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Royal Caribbean cruise ship hit by virus; 108 sick

The ocean liner "Vision of the Seas" of The Royal Caribbean Cruise Ltd. sits quayside in Saint Nazaire, western France, in this handout pict
The ocean liner "Vision of the Seas" of The Royal Caribbean Cruise Ltd. sits quayside in Saint Nazaire, western France, in this handout pict

By Phil Wahba and Martinne Geller

(Reuters) - Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd said on Friday that 108 people fell sick with a gastrointestinal illness believed to be a norovirus on its Vision of the Seas ship, which docked in Port Everglades, Florida, at the end of an 11-day trip.

The outbreak was the latest black eye for the cruise industry, trying to regain its sea legs after several high-profile mishaps.

Royal Caribbean said those sickened had responded well to the over-the-counter medicine they were given. It said 105 of 1,991 passengers and 3 of 772 crew members aboard fell ill.

The ship and the cruise terminal have been thoroughly sanitized and the cruise liner will depart later on Friday as scheduled on a new sailing, the company said.

The 915-foot-long Vision of the Seas was ending a Caribbean cruise that left Port Everglades on February 25. Its previous port of call was Aruba on March 5.

"It adds insult to injury and comes during high-booking season," Morningstar analyst Jaime Katz told Reuters, noting the potential hit to business for the cruise companies at a time of year when many passengers usually buy their tickets.

Royal Caribbean shares fell 3 percent to $33.31, while Carnival Corp shares lost 1.57 percent to $35.67. Norovirus outbreaks are fairly frequent on cruise ships.

Last month, thousands of passengers spent nearly five days on a disabled cruise ship operated by Carnival Corp in the Gulf of Mexico. Carnival's Triumph was returning to Galveston, Texas from Cozumel, Mexico, on the third day of a four-day cruise when an engine-room fire knocked out power and plumbing across most of the ship.

In December, 194 passengers and 11 crew members aboard the luxury cruise ship Queen Mary 2 were sickened and suffered from vomiting and diarrhea.

In 2012, including the Queen Mary 2 incident, a total of 16 outbreaks on cruise ships were reported to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, up from 14 in 2011. Vessels are required to notify the agency when 2 percent of those on board develop a gastrointestinal illness.

In January 2012, the Costa Concordia, also operated by Carnival Corp, ran aground off the Italian coast, killing 32 passengers.

Norovirus causes an inflammation of the stomach or intestines called acute gastroenteritis, producing stomach pain, nausea and diarrhea, and is the most common cause of acute gastroenteritis in the United States.

Each year, norovirus causes some 21 million illnesses, of which 70,000 require hospitalization. It kills about 800 people a year, the CDC says.

(Reporting By Martinne Geller in New York and Phil Wahba; Editing by John Wallace, Leslie Gevirtz and Dan Grebler)

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