Cruise Ship Docks With 700 Sick Passengers

Passengers wait on the balconies of the Carnival Cruise Lines Liberty, Sunday, Nov. 19, 2006, at the Port of Everglades, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., after the ship docked. More than 700 passengers aboard the trans-Atlantic cruise fell ill with flu-like symptoms, cruise line officials said. AP

A thorough scrubbing of the Carnival Liberty began as the ship docked Sunday after a virus sickened nearly 700 passengers on a trans-Atlantic cruise.

Fourteen guests and five crew remained ill and in isolation when the ship arrived at Port Everglades, according to a statement released by Carnival Cruise Lines.

More than 530 guests and 140 crew had reported to the ship's infirmary with similar symptoms during the 16-day voyage. Some passengers were escorted off the ship in wheelchairs by crew wearing blue gloves to prevent infection.

Preliminary tests identified the source of the outbreak as the highly contagious norovirus, which had struck several guests just before they boarded the cruise Nov. 3 in Rome, Carnival officials said.

Passengers who fell ill during the cruise said they received over-the-counter anti-diarrhea medication and pills or an injection to ward off nausea in the ship's infirmary, and had been quarantined in their cabins while showing symptoms.

"They brought us 7-Up, bottled water, ice and a diet of rice, though you didn't feel like eating," said Jim Lankes, 48, of Phoenix. Lankes and his 45-year-old brother both got sick when the ship was docked in Barcelona, Spain.

"There were 10 people at our dinner table, and seven of the 10 got sick during the course of the cruise," he said.

Crews scrubbed the ship's handrails and utensils, offered disinfecting hand gel and halted the self-serve buffets after the outbreak started. Even plastic menus were wiped clean, said Pedro Carreras, 51, of McDonough, Ga.

"They served everybody so nobody touched the same spoons," said Carreras, who escaped the illness.

Most cruise activities and excursions continued as scheduled, passengers said, though the crew's illness disrupted some personal services.

"Our cabin steward was struck, and we didn't have anybody to clean our cabin for five days," said Pamela Stupnik of Pueblo, Colo. She said she and her husband spent two days vomiting in their cabin.

A team from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control boarded the cruise when it docked in St. Maarten to oversee the cleaning operation and try to determine what caused the outbreak, Carnival said.

Norovirus is a group of viruses that cause stomach flu symptoms such as diarrhea, vomiting and stomach cramps, according to the CDC. The illness usually lasts one to two days without any long-term health effects. It spreads through contaminated food or liquids, by touching contaminated surfaces or objects and then placing that hand in one's mouth, or through direct contact with someone who is infected and showing symptoms.

The Liberty had been scheduled to set sail again Sunday afternoon on a six-day Caribbean voyage, but Miami-based Carnival delayed its next departure until Tuesday so crews could have extra time to disinfect the ship. Its new four-day itinerary includes stops in Key West and Cozumel, Mexico.

The Liberty, which made its maiden voyage in July 2005, is one of the world's largest cruise ships, with 13 passenger decks and room for 2,974 travelers.
  • Alfonso Serrano

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