Cruise virus outbreak one of worst in 20 years, CDC says

Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2014, in Bayonne, NJ (John Makely / NBC News)</p><br />
<p>The Explorer of the Seas cruise ship returns to port after hundreds of passengers b...
John Makely / NBC News
The Explorer of the Seas outbreak was caused by norovirus, one of the worst outbreaks in 20 years, the CDC said.The Explorer of the Seas cruise ship returns to port after hundreds of passengers became ill.

Federal health officials confirmed on Friday that norovirus was the culprit that sickened nearly 700 people on a cruise ship this week, and said it was one of the biggest norovirus outbreaks in 20 years.

But the source of the outbreak on the Royal Caribbean ship Explorer of the Seas, which returned early to New Jersey on Wednesday, may never be known, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.

“CDC has been investigating the outbreak since last Sunday but no particular source has been identified and it’s quite possible a source won’t be identified,” the CDC said in a statement.

The report comes after passengers streamed off the Caribbean Princess Friday morning, the second cruise cut short this week amid reports of illness on board.

The ship, operated by Princess Cruises, returned to Houston a day early with a confirmed outbreak of norovirus. “The ship was forced to return to Houston one day early because we were informed that dense fog was expected to close the port for much of the weekend,” the company said in a statement.

“The ship did not return early because of the increased incidence of norovirus on board, despite some media reports.”

At least 178 people on board became ill during the cruise, according to the cruise line and the CDC. Sick patients were quarantined to their rooms, and other passengers said they no longer had access to buffet tongs as crew members handed out hand sanitizer.

A man passes the Caribbean Princess cruise ship being used as official accommodation for attendees of the CHOGM (Commonwealth Heads of Government Meet...

Toby Melville / Reuters / REUTERS
A man passes the Caribbean Princess cruise ship, which reported an outbreak of norovirus on board.

CDC health officials met the Caribbean Princess at the Bayport Cruise Terminal in Pasadena, Texas. The vessel launched on a seven-day cruise to the western Caribbean on Jan. 25 and had been scheduled to return on Saturday.

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