The Norwegian Joy yet again endured a bout of passenger illnesses on a recent cruise, with nearly 20 passengers experiencing flu-like symptoms. The ship arrived in the Port of Los Angeles on Sunday.

“LAFD evaluated a total of 19 patients for flu-like symptoms and all declined transport to the hospital,” according to Margaret Stewart, spokesperson for the Los Angeles Fire Department. USA TODAY has reached out to Norwegian for more information.

Los Angeles County Supervisor Janice Hahn has called on public health officials to make sure the illness doesn’t spread in the harbor area.

“I am calling on the Center for Disease Control to work closely with our LA County Public Health officials to ensure the passenger illnesses aboard the ‘Norwegian Joy’ do not become an infectious disease outbreak here in the harbor area,” Hahn said in a statement. “This is the second time in a week that this ship has been forced to dock at the Port of Los Angeles due to passenger illness and it raises serious concerns about the hygiene of this ship. If the ship is not cleaned to a point that ensures the health and safety of its passengers, it should not be allowed to leave dock.”

Passengers fell ill during a previous 16-day cruise aboard the Norwegian Joy, with four people requesting to be taken to the hospital on Sunday, Nov. 24, after docking in Los Angeles.

Reports from passengers indicate the illness was the stomach bug known as norovirus, though it’s unclear how many people got sick. 

The Norwegian Joy departed Nov. 8 from Miami and docked in the Port of Los Angeles on Nov. 24.

The Los Angeles Fire Department evaluated six passengers who sought medical treatment for an “unspecified and apparently non-life threatening illness” upon leaving the docked Norwegian Joy, according to an alert from fire department spokesman Brian Humphrey. Four of these passengers requested more treatment, and the fire department brought them by ambulance to area hospitals. It’s unclear how many passengers got sick in total.

Christine Da Silva, vice president of communication at Norwegian told USA TODAY: “The safety, security and well-being of our guests and crew is our number one priority. As such, we operate at the very highest public health standards. During Norwegian Joy’s Panama Canal sailing, a few guests on board experienced a stomach related illness. To mitigate any impact of this rare occurrence, we implemented stringent sanitation procedures. As always, we will continue to monitor this situation.”

Ken Fagut, 66, of DeWitt, New York, and his wife Grace Burritt were among the passengers who fell ill, though they did not seek medical care. Both had been working out every day and otherwise had a great time on the cruise.

He praised the actions of the crew amid the illnesses and said the staff was transparent with customers. They encouraged people to seek free consultation with medical crew.

“The ship staff were absolutely diligent in having all of us wash our hands, but it is impossible to ensure everyone follows this common sense protocol,” Fagut told USA TODAY.  “(Our steward Patrick) described all the steps that they had taken once the virus was identified, but this is a virulent virus, and once onboard in a contained setting can pass rapidly to passengers on the ship. It is highly contagious.”

A few days before the trip ended, “they announced that there were a lot of people sick and a lot of things were restricted,” passenger Brigitte Leise told CBS Los Angeles. “They took all the pillows and they were sanitizing those and then when we got off the ship they had the hazmat suits on and they were sanitizing all the rooms,” passenger Judy Lukos added.

Norovirus and cruise ships: What to know

Norovirus isn’t uncommon on cruise ships. A common “stomach bug” that is widespread across America in the winter, norovirus hits about 19 to 21 million Americans each year, according to the CDC. Common symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea and stomach cramping. The illness typically comes on suddenly.

The number of outbreaks of norovirus and other gastrointestinal illnesses on cruise ships has been declining in recent years. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recorded 10 outbreaks of gastrointestinal illness on cruise ships in 2018 — the second lowest level since 2001.

Getting passengers to wash their hands frequently while on ships, increasing use of hand-sanitizing gel and better cleaning regimes have helped.

Contributing: Bruce Horovitz, Kaiser Health News; Jennifer Sangalang, Florida Today

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