Suspected Norovirus Outbreak Hits Holland America Line's Veendam

Holland America's Veendam, shown above docked in Alaska, reported an outbreak of suspected notorvirus on its cruise ending in San Diego on December 27. // Photo by Susan J. Young

Holland America Line’s Veendam was hit with a possible norovirus outbreak on its December 20-27 cruise, ending in San Diego on Sunday. Fifty-seven of 1,429 passengers or almost 4 percent of passengers were reported ill with vomiting and diarrhea as the primary symptoms, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, which investigates illnesses on cruise ships.

Ten of 588 crew members, or 1.7 percent of the crew, also were ill during the cruise. While the CDC lists the causative agent as “unknown,” the reported symptoms mimic that of norovirus, which occurs on both land and sea in places where large numbers of people gather.

Nursing homes, camps and cruise ships are among the places with reported outbreaks over the past few years, although federal reporting requirements are non-existent for hotels, malls and airlines, so the 24-hour to 48-hour virus is thought to be more prevalent in the general population.

In response to the outbreak, the CDC said that Holland America Line and the crew undertook the following action:

  • Increased the onboard cleaning and disinfection procedures according to their outbreak prevention and response plan; 
  • Collected stool specimens from passenger and crew gastrointestinal illness cases for testing;
  • Made twice daily reports of gastrointestinal illness cases to the Vessel Sanitation Program (VSP);
  • Consulted with the CDC on plans for their comprehensive sanitation procedures planned for the voyage disembarkation day in San Diego.

During that disembarkation, Holland America set up a planned staged disembarkation for active cases to limit the opportunity of illness transmission to other, non-infected guests and also sanitized the terminal, to protect those well passengers who were disembarking and others boarding the ship for the next cruise.

On Sunday, a CDC Vessel Sanitation Program environmental health officer also boarded Veendam in San Diego to conduct an environmental health assessment and evaluate the outbreak and response activities. Specimens were collected and sent to CDC for testing.

Veendam's most recent VSP health inspection was in summer 2015; the vessel scored a perfect 100. 

This is the third CDC investigation of suspected norovirus on cruise ships since November. Most recently, five percent of guests and one percent of crew were sickened by a confirmed outbreak on Princess Cruises' December 13-20 cruise on Caribbean Princess.

In addition, Oceania Cruises' Rivera had a confirmed norovirus outbreak on November 18 to December 2 with more than six percent of guests and one percent of crew reporting symptoms.

Norovirus typically makes people very sick for 24 to 48 hours but then typically clears up quickly and people fully recover. However, it can be more dangerous for the elderly or young children with a compromised or immature immune system.  

Most cases of norovirus are brought onboard by guests. As a preventive measure, during the boarding process guests are asked to confirm any gastrointestinal illnesses on a form; those who respond positively are then checked by a doctor before boarding. However, not all guests may be aware they're yet infected and others may fail to report past symptoms. 

Travel Agent has asked Holland America for an update and we'll post that here when it's received.