Cruise passengers report gastrointestinal illness

Posted: Sunday, August 17, 2003

KETCHIKAN (AP) A gastrointestinal virus has infected about two dozen passengers on a Holland America Cruise Lines ship that docked Thursday in Ketchikan.

Cruise line officials wouldn't say how many passengers on the Amsterdam were ill, but SuAnn Jenkinson of the state epidemiology lab in Anchorage estimated the number infected at 25, including a crew member.

Jenkinson had been in contact with the cruise line's chief medical officer. She said the number of cases didn't reach the 3 percent threshold that triggers a federal Centers for Disease Control response.

Rose Abello, vice president of public relations for Holland America Cruise Lines, said an undisclosed number of ill passengers were removed from the ship at stops in Sitka and Juneau and flown home at the cruise line's expense.

In addition to removing infected passengers, Abello said, crew members have been cleaning the ship regularly and asking passengers to wash their hands often.

The cruise line established a procedure for reacting to viral infections after a series of Norwalk-like virus outbreaks last year on board Holland America ships in the Caribbean, Abello said.

''We take this very seriously,'' Abello told the Ketchikan Daily News. ''It's our intention to nip these isolated cases in the bud.''

Abello said the virus has not been identified, so she could not say whether it is a Norwalk-like disease.

The Amsterdam was one of several ships that experienced infections last year during Caribbean cruises. Outbreaks also occurred on the Holland America ship Statendam and the Disney cruise ship Magic.

The first report of the recent illness came within 24 hours after the ship left the Seattle port, Abello said.

It usually takes 48 to 72 hours after infection for symptoms to appear, so it is likely the virus was carried on board by an infected passenger, she said.

At City Float on Thursday morning, Amsterdam passengers Mark and Jane Cotton of Portland, Ore., said they are pleased with measures taken by the cruise ship's crew.

''I'm not concerned, because they are being so careful,'' Mark Cotton said.

Jane Cotton said passengers have been asked to use sanitary wipes whenever they leave or board the ship, and at meals the passengers are not allowed to pass food items to each other. There are no salt or pepper shakers on the tables and all crew members are wearing gloves, she said.

The hot tub in the ship's spa was closed, Mark Cotton said, although the pool was open.

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