Cruise Lifestyle

Cruise Lifestyle: How bad is the norovirus threat on cruise ships?

Cruise Arabia & Africa address some of the misconceptions associated with cruising, one of which is that illness outbreaks on-board, such as Norovirus, the most common, make cruises unsafe – which is false…


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Part of the challenge of reporting on the cruise industry for Middle East-based cruisers for Cruise Arabia & Africa is the fact that so many of those going on a cruise from this region are new to the industry.

According to Royal Caribbean, the market leader in the region in terms of passengers carried, the vast majority of cruisers are first time passengers. So, we like to create articles that address some of the misconceptions associated with cruising, one of which is that illness outbreaks onboard, such as Norovirus, the most common, make cruises unsafe – which is false. See below for some more misconceptions associated with Norovirus and general illness onboard. Many of our South Africa-based readers may already be aware of these.

True or False? It is not safe to cruise because of NorovirusFalse: According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this is absolutely untrue. David Forney, chief of the CDC’s Vessel Sanitation Program, which oversees health and sanitation aboard ships that visit American ports says “it is perfectly safe to go on cruise ships. The standard by which they (cruise lines) are held for sanitation is the highest in the world.” Because the vast majority of cruise line’s that visit the Middle East also call into US ports during the year, and because these sanitation programs are maintained throughout the year, this holds true for the Middle East cruise and South African cruise industries as well.

True or False? Cruise ships that have outbreaks are “sick” ships.

False: In almost all cases of outbreaks, the cruise ships involved have scored very high on the CDC’s notoriously strict vessel sanitation inspection. More often than not, the virus is brought onboard the ship by boarding passengers at the start of a cruise – according to the CDC Norovirus is one of the most contagious gastrointestinal illnesses in the world.

True or False? Norovirus occurs mainly on cruise ships

False: Norovirus is second to the common cold in terms of the number of reported illnesses, impacting millions of people around the world each year and more than 19-million in the US alone. Norovirus, previously known as Norwalk Virus, was actually named for a land-based outbreak in Norwalk, Ohio, that originally occurred some 30 years ago. It can break out at any time of the year and according to the CDC, more than 60% of outbreaks occur in land-based hospitals.

True or False? There is no way cruise ships can battle the spread of Norovirus.

False: Cruise lines have intense cleaning, service and quarantine protocols that they follow when the possibility of a spreadable virus onboard exists, which are similar to a hospital’s proceedures for locking down an outbreak. In fact, cruise lines are more stringent in this regard than most land-based hotels and resorts. Medical facilities on many cruise ships are also equipped to test specimen samples onboard, which means that doctors can get results (and implement necessary measures) much quicker than the average hotel.

True or False? Norovirus is caused by uncooked food.

True: This can be a cause, but Norovirus is typically spread through person-to-person contact as the virus is able to survive for weeks on hard surfaces and in fabrics.

True or False? Norovirus is seasonal

True: The number of outbreaks of gastrointestinal illness onboard cruise ships doesn’t necessarily spike during the winter, outbreaks can occur at any time, but on land the virus is known as the winter bug because people spending more time indoors (to escape the cold) will facilitate the spread of germs.

Categories: Cruise Lifestyle

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