What is a norovirus? Why is it a problem? How can I avoid it on my next cruise?

Those are the three questions all cruisers want answered this week after Royal Caribbean was forced to end an ‘Explorer of the Seas’ sailing early when 600 of its passengers fell ill with the virus.

We help answer your questions about the virus and hopefully ease your mind before your next cruise.

What is norovirus?

Norovirus has many names. Some call it a stomach flu, an upset tummy or food poisoning.

According to the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, noroviruses are a group of related viruses that cause intestinal infection.

It is usually spread by:

–       Consuming contaminated food or drinks
–       Touching surfaces previously touched by someone contaminated
–       Having direct contact with an infected person
–       Aerosol spread when virus particles get into the air.

What are the symptoms?

The speed at which symptoms occur varies from person to person. For some it’s almost immediately after exposure while for others it may take one or two days.

Symptoms include:

–       Nausea
–       Vomiting
–       Stomach cramps
–       Diarrhea
–       Headache
–       Chills

The disease is self-limiting, so it rarely ever leads to severe illness.

Why do I only hear about it when it occurs on a ship?

Norovirus spreads quickly. So in a closed environment like a cruise ship allows the infection is spread so quickly that before you know it the ship has an outbreak.

In many cases of the disease have been traced back to food being handled by an infected person.

What do I do if I think I have it?

There is no cure or specific treatment for norovirus, but your body should fight off the infection within a few days.

Steps you can take to ease symptoms include drinking plenty of fluids and eat foods like bread, pasta and rice.

You can also help reduce outbreak by isolating yourself in your cabin, avoid preparing food and disinfect surfaces you touch.

How can I avoid it?

–       Stay out of the cold. Sometimes noroviruses are called ‘winter vomiting bug’ because they tend to spread more easily in cold environments
–       Use hand wash when touching public objects such as the elevator buttons or door handles
–       Dry your hands with a single use towel such as a paper towel so it can be thrown out immediately after use

Cruise Passenger tip:  

Our contributor John Pond also suggests cruisers avoid shaking hands. He says it is one of the most common ways to spread germs.