Concern about the Ebola virus is spreading across the cruise industry and amongst future passengers after a lab technician who came into contact with fluid specimens taken from Ebola victim Thomas Eric Duncan prior to his death at a Texas hospital was permitted to board Carnival Magic, a cruise ship last week. Shortly after the Magic left Galveston, reports that Amber Vinson and Nina Pham, two health care workers that treated Mr. Duncan, had tested positive for Ebola.
Meanwhile, the passenger aboard the Carnival Magic quarantined herself voluntarily in her cabin. The entire vessel was subsequently denied entry into the port of Belize and the passenger in quarantine was denied entry into Cozumel, Mexico. Blood tests were taken during the cruise and were airlifted by United States Coast Guard helicopter. Thankfully, according to a statement released by the Galveston Health Authority, the sample taken was negative for Ebola, which is great news for all the passengers.
Carnival is currently decontaminating the Magic and intends to have it back in service this week. The Magic was last inspected by the CDC in March 2014 where 21 sanitation defects were identified.
This week’s incident raises serious questions as to how the cruise industry should prepare to tackle a potential Ebola outbreak at sea. Cruise lines have battled for years Norovirus (Norwalk virus), with inconsistent result. The Norwalk virus is one of the most common causes of acute gastroenteritis (infection of the stomach and intestines) and spreads easily on board cruise ships because the symptoms are often misdiagnosed as simple stomach flu or viral gastroenteritis. It is spread by infected passengers, or by contaminated food or drinks prepared by infected crew members. One of the reasons the Norwalk virus is particularly difficult to contain on cruise ships is that it survives on contaminated surfaces such as buffet counters, slot machine handles, and elevator buttons.
An Ebola outbreak could be devastating for both passengers and crew at sea. The incident on board the Magic will hopefully encourage the cruise industry to create protocols to isolate and contain the spread of Ebola such as immediately adopting the CDC ‘s newest Ebola infection and control recommendations.