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Epidemiology of Gastroenteritis on Cruise Ships, 2001-2004: The Impact of Noroviruses

Cramer E, Blanton C, Browne L, Vaughan G, Bopp C, Forney D



The incidence of diarrheal disease among cruise ship passengers declined from 29.2 cases per 100,000 passenger days in 1990 to 16.3 per 100,000 passenger days in 2000. In 2002, the Vessel Sanitation Program of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 29 outbreaks (3% or more passengers ill) of acute gastroenteritis on cruise ships, an increase from 3 the previous year. This analysis of gastroenteritis on cruise ships, conducted in 2005, details the increase in outbreak incidence rates during 2001 through 2004.


Using Gastrointestinal Illness Surveillance System data, investigators evaluated incidence rates of gastroenteritis on cruise ships calling on U.S. ports, carrying 13 or more passengers, by cruise length and reporting region during the study period. The investigators also evaluated the association between inspection scores, and gastroenteritis incidence and the frequency of outbreaks in 2001 through 2004.


During the study period, the background and outbreak-associated incidence rates of passengers with acute gastroenteritis per cruise were 25.6 and 85, respectively. Acute gastroenteritis outbreaks per 1000 cruises increased overall from 0.65 in 2001 to 5.46 in 2004; outbreaks increased from 2 in 2001 to a median of 15 per year in 2002-2004. Median ship inspection scores remained relatively constant during the study period (median 95 on a 100-point scale), and were not significantly associated with either gastroenteritis incidence rates (risk ratio, 1.00; 95% confidence interval, 0.98-1.02) or outbreak frequency (Spearman's coefficient, 0.01, p = 0.84%).


Despite good performance on environment health sanitation inspections by cruise ships, the expectation of passenger cases of gastroenteritis on an average 7-day cruise increased from two cases during 1990-2000 to three cases during the study period. The increase, likely attributable to noroviruses, highlights the inability of environmental programs to fully predict and prevent risk factors common to person-to-person and fomite spread of disease.

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