A Princess Cruise Lines ship carrying more than 100 passengers and crew who fell ill at sea, docked in Houston more than a day ahead of schedule Thursday, just one day after a Royal Caribbean cruise returned to New Jersey early amid a virus outbreak that sickened hundreds aboard.
The company cited both dense fog expected at the port and an outbreak of norovirus, a common but extremely contagious gastrointestinal illness, in a statement explaining the ship's change in itinerary. That "increase in the number of cases of gastroenteritis among passengers" resulted in 165 passengers seeking care at the health facilities on the ship.
"Caribbean Princess is being forced to return to Houston one day early because we were informed that dense fog is expected to close the port for much of the weekend, and we are mindful of our passengers’ safety and comfort, as well as the disruption the port’s closing will have on their onward travel plans," a Princess Cruise Lines spokesperson said in a statement to NBC 5 in Dallas.
The Caribbean Princess set sale on Jan. 25 from Houston, bound for the western Caribbean for seven days with more than 4,000 people on board. The ship was not scheduled to return until Feb. 1.
The ship arrived at the Port of Houston at about 9 p.m. Thursday, more than 24 hours sooner than scheduled. The change caused the ship to cancel a planned stop in Belize.
"We truly regret having to make this change to our passengers’ vacations, and we hope they understand that we did not have any choice but to return to Houston early before the unusually heavy fog closes the port," the ship's spokesperson said.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention investigators planned to launch a public health investigation and board the ship.
This is the second ship this week that returned early with ill passengers aboard.
Royal Caribbean's Explorer of the Seas ship docked in New Jersey Wednesday after more than 600 passengers and crew members fell ill aboard.
North Texas family physician Dr. Richard Honaker said that norovirus is usually present on places like ships, because it happens when a group of people are in one place.
Honaker added that the virus is very contagious. Infected individuals are contagious the day before symptoms are shown and a few days after.
The best defense against norovirus is washing hands regularly, however, it can't be prevented if someone else is spreading the germs.