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Why Are So Many People Getting Sick On Cruise Ships?

Just this April, a ship had to be quarantined in Norfolk after more than 100 passengers contracted a norovirus.  According to news reports, more than 150 of the 917 passengers reported having symptoms like vomiting and diarrhea.  The Center for Disease Control (CDC) responded by (1) increasing cleaning and disinfection procedures according to their outbreak prevention and response plan; (2) collecting stool specimens from passenger and crew for testing; and (3) sending a public health and sanitation manager from the cruise line corporate office to oversee and assist with implementation of the sanitation and outbreak response procedures.

This is not a new phenomenon.  The cruise industry has been rife with illness outbreaks for years.  Below are the reported results dating back to 2002:

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Year# Reported OutbreaksTotal Infected (passenger/crew)


3530 (3211/319)
2003443556 (3159/397)
2004423675 (3189/486)
2005354674 (4110/564)
2006547215 (6567/648)
2007424577 (4228/349)
2008393743 (3465/278)
2009304197 (3800/397)
2010377101 (6799/302)
2011231971 (1834/137)
2012345542 (5079/463)
2013222385 (2249/136)
2014143530 (3354/205)


2570 (2458/112)

So far, just this year the following outbreaks have occurred:

Line/ShipSail Dates
Crown PrincessJan 8-18
Oceania RivieraFeb 12-22
Ocean PrincessFeb 13 – Mar 7
Anthem of the SeasFeb 21 – Mar 4
Carnival SunshineFeb 21 – Mar 5
Silver SpiritMar 3-21
Golden PrincessMar 8-22
Norwegian GemMar 12-22
Oceania RivieraMar 20 – Apr 3
Fred Olsen MS BalmoralApr 16 – May 20
Disney WonderApr 27 – May 1

Norovirus outbreaks are obviously a huge concern with cruise lines.  But what is norovirus and why do these outbreaks seem to happen so often aboard cruises?  On land, outbreaks happen mostly during the winter months and mainly in more crowded places with close quarters (such as schools, hospitals, prisons, etc.).  Norovirus infections are highly contagious and affect the stomach and large intestines.  Often referred to as a “stomach flu,” the infection results in prolonged vomiting and diarrhea.  Studies have shown that quick application of hand sanitizers does not kill the norovirus.  It takes about 30 seconds of hard rubbing with hot water and soap to kill it.  The cause of most cruise line norovirus outbreaks is contaminated food or water.  The way it spreads is through physical contact.  With over 3,000 people in close quarters aboard these ships, obviously, the disease spreads quickly.  There is no real treatment for norovirus infections.

Here are a couple of tips to avoid a norovirus while on a cruise:

  1. Here are a couple of tips to avoid a norovirus while on a cruise:
  2. Limit physical contact as much as possible
  3. Wash your hands often with hot water and soap, especially before eating and after using the bathroom
  4. Avoid eating uncooked food (salad and sandwiches) and food that cannot be washed
  5. Drink only bottled liquids
  6. Drink a lot of water

Everyone would agree that all passengers and crew must take responsibility for the spread of illnesses like norovirus.  Passengers are reminded to wash their hands regularly and use the hand sanitizers which are provided throughout ships.  The cruise lines are responsible for the cleanliness of their ship and their crew.

In March of this year, Federal health inspectors gave two Carnival Corporation-owned cruise ships failing grades after finding cockroaches, dirty kitchen spaces and “potentially hazardous” food onboard.  The inspectors found the kitchens on these ships had soiled grout, various insect remains throughout the ship, a pantry with a fruit fly infestation and a refrigerator used to store cheese with too high a temperature.  Another ship was marked for having improperly stored utensils and three live cockroaches crawling in areas where food was prepared and stored.

The CDC inspects all ships twice a year.  Among the issues they usually report are:

  1. Food debris
  2. Dead insects
  3. Insect droppings
  4. Records indicating crewmembers working while sick
  5. Cracked/corroded equipment
  6. Soiled cutting boards
  7. Food served undercooked
  8. Lack of safety instruction signs

Just because you have been infected on a cruise with norovirus, do not just assume that it was a fellow passenger’s fault.  These types of illnesses are often initially caused by contaminated food or water.  This is the responsibility of the cruise line to keep safe.  It is also the responsibility of the cruise lines to keep these viruses from spreading.  If they have failed to adequately quarantine a sick passenger or crew member, and they get you sick, it is their responsibility to fix it.

Norovirus cases are not easy and it takes a qualified maritime injury attorney to pursue your case.  The cruise industry is notorious for hiding information it deems dangerous to their interests.  Sending out the right discovery requests and conducting thorough depositions of crew members and management is the only way to properly pursue a norovirus case.  Of course, there is always the issue of damages in norovirus cases.  Oftentimes, this disease is over with before you even leave the ship and no further medical treatment is necessary.  However, when this virus attacks a person who has diminished health already, the results can be extremely bad.

Hiring a maritime attorney to go after the cruise line is an important decision.  You would not hire a plumber to fix your cable TV, so why would you hire a personal injury attorney who does not know federal admiralty law?  The attorneys at the LaBovick Law Group have a team of professionals with extensive knowledge and experience with cruise cases.  We understand the shortened statute of limitations (1 year to bring a lawsuit) with cruise cases.  We are also admitted to the Federal Southern and Middle Districts of Florida (where all the big cruise lines require a lawsuit to be filed).  If you have been injured on a cruise ship, call today for a free consultation.

It seems to happen every couple of months.  Large quantities of cruise line passengers will fall ill while aboard the ship.

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