Acute Gastroenteritis on Cruise Ships - United States, 2008-2014

MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2016 Jan 15;65(1):1-5. doi: 10.15585/mmwr.mm6501a1.


From 1990 to 2004, the reported rates of diarrheal disease (three or more loose stools or a greater than normal frequency in a 24-hour period) on cruise ships decreased 2.4%, from 29.2 cases per 100,000 travel days to 28.5 cases (1,2). Increased rates of acute gastroenteritis illness (diarrhea or vomiting that is associated with loose stools, bloody stools, abdominal cramps, headache, muscle aches, or fever) occurred in years that novel strains of norovirus, the most common etiologic agent in cruise ship outbreaks, emerged (3). To determine recent rates of acute gastroenteritis on cruise ships, CDC analyzed combined data for the period 2008-2014 that were submitted by cruise ships sailing in U.S. jurisdiction (defined as passenger vessels carrying ≥13 passengers and within 15 days of arriving in the United States) (4). CDC also reviewed laboratory data to ascertain the causes of acute gastroenteritis outbreaks and examined trends over time. During the study period, the rates of acute gastroenteritis per 100,000 travel days decreased among passengers from 27.2 cases in 2008 to 22.3 in 2014. Rates for crew members remained essentially unchanged (21.3 cases in 2008 and 21.6 in 2014). However, the rate of acute gastroenteritis was significantly higher in 2012 than in 2011 or 2013 for both passengers and crew members, likely related to the emergence of a novel strain of norovirus, GII.4 Sydney (5). During 2008-2014, a total of 133 cruise ship acute gastroenteritis outbreaks were reported, 95 (71%) of which had specimens available for testing. Among these, 92 (97%) were caused by norovirus, and among 80 norovirus specimens for which a genotype was identified, 59 (73.8%) were GII.4 strains. Cruise ship travelers experiencing diarrhea or vomiting should report to the ship medical center promptly so that symptoms can be assessed, proper treatment provided, and control measures implemented.

MeSH terms

  • Acute Disease
  • Disease Outbreaks / statistics & numerical data*
  • Gastroenteritis / epidemiology*
  • Humans
  • Ships*
  • Travel*
  • United States / epidemiology