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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is investigating an outbreak of an unknown virus on a Holland America Alaska cruise.

The CDC’s investigation shows that 58 passengers and 15 crew members aboard the Zaandam cruise ship experienced vomiting and diarrhea. A total of 1,472 passengers and 591 crew members are on board the Zaandam for this Holland America Alaska cruise.

Officials of the Holland America Group announced that crew members activated a protocol to isolate ill passengers in their cabins.

Specimens have been collected and tested onboard using a norovirus rapid test, although the initial results came back negative. The specimens were sent to the CDC for further testing.

The Zaandam is headed to a number of Alaska ports, including Hoonah, Anchorage, Homer, Kodiak and Sitka. The cruise ship is scheduled to return to port in Seattle on July 2.

If the virus is norovirus, it would be the sixth reported norovirus outbreak on a cruise ship this year, and the second in Alaska. The Silver Shadow reported 36 people became sick from norovirus during a May voyage that included visits to the ports of Dutch Harbor, Kodiak, and Homer.

Holland America Alaska cruise: crew responds

The CDC Vessel Sanitation Program (VSP) is monitoring the outbreak. The Holland America Group reports that the ship’s crew has taken the following actions:

  • Increased cleaning and disinfection procedures according to their outbreak prevention and response plan.
  • Collected stool specimens from passenger and crew gastrointestinal illness cases for testing.
  • Made multiple daily reports of gastrointestinal illness cases to VSP.
  • Consulted with the CDC on plans for comprehensive sanitation procedures when ship makes port in Seattle.
Holland America Alaska cruise hit by virus outbreak

The CDC is investigating a virus outbreak on a Holland America Alaska cruise in which 73 people – 58 passengers and 15 crew members – have been sickened aboard the Zaandam cruise ship.

Holland America Alaska cruise: rough 2017

During 2017, cruise ships sailing from the United States failed sanitation inspections at the highest rate since the VSP started holding ships to its Operations Manual Guidelines. The VSP listed 10 outbreaks for 2017 on ships in which more than 3 percent of those on board reported symptoms of “diarrheal disease.”

The year ended with more than 500 passengers becoming ill in two Royal Caribbean foodborne illness outbreaks. After the Miami-based cruise line’s Independence of the Seas left port Dec. 11 from Port Everglades, FL, 332 of the 5,547 passengers became sick with a gastrointestinal illness. That outbreak came weeks after 209 of the 5,796 people aboard the Royal Caribbean’s Ovation of the Seas took ill. Five of the 209 victims were hospitalized.

No details were provided on the type of gastrointestinal illnesses for either outbreak.

Before last December, the most recent previous outbreak involving a Royal Caribbean cruise was a case of norovirus in February 2016 aboard the Anthem of the Seas.

Holland America Alaska cruise: norovirus info 

Norovirus is one of the leading causes of acute gastroenteritis, and affects about 20 million Americans annually. It is highly contagious, and can be spread by contaminated food, contaminated surfaces, or close contact with an infected person.

According to the CDC, norovirus – sometimes called the “winter vomiting bug” – is responsible for as many as 71,000 Americans being hospitalized yearly. Of those, up to 800 cases end in death, primarily among young children and the elderly.

Norovirus outbreaks are most common in places where people are enclosed in close quarters, such as cruise ships, school cafeterias, child-care centers, nursing homes, and restaurants. The virus can infect anyone, but is most deadly for the very young and very old, and people with weakened immune systems.

The incubation period is short, from 12 to 48 hours, and generally produces symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhea, fever, and muscle pain.

The CDC reports that foods most often involved with norovirus outbreaks include leafy greens, fruit, and shellfish. Any food served raw can be contaminated with norovirus.