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Mystery illness: police and medical teams surround plane

March 8, 2019 Headline News No Comments Email Email

Health authorities placed over 400 passengers and crew in quarantine yesterday after an international flight touched down with a mysterious and possibly contagious disease aboard.

London’s Sun newspaper reported that police and medical crews surrounded the Virgin Atlantic flight as it arrived at Gatwick Airport in the early morning on return from Barbados. Police in masks boarded the plane and escorted all 448 people to a holding area for assessment.

An outbreak of coughing was reported aboard and some reports mentioned diarrhoea. Public Health England confirmed later that vomiting and diarrhoea, as well as coughing, were among the symptoms. Medical staff treated 30 passengers and some were taken to hospital.

Norovirus is an obvious suspect. The London Metro said it understood the flight had been specially chartered following a cruise on MSC Preziosa in Barbados.

Passenger Trevor Wilson wrote on Twitter: “Currently been stuck on plane at #gatwick for 90 mins due to sickness on board! Now told we are being taken to a holding centre to be assessed!”

Public Health England said further investigation had revealed “that passengers had been holidaying on a Caribbean cruise and had reported feeling unwell before boarding the flight from Bridgetown Barbados”.

A Virgin Atlantic spokesman confirmed that a number of passengers had reported feeling unwell aboard a charter flight from Barbados to London Gatwick.

“The safety and wellbeing of our customers and crew is always our absolute priority, and local ambulance services attended the aircraft upon landing to provide medical assistance.

“We are working closely with London Gatwick Airport and medical teams to offer assistance to customers, and will conduct a full investigation into the circumstances.”


Norovirus is very contagious and seems the prime suspect, though final diagnosis is still pending. As diseases go, it was identified fairly recently, following an outbreak of acute gastroenteritis among children at a primary school in Norwalk, Ohio, in 1968. The illness usually begins suddenly about one or two days after exposure to the virus, with most victims experiencing several of the following symptoms: nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, stomach cramps, headache, low-grade fever, chills and muscle aches.

Symptoms usually last for one or two days but during that brief time the person can feel very sick and vomit many times a day.

Norovirus is extremely widespread. It thrives in places like schools, cruise ships, hospitals and childcare centres. The US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention says norovirus affects nearly 20 million people in the US each year – and it results in between 570 to 800 deaths.

Written by Peter Needham

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