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Balmoral Cruise Ship: Hundreds Of Passengers Hit With Norovirus

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PORTLAND, ME - MAY 8: The Balmoral cruise ship docked at the Maine State Pier. (Photo by Jill Brady/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images) | Portland Press Herald via Getty Images

HALIFAX — Most of the hundreds of people who became sick in a suspected norovirus outbreak on board a British cruise ship have recovered from their symptoms, the owner of the vessel said Tuesday.

A spokeswoman with Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines said in a statement that seven passengers have been asked to stay in their cabins, out of 1,434 passengers and crew on board the Balmoral.

Rachael Jackson said the remaining passengers who became sick are feeling better and are no longer sequestered to their rooms.

"The rest have recovered from their symptoms and been released,'' she said, adding that the majority of passengers are British. "At no point has Balmoral been quarantined in any port on this cruise, and is continuing as planned.''

"It's certainly something that we're watching."

The Centers For Disease Control and Prevention in the United States said Monday that 277 of 915 passengers on the Balmoral had reported being ill in a suspected norovirus outbreak.

It said nine of the 520 crew members had indicated they have a gastrointestinal illness, with the main symptoms being vomiting and diarrhea.

Jackson says officials have increased cleaning and disinfection procedures, begun collecting stool samples for testing and sent a public health and sanitation manager to oversee the outbreak response.

She said the ship was inspected by the CDC, coast guard and Canadian Port Health, saying it received a US Public Health score of 91 per cent.

Handwashing is the best defence

The Balmoral arrived in Saint John, N.B., on Monday and was due in Halifax on Wednesday around 8 a.m. as part of a trip that started April 16 and ends on May 20.

Lane Farguson, spokesman with the Halifax Port Authority, said they were aware of the outbreak and that crews would be doing extra cleaning at the port facilities once the ship arrived to try to prevent the spread of the illness on land.

"It's certainly something that we're watching and what our advice to people is is that handwashing is really the best defence against any sort of gastrointestinal situation,'' he said.

Molly Kehoe of the Public Health Agency of Canada said they are working with the cruise ship operator to ensure outbreak prevention procedures are being followed, including increased cleaning and sanitation and the isolation of anyone who is sick. She said some passengers may be kept on board if they are sick.

"In order to prevent further spread of any gastrointestinal illnesses, ill individuals are not permitted to disembark for shore excursions during cruises without being cleared by the ship's on board medical staff,'' Kehoe said in a statement.

Similar outbreak in 2010

The 34-night 'Old England to New England' cruise set off from Southhampton in the United Kingdom last month. Jackson said it's believed the highly-contagious gastric illness was brought onto the ship at some point.

It reported a similar outbreak of an gastrointestinal illness in 2010, affecting 293 of the 1,163 passengers and 17 of 519 the crew during a cruise that went from England, through the Caribbean, South America and onto the States.

The CDC describes norovirus as a very contagious virus that can be contracted from an infected person, contaminated food or water, or by touching contaminated surfaces. The virus causes inflammation of the stomach or intestines, which leads to stomach pain, nausea, diarrhea and vomiting.

Norovirus illness can be serious, especially for young children and older adults.

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