Stomach flu sickens St. Maarten cruise passengers

PHILIPSBURG, St. Maarten (AP) — A health ministry official in St. Maarten says that more than two dozen cruise passengers were sick as the vessel docked in the Caribbean island.

Maria Henry of the Collective Preventive Services says the Celebrity Silhouette disclosed the cases of gastroenteritis or stomach flu in its mandatory health declaration prior to arrival.

Henry said the ship's crew isolated the 31 affected passengers and cleaned public areas on board.

The number of sick passengers was far below the 10 percent threshold that would have prevented them from docking. The number of sick passengers dropped to 26 by the time the ship left port Monday.

Cruise line spokeswoman Cynthia Martinez said there were more than 4,000 passengers on board.

Last weekend, three U.S.-based cruise ships reported outbreaks of stomach illness: Princess Cruise Line's vessel Ruby Princess, which sailed Sunday from Fort Lauderdale's Port Everglades after being decontamiinated; the Crown Princess, which sailed from Fort Lauderdale after cleaning; and Royal Caribbean's Voyager of the Sea, which left New Orleans a couple of hours late Saturday because of the same illness and decontamination protocol.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control maintains an online database of norovirus outbreaks on cruise ships at . Outbreaks of gastrointestinal illness on cruise ships participating in the CDC program are posted online by the CDC when they take place on voyages from three to 21 days, when the ships are carrying 100 or more passengers, and when 3 percent or more of passengers or crew reported symptoms of diarrheal disease to the ship's medical staff during the trip.

The CDC says that norovirus is highly contagious and spreads from person to person, through contaminated food or water, and by touching contaminated surfaces. Careful handwashing with soap and water is key to the prevention of the spread of norovirus. Contaminated surfaces must be cleaned and disinfected thoroughly to prevent continued spread of the disease. Norovirus outbreaks occur in many types of settings, including, according to the CDC, health care facilities, day care settings and schools.