(01-24) 21:24 PST -- More than 300 passengers and crew aboard the Queen Elizabeth 2 came down with the norovirus before the ocean liner made a rare visit Wednesday to the Bay Area.
The 38-year-old grande dame is making a 108-day, round-the-world trip, begun Jan. 8 in New York. After the ship left Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on Jan. 10, more than 300 passengers and crew members came down with norovirus, a contagious flulike disease. The outbreak affected 276 of the 1,652 passengers, or 16.7 percent. The other 28 affected were crew members.
Officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention came aboard the ship in Acapulco, Mexico, and the crew performed what Cunard Line spokesman Brian O'Connor called "enhanced sanitation'' operations. The virus, which induces nausea and vomiting, is spread by contact with unsanitary conditions.
According to the CDC, most people in otherwise good health recover after one to two days. By the time the ship arrived Wednesday in San Francisco, only four people -- all passengers -- still had the norovirus symptoms.
Noroviruses are believed to be responsible for roughly half of all food-borne illnesses in the United States, although they're far less serious than their bacterial cousins, such as E. coli and salmonella. Most people who fall ill with a norovirus will feel nauseated and miserable for 24 to 48 hours, then quickly recover. They might have a mild fever and suffer some aches and chills, but generally, it's the vomiting and diarrhea that stand out.
There have been several norovirus outbreaks in the Bay Area in the past year. At least 18 Bay Area nursing homes reported norovirus outbreaks in the fall, when the bug starts hitting its seasonal peak. In December, San Mateo County health officials quarantined 164 residents at a Belmont assisted-living center after 85 people fell ill with the virus.
In Sonoma County, three deaths were linked to the virus, all elderly people who were suffering a variety of other medical conditions. Health officials there reported more than 300 cases at eight facilities.
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