NSW Health is warning cruise passengers to be vaccinated against influenza at least two weeks before they board a ship following a spike in outbreaks. In the past three months around 530 passengers and crew arriving in Sydney have been recorded as having a flu-like illness.

These figures are the highest recorded recorded by the Sydney Cruise Ship Health Surveillance Program since 2011. Several passengers were so unwell that they had to be taken directly to hospital upon arrival in Sydney.

Dr Vicky Sheppeard, Director Communicable Diseases Branch, NSW Health, said “cruise ships have strong protocols in place for assessing, treating and isolating passengers and crew with suspected influenza, but the best form of prevention is vaccination. We strongly recommend that people who are planning to take a cruise make it a priority to visit their doctor and have the influenza vaccination at least two weeks before departure.” Vaccinations are especially important for elderly passengers, pregnant women and anyone else at increased risk of pneumonia or other severe complications.

NSW Health is advising passengers who believe they may have influenza to delay their cruise departure if possible. If symptoms develop while on a cruise, passengers should take precautionary steps to avoid spreading the virus, such as covering the face when they cough or sneeze, washing hands with soapy water and using an alcohol based hand sanitiser.