The CDC recently posted on their Vessel Sanitation Program (VSP) website that the Celebrity Cruise lines ship, Celebriy Summit, has been experiencing an outbreak of norovirus during their current September 21st – October 5th Canada and New England voyage. At least 307 of the 2112 passengers and 14 of the 952 crew (about 10% of the people onboard) have been ill, and stool samples tested in Canada were positive for norovirus. In response, the cruise line is using stronger cleaning and disinfection procedures, alerting passengers of the issue, keeping VSP officials notified of cases, and working with the CDC to plan infection control measures when the ship arrives as scheduled in Bayonne, New Jersey on October 5th. According to the CDC website, VSP will be sending an Epidemiologist and an Environmental Health Officer to the ship to conduct an investigation, before the Celebrity Summit takes on new passengers later that day.
The VSP exists to generate sanitation guidelines for U.S. cruise ships, as well as make inspections when the ships are in U.S. ports to ensure they are following public health standards. Along with inspections and creating literature, the VSP provides training for shipboard personnel and works closely with the cruise ship industry, the public, and other groups to make sure needs are heard and addressed.
The CDC created the VSP in the 1970s to work in cooperation with the cruise ship industry and ensure the industry members created and implemented required sanitation programs. The goal of these programs has been the reduction of acute gastroenteritis (such as that caused by norovirus) and to protect the health of the millions of travelers leaving U.S. ports each year. Programs include a certain number of inspections each year.
The VSP has historically followed food safety guidelines created by the FDA and the World Health Organization. Their operations manual addresses many things, including disease surveillance and containment, food safety, water handling for drinking and recreational use, and housekeeping. Everything from requirements on baby diaper changing stations, to how often the swimming pool water is circulated, to where your rare filet mignon is allowed to come from is in the document (available online) to help keep you safe on while you vacation on the waves.