Know Before You Go: 2019 Update on Cruise Ship Norovirus Breakouts

norovirus lawyerNo one wants to feel queasy on their cruise ship vacation.

And certainly, no passenger wants to experience vomiting, diarrhea and severe stomach cramps after paying for passage on a cruise ship to the Bahamas or Gulf of Mexico.

Often, this happens because of a norovirus outbreak or other viral outbreak. A quick Google search shows multiple stories about norovirus outbreaks on cruise ships and that they are relatively common. Media outlets cover these stories with frequency because they make great headlines.

What is norovirus?

Norovirus is a form of gastroenteritis – severe stomach flu essentially. The virus is quite contagious and is commonly spread through food or water that is contaminated during preparation – or on contaminated surfaces like serving ware, plates, glassware and food buffets.

On cruise ships, the virus can spread like wildfire. Just a few weeks ago, The Royal Caribbean Oasis of the Seas cruise ship cut its journey short after 475 passengers and crew members were infected with a norovirus.

And while you can’t control whether you can come into contact with norovirus on the ship, you can take some measures to keep you and your family healthy.

First and foremost, proper hand washing or use of hand disinfectant gels is really important when you’re on a cruise ship. With so many people in such a confined space, the spread of germs, bacteria and viruses is increased. Washing hands and refraining from excessive touching of your face is advised.

Beyond that, pay attention food that may have been left out too long on buffets or food that may have been sitting in the sun too long. Pay attention too to ship board notices or word of mouth from other passengers if an outbreak begins to occur. Additionally, if people are stricken with symptoms, keeping your distance can help.

Know before you go.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC), which collects information regarding significant outbreaks of norovirus and other viruses has already posted two outbreaks in 2019.


In 2018, there were multiple outbreaks with passengers affected on Holland America, Celebrity, Princess and Viking cruises. As a passenger looking to review past outbreaks and try to determine which boats or cruise lines were ‘safer’ than others, the CDC offers insight. Find their information here: Outbreak Updates for International Cruise Ships.

norovirus outbreaks

The CDC’s Vessel Sanitation Program (VSP) requires cruise ships to log and report the number of passengers and crew who say they have symptoms of gastrointestinal illness.Cruise lines must report norovirus breakouts when 2% of the is affected.

Per the CDC:

Data on this page are from these surveillance reports and from CDC-led investigations. The gastrointestinal illness cases reported are totals for the entire voyage. These cases do not represent the number of active (symptomatic) GI cases at any given port of call or at disembarkation.

VSP posts cruise ship outbreaks when they meet all of the following criteria:

  • Fall within the purview of VSP (see about VSP).
  • Are on voyages from 3-21 days long.
  • Are on ships carrying 100 or more passengers.
  • Are voyages where 3% or more of passengers or crew report symptoms of gastrointestinal illness to the ship’s medical staff.

VSP may also post outbreak updates for gastrointestinal illness outbreaks of public health significance that do not necessarily meet the above criteria.

Are cruise lines responsible for norovirus outbreaks?

Cruise lines do have the responsibility to keep their passengers safe and free from sickness. And passengers may be able to sue a cruise line if they are able to prove they were made sick by norovirus or food poisoning. However, providing proof becomes difficult. A passenger must prove that the food they ate was contaminated and that the food was the sole reason for them becoming sick. This is difficult if just one passenger is stricken, a bit easier if many passengers were also made sick at the same time.

What may be more concerning to a passenger who is contaminated with norovirus is a possible lack of appropriate medical care or the impact of the virus and care’s impact on someone with preexisting conditions. Did the crew not take appropriate actions after the outbreak was made known? Did an existing medical condition worsen because of the virus. Was the virus not recognized by a doctor when combined with another condition?

Each and every case of passengers dealing with norovirus is different and the details are important. To learn more about possibly filing a complaint or lawsuit against a cruise line for a norovirus outbreak, you can speak to one of our attorneys free of charge.