More than 600 passengers and crew members traveling aboard a Royal Caribbean cruise ship fell ill with a severe gastrointestinal virus, forcing the ship to cut short its itinerary.
The Explorer of the Seas set off from Cape Liberty, N.J. on Jan. 21, bound for a 10-day Caribbean cruise. However, with the Centers for Disease Control confirming 577 passengers and 49 crew members sick with symptoms of severe vomiting and diarrhea, the ship has decided to come back two days early, the Chicago Tribune reported.
"New reports of illness have decreased day-over-day, and many guests are again up and about," Royal Caribbean said in a written statement on Sunday. "Nevertheless, the disruptions caused by the early wave of illness means that we were unable to deliver the vacation our guests were expecting."
Though the origin of the outbreak remains unknown, the cruise line's doctors conclude the symptoms to be consistent with those of a norovirus.
A norovirus is typically spread from an infected person or a contaminated surface to food and water and other surfaces, the Centers for Disease Control told bloomberg.com. The presence of the virus is made known when the stomach or intestines become inflamed which then leads to painful nausea and diarrhea.
At first some passengers confused the virus with food poisoning, as symptoms for both illnesses tend to be similar.
"I started with an upset stomach and vomiting, and that lasted all night and into the morning," Royal Caribbean passenger Joseph Angelillo told CNN by phone Sunday.
Once the cruise ship docks on Wednesday, it is scheduled to perform a "thorough 'barrier' sanitization program on the entire ship to make certain that any remaining traces of the illness are eliminated," the cruise line said in a statement.