FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – A thorough scrubbing of the Carnival Liberty began Sunday as the ship docked after a virus sickened nearly 700 passengers on a trans-Atlantic cruise.
Fourteen guests and five crew remained ill and in isolation when the ship arrived at Port Everglades, according to a statement released by Carnival Cruise Lines, a brand of Carnival Corp. Some passengers were escorted off the ship in wheelchairs by crew wearing blue gloves.
Preliminary tests identified the source of the outbreak as the highly contagious norovirus, which had struck several guests just before they boarded the cruise Nov. 3 in Rome, Carnival officials said. More than 530 guests and 140 crew reported to the ship's infirmary with similar symptoms during the 16-day voyage.
Passengers who fell ill during the cruise said they received over-the-counter anti-diarrheal medication and pills or an injection to ward off nausea in the ship's infirmary, and had been quarantined in their cabins.
"They brought us 7-Up, bottled water, ice and a diet of rice, though you didn't feel like eating," said Jim Lankes, 48, of Phoenix. Lankes and his 45-year-old brother both got sick when the ship was docked in Barcelona, Spain.
Crews scrubbed the ship's handrails and utensils, offered disinfecting hand gel and halted the self-serve buffets after the outbreak started. Even plastic menus were wiped clean, said Pedro Carreras, 51, of McDonough, Ga.
Most cruise activities and excursions continued as scheduled, passengers said, though the crew's illness disrupted some personal services.
"Our cabin steward was struck, and we didn't have anybody to clean our cabin for five days," said Pamela Stupnik of Pueblo, Colo. She said she and her husband spent two days vomiting in their cabin.
A team from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control boarded the cruise when it docked in St. Maarten to oversee the cleaning operation and try to determine what caused the outbreak, Carnival said.
Norovirus is a group of viruses that cause stomach flu symptoms such as diarrhea, vomiting and stomach cramps, according to the CDC. The illness usually lasts one to two days without any long-term health effects. It spreads through contaminated food or liquids, by touching contaminated surfaces or objects and then placing that hand in one's mouth, or through direct contact with someone who is infected and showing symptoms.
The Liberty, which has room for 2,974 travelers, had been scheduled to set sail again Sunday afternoon on a six-day Caribbean voyage, but Miami-based Carnival delayed its next departure until Tuesday so crews could have extra time to disinfect the ship.