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300 passengers and crew fall ill on Ruby Princess cruise from Texas

Princess Cruises said the cause is probably norovirus

(Illustration by Katty Huertas/The Washington Post; iStock)
3 min

More than 300 passengers and crew on the Ruby Princess contracted a gastrointestinal illness causing vomiting and diarrhea, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said this week.

The Princess Cruises voyage carrying about 4,000 people ran from Feb. 26 to Sunday in the western Caribbean and docked in Galveston, Tex.

Although the CDC has not listed a specific virus, Princess Cruises said in a statement that the cause was probably norovirus.

About 10 percent of the passengers and 3 percent of the crew onboard were sick, according to the CDC.

“At the first sign of an increase in the numbers of passengers reporting to the medical center with gastrointestinal illness, we immediately initiated additional enhanced sanitization procedures to interrupt the person-to-person spread of this virus,” Princess Cruises said in a statement.

The company said the ship underwent an additional disinfection ahead of its next voyage.

The Ruby Princess incident is one of six outbreaks of a gastrointestinal illness on a cruise this year. The first was norovirus on a months-long voyage from P&O Cruises (owned by Carnival) that is sailing until April. The CDC said 86 passengers and 20 crew fell ill aboard the Arcadia. Two Royal Caribbean and Celebrity cruises also had outbreaks this year.

One side effect of cruise covid rules: Norovirus has plummeted

Outbreaks of gastrointestinal illness had been lower than in pre-pandemic years, thanks to the enhanced cleaning and safety protocols cruises were taking to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. In 2022, there were four reported outbreaks. There was one in 2021, although cruises did not begin a full return to sailing until June.

Passengers traveling in close quarters on cruises are vulnerable to the spread of viruses. Several ships were hit by coronavirus outbreaks that marked the early days of the pandemic and led to an industry-wide pause. In 2020, a Ruby Princess voyage from Sydney had the deadliest known coronavirus outbreak on any cruise ship, with 28 deaths and about 700 infections, according to the Australian Broadcasting Corp.

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In 2019, the last full year of cruising before the pandemic, the CDC reported 10 cases of gastro illnesses; eight were norovirus, and two were unknown. Cruise lines reported a total of 32 outbreaks between 2017 and 2019, though cases dropped overall since 2006.

“Norovirus can be especially challenging to control on cruise ships because of the close living quarters, shared dining areas, and rapid turnover of passengers,” the CDC says on its website. “When the ship docks, norovirus can be brought on board in contaminated food or water or by passengers who were infected while ashore.”

The CDC’s Vessel Sanitation Program has worked with the industry to monitor gastrointestinal illness since 1975, after “an excessive number” of outbreaks.

Hannah Sampson contributed to this report.