Cruise ship returns to port with 190 sick passengers

MIAMI -- Nearly 200 people aboard a Carnival cruise ship returned from their three-day voyage Monday suffering from a gastrointestinal ailment with symptoms similar to those plaguing other cruise liners.

A total of 190 passengers and four crew members on the Fascination reported vomiting and diarrhea. Experts had not confirmed whether they had a Norwalk-like virus, said Tim Gallagher, a Carnival Corp. spokesman.

So-called Norwalk-like viruses have plagued more than 1,000 people on other cruise ships in the past few months, including Holland America Line's Amsterdam and Disney Cruise Line's Magic, causing those firms to cancel one sailing each to thoroughly disinfect the ships.

The illness is seasonal, peaking in the colder months, and is not uncommon, said Dr. Steven Wiersma, the state epidemiologist.

"We've already seen some in Florida -- this is not just a cruise ship issue," he said.

Wiersma said it was too early to tell if recent outbreaks represent a spike in occurrences, since more people are reporting being sick because of the increased attention given to the cruise ship cases. Officials of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have said there is no evidence that the cruise ship outbreaks are the work of terrorists.

The number of gastrointestinal illnesses on cruise ships has declined since 1990, CDC spokeswoman Berna-dette Burden said Monday, although she said the CDC does not have exact numbers.

CDC experts obtained lab samples from the Fascination and its passengers to determine if a Norwalk-like virus caused the outbreak, with test results expected within five days, Burden said.