Health officials rule out bacteria as cause of illness on Ohio River cruise

Monday, October 23rd 2006, 9:14 pm
By: News On 6

PADUCAH, Ky. (AP) -- A virus probably caused at least 36 people to suffer flu-like symptoms last week while taking a riverboat cruise down the Ohio River, a health official said Monday.

Investigators ruled out bacteria as the source of the illness, said Beth Crace, a spokeswoman for the state Cabinet for Health and Family Services. Officials were awaiting additional test results.

If those tests do not confirm the cause, cultures will be sent to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for further analysis, said Dr. William Hacker, commissioner of the Kentucky Department of Public Health.

Hacker said Sunday that the illness appeared similar to the Norwalk virus, a contagious but normally not life-threatening ailment common aboard cruise ships and in nursing homes and schools. The virus causes mild to moderate gastrointestinal problems including vomiting and diarrhea. Symptoms usually end in 12 to 24 hours.

The passengers aboard the Mississippi Queen who complained of being sick were examined during the weekend at a hospital in Henderson. Two remained hospitalized for observation Monday. Dozens of other passengers sought emergency room help but were not admitted.

Federal and state health officials were monitoring food and hygiene practices aboard the paddlewheel riverboat, which was en route from Cincinnati to St. Louis with 525 passengers. The CDC sent a team to travel aboard the boat from Paducah to St. Louis,
Hacker said.

Delta Queen Steamboat Co., which operates the boat, canceled the final two days of the cruise Monday so it could "conduct additional deep cleaning" without inconveniencing passengers, according to a statement.

Most of the remaining passengers who continued on the cruise after health concerns were raised were taken to hotels in St. Louis.

The company said it expects the boat to be ready for its next trip, a seven-day cruise from St. Louis to Minneapolis that begins Wednesday.