Galveston cruise ship outbreak: More than 300 people reported sickness

The CDC says more than 300 people who were on board a Ruby Princess cruise ship that sailed from Galveston are now sick. 

The cruise departed on Feb. 26 from the Port of Galveston and returned on March 5.

The CDC says people who reported sickness were mostly experiencing vomiting and diarrhea. Princess Cruises said the illness outbreak is likely Norovirus.

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According to CDC data, 12.7% of passengers and crew on board were reportedly sick on the cruise ship.

Kim Holt and her family were among the 4,000 people on board that ship. Holt said she and her sister were celebrating their mom's 76th birthday with a quick getaway to Cozumel, Belize, and Roatan.

Upon their return to Galveston, Holt and her mother began experiencing symptoms.

"Right now, I have a stomach cramp in my stomach. I feel nauseous and shaky."

Holt said the ship's captain announced the illness towards the end of the voyage and would provide daily updates of people who reported exposure. 

"When they first announced it, they said they had like 20 people and then like the next day, it was like 30, and then 100, and so it spread pretty quick," Holt said. 

Dr. Peter Hotez with Baylor College of Medicine said Norovirus is not as common on cruise ships as some might assume. He recommends anyone infected get plenty of rest and stay hydrated. 

"People often think, oh my God, this happens all the time. It's actually a pretty uncommon event, just that every time it does happen, they're pretty dramatic.


"This is a highly contagious virus that can contaminate food or water. It also contaminates oysters naturally. Typically, on a cruise ship, especially if it's kind of a buffet style eating where, if Norovirus gets into one of the food items, anybody consuming that food item at the buffet obviously is a risk. And not only that, but ships are also at close quarters," Hotez said.

The CDC data states:

  • Number of passengers who reported being ill during the voyage out of the total number of passengers onboard: 284 of 2881 (9.9%)
  • Number of crew who reported being ill during the voyage out of the total number of crew onboard: 34 of 1159 (2.9%)

The CDC said investigators have collected stool samples of infected people for additional lab testing.

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A spokesperson for Princess Cruises released the following statement in response to the outbreak: 

"Onboard the Feb. 26 sailing of Ruby Princess, there was a number of cases of mild gastrointestinal illness among passengers, the cause likely is the common but contagious virus called Norovirus.  

At the first sign of an increase in the numbers of passengers reporting to the medical center with gastrointestinal illness, we immediately initiated additional enhanced sanitization procedures to interrupt the person-to-person spread of this virus. Our sanitation program has been developed in coordination with the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and includes such measures as thorough disinfection of high-touch surfaces like railings, door handles and elevator buttons; encouraging passengers to use correct hand washing procedures and enhancing this with the use of hand sanitizing stations placed throughout the ship; isolating ill passengers in cabins until non-contagious; encouraging passengers to use their own cabin’s bathroom facilities; and providing regular verbal and written communication to passengers about steps they can take to stay well while onboard.  

As an additional precaution, the ship underwent an additional disinfection on March 5 in Galveston ahead of its next departure. The ship is now on a seven-day western Caribbean cruise, returning to Galveston on March 12."