Should you avoid cruises this Spring Break?

Make sure you pack your antiseptic wipes!

A public health announcement, reported via CNN.com: outbreaks of norovirus occurred on two cruise ships out of Fort Lauderdale, Florida over the weekend, sickening almost 500 passengers and crew, out of just over 6000 people. Both ships were thoroughly sanitized on their return to port, and were set to return to sea. Cruises are notorious places to pick up infection, however the actual incidence overall is likely no worse on cruises as opposed to anywhere else. The apparent higher incidence is most likely attributable to the strict guidelines on reporting illnesses on board cruise ships.

Norovirus is a very easily directly and indirectly transmitted viral agent, and according to the CDC is the most commonly seen cause of gastroenteritis (mild-to-moderate infection of the gastrointestinal tract) in the United States. Signs and symptoms of norovirus include diarrhea, vomiting, and stomach pain, however almost all patients resolve without medical attention within 1 to 2 days. The most significant complication due to norovirus infection is dehydration due to the diarrhea. Up to 30% of infected individuals may be asymptomatic; they are infected however, and can also spread the infection in an outbreak without knowing it. Noroviruses can be spread within the constrained environment of a cruise ship either by direct contact between an infected and non-infected individual, or by handling food or surfaces contaminated by an infected individual.

Prevention of norovirus infection then becomes just a matter of promoting personal hygiene, and public health officials advise that good attention to handwashing and the use of antiseptic hand wipes is effective at curtailing an epidemic. Norovirus however is a non-enveloped virus, which means that unlike a number of other viruses, it is able to persist in the environment for an extended period of time. This means that sanitation, as opposed to waiting out the outbreak, is essential for bringing the number of new cases of infection under control.

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About ycpmicro

My name is David Singleton, and I am an Associate Professor of Microbiology at York College of Pennsylvania. My main course is BIO230, a course taken by allied-health students at YCP. Views on this site are my own.

Posted on February 9, 2012, in Wash your hands!, Yikes!. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. My vote is yes, I will avoid cruise ships during spring break. However, it almost seems advantageous to avoid all large public places during seasons where viruses are more likely to spread. As you mentioned, the cruise ship is no worse than anywhere else and “outbreaks occur in land based settings such as schools, hospitals, and nursing homes,” as well. It seems like it is the responsibility of the general public for proper hygiene, but I can only control my hygiene, or my family’s hygiene. I don’t have control over those who may handle food I might eat in public, a teacher’s hygiene from my son’s school, or anywhere else in public. Based on the Cruise Line’s guidelines for reporting and sanitation, they are putting their best efforts to limit further illnesses.

    • Well, I’m not planning on going on a cruise, but that’s mostly because I think I’d be bored. Also, I’m scared of icebergs ever since Titanic.

  2. Imagine how many viruses are thriving on kid-friendly cruise lines. There’s such a high turnover of passengers, many cruise lines aren’t cleaning the rooms until the next passengers have boarded. How well are they cleaning these rooms, really? Cruise ships sound horrible to me. A week-long trip full of sunburned drunk people? No thank you.
    The (original) Titanic didn’t scare me as much as the Doctor Who episode “Voyage of the Damned”. An interstellar cruise line could be fun, but I’d rather take the Tardis.
    Trying not to think about what I’ll endure on my 9-hour flight this spring…
    I might be forced to use the maxium amount of carry-on liquids on hand sanitizer alone.

    • Sorry, the TSA limits you to 100 mL maximum quantity of liquids. You’d be better stocking up on N95 masks and a whole box full of latex gloves.

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