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A contagious stomach bug is taking over cruise lines this summer

The latest outbreak on a Viking cruise ship in June sickened more than 100 people.
Posted at 6:43 PM, Jun 28, 2023

Forget seasickness — your next cruise ship could be plagued by the norovirus, a contagious stomach bug the CDC says is making a resurgence on cruise lines this summer.

There have been 13 outbreaks so far this year, which is the highest number in a single year in over a decade.

Headlines declared one norovirus outbreak a "horror" after the virus swept through a Celebrity Summit cruise ship in May, leaving nearly 200 passengers and staff with cramps, vomiting, diarrhea and more. The latest outbreak on a Viking cruise ship in June sickened more than 100 people.

Since early January, nearly 1,700 people across several cruises have come down with the illness. Dr. Shivanjali Shankaran, an infectious disease expert at Rush University, says the outbreaks could be a symptom of so-called "revenge travel," a term used to describe the desire to travel after lost time during the pandemic

"A whole bunch of people are traveling. We've seen more [viral infections] than we've had in the past few years," said Shankaran.

The "big three" companies, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian and Carnival cruises, have reported near or over 100% occupancy in the first quarter of 2023.

Carnival cruise ship in a storm

Carnival cruise ship battered by severe weather, rough seas

While some passengers and staff got hurt, no serious injuries were reported.


According to CDC data, a majority of the outbreaks this year were on Royal Caribbean international trips, accounting for nearly 500 cases since the beginning of the year. Princess and Celebrity cruises have seen three major outbreaks apiece.

In a statement, Celebrity Cruises told Scripps News, they implemented "rigorous safety and cleaning procedures" after the most recent outbreak in May, but they did not give more specifics or share what caused people to get sick.

The CDC says people can catch the virus from contaminated surfaces, objects or ingesting contaminated food and water. As contagious as the norovirus is on land, experts say it can spread even faster in closed environments —such as a cruise ship-- where people congregate for longer periods of time.

Doctors warn only a small amount of virus is required to cause infections.

"Alcohol sanitizers are not as effective as washing hands with the soap and water, especially before and after you eat." said Shankaran. 

The CDC's list of outbreaks doesn't include ships with less than 100 people on board, or trips in which less than 3% of passengers catch the virus.

Earlier in June, passenger Brigitte Metzger Harding posted on TikTok how her cruise sprang into action once people came down with the bug.

"In addition to the reminders about handwashing they've asked you don't shake hands with people, don't touch elevators and door handles with your hands if you can help it and around the buffet they had a lot of new precautions," she told her followers.

Norovirus outbreaks are relatively common among cruise ships.

But on-board illness dropped amid the pandemic, with only one incident reported to the CDC in 2021, compared to 10 outbreaks in 2019.