ATLANTA -- Cruise ships will be required to create a gastrointestinal-outbreak response plan and present it during ship inspections by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Nearly all ships have a response protocol, as the number of gastrointestinal cases has climbed in recent years. But after the CDCs Vessel Sanitation Program (VSP) finishes a revision of its operations manual in the next few months, the response plan will become mandatory, said VSP chief David Forney.

From time to time, well have a vessel that comes here just a couple of times a year, and theyll have an outbreak and theyre clueless, Forney said.

The VSP inspects all foreign-flagged cruise ships that dock in U.S. ports. The VSP also is looking at changing how it characterizes an outbreak.

Currently, a ship has a gastrointestinal outbreak if more than 3% of passengers or crew report stomach-flu-like symptoms. But that can result in cases like Windjammer Barefoot Cruises Legacy, which reported an outbreak at the beginning of 2004 because two out of 46 crew members (4.65%) fell ill.

There probably are better ways to describe an outbreak, Forney said. Gastrointestinal illness, although uncomfortable, is rarely life-threatening.

The International Council of Cruise Lines (ICCL) has suggested that the VSP use the less-loaded term increased incidents instead. The media grab hold of [the word outbreak] and turn it into something it isnt, said Michael Crye, the ICCLs president.

To contact reporter Rebecca Tobin, send e-mail to [email protected].

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