Q&A on the News

Q: The recent outbreak of norovirus on two cruise ships that had been in the Caribbean made me wonder if these outbreaks are more common on ships traveling in areas of warmer weather. Do these outbreaks affect ships traveling to cooler climates, such as Alaska?

—Michelle Hutchinson, Marietta

A: There have been several reported outbreaks on cruises to Alaska and other cold climates, so the area where cruise ships travel doesn't appear to be connected to outbreaks, a cruise industry expert told Q&A on the News in an email. "A cruise ship is vulnerable to outbreaks because passengers and crew are sharing a relatively confined space with a high level of interpersonal contact, and because of the communal nature of restaurants," wrote Ross Klein, a professor at Memorial University of Newfoundland. Klein authored "Cruise Ship Squeeze: The New Pirates of the Seven Seas" and maintains cruisejunkie.com, which tracks issues affecting cruise ships and lines. "Some outbreaks may be tracked back to food; others can be attributed to person-to-person contact or to a person touching a contaminated object (door handle, stairway railings, etc.)," Klein wrote. "Keep in mind that the virus follows a fecal-oral route, so (this) is largely the result of people not washing their hands after using the toilet — basic issue of hygiene." The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported three illness outbreaks on cruise ships this year and has more information, including ship inspection scores, on its Vessel Sanitation Program website (www.cdc.gov/nceh/vsp).

Andy Johnston wrote this column. Do you have a question about the news? We’ll try to get the answer. Call 404-222-2002 or email q&a@ajc.com (include name, phone and city).