Background Prolonged periods of confined living on a cruise ship increase the risk for respiratory disease transmission. We describe the epidemiology and clinical characteristics of a SARS-CoV-2 outbreak in Australian passengers on the Diamond Princess cruise ship and provide recommendations to mitigate future cruise ship outbreaks.
Methods We conducted a retrospective cohort study of Australian passengers who travelled on the Diamond Princess from 20 January until 4 February 2020 and were either hospitalised, remained in Japan or repatriated. The main outcome measures included an epidemic curve, demographics, symptoms, clinical and radiological signs, risk factors and length of time to clear infection.
Results Among 223 Australian passengers, 56 were confirmed SARS-CoV-2 positive. Forty-nine cases had data available and of these over 70% had symptoms consistent with COVID-19. Of symptomatic cases, 17% showed signs and symptoms before the ship implemented quarantine and a further two-thirds had symptoms within one incubation period of quarantine commencing. Prior to ship-based quarantine, exposure to a close contact or cabin mate later confirmed SARS-CoV-2 positive was associated with a 3.78 fold (95% CI, 2.24-6.37) higher risk of COVID-19 acquisition compared to non-exposed passengers. Exposure to a positive cabin mate during the ship's quarantine carried a relative risk of 6.18 (95% CI, 1.96-19.46) of developing COVID-19. Persistently asymptomatic cases represented 29% of total cases. The median time to the first of two consecutive negative PCR-based SARSCoV- 2 assays was 13 days for asymptomatic cases and 19 days for symptomatic cases (p = 0.002).
Conclusion Ship based quarantine was effective at reducing transmission of SARS-CoV-2 amongst Australian passengers, but the risk of infection was higher if an individual shared a cabin or was a close contact of a confirmed case. Managing COVID-19 in cruise ship passengers is challenging and requires enhanced health measures and access to onshore quarantine and isolation facilities.