Illness Hits Two Alaska Cruise Ships

Two cruise ships sailing Alaska waters have battled recent norovirus outbreaks. The highly-contagious illness causes vomiting, diarrhea and fevers, and can lead to dehydration.

The latest outbreak is on the Dawn Princess, which is wrapping up a three-week cruise including stops in Southeast and Southcentral Alaska.

The federal Centers for Disease Control reports 6.5 percent of its nearly 1,800 passengers suffered from norovirus at the same time during part of the cruise.

CDC staff boarded the Dawn Princess in Juneau on Friday to evaluate the outbreak. Staff also looked at crew members’ efforts to disinfect the ship to prevent further cases.

The CDC’s Jay Dempsey says the situation has improved.

“They are reporting a less than 2 percent number of passenger and crewmembers at this time. So it does seem to be that that outbreak was contained and they are sailing at a normal rate now,” Dempsey says.

The ship is due into San Francisco on Thursday (September 13th).

The earlier outbreak was on board Royal Caribbean Cruise Line’s Rhapsody of the Seas. Norovirus struck more than 7 percent of passengers during a late-August Inside Passage cruise.

The CDC’s Canadian counterpart sent inspectors to a port call in British Columbia and deemed the outbreak under control.

Dempsey says the illness is easily spread through contact with handrails, restroom fixtures, door handles and similar surfaces.

“It’s just like any other time that you have a lot of people sharing the same space. You just have a greater chance a norovirus-like illness might outbreak amongst that group of people. And it’s the same on land, whether you have people living in a nursing home or a dormitory or similar situation,” Dempsey says.

The Dawn Princess and the Rhapsody of the Seas are the only two Alaska cruise ships reporting outbreaks this season. That’s better than last year, when four ships reported high norovirus numbers, one on several cruises.

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Ed Schoenfeld is Regional News Director for CoastAlaska, a consortium of public radio stations in Ketchikan, Juneau, Sitka, Petersburg and Wrangell. He primarily covers Southeast Alaska regional topics, including the state ferry system, transboundary mining, the Tongass National Forest and Native corporations and issues. He has also worked as a manager, editor and reporter for the Juneau Empire newspaper and Juneau public radio station KTOO. He’s also reported for commercial station KINY in Juneau and public stations KPFA in Berkley, WYSO in Yellow Springs, Ohio, and WUHY in Philadelphia. He’s lived in Alaska since 1979 and is a contributor to Alaska Public Radio Network newscasts, the Northwest (Public Radio) News Network and National Native News. He is a board member of the Alaska Press Club. Originally from Cleveland, Ohio, he lives in Douglas.