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Hundreds sickened aboard cruise ship

The Regal Princess arrived in New York on Tuesday.
The Regal Princess arrived in New York on Tuesday.

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More than 300 people aboard a cruise ship became sick with a Norwalk-type virus, causing the vessel to cut its voyage short and head for New York. CNN's Maria Hinojosa reports (September 2)
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NEW YORK (CNN) -- A cruise ship that suffered an outbreak of the norovirus, sickening around 20 percent of its passengers, returned to New York early Tuesday.

When the Regal Princess docked a day early, only two passengers were still sick, said Steven Nielsen, a vice president with Princess Cruises.

The ship, which cut its 15-day Atlantic voyage short, was met by a vessel sanitation team from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), company spokeswoman Julie Benson said.

The CDC said 301 of 1,557 passengers and 45 of the 687 member crew came down with gastrointestinal illness.

The ship began its voyage from Europe to New York in Copenhagen, Denmark, on August 18, Benson said.

The first symptoms of the norovirus showed up on the third day of the cruise, she said. Ship medical staff tested for norovirus and confirmed its presence, at which point Princess Cruises flew aboard two senior health officers and an extra disinfection team to help contain it.

The vessel also made port in England, Ireland, Scotland and Iceland before skipping planned stops in Greenland and Newfoundland en route to New York.

"What we decided to do was to take the ship into New York a day early and miss two ports to get an extra day in of sanitation and disinfecting the ship with no passengers on board," Benson said. "We wanted passengers off the ship so we could really make sure the cycle was broken."

Preliminary results of an investigation of the outbreak indicate that an infected person probably brought the virus onboard in Copenhagen, Benson said.

Passengers were instructed to take extra care to wash their hands, avoid touching their mouths and report to the medical center if they felt ill, she said.

Nielsen said no more than 60 passengers were sick at any one time. The illness, he said, typically lasted one day and passengers who were ill were asked to stay in their cabins.

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Centers for Disease Control & Prevention

The ship's disinfection procedure includes cleaning everything from elevator buttons to handrails to poker chips, Benson said.

"Over the course of the last several days ... we've seen a containment," she said.

Nielsen said the ship is expected to depart New York as scheduled on Thursday. He said passengers were given credit for the one day of the cruise they missed.

According to the CDC, noroviruses are a group of viruses that cause stomach flu, also called gastroenteritis.

People can become infected with the virus in several ways, including touching contaminated surfaces and then touching their mouths, or having direct contact with an ill person.

Symptoms usually include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and some stomach cramping. Sometimes sickened people also have a low-grade fever, chills, headache, muscle aches and a general sense of tiredness.

The illness often begins suddenly but is usually brief, with symptoms lasting one or two days, according to the CDC. Norovirus disease is usually not serious.

Late last year, outbreaks of the Norwalk virus affected several cruise ships and hundreds of passengers and crew.

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