INFLUENZA

JULY 31 2009 14:15h

Cruise Ship Has 60 Flu Cases, Company Says No H1N1

View of cruise ship Voyager of the Seas, carrying dozens of victims of H1N1 virus, is anchored in bay of Villefranche sur Mer

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People infected with swine flu are being treated and will stay on board of the `Voyager of the Seas` liner.

A cruise ship carrying dozens of possible flu victims among its 5,000 passengers and crew docked in France on Friday, amid contradictory reports about whether they had H1N1 or more common flu-like symptoms.

French authorities said in a statement on Friday morning that the ship had arrived in Villefranche in southern France carrying 60 people infected with the H1N1 strain of flu, also known as swine flu.

They said their information was based on what Spanish authorities had told them.

The Spanish Health Ministry in Madrid said one person who had shown flu-like symptoms had been tested, and confirmed positive for H1N1 after the ship left Barcelona on July 26.

But the ship's owner, U.S.-Norwegian company Royal Caribbean , said all tests had been negative.

Royal Caribbean said it had tested 62 crew members and two guests with cold and flu-like symptoms onboard the "Voyager of the Seas" for influenza A, of which H1N1 is a sub-group.

"All of them were negative for influenza A," said Royal Caribbean spokeswoman Cynthia Martinez, speaking by telephone from the United States. "Everyone was tested, all the results were negative."

The French statement said 60 crew members were infected with the H1N1 virus and 70 more showed symptoms of the disease.

MEDITERRANEAN TOUR

The ship was continuing from Villefranche to Marseille on Friday night as part of a 7-day Mediterranean tour.

"The reality is that there are cases, it's not severe, it's under control, but there really are cases, otherwise they wouldn't have given Tamiflu to the people," said Francois Xavier Lorre, director at France's DDASS public health authority.

Royal Caribbean's Martinez said every person with flu-like symptoms had been given the anti-viral drug Tamiflu as a precaution, regardless of test results, and added that no passenger had asked for the cruise to be interrupted.

She said Royal Caribbean had provided health declarations for their ship at every port, mentioning the "flu-like symptoms" shown by some people. The ship also stopped in Naples, Italy.

Each passenger has also been given general health and hygiene advice in a letter informing them about the situation, Martinez said. Shares in Royal Caribbean fell as much as 7 percent in Oslo trading after the news, but recovered to close 3 percent down. In New York, they were down less than 1 percent.

ISOLATION

The 64 people who experienced flu-like symptoms will remain in isolation until they are free from symptoms, Royal Caribbean said in a statement.

None of those infected was in a grave condition and the ship did not need additional medical assistance or medication, local authority spokeswoman Geraldine Soulier said.

There have been more than 1,000 confirmed cases of swine flu in France, and the World Health Organisation said earlier this month the virus was still spreading quickly and affecting older age groups that had been spared earlier in the outbreak.

On Thursday, French authorities said a 14-year-old girl infected with H1N1 had died, the first recorded death in France of anyone with the virus.

But they said the girl had suffered from a number of other very serious conditions, and it was not clear whether her death had been caused by the flu virus.

The spread of the H1N1 virus has forced travel companies to change itineraries and has dramatically cut demand for trips to Mexico, where the disease is believed to have originated.

Royal Caribbean, the world's second-largest cruise operator, has been hit by the route changes as well as lower demand.

When it released second-quarter results earlier this week, the company said its 2009 earnings per share were likely to be about a third lower than it forecast only a month ago, in part because of the growing impact of H1N1 flu.