Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Norovirus: The "Cruise Ship" Disease?

It starts with a queasy feeling in your stomach and proceeds to erupt in uncontrollable vomiting, diarrhea, or both. We used to call it stomach flu, but its more current name is norovirus or noro for brevity. While my husband 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 wipes at the entrance to wipe down shopping cart handles. Now they do and I never fail to grab one before touching a cart.

Similarly, cruise ships are also proactive about hand sanitation and provide hand sanitizer at the entrance to restaurants. On our most recent cruise we were greeted at the gangway upon embarkation by a crewmember who spritzed our hands before we boarded. The process continued on board and we even found sanitizing dispensers inside the elevators. Since my husband's unfortunate experience with noro, 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: