Cruise ship reports virus sickens 108

Elizabeth Bluemink

A Princess cruise ship traveling to Alaska reported a gastrointestinal illness outbreak on Sunday that sickened 108 of its 2,000 passengers and seven crew members.

The ship, the Coral Princess, arrived in Whittier on Monday shortly after noon, state health officials said.

The ship, the terminal area and Princess buses were scrubbed down before the ship began taking on a new load of passengers that evening, a company spokeswoman said.

Norovirus is a highly contagious virus that usually sickens millions of people every year in the United States. Symptoms, mostly diarrhea and vomiting, usually last for about two days. Cruise lines, nursing homes and other facilities are required to report large outbreaks to the federal Centers for Disease Control.

One tourist who planned to sail from Whittier on Monday said he decided to abort the trip after hearing about the outbreak, due to concern for his wife's weakened immune system. He said a security officer ordered them off the ship before they were able to make arrangements for a place to stay or a vehicle to pick them up.

A pair of "nice Alaskans" in Whittier gave the couple a ride in their car and helped them find a place to stay that night, said the tourist, John O'Keefe, 60, of San Francisco.

O'Keefe, who flew home Monday, said he was concerned about whether the 108 people who left the Coral Princess were properly quarantined and whether the ship was clean.

California-based Princess Tours spokeswoman Julie Benson said she is sorry that the O'Keefes' vacation was cut off and said she wondered if it had to end that way.

O'Keefe's interaction with ship security "doesn't seem like the way it's supposed to happen," she said, adding that she didn't have any facts about what did happen.

She said the company is also anxious about preventing the spread of a norovirus outbreak from one cruise to another group of passengers taking a separate cruise on the same ship.

"That's why we did an extra cleaning of the ship and all the high-touch areas," she said.

She said that anyone still sick at the end of a cruise is set up with a hotel room where they can ride out the rest of their illness.

"We don't put them in our rail cars (or take them to other tourist destinations) until they are well," Benson said.

While they are on the ship, Princess asks sick passengers to stay in their rooms, but they are not forced to leave the ship, she said.

This is at least the second outbreak on the Coral Princess this year. The ship also had an outbreak in February that sickened 252 passengers traveling in the Caribbean, according to the CDC.

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