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Panic about Ebola is spreading far more rapidly than the disease. This week one of the lab technicians who came into contact with specimens taken from Ebola victim Thomas Eric Duncan before he died at a Texas hospital was permitted to board a Carnival cruise ship that set sail from Dallas (Galveston) to Belize on October 12.

Sometime after the Carnival Magic set sail, news surfaced that two nurses, Amber Vinson and Nina Pham, had tested positive for Ebola after treating Mr. Duncan at a Dallas hospital –an announcement that led the CDC to issue an active-monitoring requirement.

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Meanwhile, the passenger aboard the Carnival Magic had begun a self-imposed quarantine in her cabin. The entire ship was denied entry into the port of Belize and was also not permitted to enter Cozumel, Mexico.  Blood tests were taken during the cruise and airlifted by United States Coast Guard helicopter.

According to a statement released by the Galveston Health Authority, the sample taken was negative for Ebola, which is great news for all the passengers.  Carnival is currently cleaning the Magic and intends to have it back in service this week.

Questions have arisen as to how the cruise industry and Carnival in particular are prepared to handle a potential Ebola outbreak at sea.  As a lawyer who sues cruise companies, I have investigated hundreds of accidents on board cruise ships for nearly 25 years, and I am very concerned. In view of the general difficulties ships have had in containing the spread of the Norovirus (Norwalk virus), an Ebola outbreak could be devastating on board an ocean liner. A cruise line could face legal liability for failing to have in place an outbreak protocol to isolate and contain the spread of Ebola.  I recommend that the cruise industry also follow and implement the recently revised CDC Ebola guidelines for healthcare workers in all ship hospitals and infirmaries.

The Norwalk virus is one of the most common causes of acute gastroenteritis (infection of the stomach and intestines) and spreads easily onboard cruise ships because the symptoms are often misdiagnosed as simple stomach flu or viral gastroenteritis.  It is spread by infected passengers, or by contaminated food or drinks prepared by infected crew members. One of the reasons the Norwalk virus is particularly difficult to contain is that it survives on contaminated surfaces such as buffet counters, door handles, and elevator buttons.

If you have suffered an accident while on a cruise, I recommend that you consult with an experienced maritime attorney.  Our office offers cruise ship passengers free initial legal consultations to help them understand their legal rights after they have slipped, tripped, or fallen on board a cruise.  Call us today at 1-866-597-4529 or email [email protected] because most cruise companies require that within one year of the date of incident claims be filed in Miami, regardless of where in the world the incident may have occurred.