Royal Caribbean’s Voyager of the Seas has sailed into troubled waters in the Mediterranean last Friday, when a number of crew members were showing flu-like symptoms. Reports quickly surfaced that as many as 60 of the ship’s crew had taken ill with swine flu, however spokeswoman Cynthia Martinez reported that the staff tested negative for influenza A, which includes the H1N1 virus.
Naturally, the term “swine flu” sparks much concern, but the incident wouldn’t be the first time massive numbers of people have taken ill at sea – nor will it be the last. This past March on a Holland America cruise over 100 passengers contracted forms of the norovirus, and Celebrity cruises saw a similar outbreak in January with around 145 people showing symptoms – and these are just a couple of recent examples. Interestingly enough, in the recent case aboard the Voyager of the Seas, it appears that the outbreak remains isolated – for the most part – among the crew members. This seems surprising on a ship that can carry as many as 3,114 passengers at any time.
The Cruise Lines Industry Association Medical Facilities Working Group (try saying that a few times in a row) is a group of licensed and experienced shipboard physicians and medical workers that review and monitor onboard medical care. Although all ships have some sort of medical facility onboard, as cruise ships expand in size allowing increasing numbers of passengers traveling together, it’s no surprise that illnesses can spread so easily. Some newer vessels are implementing “telemedicine” which allows ships to stay in contact with hospitals via satellite to create a “virtual emergency room.” While these new advancements may prove to be helpful, they were designed to target medical emergencies – not flu epidemics.
Are cruise lines doing enough to prevent the spread of viruses?