Forget the flu: Sydney vomiting bug is here

The new norovirus, set to spread in a 'severe' epidemic this winter, may especially hit the $40 billion cruise industry.

By Aimee Picchi Jan 16, 2013 1:38PM

Image: Cruise ship, Keith Wood, CorbisWith the flu spreading across the U.S., it's easy to forget that there are other winter ailments attacking us this winter -- and there's a new one that could spread in a "severe" epidemic, according to researchers.

The Sydney vomiting bug, called so because the mutation was first identified in Australia, is a new variation on the norovirus, which is sometimes called the winter vomiting bug, Bloomberg reports

At particular risk may be the $40 billion cruise industry.

"Cruise ships are almost a sentinel sensing system for norovirus," University of New South Wales professor Peter White told Bloomberg. "Norovirus is going to wreak havoc in their cruise industry for the next year while this new strain gets a grip."

The virus has no vaccine and no specific treatment, and so far has killed nursing home residents across the globe. Because the Sydney vomiting bug is a combination of two different strains and mutated slightly, no one is immune, White said. 

Health-care facilities must be prepared for a "severe norovirus season" with the emergence of the new bug, researchers warned earlier this month. The disease causes a sudden onset of vomiting, and sometimes diarrhea, fever, headache and stomach cramps. It's particularly severe for people with weakened immune systems, as well as the very young and elderly.

At risk for coming in contact with the new bug are the estimated 10 million Americans who book cruises each year. Americans book more cruises than any other nationality, according to data from the Cruise Lines International Association, a trade group.

Cruise ships are giving passengers pre-boarding questionnaires about their recent health, the trade association tells MSN Money. "At this point, we are seeing a modest increase in gastrointestinal illness over the same period last year, which we understand mirrors the increased incidence on land," the group said. 

The norovirus has already hit some cruise lines this winter: Carnival Corp.'s (CCL) Queen Mary II underwent extra cleaning after an outbreak of the winter vomiting bug in December.

Incidences of norovirus on cruise ships are low, according to the Cruise Lines International Association's Website. It also notes that most outbreaks occur in "land-based settings such as schools, hospitals, and nursing homes." 

Cruise ships are susceptible to winter vomiting bug outbreaks because of their closed settings and regular changing of passengers, which allows the virus to infect new groups of people, wrote researchers at Center for Infectious Disease Control in the Netherlands in a 2008 study

"It’s almost impossible for them to protect themselves against a norovirus outbreak once it occurs," White told Bloomberg. "The only way you could do it would be to stay in your cabin the whole time and not go out."

More on Money Now

Jan 16, 2013 2:55PM
Cruise ships should stay a night without passengers everytime the previous groups of passengers leave and open all doors of cabins to let the "old" air flow so the crew have more time to clean each cabins....the problem is...these cruise ships are so greedy they don't want to lose a "night" of revenue in expense of the health of the public...
Jan 16, 2013 5:41PM
No worries here i can't afford a sunday drive much less a cruise..
Jan 16, 2013 4:34PM
my standard response to any cruise article:
you couldn't drag my rotting corpse onto a cruise ship.

thanks for listenin'.

Jan 16, 2013 3:13PM
moonwalk you are wrong - On this last cruise I went on you would not believe the cleaning they had to do before landing back in the US.  On their hands and knees scrubbing the tile floors - not just swishing the mop around on it.  Everything was being cleaned.  I only wish my house was as clean as that ship
Jan 16, 2013 7:29PM
A cruise ship is cleaner than the mall or a grocery store, but you have to follow simple rules!  One of the things you could do is wash your hands and carry those anti-bacterial wipes with you. On cruise ships, there are hand sanitizer dispensers everywhere, USE them!  Eating at those buffets and touching everything that so many have touched before you isn't safe if you want to protect from the spread of viruses.  I mean if you have to use tongs to serve the food, don't you know the tongs have been touched by 30 or 40 people before you.  Play it safe and eat in the dining room.  The other cruise passengers might be sick, but they don't want to report it and be confined to their cabin.  Don't be paranoid, just be aware of your fellow guests and don't touch the elevators buttons, hand rails, and other surfaces any more than you have to.  Every time you return to your room, wash your hands.
Jan 16, 2013 4:08PM

Much, much, much better to take a river cruise. These hold between 20 - 120 passengers. Look up Viking Cruise lines or any of the wonderful other sites out there that cater to river cruises. I loved it!. You can open your windows and there is something to see every moment of the day. We went from Amsterdam to Vienna and it was pure heaven. So many of the towns, it was like stepping back in time. Talk about a pride in ownership. These cities and towns along the Rhine and Main rivers were so lovely and well care for, you almost get bored seeing yet another castle on a beautiful green hillside and the lovely window boxes filled with glorious flowers. No sickness on these ships, they can air out the whole ship easily.


Think about it, expand your horizons. They have them everywhere including the United States.

Jan 16, 2013 2:38PM
had the norovirus 3 yrs ago on one of the princess cruise ships it lasted 3 days  i never felt so sick in my life
Jan 16, 2013 4:46PM
I just hope the bug is the only one vomiting. 
Jan 16, 2013 6:43PM
never been on a cruise and had this bug a couple weeks ago.  thankfully, it was only 24 - 36 hours of hell.  my rib and back muscles were sorer longer than I was sick for.
Jan 16, 2013 8:52PM

My son went to Italy for a week cruise on his honeymoon last month. He suddenly was so sick he thought he was dying. Army man 27 years old. Spent  days with IVs lock up on ship.  He was unaware of this outbreak overseas. Loves to cruise but said he will be extra careful next time. Not a fun time.


Jan 16, 2013 6:38PM
Finally, something to make being stuck on a ship less boring!
Jan 17, 2013 2:34PM
There is no better vacation than a cruise. There are hand sanitizers everywhere, so if you wash your hands before you eat and don't touch railings etc, there is no better time!! I can't wait for July and the Explorer of the Seas!!!!
Jan 16, 2013 8:39PM
The only cruse I'm willing to take is on the USS Columbia to Bob-Lo island.  I can still smell the hot dogs and beer.  But the "big-band" sound is fading from memory.
Jan 18, 2013 5:39PM
Hospitals and other medical facilities are the most likely place to pick up a bug, then air travel, then busses. If you want to be SAFE from everything stay home. You won't have much fun but you'll live longer.

Jan 16, 2013 10:18PM
Public places are the most dangerous places to be since everyone who patronizes these places doesn't care what kind of dirt they leave behind, many of the people don't wash their hands,  they  spit on the floors, walk with their shoes in every location, bringing  along with them all the crap that was on these floors, they do it in  ships,  hospitals, schools, work places , religious places of worship, in every car, bus, train, plane and what not .I have seen "lungers" and green "clod" by every public doorway on every street, sidewalk, parking lots and even in shopping locations, and these people don't even use a napkin or paper to collect their sputum but sow it on the streets like it was seed to grow. They don't cover their coughs or   collect their vomit, and this all spreads to everyone around. Maybe its possible that this may build up immunity to  the population that is  exposed to all this "seed". 
Jan 17, 2013 7:34AM
There is a such thing as to cleaning the air system on board. All traveling system have air exchange systems in order to heat & cool the areas. But chimerical business's are toooo cheap to install ultra-violet system to kill airborne particles.
Jan 22, 2013 2:38PM

When going on a cruise, take to chewable Pepto Bizmo tablets each day before you eat anything.  You will not get the bug, it works!

Jan 18, 2013 5:36PM
This why I don't do planes or boats--who can afford a cruise anyway??
Jan 16, 2013 11:42PM
Never really had any desire to go on a cruise. I like the beach though and would be happy enough just lounging on a white sandy beach somewhere warm and sunny.
Jan 22, 2013 2:41PM
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