“Cruise Ship Returns to Port Early due to Norovirus Outbreak” reads one of many recent headlines.
Noroviruses are very common and a leading cause of gastroenteritis (commonly called stomach flu) worldwide. Outbreaks are often associated with settings where people live in close quarters, such as cruise ships. Cruise lines take extensive precautions to keep passengers from getting sick, but Norovirus is extremely contagious. Infections are usually spread directly from person to person or from contaminated food or water. The virus can also live for a long time on environmental surfaces and objects. Symptoms of an infection include vomiting, diarrhea, and sometimes fever and abdominal pain.
There are many other fun things to see and do on a cruise, so take these simple steps to reduce your chance of getting sick:
1) Wash your hands frequently - Still the single best prevention strategy. Use soap and water and lather for at least 20 seconds. Alcohol based hand sanitizers DO NOT kill Norovirus.
2) Avoid touching your face - Especially before you have a chance to wash your hands. The virus has to be ingested to cause infection.
3) Pay attention to what you eat – Both on and off the ship, avoid food that may be handled improperly; for instance when people are directly touching the food without gloves. According to the CDC, “ready-to-eat” cold foods such as sandwiches and salads are particularly risky. Raw shellfish, especially oysters, are also a frequent cause of infection
4) Use only the bathroom in your own cabin whenever possible.
5) Finally, practice the “cruise bump” – No, it’s not being pregnant, or having your reservation “bumped” at the last minute. You can still be friendly with your fellow passengers, but greet them with a quick fist bump instead of a handshake.
If you do happen to get sick with diarrhea, check in immediately with the ship’s medical staff. They can then take measures if necessary to prevent a possible outbreak. Treating yourself with antibiotics will not kill the virus and could delay appropriate care.
Enjoy all that a cruise has to offer, with a few precautions to ensure that you enjoy your on-board activities and ports of call instead of spending your time in the infirmary.