With recent news reports on Fox News and CNN as well as many legacy networks and local television stations those who don’t really know may think that cruises are a dangerous place due to these outbreaks. Norovirus occurs around the entire world, all year long. What that means is your chance of getting norovirus is higher at home than on a cruise. Anyplace a sick person has gone, could potentially harbor the virus and help with its spread.
For 99% of the population aboard a cruise ship, they are on vacation, away from work and other everyday pressures. Getting sick while on vacation is definitely not what folks want. For many that only get one or two weeks a year to travel a lost vacation means another year of waiting for time off other than a few holidays each year, thus being sick on vacation is devastating. Add to that having norovirus is a miserable experience with most feeling the effects thru the entire digestive system. So it is easy for most to understand the concern about going on a ship and getting sick and how that may ruin a vacation.
Understanding norovirus helps understand why it seems to cause outbreaks on ships and how to avoid it even if sailing in an outbreak. Norovirus is itself not just a single disease, much like the flu it is actually many different viruses which collectively are known by the more common name norovirus. It occurs often in nursing homes, daycares, and other environments where people are in close quarters. Jim Walker, a Maritime Lawyer explains some of the causes for norovirus in a recent article. He helped people understand how it’s not the same as a cold, which also reinforced that it’s not the same as the flu either. Also, the CDC has a good textbook description of norovirus.
I’ve personally been on ships with outbreaks, three or four times. It is fairly easy to avoid catching it with good hygiene. That said it still can be passed if it ends up in your food or water where your personal hygiene does not play a role in your catching it. The spread by food is most worrisome for many people. The crew though must adhere to strict sanitary standards to maintain their jobs, decreasing risk of spread thru food. Many though catch it by touching surfaces that are infected by carriers of the illness. Then with a lack of superior hygiene it spreads from hands elsewhere and infects the newest victim.
Many are concerned they will face an elevated risk of getting Norovirus when on a cruise ship. In fact it really is no worse there than at your local restaurant school, daycare, or elsewhere the public may go. One reason it appears a cruise ship is worse because when there is a big outbreak it makes the news, in part due to Centers for Disease Control reporting requirements. A cruise ship also offers a great place to spread the viruses from one person to another in a somewhat closed environment. Remember a ship is like a big town sharing common systems and space. Ships however do work hard to keep the ship clean to avoid outbreaks.
Similar outbreaks can occur anyplace someone spreads the virus, be it inside a household, a dorm at college, at a single restaurant, a daycare, or at a school. All it takes is someone carrying the virus to spread it around. Most of those places are actually cleaned less often than a cruise ship. Think of town hall, how much cleaning do you see there of the door handles etc…? In a restaurant setting all it takes is a sick cook to spread the virus via food, especially fruits and veggies that are not cooked. One of the worst aspects is usually the carrier is not even aware they are sick before they show signs and they can still infect others even after they are well in some cases.
I’d not worry too much about your cruise being destroyed by a norovirus outbreak, since they are pretty rare. The key is to keeping yourself clean, by regularly washing your hands often. At a bare minimum wash hands after going to the bathroom. It is a good idea to wash hands when returning to the cabin and before heading out to eat. Some even go so far as trying not to touch things many other people touch. Regardless hygiene is key.
Enjoying your cruise and protecting yourself from getting ill is not too difficult. Just wash your hands, wash your fruit before eating it if you plan to eat the skin and watch the source of your food. This holds true especially when eating from vendor carts in ports as they may not meet sanitary requirements.
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