A cruise can be very good for your health, starting with stress relief as you take a break from your daily routine to relax and play. The last thing anyone wants is to end a cruise feeling less well than when they embarked. But, illness can spread onboard, with norovirus being the most notorious culprit. Be assured that cruise lines do all they can to guard against the spread of viruses on their ships; and, there are things you can do to protect yourself, too.
Understanding norovirus. Norovirus is a very common (only the common cold is more common). It can flourish and spread quickly wherever people gather in close proximity: schools, restaurants, hotels and many other places, including cruise ships. Norovirus is so often associated with cruise ships simply because health officials monitor illness on ships (unlike hotels and resorts), so outbreaks are quickly identified and reported.
Norovirus is often called the “stomach flu,” although it’s actually not related to the flu virus. It can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, a low fever and headache. The symptoms usually last 24 to 48 hours.
How cruise lines work to prevent norovirus. The Vessel Sanitation Program (VSP) of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention helps cruise lines prevent and control the introduction, transmission and spread of gastrointestinal illnesses, like norovirus, on all ships that home port or call on ports in the U.S. The VSP has strict, comprehensive standards for cleanliness and disinfection (if you’ve been on a cruise, you’ve seen first-hand the continuous cleaning by the crew). All ships receive unannounced inspections twice a year.
What you can do to stay healthy on board. Norovirus can take up to three days to become evident after a person is infected, so it’s possible that a fellow passenger will unknowingly bring the illness on board. You can pick up the virus from contact with an infected person, or from food, beverages or surfaces that have become contaminated. So, avoid infection just as you would at home: wash your hands often and don’t share food, beverages or utensils.
If you do become ill, visit the ship’s medical office, then stay in your cabin, rest, and drink plenty of water until your symptoms subside.
For more information, visit the VSP’s home page, http://www.cdc.gov/nceh/vsp/ or ask your Cruise Holidays expert.