Norovirus Outbreak Cuts Caribbean Cruise Short

Royal Caribbean cruise ship heads back to port in New Jersey after hundreds on board fell ill.
3:00 | 01/27/14

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Transcript for Norovirus Outbreak Cuts Caribbean Cruise Short
This is a special. I'm -- tougher new -- this ABC news digital special report thousands of cruise ship passengers are headed home early from the Caribbean today not because they are home sick. Or even seasick rather it is a dangerous stomach bug. That is infected one in five aboard the ship and it is not the first time an outbreak has struck this particular vessel. ABC's Karen Travers joining us now with the latest on this story Karen. Good afternoon Dan I'll admit I'd never been on anchors an after reporting on -- story for the last couple of hours it's certainly making it less likely to want to go on a cruise. Right now officials can't say the exact source of this illness but Dan all signs point to narrow virus. It's every traveler's worst nightmare. A ten day Caribbean cruise cut short because -- nasty outbreak of stomach sickness. There are wiping down the ship would germ recited -- All day long all night long. -- Caribbean explorer of the seas sailed from New Jersey last Tuesday. Within 24 hours the first reports of illness since then nearly 600. Of the 3000 passengers onboard reported feeling violently sick. I caught it within the first 24 hours -- just kept going to happen. I realized what I couldn't keep a tablespoon of water -- The -- skipped its first stop in Haiti and went straight to Puerto Rico and saint Thomas. Officials with the Centers for Disease Control boarded the ship there yesterday to investigate and -- -- the exact cause of the illness is not known. But Royal Caribbean -- the symptoms appear to be consistent with neuro virus. A fast spreading bug that accounts for 90% of stomach illnesses on cruise ships it was responsible -- seven outbreaks last year of buyers can get on the ship from an infected passenger or crew member. Working come in with food that might be contaminated in -- state an overnight Royal Caribbean said -- right thing to do is to bring our guest home early. And use the extra time to sanitize the ship even more thoroughly. I am completely different -- be -- We were really really looking -- Richard -- year. We're a Caribbean said they will compensate their gas but also warned that more cases of this stomach sickness -- to be expected -- -- -- Carol let me ask you this -- because that conversation will be something that will help in the long term. What -- right now like the conditions on the ship by the deteriorating -- they should improving stabilizing. And -- officials said that there were less cases being reported as each day went on so we heard that within the first 24 hours that's when the -- -- illnesses first started being reported. 600 of the 3000 passengers have reported some type of symptoms. Plus 49 crew members but officials for the cruise -- say that the number of instances of people saying they're getting sick was actually decreasing each day and people were getting better but of course that's not much comfort for the people that are on that -- And then are sick and that's why they said they're gonna turn this around and get back a couple days -- And I can easily imagine -- number of people that want to get off the ship that seems to probably be growing as well as moments ago. I'd ABC's Karen -- Karen thank you for that -- were more on this I wanna bring in someone who has had first -- experience in dealing with outbreaks like this. ABC's chief health and medical editor doctor Richard bastard that's best thanks to -- -- is appreciated. Social what are the CDC scientists on board the ship what are they doing right now. Well you know whenever there's an outbreak on a cruise ship of more than 4% of the passengers are sick with a stomach bug arrest very -- They have to reported to the CDC and one of the first outbreaks I ever investigated when I worked at the CDC was norovirus on -- cruise ship. So when you get on the ship you -- -- you wanna do a number of things first what is he is it's still going on so I'm sure the reviewing the dispensary -- Looking to see gay -- -- how many passengers were coming in who who were sick. Their -- when -- it examining. And that the food service area and make sure that everything. There is it is in order but they'll also be administering questionnaires to people to try and see -- there's some connection between all of those people who got sick. If there's some food they have in common was there visiting a particular port drinking something in particular. In this way trying to piece together how this outbreak first occur. What may have been causing it so that they can try and control this for the future cruises the exact so that how what you do and potential identify the catalyst how do you stop something like that spreading on board well you -- moral virus is is so incredibly difficult to stop and the reason for that is. Same came in with a contaminated food you know the one idea was was presumably due to content -- -- -- lobster. Well the initial people get sick get sick from eating that lobster but then after that -- virus contaminate -- is it spreads person to person. So even if you no longer have the food on board that was involved you have a boat that's contaminated so when they get passengers off of that ship. They're gonna want as -- disinfect all the surfaces probably using a very high -- concentration. One of the other concerns is with anyone on the crew who handles food because. Once your symptoms are over symptoms usually last about three days but for the next two weeks you could be shedding that virus so if you're preparing food in your shedding that virus. That's a potentially devastating situation where the outbreak could occur again so you may have improved but it -- -- potentially threatening other people. What kind of treatment then for those people that do get infected with this well the primary symptoms of nor virus are vomiting and diarrhea and so what to watch -- dehydration and you want to make sure that people are able to keep enough liquids down so they don't get dangerously dehydrated. If they do then you need IV therapy and that's I'm sure one of the things that they would be providing in the dispensary. But normally people will recover after a few days -- -- lousy few days those people were elderly the very young -- our greatest risk. From from dehydration and another -- another bad thing about this virus. Is -- alcohol sanitize or should we talk about so much for flu prevention do not do a good job at preventing or -- it just is resistant to to those advertisers. -- you had mentioned that in fact someone could still be somewhat of a threat even weeks after they've -- recover from themselves. Once these folks do make their way back onto the port in New Jersey and how Long Will they be it will -- be quarantined I mean what how does that happen. -- they won't be quarantined with what -- they'll get -- information on how to prevent transmission so someone who's been sick with norovirus. Should not be preparing food for other people for America a couple of weeks. They'll talk about it -- the importance of good hand washing to make sure. That the virus is is off of their hands. They have little kids the importance of -- -- diaper changes and such -- that they're not not -- this virus. But it's not to sort of thing -- quarantine for you would trying to emphasize the importance of of really good hygiene. Is sounds to me that no matter how many precautions you may put into place and this is not to dispel any kind of importance of a hand washing and alcohol based -- as anything but it just seems as it. Even if you go through all of those steps something like this just might be inevitable 88 it may be and so they'll be watching very closely for the next cruise to see. Were they able to get out of that ship is this -- cruise or they gonna see another problem we will. Have to wait and see how that is going to develop -- ABC's. Richard desert doctor -- thank you so much appreciate it my pleasure and of course a complete recap right here on As that ship is making its way back to port in New Jersey. For non down -- New York with this ABC news digital special report.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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