Hundreds fall ill aboard Royal Caribbean cruise ship

A possible outbreak of norovirus that has sickened more than 600 passengers and crew members on a Royal Caribbean cruise ship has prompted company officials to cut the trip short, the company said late Sunday.

The ship, Explorer of the Seas, is heading back to its home port, Cape Liberty, N.J., two days earlier than anticipated, even after the vessel has undergone sanitation procedures at two ports as passengers grew ill. 

In a statement, Royal Caribbean said a spike of "gastrointestinal illness" over the weekend led to ending the cruise early. 

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"After consultation between our medical team and representatives of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, we think the right thing to do is to bring our guests home early, and use the extra time to sanitize the ship even more thoroughly," the company said. 

Royal Caribean said its doctors suspected norovirus was behind the outbreak. Norovirus, according to the CDC, is a very contagious virus that causes the stomach or intestines to become inflamed, leading to stomach pain, nausea, diarrhea and vomiting. 

Norovirus sickens as many as 21 million people each year and is the most common cause of food-borne disease outbreaks in the U.S.

Royal Caribbean said once the ship returns to port Wednesday, it would be sanitized further and the company assured future passengers that they need not worry.  

An email seeking futher information was not immediately returned Monday morning. The company said it was taking steps to compensate passengers. 

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