ST. LOUIS, Mo. (CBS/KMOX)- There’s nothing more romantic than a 10-day Caribbean cruise after two have exchanged their vows, but with dozens of passengers in close quarters, a honeymoon can turn into a sea-sick adventure.
This week, a gastrointestinal illness outbreak infected more than 20 percent of the passengers on the Royal Caribbean Explorer of the Seas cruise ship, which deported from New Jersey port on Jan. 29. Approximately 630 of the 3,071 passengers on board have reported having symptoms along with 50 crew members according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Vessel Sanitation Program. Due to the outbreak, the 10-day journey abruptly came to an end Wednesday afternoon.
According to the CDC, noroviruses is a group of related viruses. This illness causes inflammation of the stomach and intestines also leading to cramping, diarrhea, vomiting and nausea. The CDC estimates that on average 19 to 21 million cases of acute gastroenteritis are caused by noroviruses. One in every 15 Americans will get the virus each year.
CBS News chief medical correspondent, Dr. Jon LaPook, explains that it can spread through microscopic particles found in feces and vomit infected people.
“If a person has infectious diarrhea from norovirus, they may excrete billions of disease-causing particles,” says LaPook. “But it only takes about 18 virus particles on average for another person to get infected. SO you only need a little bit of infection.”
He also explained that people may be contagious before they show any symptoms. The virus has an incubation period of 12 to 48 hours. Then days later, they can finally experience vomiting and diarrhea. It can also remain present in feces weeks after someone begins to recover.
“If you have symptoms of norovirus, the most important thing is hydration,” says LaPook, who added that chicken soup with rice can help in a situation like this. Fluids with electrolytes may also help prevent dehydration.
Symptoms can be confused with food poisoning from eating food that may have been left unrefrigerated for a number of hours. In result, because the food was not stored at the proper temperature, toxins are released causing the person to feel ill immediately after eating. A clear differentiation is that, the norovirus can lay dormant before affecting the body.
“What happens is, somebody gets sick. You have vomiting, diarrhea, there’s a lot of infectious particles there and people get it on their fingers and put their fingers in their mouth,” said LaPook. “There’s also some evidence that, when people vomit, it can get aerosolized. So if, you clean it up and you are not wearing a mask, you can get the infection.
The CDC recommends a list of methods to stay clear of the virus which can potentially keep the infection under close monitoring;
Practice proper hand hygiene
Wash your hands carefully with soap and water, especially after using the toilet and changing diapers and always before eating or preparing food. If soap and water aren’t available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. These alcohol-based products can quickly reduce the number of germs on hands in some situations, but they are not a substitute for washing with soap and water.
Take care in the kitchen
Carefully wash fruits and vegetables, and cook oysters and other shellfish thoroughly before eating them.
Do not prepare food while infected
People with norovirus illness should not prepare food for others while they have symptoms and for 3 days after they recover from their illness. (See For Food Handlers: Norovirus and Working with Food)
Clean and disinfect contaminated surfaces
After throwing up or having diarrhea, immediately clean and disinfect contaminated surfaces by using a bleach-based household cleaner as directed on the product label. If no such cleaning product is available, you can use a solution made with 5 tablespoons to 1.5 cups of household bleach per 1 gallon of water.
Wash laundry thoroughly
Immediately remove and wash clothing or linens that may be contaminated with vomit or stool. Handle soiled items carefully—without agitating them—to avoid spreading virus. If available, wear rubber or disposable gloves while handling soiled clothing or linens and wash your hands after handling. The items should be washed with detergent at the maximum available cycle length and then machine dried.