Suspected norovirus strikes another cruise ship

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The start of Maine’s cruise ship season is less than a month away, with the first scheduled to stop at Bar Harbor on May 5.

The ships bring millions of dollars to Maine each summer in the form of passenger and cruise line spending, helping to support shops, services and restaurants in their ports of call – primarily Bar Harbor and Portland – and businesses that conduct direct transactions with the cruise ship firms. Bar Harbor has 138 visits scheduled for this year (which would be a record) and Portland has 57.

Unfortunately, sometimes the ships carry just more than passengers and staff with money to spend. They’ve also been known to carry norovirus or gastrointestinal ailments that can make passengers and crew unpleasantly ill.

Four large cruise ships scheduled to visit Maine this summer and fall have been affected by suspected norovirus outbreaks in recent months, according to a list of reported outbreaks compiled by the Centers for Disease Control.

The CDC says norovirus is “very contagious.” It can be transmitted by an infected person, contaminated food or water, or by touching contaminated surfaces. The virus causes inflammation (acute gastroenteritis) of the stomach or intestines or both and leads to stomach pain, diarrhea, nausea and vomiting.

Norovirus outbreaks are often associated with cruise ships because close living quarters on board may increase contact with affected people. Also, because health conditions on cruise ships are monitored closely, outbreaks are found and reported more quickly on a cruise ship than on land, according to the CDC.

One of the four ships that has had a recent possible norovirus outbreak and is expected to stop in Maine this year is Maasdam, pictured above off Bar Harbor in 2007. The Holland America liner is one of the first cruise vessels to show up in Bar Harbor each spring and which usually drops anchor in Frenchman Bay more often than any other large ship. A handful of websites reported last month that some Maasdam passengers were complaining of gastrointestinal distress during a South American cruise. The CDC has indicated at its website that it has been looking into the complaints.

Maasdam is scheduled to make 24 visits to Bar Harbor this summer between May 8 and Oct. 26. It is not expected to stop in Portland, Maine’s second-busiest cruise ship destination.

A sister Holland America ship also has been affected. Veendam had an outbreak in February that sickened more than hundred people during a Caribbean cruise, according to CNN. Veendam is scheduled to make 20 stops in Bar Harbor, including the town’s first visit of the year on May 5. Like Maasdam, Veendam is not scheduled to make any stops this year in Portland.

In January, an outbreak on the Royal Caribbean ship Explorer of the Seas affected hundreds of people during a Caribbean cruise, causing the ship to return to Bayonne, N.J. two days earlier than expected. Later this year, the ship is scheduled to stop in Bar Harbor on Aug. 31 and Sept. 14 and in Portland on Aug. 30 and Sept. 13, according to cruise ship schedules posted on the municipalities’ websites (here and here).

Some people on board Grandeur of the Seas, also a Royal Caribbean ship, were stricken on two consecutive trips out of Baltimore in recent weeks, on its March 29-April 5 trip and again the following week, according to CNN. Grandeur of the Seas is scheduled to make stops in Portland on Sept. 6 and 20 and again on Oct. 4 and 18. The day after each one of those dates, the ship is scheduled to stop in Bar Harbor.

There also have been media reports about another ship, the Crown Princess, being affected last week. That ship is based on the West Coast and is not expected to make any appearances in Maine anytime soon. Two other ships on the CDC’s 2014 gastrointestinal illness outbreak list, Caribbean Princess and Norwegian Star, also have no visits scheduled for Maine this year.

You can click here to view the CDC list of ships afflicted by gastrointestinal illnesses in the past 20 years.

Bill Trotter

About Bill Trotter

A news reporter in coastal Maine for more than 15 years, Bill Trotter keeps track of how the Atlantic Ocean and the state's iconic coast shape the lives, lifestyles and livelihoods of coastal Maine residents and visitors. A resident of Ellsworth, Bill covers Bar Harbor, Acadia National Park, Hancock County, fisheries, marine-related topics and more for the BDN. Follow him on Twitter at @billtrotter.