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117 sick aboard fourth ill-fated ship

Friday, December 6, 2002

MIAMI -- Nearly 120 people have been sickened with symptoms consistent with a Norwalk-like virus on a fourth cruise ship to report an outbreak of a stomach ailment in recent weeks.

The Oceana, operated by P&O Cruises of Great Britain, reported that 114 passengers and three crew members have been treated for some sort of virus, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Wednesday.

More than 1,000 passengers have recently become sick on cruise ships, but cruise lines and travel agents said the problems have not significantly cut into business.

A CDC spokesman said the symptoms aboard the Oceana are consistent with the virus that have recently plagued Holland America's Amsterdam, Carnival Cruise Lines' Fascination and Disney Cruise Line's Magic. Federal health officials were expected to board the Oceana to investigate.

The Oceana, carrying 1,859 passengers on a 15-night trip, is on only its third sail since its inaugural voyage from Fort Lauderdale's Port Everglades on Nov. 1.

The Norwalk and Norwalk-like viruses can cause diarrhea, stomach pain and vomiting for 24 to 48 hours, according to the CDC. They are spread through food and water and close contact with infected people or things they have touched.

Health officials said the sickness is common, especially in colder months, and that it is unclear whether there have been more cases aboard cruise ships than usual, or if the latest cases have simply received more attention.

The cruise industry, still recovering from a slump attributed to the weak economy and Sept. 11, has been aggressive in trying to reassure the public. The cruise lines have been quick to note that they have been taking ships out of service and scrubbing them from stem to stern.

Travel agents said they have fielded questions from people booked far in advance on cruises, but have not seen many customers back out.

"Our passengers are still cruising," said Jeanne T. Van Houten, owner of Isings Travel in Boca Raton, who said she had only one cancellation. "Some of our passengers who are experienced cruisers do understand the real facts. Some of it has been totally overblown."

Rather than miss out on their long-planned vacations, many passengers have decided to sail with a few precautions. Some are washing their hands frequently or using anti-bacterial lotion. Others are taking a pass at the self-serve buffets. One traveler even brought his own food, water and a pillow.

"I'm very impressed with the treatment and the cleaning," said Pat Edwards, of Remington, Va. "I feel pretty confident that I won't catch anything on this trip."

Tom and Karen Holzwarth of Cleveland, aboard Carnival's Fascination, said they never considered canceling their vacation even after hearing about an outbreak that sickened about 200 people on the ship's previous voyage over the weekend.

"We have two kids at home and a baby sitter," Karen Holzwarth said.

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On the Net:

Carnival Cruise Lines: http://www.carnival.com

Holland America: http://www.hollandamerica.com

Disney Cruise Line: http://www.disneycruise.com

CDC Vessel Sanitation: http://www.cdc.gov/nceh/vsp/

P&O Cruises: http://www.pocruises.com/


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