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Plague Ship

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Norovirus

A number of news stories are circulating about the outbreak of a gastrointestinal illness inflicting a small number of passengers on board the Caribbean Princess.  I think it is safe to conjecture that the culprit is the Norovirus, a not so rare guest on cruise ships in recent years.

What struck me as amusing was the reaction, as reported in some of these articles, of the residents of Saint John, New Brunswick, where the ship docked this morning.  Store owners and tour operators were advised to be particularly mindful, with hand sanitizers and disinfected door knobs being the salient safeguards.  One local shopkeeeper professed to hoping for the best.  “I’m going to be a lot more careful with the way I handle their money and stuff”, he is quoted as saying.  One guesses that he soldiered on and took their money when it was offered.

One would almost think that an upset tummy was the early warning sign of something far more dire.  It seemed as if the hapless citizens of Saint John were beset by the imminent arrival of a plague ship, with infected passengers hellbent on forcing their filthy lucre on the populace.  Perhaps making them wear bells would have been an appropriate precaution.

I’m having a bit of fun, of course, primarily at the media which needs to take even minor news items and imbue them with far more importance than they actually have.  I also am not minimizing the discomfort that norovirus inflicts on its victims.  It is important to remember, however, that this virus was first identified over 40 years ago, and has probably been around for a good deal longer.  It is responsible for the overwhelming majority of large-scale outbreaks of what is commonly called stomach flu worldwide, and is by no means restricted to cruise ships.

One measure, I guess, of a virus’s success is its ability to jump from one victim to the next, and norovirus thrives in densely populated environments.  Cruise ships are certainly excellent breeding grounds, but they are far from the only venues that encourage transmission.  The good citizens of Saint John are probably more at risk from little Tommy and Sally bringing home their new norovirus friends that they acquired at school, than they are from passengers off a cruise ship.

Technorati Tags: Cruise line, cruise ship, gastrointestinal illness, New Brunswick, norovirus, Princess Cruise Lines, Princess Cruises, Saint John, stomach flu

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