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Personal Health: Protecting Yourself From GI

Unknown to the general public is that Norovirus, a highly contagious gastrointestional disease, is present on many ship cruises even though it doesn't reach outbreak levels. Whether on not it becomes an outbreak is based on a series of controllable and uncontrollable events and variables. In other words, most often it depends on the risk management measures taken, or not taken, by the cruise line and ship.

The most prevalent gastrointestinal disease on cruise ships is caused by the Norovirus germ. Highly contagious, it incubates inside a person for 12-48 hours, manifests symptoms for 24-60 hours and, most importantly, the person with that sickness can shed virus germs for up to two weeks after symptoms have gone away.

Because the disease travels from person to person through direct and indirect contact through the fecal to oral route, it's possible to contact the disease by touching common objects that have previously been contaminated by an infected person, and also by direct contact with a person's fecal matter (easier than you think) or mucus.

Until recently, the Vessel Sanitation Program has focused on food and food preparation areas of the ship, ignoring passenger behaviours in cafeterias and the design of common rest rooms. Fecal matter, a strong transmission medium, is easily transmitted via the use of common utensils, cloth chairs in the eating area, auditoriums and door handles across the ship, especially on or near common rest rooms.

Earlier in 2006, the Vessel Sanitation Program hired a consultant from CDC to assist on one of their investigations. The report was published and contains many reasons why outbreaks are more frequent than ever before—and passengers can surmise why their potential for contagious disease is at the mercy of the risk management processes adopted by the cruise lines.

In short, this report concluded that the cruise line, Royal Caribbean's Explorer of the Seas, was not adhering to their own risk management plan and procedures. The results were clear, this particular cruise reported 243 passengers sick with Norovirus.

Cruise ship data excluded from these studies:

  • Voyages with less than 20 passengers.
  • Voyage that terminate (disembark) in non-U.S. ports
  • Same day voyages (those without an overnight stay).

Complete Data Period: 2001-0101 to 2006-0504
Outbreak Data Period: 2001-0101 to 2007-0218



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This page last reviewed: 2007-1209 17:14

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