Norovirus on Cruise Ships

Surely you’ve seen news coverage of a cruise ship docking early or passengers scurrying off the ship in a less than happy mood. The reason? Norovirus. Yes, the news media does a great job at covering a cruise ship norovirus outbreak, which can keep some people from stepping foot onto a cruise ship at all.

Yes, the highly contagious stomach virus does indeed raise its ugly head from time to time on the big sea vessels. In fact, when you run the numbers, about one percent of cruise passengers get norovirus annually, according to Carnival Cruise line. However, norovirus surfaces in plenty of other facilities as well. Whether it’s at a school, daycare, prison, hotel, or nursing home, knowing how to prevent norovirus and contend with it if you have it will certainly help.

What is norovirus?

Norovirus is a highly contagious gastrointestinal virus that affects around 23 million people in the U.S. each year according to the Center for Disease Control. Symptoms include a sudden onset of stomach cramps, vomiting, and diarrhea that lasts usually one to two days. One reason that norovirus is so well known among cruise travel is because it’s mandatory for illnesses on cruise ships to be tracked, while other venues like hotels or restaurants are not.

Why is norovirus so common on cruises?

On a cruise ship, when food or liquids get contaminated with the virus, usually many people catch it. Cruise ships contain large amounts of people in small spaces, so the likelihood of norovirus spreading from person to person is great. Not only can the virus be spread from eating contaminated food, but it can also be temporarily airborne when vomit or feces is expelled from the body. This means that if a person, let’s say a little boy, vomits at the dinner table in a large dining room, thousands of microscopic norovirus particles will hurl through the air, perhaps infecting even those that are sitting on the opposite side of the room.

How is norovirus spread on cruises?

Norovirus is spread in various ways on a ship, with contaminated food and drinks being top of the list. If an infected kitchen worker prepares or touches food without having super clean hands, the norovirus germs can infect the food. Let’s say that worker is responsible for making hundreds of fresh salads for dinner. Let’s also say this person does not take the time to thoroughly wash his hands after using the bathroom. Chances are the people who eat those salads will become infected themselves, making for a rather lousy vacation.

Other ways norovirus can spread is by touching surfaces and objects that have been touched by people with the virus. Keep in mind that norovirus is contagious even when a person is not actively vomiting or having diarrhea. People can spread the virus before the onset of symptoms and up to two weeks after symptoms have subsided. Yes, this means that the virus can linger on surfaces even after passengers have left the ship, leaving new passengers susceptible to getting it.

Thus, excellent cleaning and sanitation aboard the ship is very important.

How can I prevent getting norovirus on a cruise ship?

There’s no guarantee you won’t get norovirus on a cruise ship, but you can do your part when it comes to preventative measures. Here are the main ways you can be proactive in prevention:

  • Thoroughly wash your hands for at least 30 seconds with soap and hot water after using the bathroom, changing a diaper, and before eating. Hand washing will be your best bet at keeping the norovirus germs from thriving on your hands.
  • By pass handshakes when you can. This doesn’t mean you’re anti-social; it simply means you’re being proactive for everyone’s sake.
  • Avoid eating uncooked food.
  • Avoid sharing utensils and drinks. Opt for bottled water over water served in a glass.
  • Steer clear from those who are vomiting or have diarrhea.
  • Try not to touch railings while walking up and down stairs.
  • Use hand sanitizer on top of washing hands. Hand sanitizer does not completely kill norovirus germs, but it can decrease them.