Clean HVAC Systems Prevent Virus Outbreaks on Cruise Ships

Outbreaks of viral infections on cruise ships have been appearing frequently in the headlines this year.

In the first week of February 2012, approximately 500 cases of norovirus reportedly occurred on two Princess Cruise ships, according to CNN. Both ships are based in Florida. On the Ruby Princess had 92 passengers and 13 members became ill with the virus. The Crown Princess ship reported that 364 passengers and 30 crew members came down with the virus.

In the same week as the Florida cases, about 200 passengers on a ship departing from New Orleans became ill with norovirus, according to the Associated Press. The Royal Caribbean ship Voyager of the Seas was forced to depart late due to the illnesses. In May the cruise ship Boudicca reported 170 norovirus illnesses, causing the passengers to be quarantined. The ship, owned by Fred Olsen, experienced similar outbreaks in 2010. A spokeswoman for the company confirmed the passengers had a virus that caused gastroenteritis symptoms, according to the UK’s Mail Online.

In another case in 2010, the UK’s Telegraph reports the widow of a cruise passenger was awarded a financial settlement after he died of complications from Legionnaires’ disease. The man purportedly contracted the disease while on a Fred Olson cruise. The bacteria was discovered on the M.S. Black Watch ship, prompting the cruise to end early. The man became sick shortly after arriving home and died within one month of the cruise. The court ruling found Fred Olsen Cruises responsible for exposing the man to Legionnaires’ disease.

In cases of Legionnaires’ disease, travelers exposed to aerosolized, warm water containing the bacteria are at the greatest risk for infection, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC explains the elderly and those with compromised immune systems are more susceptible to contracting the disease. Outbreaks are commonly reported on cruise ships because the disease is more easily spread in close quarters such as cruise ships. Exposure can also occur in whirlpools and showers.

Norovirus causes such symptoms as vomiting and diarrhea. The virus is primarily transmitted through the fecal-oral route by consuming contaminated food or water, or person-to-person contact, according to the CDC. But environmental and fomite contamination may also spread the disease, according to the IAQ Video Network.

The US Consumer Product Safety Commission explains infectious diseases caused by bacteria or viruses, such as norovirus or Legionnaires’ disease, can be spread more easily in tight quarters with poor air circulation, like cruise ships. Bacterias or viruses may thrive and circulate in ventilation systems.

The HVAC system is one possible source of contamination on cruise ships. Thoroughly cleaning and sanitizing the ships’ HVAC systems plays a pivotal role in the prevention and remediation of virus outbreaks.

The CDC’s Vessel Sanitation Program (VSP) aims to assist cruise ship personnel with preventing and controlling the spread of gastrointestinal illnesses on cruise ships. VSP provides an Operations Manual outlining the best ways to sanitize a vessel for protection against an outbreak or after an outbreak occurs. The organization devotes an entire section in the manual to the HVAC system, which addresses cleaning condensate pans, air handling units, condensers, coils, misting systems and other parts of the system to preclude the growth of Mycobacterium, Legionella, algae, and mold.

As it relates to Goodway, the CoilPro line of portable coil cleaners makes it fast and easy to keep coils clean and clear, which in turn allows the system to function properly limiting the sources of airborne infection, mold, and mildew. Additionally, products like BBJ MMR-II are not only mold and mildew killers, but also disinfectants that can kill strep, MRSA, salmonella and a variety of other bacterias. To effectively manage mold and mildew on HVAC coils and ducts, plenums and other areas use BBJ Mold Control for HVAC Systems and Air Ducts. This is a mold control agent that stops mold from growing.

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  • Bob

    Had no idea a clean HVAC system could potentially prevent a virus on a cruise ship. This is a very interesting article.

    July 19, 2012
  • Ben

    Anything to help with the norovirus that ships get from time to time if fine by me. I have been thankful that there hasn’t been an outbreak on any of the cruises that I have been on.

    August 13, 2012

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