CDC says coronavirus RNA found in Princess Cruise ship cabins up to 17 days after passengers left
- The coronavirus RNA was found on surfaces of the Princess Cruise ship up to 17 days after passengers disembarked, new research by the CDC shows.
- Researchers looked at the COVID-19 outbreaks on the Carnival-owned Diamond Princess ship in Japan and the Grand Princess ship in California.
- The coronavirus’ RNA “was identified on a variety of surfaces in cabins of both symptomatic and asymptomatic infected passengers up to 17 days after cabins were vacated.”
Coronavirus RNA survived for up to 17 days aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship, lasting far longer on surfaces than previous research has shown, according to new data published Monday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The study examined the Japanese and U.S. government efforts to contain the COVID-19 outbreaks on the Carnival-owned Diamond Princess ship in Japan and the Grand Princess ship in California. Passengers and crew on both ships were quarantined on board after previous guests, who didn’t have any symptoms while aboard each of the ships, tested positive for COVID-19 after landing ashore.
The RNA, the genetic material of the virus that causes COVID-19, “was identified on a variety of surfaces in cabins of both symptomatic and asymptomatic infected passengers up to 17 days after cabins were vacated on the Diamond Princess but before disinfection procedures had been conducted,” the researchers wrote, adding that the finding doesn’t necessarily mean the virus spread by surface.
The CDC said researchers couldn’t “determine whether transmission occurred from contaminated surfaces,” and that further study of COVID-19′s spread through touching surfaces on cruise ships was warranted.
“COVID-19 on cruise ships poses a risk for rapid spread of disease, causing outbreaks in a vulnerable population, and aggressive efforts are required to contain spread,” the CDC wrote, reiterating its guidance to vulnerable populations to avoid cruises during the pandemic.
Researchers from the National Institutes of Health, CDC, UCLA and Princeton University previously found that coronavirus can last up to three days on plastic and stainless steel. That study also found that the amount of the virus left on those surfaces decreased over time.
The new study set out to determine how “transmission occurred across multiple voyages of several ships.” They noted that as of March 17, there were at least 25 cruise ship voyages with confirmed COVID-19 cases that were detected either during or after the cruise ended.
Almost half, 46.5%, of the infections aboard the Diamond Princess were asymptomatic when they were tested, partially explaining the “high attack rate” of the virus among passengers and crew.
The Diamond Princess and its 3,700 passengers and crew were quarantined at a Japanese port on Feb. 4 after a previous passenger was diagnosed with COVID-19 after he returned to Hong Kong. The ship quickly became what was at the time the largest cluster of confirmed COVID-19 cases outside of China with more than 800 passengers and crew eventually becoming infected.
Nine people died after disembarking the ship. The Japanese government and other nations eventually evacuated their citizens.
The researchers found that 712 of 3,711 people on the Diamond Princess, or 19.2% were infected by COVID-19.
The other ship included in the study, the Grand Princess, was forced to moor off the coast of California after two patients who had disembarked in California tested positive. A total of 78 cases were eventually tied back to the ship across two separate voyages. After several days, California officials brought the ship to the Port of Oakland, where passengers disembarked and were transported to federal quarantine facilities.
The Diamond Princess and Grand Princess accounted for more than 800 total coronavirus cases, including 10 deaths.
Public Health Responses to coronavirus Outbreaks on Cruise Ships — Worldwide, February–March 2020
What is already known about this topic?
Cruise ships are often settings for outbreaks of infectious diseases because of their closed environment and contact between travelers from many countries.
What is added by this report?
More than 800 cases of laboratory-confirmed coronavirus cases occurred during outbreaks on three cruise ship voyages, and cases linked to several additional cruises have been reported across the United States. Transmission occurred across multiple voyages from ship to ship by crew members; both crew members and passengers were affected; 10 deaths associated with cruise ships have been reported to date.
What are the implications for public health practice?
Outbreaks of coronavirus on cruise ships pose a risk for rapid spread of disease beyond the voyage. Aggressive efforts are required to contain spread. All persons should defer all cruise travel worldwide during the COVID-19 pandemic.
An estimated 30 million passengers are transported on 272 cruise ships worldwide each year* (1). Cruise ships bring diverse populations into proximity for many days, facilitating transmission of respiratory illness (2). SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes coronavirus disease (COVID-19) was first identified in Wuhan, China, in December 2019 and has since spread worldwide to at least 187 countries and territories. Widespread COVID-19 transmission on cruise ships has been reported as well (3).
Passengers on certain cruise ship voyages might be aged ≥65 years, which places them at greater risk for severe consequences of SARS-CoV-2 infection (4). During February–March 2020, COVID-19 outbreaks associated with three cruise ship voyages have caused more than 800 laboratory-confirmed cases among passengers and crew, including 10 deaths. Transmission occurred across multiple voyages of several ships.
This report describes public health responses to COVID-19 outbreaks on these ships. coronavirus on cruise ships poses a risk for rapid spread of disease, causing outbreaks in a vulnerable population, and aggressive efforts are required to contain spread. All persons should defer all cruise travel worldwide during the coronavirus pandemic.
During February 7–23, 2020, the largest cluster of COVID-19 cases outside mainland China occurred on the Diamond Princess cruise ship, which was quarantined in the port of Yokohama, Japan, on February 3 (3). On March 6, cases of COVID-19 were identified in persons on the Grand Princess cruise ship off the coast of California; that ship was subsequently quarantined.
By March 17, confirmed cases of COVID-19 had been associated with at least 25 additional cruise ship voyages. On February 21, CDC recommended avoiding travel on cruise ships in Southeast Asia; on March 8, this recommendation was broadened to include deferring all cruise ship travel worldwide for those with underlying health conditions and for persons aged ≥65 years.
On March 13, the Cruise Lines International Association announced a 30-day voluntary suspension of cruise operations in the United States (5). CDC issued a level 3 travel warning on March 17, recommending that all cruise travel be deferred worldwide.†
On January 20, 2020, the Diamond Princess cruise ship departed Yokohama, Japan, carrying approximately 3,700 passengers and crew (Table). On January 25, a symptomatic passenger departed the ship in Hong Kong, where he was evaluated; testing confirmed SARS-CoV-2 infection.
On February 3, the ship returned to Japan, after making six stops in three countries. Japanese authorities were notified of the coronavirus diagnosis in the passenger who disembarked in Hong Kong, and the ship was quarantined. Information about social distancing and monitoring of symptoms was communicated to passengers.
On February 5, passengers were quarantined in their cabins; crew continued to work and, therefore, could not be isolated in their cabins (6). Initially, travelers with fever or respiratory symptoms and their close contacts were tested for SARS-CoV-2 by reverse transcription–polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR). All those with positive test results were disembarked and hospitalized.
Testing was later expanded to support a phased disembarkation of passengers, prioritizing testing of older persons, those with underlying medical conditions, and those in internal cabins with no access to the outdoors. During February 16–23, nearly 1,000 persons were repatriated by air to their home countries, including 329 persons who returned to the United States and entered quarantine or isolation.§,¶
The remaining passengers who had negative SARS-CoV-2 RT-PCR test results,** no respiratory symptoms, and no close contact with a person with a confirmed case of COVID-19 completed a 14-day ship-based quarantine before disembarkation.
Those passengers who had close contact with a person with a confirmed case completed land-based quarantine, with duration determined by date of last contact. After disembarkation of all passengers, crew members either completed a 14-day ship-based quarantine, were repatriated to and managed in their home country, or completed a 14-day land-based quarantine in Japan.
Overall, 111 (25.9%) of 428 U.S. citizens and legal residents did not join repatriation flights either because they had been hospitalized in Japan or for other reasons. To mitigate SARS-CoV-2 importation into the United States, CDC used temporary “Do Not Board” restrictions (7) to prevent commercial airline travel to the United States,†† and the U.S. Departments of State and Homeland Security restricted travel to the United States for non-U.S. travelers.
Among 3,711 Diamond Princess passengers and crew, 712 (19.2%) had positive test results for SARS-CoV-2 (Figure 1). Of these, 331 (46.5%) were asymptomatic at the time of testing. Among 381 symptomatic patients, 37 (9.7%) required intensive care, and nine (1.3%) died (8). Infections also occurred among three Japanese responders, including one nurse, one quarantine officer, and one administrative officer (9). As of March 13, among 428 U.S. passengers and crew, 107 (25.0%) had positive test results for COVID-19; 11 U.S. passengers remain hospitalized in Japan (median age = 75 years), including seven in serious condition (median age = 76 years).
During February 11–21, 2020, the Grand Princess cruise ship sailed roundtrip from San Francisco, California, making four stops in Mexico (voyage A). Most of the 1,111 crew and 68 passengers from voyage A remained on board for a second voyage that departed San Francisco on February 21 (voyage B), with a planned return on March 7 (Table).
On March 4, a clinician in California reported two patients with COVID-19 symptoms who had traveled on voyage A, one of whom had positive test results for SARS-CoV-2. CDC notified the cruise line, which began cancelling group activities on voyage B. More than 20 additional cases of COVID-19 among persons who did not travel on voyage B have been identified from Grand Princess voyage A, the majority in California.
One death has been reported. On March 5, a response team was transported by helicopter to the ship to collect specimens from 45 passengers and crew with respiratory symptoms for SARS-CoV-2 testing; 21 (46.7%), including two passengers and 19 crew, had positive test results. Passengers and symptomatic crew members were asked to self-quarantine in their cabins, and room service replaced public dining until disembarkation.
Following docking in Oakland, California, on March 8, passengers and crew were transferred to land-based sites for a 14-day quarantine period or isolation. Persons requiring medical attention for other conditions or for symptoms consistent with COVID-19 were evaluated, tested for SARS-CoV-2 infection, and hospitalized if indicated. During land-based quarantine in the United States, all persons were offered SARS-CoV-2 testing.
As of March 21, of 469 persons with available test results, 78 (16.6%) had positive test results for SARS-CoV-2. Repatriation flights for foreign nationals were organized by several governments in coordination with U.S. federal and California state government agencies. Following disinfection of the vessel according to guidance from CDC’s Vessel Sanitation Program, remaining foreign nationals will complete quarantine on board. The quarantine will be managed by the cruise company, with technical assistance provided by public health experts.
On February 21, five crew members from voyage A transferred to three other ships with a combined 13,317 passengers on board. No-sail orders§§ were issued by CDC for these ships until medical logs were reviewed and the crew members tested negative for SARS-CoV-2.
The Diamond Princess and Grand Princess had more than 800 total COVID-19 cases, including 10 deaths. During February 3–March 13, in the United States, approximately 200 cases of COVID-19 were confirmed among returned cruise travelers from multiple ship voyages, including the Diamond Princess and Grand Princess, accounting for approximately 17% of total reported U.S. cases at the time (10).
Cases linked with cruise travel have been reported to CDC in at least 15 states. Since February, multiple international cruises have been implicated in reports of COVID-19 cases, including at least 60 cases in the United States from Nile River cruises in Egypt (Figure 2). Secondary community-acquired cases linked to returned passengers on cruises have also been reported (CDC, unpublished data, 2020).
Public health responses to COVID-19 outbreaks on cruise ships were aimed at limiting transmission among passengers and crew, preventing exportation of COVID-19 to other communities, and assuring the safety of travelers and responders. These responses required the coordination of stakeholders across multiple sectors, including U.S. Government departments and agencies, foreign ministries of health, foreign embassies, state and local public health departments, hospitals, laboratories, and cruise ship companies.
At the time of the Diamond Princess outbreak, it became apparent that passengers disembarking from cruise ships could be a source of community transmission. Therefore, aggressive efforts to contain transmission on board and prevent further transmission upon disembarkation and repatriation were instituted.
These efforts included travel restrictions applied to persons, movement restrictions applied to ships, infection prevention and control measures, (e.g., use of personal protective equipment for medical and cleaning staff), disinfection of the cabins of persons with suspected COVID-19, provision of communication materials, notification of state health departments, and investigation of contacts of cases identified among U.S. returned travelers.
Cruise ships are often settings for outbreaks of infectious diseases because of their closed environment, contact between travelers from many countries, and crew transfers between ships. On the Diamond Princess, transmission largely occurred among passengers before quarantine was implemented, whereas crew infections peaked after quarantine (6).
On the Grand Princess, crew members were likely infected on voyage A and then transmitted SARS-CoV-2 to passengers on voyage B. The results of testing of passengers and crew on board the Diamond Princess demonstrated a high proportion (46.5%) of asymptomatic infections at the time of testing.
Available statistical models of the Diamond Princess outbreak suggest that 17.9% of infected persons never developed symptoms (9). A high proportion of asymptomatic infections could partially explain the high attack rate among cruise ship passengers and crew. SARS-CoV-2 RNA was identified on a variety of surfaces in cabins of both symptomatic and asymptomatic infected passengers up to 17 days after cabins were vacated on the
Diamond Princess but before disinfection procedures had been conducted (Takuya Yamagishi, National Institute of Infectious Diseases, personal communication, 2020). Although these data cannot be used to determine whether transmission occurred from contaminated surfaces, further study of fomite transmission of SARS-CoV-2 aboard cruise ships is warranted.
During the initial stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Diamond Princess was the setting of the largest outbreak outside mainland China. Many other cruise ships have since been implicated in SARS-CoV-2 transmission. Factors that facilitate spread on cruise ships might include mingling of travelers from multiple geographic regions and the closed nature of a cruise ship environment.
This is particularly concerning for older passengers, who are at increased risk for serious complications of COVID-19 (4). The Grand Princess was an example of perpetuation of transmission from crew members across multiple consecutive voyages and the potential introduction of the virus to passengers and crew on other ships.
Public health responses to cruise ship outbreaks require extensive resources. Temporary suspension of cruise ship travel during the current phase of the COVID-19 pandemic has been partially implemented by cruise lines through voluntary suspensions of operations, and by CDC through its unprecedented use of travel notices and warnings for conveyances to limit disease transmission (5).
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