The recent outbreak of Norovirus aboard the Diamond Princess in Sydney has once again stirred a debate about health concerns during a cruise vacation. There have been a couple of gastro-related incidents on leading cruise liners in last few years like P&O’s Pacific Eden, Royal Caribbean’s Explorer of the Seas and Dawn Princess all reported in December in 2015.

According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) report in 2014, about 20 million people fall sick due to Norovirus every year, coming in contact with infected people or by consuming contaminated food. Norovirus incidents on cruise ships are often trolled in the media putting immense pressure on cruise ships to improve their health and sanitisation standards, yet the CDC says the cases on cruise ships account for only 1 % of the total reported cases.

So how do you really protect yourself from Norovirus? Dr John Bradberry, former medical director for Carnival Cruise Lines says, “Norovirus is not a cruise ship illness. It’s a land-based illness that gets brought on to cruise ships by passengers for the most part.”

Cruise Passenger shortlists steps to protect yourself from Norovirus aboard a cruise ship

  1. Be informed
    Norovirus is contagious with a very short incubation period. It takes anywhere between 12 – 48 hours after getting infected with the virus. On a cruise ship its usually passed on through surface contamination, for example the hand rail, eating utensils, elevator button.

    What cruisers say

    Cruise Passenger received many reactions to the Norovirus outbreak news about the Diamond Princess. Kerrie Sullivan commented on our Facebook page , ” I have been on 5 cruises, always use hand sanitizer don’t touch the hand railings and lift buttons (use a tissue and throw it away if you have to). I have never been sick and have another 2 cruises booked for this year. The hand hygiene is crucial and if you suspect someone isnt well stay away from them.”
  2. Stay hydrated
    Norovirus tends to slow down after 24-48 hours in case you get infected. On a cruise ship the experience can be miserable if you suffer from vomit and stomach bug, so its important to drink as much water you can.

  3. Wash your hands
    It should be your top most priority on a cruise ship, as hand washing is the best defense against this virus. Always wash your hands before and after eating, carry a hand sanitiser all time. The delicious buffets are actually the high risk areas with guests touching ladles, spoons and tongs.
    What cruisers say

    “I always make sure I use a hand sanitiser all the time. I keep one in my pocket and after using tongs in the buffet I make sure I sanitise; don’t touch your face it’s something we all do but after touching hand rails and lift buttons you have potentially contaminated your hands…..parents also need to assist children at the buffets as well,” says Shelly Ann on Cruise Passenger’s Facebook page.
  4. Watch what you eat
    Norovirus is brought on cruise ships by passengers and food is often one of the main source of contamination. So its always better to be careful what you eat onboard and during port calls. Cruise ships follow health safety standards but what you eat during a port visit is beyond their control. Beware of eating from local food vendors.
  5. Stay confined if you feel sick
    Its important to think about other passengers aboard, just in case you or your companion show Norovirus symptoms. Stay confined to your cabin and inform the crew, so that they can take protective measures.

Norovirus measures taken by Cruise Lines

Leading cruise liners continue to invest in technology to safeguard their ships from any contagious diseases. For example Royal Caribbean used high tech disinfectant sprayers, Norwegian Cruise Lines has installed hand sanitizers at every food station. No handshakes are allowed on Cunard’s officer parties and most gentleman prefer fist bumps. Holland America takes a preemptive measure at their buffets, with passengers not allowed to serve themselves for the first two days.

Gastro outbreak list

Diamond Princess, February 2016

More than 150 passengers struck down with norovirus gastroenteritis on board the Princess Cruises ship, Diamond Princess, after a 12-day return trip from Sydney to New Zealand.

Pacific Eden, December 2015

At least 60 people on board P&O’s Pacific Eden cruise ship were struck down with gastro on the Sydney to Cairns return voyage over Christmas, with passengers labelling the vessel a ‘floating disaster’.

Explorer of the Seas, December 2015

A gastro outbreak affected more than 180 passengers aboard Royal Caribbean’s Explorer of the Seas cruise ship during a two-week return trip from Sydney to New Zealand.

Radiance of the Seas, October 2015

More than 170 passengers reported feeling sick with a stomach bug during an eight-day cruise from Sydney on Royal Caribbean’s Radiance of the Seas.

Dawn Princess, December 2014

A 13-day cruise around New Zealand on Carnival Australia’s Dawn Princess ship left almost 200 passengers with a stomach bug.

*Source: AAP and media outlets