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The dreaded “cruise ship virus” is spreading among Winter Olympics workers

Reuters/Kim Hong-ji
Everything’s just fine.
  • Tripti Lahiri
By Tripti Lahiri

Asia bureau chief

This article is more than 2 years old.

Norovirus can turn your cruise ship voyage into a nightmare of diarrhea and vomiting. It’s not exactly great for athletes either.

With just one day to go until the opening ceremony for the Winter Olympics in South Korea’s Pyeongchang, 128 people have fallen ill from an outbreak of novovirus, mainly security staff and other workers, according to the Korean Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. None of the more than 2,900 athletes taking part in the games have fallen ill so far.

According to the center, some people began experiencing symptoms on Sunday (Feb. 4). On Tuesday, 32 infections were confirmed, and another 54 on Wednesday. On Thursday another 42 cases were confirmed. The majority of cases have been security workers staying at a youth center, but students and reporters were also taken ill. As a precautionary measure, 1,200 security workers were isolated this week for testing and replaced by 900 soldiers brought in to take their place, according to South Korea’s Yonhap news agency, adding that three International Olympic Committee staff were among those being tested. Leafy greens, fresh fruit, and shellfish are common causes of outbreaks.

While norovirus is most associated in the public mind with cruise ships, they can happen around large sporting events too. That’s because the conditions that help spread the virus on a ship—”close living quarters, shared dining areas,” according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention—are replicated to some extent. In August, the bug infected athletes staying at the same hotel for the World Athletics Championship in London, and forced some of them to miss their competitions.

The head of the Korean Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that January and February is peak season for the virus. The Pyeongchang Games chief has apologized for the outbreak. And the Olympic Games executive director has said hand sanitizer will be distributed widely.

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