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Cruise liner returns over virus outbreak

Cruise passengers waited for transportation after getting off the liner Celebrity Mercury yesterday in Charleston, S.C. Cruise passengers waited for transportation after getting off the liner Celebrity Mercury yesterday in Charleston, S.C. (Bruce Smith/ Associated Press)
Associated Press / March 19, 2010

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CHARLESTON, S.C. — A cruise liner hit by an outbreak of intestinal illness for a third straight trip from South Carolina returned a day early yesterday as operator Celebrity Cruises brought in extra crew to scrub the ship down for three days.

The Celebrity Mercury arrived about 2 a.m., and passengers began disembarking as the sun rose over Charleston.

The cruise company reported that 406 of the more than 1,800 passengers got sick after the ship’s March 8 departure. Thirteen of 857 crew members also got sick.

Hundreds of passengers got sick with the norovirus on two previous Mercury cruises this year from Charleston. The norovirus can spread quickly in closed quarters with symptoms including nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and stomach cramps.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the cause of the outbreak on the latest cruise has not yet been determined.

South Carolina officials have reported twice as many cases of norovirus in the state as normal this winter.

“It’s sort of infamous for sticking around,’’ said Dr. J. Michael Kilby, a Medical University of South Carolina professor.