The curse of the cruise industry?
(TVLW) - Queen Victoria is the latest in a string of ships, including Queen Elizabeth 2, to be hit by sickness bugs - so what is the multi-million pound industry doing about the outbreaks and is the fear of falling ill putting people off cruising?
For many thousands of Britons, a cruise, with the tempting promise of luxury living on the high seas, has never been more popular but an iceberg-sized problem is looming on the horizon which could potentially scupper this ocean-going success story.
News that passengers on the brand new £300m Southampton-based Cunard vessel, Queen Victoria have been struck down by the virulent norovirus, is the kind of publicity the cruising industry, with its main operating base in Southampton, can certainly well do without.
This extremely contagious and easily transmitted virus, also known as norwalk, is the bane of shipping lines as the sickness bug, that causes severe vomiting and diarrhoea, can rapidly sweep through a vessel once it has gained a foothold on board.
Holy Grail The search for a reliable, tried and true proceedure that would contain and quickly kill-off norovirus, has become something of a hunt for cruising's Holy Grail with operators well aware that these unwanted and continuing headlines just might hole the industry below the waterline.
Norovirus and its debilitating symptoms have hit many cruise ships in recent years and the bug has also become a common problem in hospitals, hotels and holiday complexes where people are in close proximity to each other. According to medical authorities the virus is currently circulating widely throughout the UK and America.
The fact that Queen Victoria has only been in service a little more than three weeks puts pay to some suggestions that the bug only strikes on older vessels and is somehow spread through a ship's ventilation or sanitary systems.
An outbreak begins when either a passenger inadvertently brings the illness on board with them or does not pay meticulous attention to personal hygiene such as not washing hands after using the lavatory.
Cruise companies, well aware of the destructive influence these outbreaks can cause to their reputation of providing the highest standards of service, food and entertainment, operate strict and officially regulated sanitation procedures which have been developed in co ordination with the Health Protection Agency and includes thorough disinfection of frequently touched surfaces such as railings, door handles and lift buttons.
As passengers embark each guest must now fill out and sign a form declaring that they are free from infection and have not been in recent contact with contaminated people or objects.
Passengers are also encouraged to always wash their hands and use sanitizing sprays placed throughout the vessel but these procedures will only work if guests follow this guidelines.
One female passenger who brushed aside a bottle of gel offered by a crew member was overheard saying: "How dare you suggest my hands are dirty!'' It was only last month that Queen Victoria was officially named by the Duchess of Cornwall in Southampton docks.
The traditional bottle of champagne failed to break which, according to supersitious seafarers, forbodes bad luck for the ship and this latest outbreak will only fuel that old maritime legend but this was firmly put down by a Cunard spokesman who said: "I cannot comment on superstition.'' Queen Victoria left Southampton on Friday, December 21 with a full passenger list, including Sir Jackie Stewart, pictured, the former motor racing champion, for a 16-night cruise to the Canary Islands.
The Cunarder is due back in Southampton on Wednesday, January 6 when she departs for a transatlantic crossing to New York.