Friday, May 31, 2013

Norovirus: Not Just For Cruise Passengers

Poor Mel. He hasn't been on a cruise lately, but somehow picked up the dreaded norovirus last week. It started with a queasy feeling in his stomach and proceeded to erupt in uncontrollable vomiting and diarrhea. We used to call it stomach flu, but its more current name is norovirus or noro for brevity. While Mel contracted noro once during a cruise, I've only been felled by it at home—twice in recent memory. The first time I got sick I read in the local newspaper that the entire county school system was experiencing an outbreak. The only place where I could have picked it up was at the supermarket. At that time they didn't have sanitizing wipe dispensers at the entrance to disinfect shopping cart handles. Now they do and I never fail to grab one before touching a cart. Mel may have picked up noro last week while shopping at a store that doesn't offer santizing wipes for cart handles. Or he might have gotten it while sampling all the goodies they pass out to shoppers in the store. Where and how he got it is irrelevant and thankfully he's better, but I guess I'll start carrying individually wrapped sanitizing cloths in my purse along with a mini-bottle of Purell for those times we encounter shopping carts with no sanitizing wipes at the store entrance. You can never be too careful.

Like many grocery stores with those sanitizing wipe dispensers, cruise ships are also proactive about hand sanitation and provide hand sanitizer at the entrance to restaurants. On our most recent cruises we have been greeted at the gangways upon embarkation by crewmembers who spritzed our hands before we boarded. The process continued on board and we even found sanitizing dispensers inside the elevators. Since Mel's unfortunate experience with noro on a cruise ship, he's extremely careful and only touches elevator buttons with his knuckle. I carry hand sanitizer in my bag and we use it frequently, especially after touching doorknobs and hand rails. Yes, we still wash our hands thoroughly with soap and water, but that isn't always an option. Thankfully, neither of us has contracted noro—or any other illness—while on a cruise since Mel was sickened that one time on the last night of a one-week sailing. He was treated by the ship's doctor with IVs (at no charge) and completely recovered in a day or two, but not before passing it along to me once we were home.

However, when hundreds of cruise passengers report to the infirmary with similar symptoms, does that necessarily mean their ship is SICK? Hardly. But you'd never know that from news reports about nasty "cruise ship diseases" that attack unsuspecting cruise vacationers. Yes, that's plural and there's more than one, but it's norovirus that often grabs the headlines. In all likelihood, it's an infected passenger who brought the noro aboard and spread it to others. Yes, the cruise lines require everyone to complete a pre-boarding questionnaire about their health and any symptoms they are possibly experiencing, but do you seriously think anyone who might be a bit sick to their stomach is going to admit that and be denied boarding?

In our related article we examine the question, Is Your Cruise Ship Sick? and separate the facts from fiction. We encourage you to learn more and be an informed passenger.

No comments: