Cruising has quickly become a popular way to travel, but the cruise industry itself continues to ride some wild waves. Since 2002, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has received more reports of illness on cruise ships than ever before, and news reports continue to detail cases of norovirus among cruise passengers, as an increase of "sick ships" has plagued the seas over the past few years.
Why the sudden surge in sick passengers? According to the CDC, more people are opting to take cruises, increasing the spread of illness. Nine ships have reported outbreaks of norovirus or other illnesses to the CDC this year alone.
But vacationers shouldn't cancel their cruise plans just yet. The Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) reports that more than 8.5 million people cruise each year from the U.S. and less than one percent falls ill. So pack your bags and bring your sunscreen, but before you board the ship make sure you know how to keep yourself healthy while sailing the seas.
What is norovirus?
Norovirus is a type of gastrointestinal illness which is spread by eating food or touching a surface that is contaminated with the virus. It's also spread when people come in direct contact with someone with the virus. Most commonly known as the "stomach flu," norovirus is not usually serious but can last one to two days. There’s nowhere to escape on a cruise, making it the perfect environment for the spread of the disease.
How is it prevented?
Although gastrointestinal illnesses, like a norovirus, are contagious, there are ways that travelers and cruise ships can prevent it or at least keep it contained.
Cruise Ships: According to the CLIA, cruise ship members have an "outbreak prevention and response plan," which includes cleaning and disinfecting all rooms and public areas daily. Additionally, board games, poker chips and anything else a passenger may touch is disinfected. If a passenger does become ill, they may be asked to stay in their cabin or disembark at the next port.
Passengers: When cruising, there are some simple steps to take that could help prevent contracting an illness on a cruise ship. The CDC recommends that you:
- Wash your hands before and after eating and smoking
- Use hand sanitizer often
- Washing your hands after using the bathroom
- Wash an area where someone is sick
- Drink plenty of water
- Rest and maintain a strong immune system
- Avoid hand-shaking when there is an outbreak
- Remove and clean clothing and linens contaminated during illness
What should you do if you contract norovirus?
You'll know if you're suffering from norovirus. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting and stomach cramping. You may also experience a low-grade fever, muscle aches and a headache, according to the CDC.
Unfortunately, there is no anti-viral medication that can fight off the illness. If you have fallen ill, be sure to drink plenty of fluids, since vomiting and diarrhea can cause dehydration. Juice and water are your best options.
For added peace of mind, consider researching several cruise lines and their ships before booking your trip. The CDC's Vessel Sanitation Program provides cruise ship inspection scores, reports and any taken corrective action.