Friday, December 19, 2008

Cruise Travel: Did You Know?

Even when you're on vacation, the U.S. government is hard at work to safeguard the health of cruise travelers. By dispatching teams of Centers for Disease Control (CDC) inspectors to conduct regular operational sanitation inspections, the agency determines how well ships are operating and maintaining sanitation standards in accordance with the Vessel Sanitation Program. Inspectors provide public health guidance to cruise ship staff when standards are out of compliance and at the end of the inspection, write a report describing inspection findings and recommendations.

Conducted twice a year and required for any cruise ship with an international itinerary calling at a U.S. port, the unannounced inspections evaluate vessels in a variety of areas. Cruise ships are scored on a 100-point scale; when the criteria are not met, inspection points are deducted from the score based on their significance. An 85 or below is considered a failing score.

Depending on the size of the vessel, one to four inspectors will examine a ship to determine if it complies with the public health standards in major areas on board, including the following parts of the ship:
  • medical facilities: for gastrointestinal illness surveillance documentation and medical logs
  • potable water systems: for source to storage, distribution, protection and any cross-connection, and the disinfection process
  • swimming pools and whirlpool spas: for filtration, disinfection, general maintenance, and safety
  • galleys and dining rooms: for food protection during sourcing, provisioning, storage, preparation, and service
  • employee health and personal hygiene are evaluated as well as facility equipment maintenance and dishwashing
  • child activity centers: for properly equipped diaper changing stations, toilets, and handwashing stations
  • facility disinfection; infection control for ill children
  • hotel accommodations: for routine cleaning sequences and infection control procedures during outbreaks of gastrointestinal illness, including the use of appropriate disinfectants and outbreak policies
  • ventilation systems: for maintenance and cleaning of air handling systems; and
    common areas of the ship: for integrated pest management strategies, general cleanliness, and maintenance
At the conclusion of each inspection, CDC inspectors meet with ship management to discuss inspection violations and provide them with a draft report. Within 2 weeks of the inspection, CDC sends a final copy of the inspection report to the corresponding cruise line.

It isn't easy to be perfect, but Carnival Cruise Lines’ new 3,006-passenger Carnival Splendor received a 100 score during its most recent inspection in Fort Lauderdale, FL on Dec. 6th. In addition, four other Carnival ships earned scores of 99 during their respective inspections over the past few weeks. Carnival Splendor, the line’s newest ship, arrived in the U.S. Nov. 22nd and received perfect marks on all 42 items that comprise the comprehensive Vessel Sanitation Program (VSP) checklist.

Cruise Diva keeps a close eye on the scores and publishes a table of them monthly. To see how your favorite ships scored, visit our CDC Inspection Scores for all ships inspected.

And don't forget, it's getting close to the dreaded annual "Norovirus Season" so remember to brush up on your handwashing skills before you board your next cruise ship. Not familiar with Noro? It's what some in the media call the "cruise ship disease." Here's what you need to know, Is Your Cruise Ship Sick?

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