An official investigation is underway following the discovery that more than 100 people aboard the Disney Wonder cruise ship fell sick due to gastrointestinal illness, following its departure from Miami on 27th April, 2016, as reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Originally the number of patients was 97, but on Monday that number significantly increased to 145 people, of which 131 were passengers, almost 5% of the total passengers onboard the cruise ship, while the remaining 14 were the ship’s crew members. There were a total of around 2,700 passengers and nearly 1,000 crew members on the ship. The most predominant symptoms were vomiting and diarrhea. Those affected by the virus were confined to their rooms for 24 hours.

The exact cause is still yet undetermined. The investigation went underway when a CDC official boarded the ship, on its way back to Miami from Nassau, Key West and Castaway Cay, on 1st May, 2016.

“Our primary focus was on taking care of our guests and crew,” Disney Cruise Line said in a statement. “We have a comprehensive plan that outlines protocols for managing this kind of situation and closely follow CDC guidelines for preventing the spread of common stomach-related illnesses.”

This outbreak has made the crew and ship officials extra cautious, as they have made the buffet off-limits for passengers travelling on the 14-day Panama Canal cruise, as the food will be served to them by the crew. They have increased cleaning and disinfection procedures and started collecting stool samples for testing.

Despite Disney Wonder getting 99 out of a possible 100 on the last three CDC inspections, the passengers on the cruise still got sick. Disney Cruise Line’s normal precautions include giving passengers hand wipes before they enter dining areas. Sanitizer stations are also found throughout its cruise ships. Due to the outbreak, Disney is looking to refund and give credits to their guests. Disney has seen a steady growth in its finances. From the years 2012 to 2015, the assets of Walt Disney Company have jumped from $74.9 to $88.18 billion. Each ticket approximately costs $150 without tax or other duties so even if they were to reimburse the victims of the virus, it wouldn’t affect the Disney Cruise Line’s revenue significantly.

CDC has reported a total of nine outbreaks on different cruise ships this year, and in most cases the suspect was norovirus. The last time a serious outbreak occurred on a Disney cruise ship was back in 2002, when 175 people, 163 passengers and 12 crew members, were reported to have fallen sick due to gastrointestinal illness, on the Disney Magic.

A Closer Look At The Norovirus

Norovirus is an extremely contagious, fast spreading stomach bug that infects people when they consume contaminated or raw food or liquids. Often people who get in contact with a surface that’s been contaminated by the virus can also fall victim to this stomach virus. CDC estimates that norovirus causes 19 to 21 million infections, 56,000 to 71,000 hospitalizations and 570 to 800 deaths each year and is the leading cause of gastroenteritis in the US.

The symptoms of norovirus are spells of vomiting, diarrhea and stomach cramps. As a result of vomiting and diarrhea, the body becomes depleted of fluids, hence making it difficult to perform vital functions. To prevent dehydration, drink plenty of liquids and eat fruits and vegetables with a high water content, such as tomatoes, watermelon, cucumbers etc, and avoid caffeine, fizzy drinks and alcohol as it can drain water from the body and make matters worse.

Extreme dehydration can cause dizziness, dry mouth and people can faint from it. In the case of extreme dehydration, people are often given drips of IV fluid.

Norovirus thrives on cruise ships because it is quite resilient and can withstand extreme temperatures in water. Since there are many strains of the virus, people don’t have immunity against it and can become a prey to the virus several times during their lifetime.

People can recover from the virus within a few days; however, it can be extremely fatal for infants and elderly people and apart from the health risks it poses, it can be detrimental to the economic stability of a society mostly due to sick leaves.

It is difficult to methodically grow norovirus in a cell culture, hence it is difficult to study it closely and develop a vaccine.

Norovirus doesn’t respond to antibiotics since they are only useful against bacterial infections. Norovirus’s effects usually go away with time within a couple of days. To prevent the spread of norovirus, its best to wash hands frequently throughout the day and avoid unnecessary contact with people. Leftover food should be disposed immediately and contaminated areas such as waste bins and toilets should be properly cleaned and sealed using good detergents and disinfectants.