Norovirus outbreaks on commercial cruise ships: a systematic review and new targets for the public health agenda

Food Environ Virol. 2014 Jun;6(2):67-74. doi: 10.1007/s12560-014-9145-5. Epub 2014 May 17.


Noroviruses are recognized as the leading cause of human acute viral gastroenteritis worldwide. The rate of outbreaks on cruise ships has grown significantly in recent years. Given the potentially harmful consequences of outbreaks for passengers and crewmembers and the subsequently high costs for cruise companies, disease outbreaks on cruise ships represent a serious public health issue. The aim of our study was to systematically review published studies related to Norovirus outbreaks on commercial cruise ships. We searched the PubMed and Scopus scientific databases. We included eligible studies published from January 1990 to July 2013 that were written in English and described infectious episodes involving at least two passengers and/or crewmembers on a commercial cruise ship. As a result, 15 studies and seven reviews met the inclusion criteria, describing a total of 127 outbreaks. The majority of the cases were reported in Europe and the USA, affecting <1 to 74% of the embarked passengers. In the majority of the studies, stool samples and/or serum specimens from ill passengers were collected and tested for laboratory confirmation. Twelve studies reported that an ad-hoc questionnaire was administered. Fifteen studies investigated the possible source of infection which was contaminated food in the majority of cases. Our findings suggest a strong need for the monitoring and implementation of preventive measures in semi-closed communities, such as cruise ships. It would be advisable to strengthen all relevant initiatives in order to improve the detection of, response to and control of Norovirus outbreaks on cruise ships.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Caliciviridae Infections / epidemiology*
  • Caliciviridae Infections / prevention & control
  • Caliciviridae Infections / virology
  • Disease Outbreaks
  • Europe / epidemiology
  • Food / virology*
  • Food Contamination / analysis
  • Humans
  • Norovirus / isolation & purification
  • Norovirus / physiology*
  • Public Health
  • Ships / statistics & numerical data
  • Travel* / economics
  • Travel* / statistics & numerical data
  • United States / epidemiology