As the weather warms, we can often start daydreaming about the picture-perfect summer vacation to enjoy some tropical air and soak in the sun. For many, this is the trip of a lifetime on a luxurious cruise ship sailing around the Carribean or some other exotic locale. You spend years saving and months planning the trip, only to become ill on your first day out of the harbor; spending the rest of the vacation locked in your small room, unable to enjoy all that your cruise has to offer.
A contained cruise ship is a perfect environment for the rapid spread of any highly contagious virus. One moment, you are taking full advantage of the complimentary soft serve ice cream bar, and the next you are being encouraged to stay in your room to avoid contracting the unfortunate illness that is plaguing the ship. This situation was all too real for a group of passengers on a Royal Carribean cruise ship at the beginning of the year. In fact, the illness was so bad that the entire cruise was cut short.
The passengers on Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas started their week off the coast of Florida with no expectations of the downward turn that their trip would take. Generally speaking, some illness is to be expected and is normal on a cruise ship of this size. However, the CDC reports that there are fewer than 30 people who get sick per 100,000 passenger days. When almost 500 of the guests and crewmembers on this trip were quarantined in their rooms due to unprecedented vomiting and nausea, it was clear that this was more than the simple flu.
Passengers were notified that this was a suspected outbreak of norovirus, and the decision to return to Florida, cutting the cruise a day short, was made in the interest of health and safety. Owen Torres, a spokesperson for Royal Caribbean, shared, “We think the right thing to do is to get everyone home early rather than have guests worry about their health.” The ship was thoroughly cleaned and disinfected before the next group boarded, with all 8,000 passengers on the ill-fated cruise given a full refund for the interruption of their travels.
This most recent outbreak is not the first to take down hundreds of passengers in a relatively short time period. Many cruise ships are subject to norovirus attacks. This is primarily due to the closed environment and inability to avoid coming in contact with infected areas, including food.
What is Norovirus?
Though it may sound apocalyptic, norovirus isn’t quite as terrible as it seems. This nasty bug is an incredibly contagious gastrointestinal illness that can be spread through food, water, and any surfaces touched by an infected person. It is generally found to be more prevalent in areas where people are confined in close quarters, such as schools, hospitals, and nursing homes. Along with the aforementioned cruise ship, of course.
- Abdominal pain
- Nausea and vomiting
- Muscle pain
- Low fever
Generally speaking, norovirus isn’t life-threatening and after an uncomfortable 1-3 days, the symptoms will usually dissipate on their own without treatment. Usually, you will begin experiencing nausea within 12-48 hours after exposure, so it is often difficult to identify the source of the outbreak.
How to avoid infection
Wash your hands. Simply put, washing your hands frequently with soap and water is one of the single most effective means of limiting your contact with norovirus and remaining healthy throughout your cruise or other trip. In fact, if you should wash your hands after changing location, or before touching your face or mouth. If you contract the disease, it is important that you limit your contact with other people and avoid contaminating food supply and surface areas.
Cruise ships are also hot pockets for infection because of the prevalence of buffets. Once food has been sitting out for a time and has become tepid, it is likely that many people have breathed near it and it is potentially carrying the virus.
Most importantly, stay hydrated, avoid drinking or eating after others, and be sure to get plenty of sleep.
Have you ever experienced norovirus? Do you have any tips for staying healthy when faced with an outbreak? Let us know in the comments below!