Jason Leppert | January 20, 2016 12:30 PM ET
How You Can Help Fight Norovirus on Cruise Ships
The cruise industry gets a bad rap for gastroenteritis, particularly norovirus, but the reality is that outbreaks are far less common than they once were. (And they were never all that common to begin with). Recent articles like those from Health.com are circulating a new U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that claims a reduction in incidents between 2008 and 2014.
Unfortunately, my own homeport of San Diego witnessed a gastrointestinal illness that affected 73 passengers and 11 crew members aboard Holland America Line’s Veendam during a Christmas cruise, but such occurrences have always been contextually rare. Plenty of other land-based communities such as transitional camps and schools also experience its effects. Cruise ships are just an easier target for the mainstream media to point out though, what with passengers contained onboard, and that’s why it is more often associated with cruise travel.
But the numbers don’t lie. Only 133 of the more than 29,000 cruises that set sail between 2008 and 2014 cited an outbreak – that’s just 0.5 percent. And of the 74 million passengers that traveled during the same time, an even smaller 0.18 percent were affected.
Playing a big role in this has been the CDC’s Vessel Sanitation Program which set in place efficient cleaning practices and requirements for disinfectants. Cruise lines themselves have done a much better job over time at preventing outbreaks, as well. Purell hand sanitizers are common sights at gangways before boarding and leading to buffet lines, and the Disney Cruise Line takes it even a step further by passing out hand wipes to dislodge germs before entering any restaurant.
Still, the most successful means of avoiding gastroenteritis is for passengers to thoroughly wash their hands with soap and water, especially after using the restroom and before putting anything in their mouths. Newer cruise ships and even some existing vessels are installing hand-washing stations outside buffets, with some posting crew to ensure guests sanitize their hands prior to entering.
Quite frankly, the crew monitoring of these stations is a bit annoying, as I experienced on Princess Cruises’ recent Royal Princess, for those of us who wash our hands when we are supposed to, particularly if you have just come from the restroom having already appropriately sanitized there. So, I wonder if some of these measures are a bit of overkill.
The bottom line remains that it’s less the cruise lines’ responsibility to keep passengers healthy and more the guests, and also crew, to follow proper hygiene habits. It’s not difficult to wash your hands after using bathroom facilities, but clearly some do not. Ultimately, the buck should stop with you, so please wash your hands regularly for your own health and safety and that of those around you. It’s just common sense really.
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