Norovirus On Cruise Ships

© Kabacchi

© Kabacchi

In April 2014, over 100 passengers on a week-long Crown Princess cruise had their vacation dampened by illness. The cruise ship, which was traveling along the coast of Southern California and Mexico, had an outbreak of norovirus, causing gastrointestinal illness in many crew members and passengers. The very same week, two consecutive cruises on the same Royal Caribbean ship had similar outbreaks of norovirus, affecting hundreds of passengers

These occurrences are not extremely uncommon on cruise ships all over the world. In fact, according to data collected and made available by the Center for Disease Control (CDC), in the first 13 weeks of 2014 alone, there were eight reported incidents of outbreaks of gastrointestinal illness on cruise ships, and at least seven of those outbreaks were due to Norovirus.

Due to these and other similar incidences, many people have become especially wary of the possibility of catching an illness on a cruise. Such occurrences have raised many questions:
• Is it safe to go on a cruise?
• Why is Norovirus linked to cruise ships?
• If I go on a cruise, can I prevent Norovirus?
• What should I do if I get Norovirus on a cruise?

Norovirus is an extremely contagious virus that causes vomiting and diarrhea in infected individuals. According to a briefing from the Mayo Clinic, it can spread very quickly, especially when a large number of people are spending time in close proximity with one another. This makes a cruise ship an ideal environment for catching Norovirus. Norovirus can be spread through food or water that has been contaminated with the virus, and could therefore potentially be spread very quickly throughout a cruise ship if the food or water supply were to become contaminated. It can also be spread by having close contact with a contaminated individual, including sharing a bathroom.

Norovirus is in no way inherently connected to cruise ships, and can be spread on land just as easily as it can at sea.

Cruise ships do, however, provide an environment that makes quick spread of Norovirus very easy, because they have many people in close quarters with one another, sharing food and public spaces, including bathrooms, and those individuals are contained within that space for the duration of the cruise.

While it can be difficult to avoid catching a virus that is circulating the ship, it is possible to take preventative measures of good hygiene that can increase your chances of avoiding Norovirus on your cruise. Wash your hands often with soap and hot water, especially before eating and after using the restroom. Limit your personal physical contact with others, and especially with those who are sick or have been sick recently—even if they are no longer showing symptoms, they may still be contagious! Pack some extra soap and anti-bacterial wipes or hand sanitizer, and avoid uncooked food as much as possible.

If you do experience the symptoms of Norovirus while aboard your cruise vessel, visit the ship’s doctor. He or she will be able to diagnose Norovirus and help you to get the specific medical help you may need, and will help to take preventative measures to avoid a ship-wide epidemic. In addition, make sure that you drink plenty of water and other clear fluids in order to replace the liquids you lose due to vomiting or diarrhea. Drinking plenty of water will help to keep you from becoming dehydrated. Usually, individuals infected with Norovirus feel better in about one to three days.

So, is it safe to go on a cruise?  Statistically speaking, yes. The odds are in your favor of having a fun and relaxing cruise.

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