Norwegian cruise ship revealed to have norovirus in lab, health officials say

An explosion-damaged Norwegian Cruise Line ship was brought into New Orleans on Sunday for inspections, and U.S. health officials said Friday they detected norovirus in the cruise ship’s laboratory.

Nurse Catherine Nolan, a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention official who was at the ship, said she was surprised the cruise line detected the virus in its laboratory and said it is a good sign that the ship is reporting it. The CDC is not investigating norovirus in the lab, Nolan said.

“That says something good, because typically that means we have an issue on board,” she said.

Norovirus is a contagious virus that causes the stomach flu-like illness, norovirus diarrhea and nausea. The virus can spread easily in cruise ships and in other settings like schools, hospitals and hotels, which make up 87 percent of illnesses reported to the CDC, according to a 2010 report.

Passengers took to social media to express their dismay about the cruise line’s decision to return the ship to the port two days after the ship left New Orleans. In a Facebook post, Caitlyn Parker of Alexandria wrote that she cried when she saw the ship with boarded-up windows and boarded luggage. Parker, who was on the cruise with her mother, said in an interview with The Washington Post that the captain announced on Friday that the ship was returning to New Orleans, but passengers weren’t told the reason why the ship had come back to the port so soon. She said the captain never told passengers what a complete overhaul of the ship would entail. She said that the crew, the captain and the cruise line did not share information with her.

“You feel like you’re manipulated,” Parker said in an interview with The Post. “Like, I don’t understand why they are leaving me here. I feel like a hostage.”

Earlier this week, Norwegian Cruise Line issued a statement saying that it had decided to return to New Orleans because of mechanical issues that began Thursday on board its newest ship, the Norwegian Escape. Cruise line officials said the ship began experiencing problems two days after its departure. When the ship reached New Orleans, ship employees declared that the ship was not operating at full capacity and a severe problem ensued, causing “significant disruptions” to the ship’s operational capabilities, according to a statement from Norwegian Cruise Line. Passengers were given vouchers to cover expenses during the delay, and the company put priority on refunds for passengers whose vacations had been affected.

Norwegian Cruise Line said Friday it was testing workers and guests and was working with health authorities, but it could not provide any information on the cause of the mechanical issues or the amount of the damage. Some passengers said the ship was not moving as fast as it normally does, and that decks had black mold growing on them.

“All of a sudden, the decks started taking on mold that you would see in an apartment complex,” Joseph Collins, one of the passengers, told CNN.

The CDC reports that norovirus is the number one cause of illness in cruise ships, accounting for about 60 percent of the vomiting-and-vomiting-related illnesses in all cruise ships and cruise ships overall. A 2015 CDC report found that about 39 percent of the passengers reported norovirus on ships when they docked in one of the 35 ports and off-shore destinations visited by cruise ships.

Norovirus typically peaks during the winter months.

The environmental lab ships carry as a precautionary measure is important for testing all types of food and drink and checking for freshness, the CDC said. The ship was previously designated as the Carnival Triumph in 2009, following an engine fire. That ship had an outbreak of stomach flu that sickened more than 3,000 people, and authorities found evidence of dirty plumbing and stoves, which caused passengers to fall ill. On Thursday, a Carnival Cruise Line spokeswoman told The Post that they had received travel documents for Norahvedn while still in port in New Orleans.

Norwegian’s Norwegian Escape left New Orleans on Sunday. The ship was expected to leave the port on Saturday, however, the company said in a statement that it would now leave on Monday.

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