‘A perfect setup’: Virus outbreaks common on cruise ships, experts say

Months after it was first discovered, the new coronavirus — known only as 2019-nCoV — has infected more than 37,500 people and has killed more than 800.

As health authorities scramble to contain the virus, the spotlight has been put on cruise ships where a number of infections have been identified.

In Japan, 3,700 people — including 251 Canadians — have been quarantined aboard Princess Cruises’ Diamond Princess after a number of passengers tested positive for the virus last week.

READ MORE: ‘We do get fresh air’ — Edmonton couple trapped on ship quarantined over coronavirus

On Sunday, health authorities announced another six people had tested positive for the virus, bringing the total number of cases aboard to 70.

But, the Diamond Princess is not the only affected cruise ship that has been affected by the new coronavirus.

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Alberta couple under coronavirus quarantine on cruise ship

Alberta couple under coronavirus quarantine on cruise ship

Concern over the virus prompted Royal Caribbean Cruises to announce it would ban all passengers with Chinese, Macau or Hong Kong passports from its trips last week.

On Wednesday, Taiwan’s health authority banned all international cruise ships from docking over the threat of coronavirus.

Late last week the Japanese government didn’t allow another cruise ship, Holland America Line’s Westerdam, to dock, even though no cases of the virus had been reported on board.

Over the weekend, two cruise ships — the SuperStar Aquarius and the Dream World — allowed 1,700 and 1,800 people respectively to disembark after each was quarantined temporarily over coronavirus fears.

Are these types of viral outbreaks commonplace on cruise ships? How can you protect yourself?

Here’s what experts say.

A ‘perfect setup’ for infectious disease transmission

According to Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious diseases faculty member at the University of Toronto, cruise ships, or any space where a large number of people are confined to small areas, are “the perfect setup for infectious disease transmission.”

“It’s not unheard of for infectious diseases to spread on cruise ships,” he said. “But I really think the key is anytime people are in close quarters with one another, it’s a perfect setup for not just gastrointestinal, but also respiratory tract infections to spread as well.

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Bogoch said most often, norovirus or gastrointestinal (GI) bacterial infections are what spread on cruise ships.

“These are viruses that can cause primarily a gastrointestinal syndrome, nausea, vomiting, sometimes diarrhea,” he said.

According to Bogoch, people usually become infected by consuming contaminated food or water.

READ MORE: Vancouver couple on board cruise ship stranded outside Taiwan

Dr. Jason Kindrachuk, an assistant professor and Canada Research Chair in emerging viruses at the University of Manitoba, said these types of norovirus and GI tract bacteria outbreaks are often seen on cruises because of how they are transmitted.

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