One of the most common types of germs on cruise ships is the norovirus. This virus can spread quickly and it can cause symptoms such as diarrhea, stomach cramping, low-grade fever, chills, headache, muscle aches, nausea, and tiredness. Although norovirus is not considered fatal, the symptoms can extremely unpleasant and disruptive to your trip. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) norovirus, originally called Norwalk-Like Virus (NLV), is the most common cause of non-bacterial gastrointestinal infections such as the stomach flu or gastroenteritis. In the U.S., Noroviruses are sometimes called caliciviruses or small round structured viruses. Noroviruses are not affected by treatment with antibiotics and symptoms typically occur within 24-48 hours after ingestion of the virus, but they can appear as early as 12 hours after exposure.
The CDC states that norovirus is found in the stool or vomit of infected people. It can be spread by eating or drinking liquids that are contaminated with the norovirus; touching surfaces or objects contaminated with norovirus, and then placing their hand in their mouth; or having direct contact with another person who is infected and showing symptoms. For instance, when caring for someone with the illness, or sharing foods or eating utensils with someone who is ill. Infected persons will feel ill and vomit several times a day. Children vomit much more, but they (and all others) tend to get better within 1-2 days, especially if fluids are continuously being replaced by drinking juice or water.
There are several reasons norovirus on cruise ships is so common. Close living quarters may increase the amount of group contact or new passenger arrivals may bring the virus to other passengers and crew. It can also occur through unsanitary practices by staff, meaning not washing their hands before preparing food.
Norovirus on ships, and other places where it is common such as nursing homes, restaurants, and catered events, can be prevented in several ways:
• Frequently washing hands, especially after bathroom visits and changing diapers.
• Washing hands before eating or preparing food.
• Carefully washing fruits and vegetables.
• Steaming seafood such as oysters before eating them.
• Thoroughly cleaning and disinfecting contaminated surfaces immediately after an episode of illness by using a bleach-based household cleaner.
• The immediate removal and washing of clothing or linens that may be contaminated with the norovirus after an episode of illness, using hot water and soap.
• By flushing or discarding any vomit and/or waste in the commode, and making sure that the surrounding area is kept clean.
Although it may sound obsessive, while vacationing on cruise ships, it is never a bad idea to wash your hands often throughout the day. Touching doorknobs, utensils, handles on slot machines, ATMs, and other surfaces can help transmit the virus. When washing your hands, spend a minimum of 60 seconds washing the entire hand, the wrists, between fingers, and under the nails. If washing your hands throughout the day is too much to handle, at the very minimum, consider carrying a small bottle of hand sanitizer.
For more information about norovirus on cruise ships, visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at www.cdc.gov.