23 million bellies a year.

Other places that often teem with the virus include nursing homes, hospitals and summer camps.

The fecal/oral virus, which passes from hand to mouth, spreads quickly, as passengers touch the same elevator buttons, poker chips and handrails, then touch the rim of their glass or bite their nails. The illness lasts one to three days.

It's a tough bug, able to survive for weeks at a time on surfaces, Forney said.

The best defense is frequent hand-washing and extensive cleaning.

Forney said Carnival was doing "everything they can and everything we ask" to deal with the outbreak.

In the past year, the norovirus - also sometimes called the Norwalk virus - struck more than 1,500 passengers on cruise ships sailing from ports on both U.S. coasts.

Part of the difficulty of containing the virus is the passengers themselves, who are sometimes loathe to report the illness to avoid being quarantined to their cabin. Before the cruise left on Nov. 21, Forney said he heard reports that passengers were already ill and vomiting as they boarded the ship.

Carnival spokesman Vance Gilliksen sent reporters a short statement by e-mail, confirming the outbreak. He declined to comment further.

The Legend pulled into Port Everglades at 7:20 a.m. EST Saturday and debarked again at 5:30 p.m. EST for a four-day cruise to Belize, Costa Rica and Panama, according to Carnival and Port Everglades officials.


(c) 2003, The Miami Herald. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service.

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