Preparing for a Cruise and How to Prevent Catching Norovirus

© Daniel Oines

© Daniel Oines

You may have hear about nasty outbreaks of the highly contagious norovirus on cruise ships. According to records kept by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in the first half of 2014, eight cruise vessels had reported outbreaks of norovirus, resulting in passengers becoming infected and experiencing diarrhea and vomiting for several days.  Each year there are a number of norovirus outbreaks on cruise ships, varying in size, frequency, and intensity. In 2006, a notable outbreak on a Carnival Cruise Lines ship left nearly 700 passengers ailing from gastrointestinal illness.

After reading such reports in the news media and hearing of others’ unfortunate cruise experiences, it is only natural that potential cruise-goers would feel a bit wary about booking their next cruise vacation. However, this article will discuss some of the ways that you can prepare for your cruise and prevent catching norovirus, as well as what you should do or bring in the unlikely event of a norovirus outbreak on your ship.

One way to prepare for a cruise that is free from norovirus is to wisely choose your cruise line. The CDC conducts regular sanitation inspections of ships in major cruise lines. This data is available from the CDC, and while most cruise ships fail sanitation inspections sometimes, there are certain cruise lines that have outstanding records of cleanliness and sanitation. As of April 2014, there were five major cruise lines that had not failed an inspection in the last ten years: Costa, Oceania, Disney, Crystal, and Seabourn. Before booking your cruise vacation, you can view CDC records and wisely choose a cruise line that seems to be reliably hygienic.

When packing for your cruise, you may want to bring along some extra hand sanitizer, Lysol or other disinfectant, and Pepto-Bismol or other over-the-counter bismuth subsalicylate drug that is used to treat upset stomach and diarrhea.

Once you embark on your cruise, be sure to take precautionary measures to avoid catching any illness that might be going around. One of the best and simplest precautions you can take is to simply wash your hands before and after eating, after using the bathroom, and whenever they are dirty.

If you hear of an outbreak of norovirus on your ship, be extra diligent in your hand washing and be very cautious in engaging in person-to-person contact with other passengers—even passengers who seem healthy. Infected individuals can spread norovirus even before they experience any symptoms of the illness, and can continue spreading the virus for up to two weeks after their symptoms subside, so you should use extreme caution. You should also avoid eating uncooked food. If you do begin to feel sick, visit the ship’s doctor and follow his or her recommended protocols for your illness.

Overall, however, the fear of catching norovirus does not need to keep you from going on a cruise. A recent CDC report showed that you are significantly more likely to catch norovirus in a cafeteria or restaurant than on a cruise ship, and that cruise ships account for only one percent of norovirus infections. Cruise lines are working very hard to put in place rigorous sanitation regimes that will keep norovirus out of your cruise experience.

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