The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the stomach bug that made nearly 700 people sick on a Royal Caribbean cruise is a new strain of norovirus.
The CDC identified the bug on the Royal Caribbean ship Explorer of the Seas as the GLL4 Sydney Strain, first detected less than 2 years ago. The CDC says the norovirus outbreak that caused the ship to return to its New Jersey port on January 29 is the largest outbreak of its kind in 20 years.
Dr. Jose Montero, Associate Professor in the Division of Infectious Disease at the University of South Florida and Tampa General Hospital says norovirus evolves as strains over time, much like influenza, and is fairly easy to catch.
“The way it’s transmitted… in scientific terms… it’s called oral-fecal route, meaning you have to ingest it essentially in some manner or way,” he said. “Norovirus … doesn’t require too many organisms to be ingested to cause illness.”
He said people normally get sick a day or two after ingesting the germs and they shed it in the GI track, through vomit and stool.
“And if you don’t clean well enough and sanitize the area well enough, that can persist in the environment for a period of time where someone could acquire it,” Dr. Montero explained.
For that reason, he says it would be a good idea to disinfect and clean areas like the bathroom if you’re going on a cruise, but the number one rule is that you can’t wash your hands enough at sea.
“There’s nothing that’s going to substitute washing hands,” he said. “When it comes to norovirus, alcohol gels are probably not as effective as hand washing. So if I were to go on a cruise and go to the buffet line they have on a cruise ship – I would make sure I do wash my hands.”