Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Bug probe after man dies on liner !

Marco Polo (Pic by Peter Jolly)
About 150 people on the Marco Polo have symptoms of the bug

A post-mortem examination is due to be carried out on a man who died during a suspected outbreak of a virus on board a cruise liner in the Cromarty Firth.

Doctors have said about 150 people on board the Marco Polo are showing symptoms of the norovirus and two are being treated in hospital.

The 74-year-old man who died is thought to be from Norfolk.

He apparently suffered a heart attack but it is not yet clear whether he was suffering from the norovirus.

However, he was said to have been vomiting the previous night.

The man died as the ship was docking in Invergordon on Monday morning.

In a statement, cruise operators Transocean Tours said the man's death was unrelated to the virus outbreak, and that the ship had been inspected by local health officials.

NHS Highland said a total of 150 people were suffering from sickness and abdominal cramps - symptoms of the virus which is also known as the winter vomiting bug and affects up to one million people in the UK every year.

Local GPs and community nurses have boarded the Marco Polo to assist the ship's doctor.

Two of the passengers are now being treated at Raigmore Hospital in Inverness.

It has emerged that passengers on the previous voyage of the Marco Polo who disembarked on Saturday were also struck with a sickness bug.

Rita Jones, from Walsall in the West Midlands, and her husband David took a cruise from Tilbury in London on 22 June.

Half way through the cruise people began to get sickness and diarrhoea, Mrs Jones said, with five out of the eight people on her table becoming unwell.

Mrs Jones and her husband got the bug just after the cruise. She told the BBC the illness was "absolutely horrendous".

She said: "Half way through the cruise it docked at a port and I noticed an ambulance.

"Someone said a passenger had this sickness virus. From then on, people seemed to be getting ill."

She added: "It was kept very quiet. I think they should have notified us.

Dr Ken Oates said the man who died had many underlying health problems

"It has been horrendous, absolutely horrendous. We have never had anything like that before."

Mrs Jones said she was "gobsmacked" on realising that more people had become sick on the ship in a subsequent voyage.

She added: "I would have thought that if they were aware of problems maybe they should have delayed the sailing and given the ship a good clean or something."

Another passenger, from London, who was also on the earlier trip said that despite obvious signs of a bug on the ship, there was little evidence of prevention measures.

She said: "Nothing was said to us about taking care to wash our hands etc. It was only in the last few days that someone was standing outside the restaurants and giving us the gel to use on our hands.

"Though the staff, for the last few days, were wearing disposable gloves and serving us with cold drinks we were still able to help ourselves to all the food in the cafeteria type restaurant."

The Marco Polo is touring the UK and Ireland. It was carrying 769 passengers and 340 crew.

It had sailed from Tilbury on Saturday but has now been detained at Invergordon harbour.

Invergordon councillor Maxine Smith criticised the way the situation had been handled, claiming that potentially infected passengers were allowed to wander through the town after the ship docked there.

She said there were reports of some passengers vomiting in the streets.

Transocean Tours said the ship had not been placed under quarantine and that passengers unaffected by the virus were only allowed ashore after local health authorities had given their approval.

The company said the ship had remained in Invergordon to allow additional manpower to join the ship to assist with the situation, adding that the decision had been made by the ship's owners, Story Cruise Ltd.

A Transocean Tours spokesman said the company's environmental and health officers had been working closely with the local authorities and that a full outbreak control plan in line with UK public health requirements was in place and being followed closely.

Scottish Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon told BBC Radio's Good Morning Scotland programme it was a "very concerning situation" for those on board the ship and those in the local community.

She said it was being dealt with by local agencies and that she was being regularly updated on developments.

"I don't think it's appropriate to make knee-jerk reactions," she said.

"Thankfully the kind of situation we have seen develop is a rare occurrence."

Although norovirus is fairly common its effects are magnified when outbreaks occur within enclosed spaces such as cruise liners.

It is not usually dangerous, but can prove serious when it hits the very old, the very young or people with underlying health problems.

Several messages, or tweets, have appeared on messaging website Twitter alerting users to reports of the incident.




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