Cruising is an extremely popular vacation style. Cruisers enjoy the luxury of these gargantuan floating hotels overflowing with drink and decadence. Gluttony, one of the seven deadly sins, is considered a virtue on board ship. There are snacks, happy hours and hors d’ oeuvres sandwiched between the 3 standard triple-portioned meals of the day. Cruise ships take travelers to exotic destinations, although many choose to remain on board where they can swim, dance, exercise, shop, sunbathe, do yoga, read and gamble without ever touching dry land.
Thousands of cruise guests have discovered an activity on board that was never mentioned in the cruise line’s shiny and colorful promotional brochure. Imagine their surprise when they, along with hundreds of other contented cruisers, abruptly developed dreadful diarrhea and violent vomiting while on ship. Those travelers who were not yet afflicted, worried hour by hour whether the contagious brushfire would soon ignite them. While the cruise lines promised travelers a gastronomical experience of a lifetime, they didn’t realize that a gastrointestinal nightmare awaited them. This plague against cruise ship guests was caused by a microscopic marauder called norovirus or Norwalk-like viruses. This germ is extremely contagious and is transmitted though contaminated food and beverages or from contaminated surfaces and people. Cruise travelers were ambushed as by the time an outbreak developed on ship, hundreds of guests were already unknowingly infected. There is no treatment. While the illness subsides in a few days, this is more than enough time to ruin an expensive pre-paid vacation.
Outbreaks on cruise ships occur every year. The CDC actively monitors norovirus infections both at sea and on land. Travelers booking cruises are advised to consult the CDC website to find health information on your selected cruise line. In addition, ask the cruise line directly about their history of norovirus and what measures the company takes to reduce the risk of an outbreak and to contain one if it occurs. An excellent resource for comprehensive travel safety advice is the Travel Clinics of America website.