Gastro Hits New Liner

BMW Simon
7th June 2006, 23:29
News reported here in Brisbane by local scribes,(with great mirth) that P.&.O.'s Pacific Sun was forced to off load 60 passengers with what is termed as "Gastro" we hope that this problem (& any others) does'ant plague this ship as it did her predesser.The media here seem to give P.& O. some really adverse publicity, perhaps they should give out some more free cruises!!

9th June 2006, 08:59
Press release 9th June -

P&O cruise ship to be sanitised
P&O says its cruise ship 'Pacific Sun' has docked in Sydney and will be sanitised after an outbreak of gastroenteritis on board.

Within days of starting a 10-night cruise, more than 60 passengers had to be quarantined after suffering gastroenteritis, which causes vomiting and diarrhoea.

P&O says it has intensified on-board sanitation, and given passengers free medical treatment.

But passenger Michael Wanless is unhappy because he was quarantined when he was simply hungover.

"Quarantine me, that's fair enough, but I think that I'm entitled to be reimbursed for that part of the trip," he said.

On the other hand, Betty Wilson says she had a great time even when quarantined.

"The crew were absolutely fantastic," she said.

P&O says it is most likely a passenger unknowingly carried the norovirus onboard.


9th June 2006, 11:53
I have never been convinced that passengers are always to blame for bringing gastroenteritis on board. Gastroenteritis is the medical name for food poisoning. The public are bombarded with new names like Norovirus and various others, so perhaps I should explain a bit more about this problem especially if you are going on holiday be it a cruise or whatever. But the problem can strike just as easy at home. It is a very complex subject and not easy to explain in a post. But bascially, there are viral and bacteria infections all causing the same or similar symtoms as far as the public is concerned. It is for we medics to find out which bug is causing the problem.

When I went on Oriana, I was given information about the Norwalk Virus (Norvirus). There was no information on any of the other forms of food poisoning. They say they operate a comphrehensive passenger and crew health surveillance system and meet the UK and CDC Vessel Sanitation programme standards. But it is far more complicated than that as I will attempt to explain.

Bacterial infections are the most common, especially reheated foods or half-cooked foods. Food left at room temperature, especially cream fillings, milk, processed meat and fish, may develop a heavy bacterial contamination such as shellfish. You could eat prawns on a cruise or at home and get the runs however well they are stored. Bacteria of the Staphylococcal, shigella and salmonella groups are common causes. Staphylococcal infections cause acute symptoms within two to eight hours. Salmonella and shigella bacteria infections usually comes from food handlers, flies and unhygienic cooking untensils and develops after 12 to 36 hours.

Camplyobacteria are present in contaminated poultry and fish. They are a common cause of Diarrhoea, and may produce severe abdominal pains.

Virus infections often cause both gastroenteritis and enteritis.

Bacteria infections may last for months or even years. The best way to understand this rather than any particual forms of bacteria is to understand the difference between bacteria and a virus. Bacteria can live in the ground for years whereas a virus can basically only live within it's own environment. I say basic rather than getting too technical. Viruses are not usually very robust. They are bascially protected by an outer coating. Ordinary soap destroys this coating thus destroying the virus which is why we are urged to wash our hands in soap before handling food or after going to the loo etc. Because of the nature of a virus, it is far more likely to catch it from person to person than by touching something the carrier has touched such as a handrail on a ship. It is for this reason that you cannot contract HIV for example from a toilet seat or shaking hands. But bacterial infections are a different matter. As I said, they can live for years out of the host body and are far more likely to be the cause of cross infection such as touching the same thing.

During my time at sea we always traced an outbreak of gastroenteritis back to a crew member, or the food itself how it was handled etc. Buffets were renowned for this. We also had a chef on one ship who liked to re-heat food instead of chucking it. Needless to say, we had an outbreak of food poisoning.

On modern day cruise ships a buffet is the in thing. Many passengers eat there for breakfast and lunch and afternoon tea. The conservatory on Oriana was always busy, passengers only going to the restaurant for dinner. P&O do their best to keep everything fresh, but it is an almost impossible undertaking. You can wear gloves, used a soap based gel and whatever you like. But if food is left for a while or contaminated before even coming aboard you stand no chance however good the hygiene and food storage is. And it only takes one crew member handling the food you eat even if wearing gloves to wipe his nose with his sleeve. And what about the Galley, it is as hot as hell in there. Crew in there are human, they sweat, they wipe their brow or sweat drops on to food. Sorry, but you must be realistic. Cross contamination is so easy, you will never get a foolproof system be it at sea or public eating place at home. Sandwiches at afternoon tea were dry at the edge. There is no way they can keep everything fresh all the time when catering for so many people who demand instant service at all times. They have to have food prepared in advance to cope which is where the problem begins.

The bottom line is that cruise companies are putting too much blame on the passengers bringing a bug aboard be it viral or bacteria. From past experience I would be surprised if it was brought aboard by pasengers because in many cases, the timescale just does not work out. It is possible of course with so many passengers going on cruises these days. But if you listen to P&O for example, they put ALL the blame on passengers and none on themselves. The leaflet they sent me more or less says this. But passengers do not handle all the food, just their own at buffets. This could do it of course, but I very much doubt it. During my time with P&O with never traced one single outbreak of gastroenteritis back to a passenger as the carrier.

Finally, passengers do eat excessive amounts of food on a cruise, and could well cause a tummy upset due to this. But if past experience is anything to go by and testing samples myself from shoreside eating establishents when I left the sea, cruise companies should be looking a bit closer to home than putting all the blame on the public?!. David

Pat McCardle
9th June 2006, 13:09
Very comprehensively put David & very true. Thank you (Thumb)

9th June 2006, 15:51

I share your sentiments to the full.

Our family recently suffered the same virus,and that was due to my 10 month son picking it up at the Toddlers Group in the local Health Centre.!

He had to be hospitalised for 24 hours and subsequently put 4 fully grown adults out of action for 48 hours each..!

The viruses have affected the cruises badly this season, and of course that results in bad press. As a fomer doctor operating on these vessels I respect what you say and your views. Any thoughts on air-conditioning not helping things.?

Healthily (now) yours,


9th June 2006, 17:29
Like I indicated above Rushie, I don't think all these outbreaks are viruses unless of course Lab tests prove it. Gastroenteritis can be both bacterial or viral. It is no coincidence that there are more outbreaks at the moment both shoreside and on cruise ships with the warm weather in this country. This weekend with the barbacues out you can be certain that hospitals will be busy and just about every case will be bacterial (food poisoning) infection caused by poorly cooked foods, and poorly stored foods as mentioned above. Food could already be contaminated before they arrive aboard a ship or indeed into your home, and I would challenge anybody who has not eaten prawns or other shell fish throught life without getting the runs, at least once. We depend heavily on other people handling our food correctly whether we take it home and store and cook it ourselves, or let others do it all.

You had a nasty experience with Rushie your son, but hopefully he is well now?.

Air conditioning would not spread viral or bacterial gastroenteritis, both are person to person or eating contaminated or uncooked foods etc. But the cold virus could well find it's way through the air conditioning especially the old ships. I worked on one ship who's air conditioning was a health hazard in itself and if you didn't catch a cold, you could well get emphysema if breathing that rubbish in over a period of years or worse still if asbestos was present. I put gauze over the blower in my cabin which was black after only two days!. Goodness knows what the black dust. The air conditioning seem fine on ships these days. Perhaps Fred would have more information on air conditioning on the modern cruise ship?. David