This week, around 200 people were affected by norovirus aboard Australia’s largest ship, the Ovation of the Seas. But while passengers praised the crew for helping them and keeping them informed, there is much you can do yourself to avoid this scourge of the seas.

Cruise lines have a strict mandate on cleanliness and most cruise lines have staff all over the ship constantly cleaning public areas – you’ll see them wiping balcony balustrades, scrubbing surfaces, moping and cleaning door handles.

But remember, when you’re on a cruise ship, you’re in close quarters with hundreds to thousands of people. Passengers, before boarding, are required to fill out questionnaires asking if they have had symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea, fever or a sore throat – thus there is a risk that people are not honest about their health.

Cruise lines are vigilant about making sure you stay happy and healthy. Staff onboard lines like Celebrity Cruises, Royal Caribbean and Carnival have staff at the buffet who will ask you to use the hand sanitizers before grabbing a bite.

“Washy washy!” is the constant cry.

Others like Cunard and Holland America Line have a ‘no handshaking’ policy at their Meet the Officers parties. HAL even goes as far as getting their staff to serve you at the Lido buffet.

Here are some tips and answers to help you avoid getting the dreaded tummy big on your cruise.

What is norovirus?

Norovirus is a group of viruses that can affect the stomach and intestines which then results in gastroenteritis, in inflammation of the stomach and intestines. It can be spread through contaminated food and water or spread through physical contact with surfaces, objects and people. So avoid shaking hands, sharing utensils and not washing your hands with hot water and soap.

What are the symptoms?

The most common symptoms of norovirus include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal cramps. You may also get a fever and headache.

What happens if I do get sick on my cruise?

Report to the ship’s medical team immediately so they are happy to help you out. Stay hydrated so drink lots of water. Unfortunately, you may be quarantined to your cabin to prevent the spread of the illness. You will usually recover within 24 to 48 hours but you may be contagious for up to two weeks after you’re infected.   

What do cruise lines do to prevent any outbreaks?

Cruise lines often now have manned stations in public areas, especially the dining rooms. They will also have attendants at the entrance asking you to use the hand sanitizers. Lots of cruise lines also have sinks in the buffet area where you can wash your hands with hot water and soap. Salt and pepper shakers also have seemed to disappear off tables. Medical officers are also required to take note of any people who are infected. In some serious cases, some cruise lines may be pulled into dock for a more thorough sanitization.

How do I avoid getting sick?

  1.     Wash your hands: This prevents you from getting sick as well spreading the virus to other people. What usually works is 20 seconds of scrubbing. Also use the hand sanitizers on top of washing your hands.
  2.     Avoid the buffet: This is one of the places where norovirus can easily spread. But try and be first if you decide to go. Most lines turn over food quickly but just in case – dishes that have been sitting out for a while can be a breeding ground for bacteria.
  3.     Don’t touch public things: Avoid touching balcony railings, door handles, surfaces and especially the bathroom doors. Lots of cruise lines now leave the doors open or have attendants cleaning the surfaces. Otherwise, use the piece of tissue paper to open the door.
  4. Stateroom cleanliness: Wash your hands as soon as you get into your cabin. You don’t want to spread anything in your stateroom.