ATLANTA -- Cruise ships will be required to create a gastrointestinal-outbreak response plan and present it during ship inspections by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Nearly all ships have a response protocol, as the number of gastrointestinal cases has climbed in recent years. But after the CDC’s Vessel Sanitation Program (VSP) finishes a revision of its operations manual in the next few months, the response plan will become mandatory, said VSP chief David Forney.
“From time to time, we’ll have a vessel that comes here just a couple of times a year, and they’ll have an outbreak and they’re clueless,” Forney said.
The VSP inspects all foreign-flagged cruise ships that dock in U.S. ports. The VSP also is looking at changing how it characterizes an “outbreak.”
Currently, a ship has a gastrointestinal outbreak if more than 3% of passengers or crew report stomach-flu-like symptoms. But that can result in cases like Windjammer Barefoot Cruises’ Legacy, which reported an outbreak at the beginning of 2004 because two out of 46 crew members (4.65%) fell ill.
There probably are better ways to describe an outbreak, Forney said. Gastrointestinal illness, although uncomfortable, is rarely life-threatening.
The International Council of Cruise Lines (ICCL) has suggested that the VSP use the less-loaded term “increased incidents” instead. “The media grab hold of [the word ‘outbreak’] and turn it into something it isn’t,” said Michael Crye, the ICCL’s president.