Cruise Ship Illnesses A1
Going on a cruise is supposed to be fun. It is a vacation, and should be enjoyable. For the majority of people, the fun vacation experience is exactly what they get. However, when illness hits a cruise ship it can spread very rapidly. That can lead to serious problems among both the passengers and crew, and make the entire cruise miserable for everyone. Some cruises return to port earlier than planned because of the number of people who are sick, while other cruises go on for the originally planned length of time. When the ship does return to port there are often many hours spent in an effort to clean up the ship as much as possible, so people on the next cruise that heads out do not get sick, too. Of course, the cruise ship companies also have to compensate these people in some way. They are often given vouchers for a free trip or money off of their next trip.
Whether people take the cruise lines up on these trips depends on their opinion of the overall cruise, and their concerns about getting sick again in the future. Not everyone feels comfortable taking another cruise after the one they have been on has resulted in illness. Some people would prefer to spend their vacation time elsewhere in the future, and they do not want to take the risk of feeling poorly again – especially when they are at sea on a large ship and cannot return home when they want to. Despite these kinds of concerns, though, there are many people who have good cruises and who do not become ill at all. Most ships head out full of people and return after a good trip, with no major problems detected. It is only the ships where there are many people becoming ill that make a lot of headlines in the news. These are the cruises that it is important to discuss, because one has to determine what is causing these illnesses in order to mitigate the problem.
Cruise Ship Illnesses: Are A3 Statistics Accurate?
In order to understand the significance of cruise ship illnesses, it is important to look at the statistics regarding them. Unfortunately, the industry does not make this information readily available. That would make sense, because providing statistics that indicate how many people get sick on cruises could keep people from wanting to take these cruises. That would mean a serious drop in income for the cruise lines, and that is not something they can tolerate. There is some basic information available about the number of illnesses seen on cruises, though. The A4 Centers for Disease Control (CDC) stated that there were nine outbreaks of illness on cruise ships in 2013 (Hunter, 2014). Out of those outbreaks nearly 1,200 people were sickened, most of them by a gastrointestinal illness called norovirus (Hunter, 2014). Three of those sailings were from ports in the United States, and the others were from other ports of call (Hunter, 2014).
Since 2001, more people have been getting sick on cruise ships (A5 Hunter, 2014). However, there is a specific reason for that. Norovirus, the most common cause of cruise ship illness, is highly contagious in close quarters. Dormitories, nursing homes, cruise ships, and other confined spaces where a lot of people reside or are together for a set period of time are often considered to be "petri dishes" when it comes to the incubation of germs and viruses. While it sounds like a lot of people get sick from norovirus and other illnesses on cruises, some perspective is important. In 2012, over 10 million people embarked on a cruise from a US port and nearly 21 million people in the US got sick (on dry land) from norovirus (Hunter, 2014). When the number of illnesses is compared to the number of people who took a cruise, it is easy to see that there really are not that many people getting sick on cruises each year. It only appears like a lot of people are ill because the norovirus and other sickness outbreaks tend to make the news. There are hundreds of people on each cruise ship, including passengers and crew.
A6 Norovirus and Related Illnesses
Norovirus is part of a strain of viruses that are all grouped together into the Norwalk virus (Carstens, et al, 2011). They transmit easily in several ways, including through airborne means where the virus travels through the air and settles on surfaces which it then contaminates. It can also transmit through anything that's contaminated with fecal matter and through contact from one person to another (Carstens, et al, 2011). Person to person transmission of the virus comes from hugging, kissing, or even shaking hands (Carstens, et al, 2011). The virus is very contagious and it is easy to move it from one person or surface to the next, which is why so many people who are around each other get sick quickly. If even one person contracts the virus, it can rapidly spread to hundreds or even thousands of people within a matter of hours or days. People of all ages can get norovirus. When a person contracts norovirus, he or she generally has violent vomiting, nausea, diarrhea, and pain in the abdomen (Carstens, et al, 2011). He or she may also feel very weak, have a mild fever, and have aching muscles, as well as feelings of lethargy (Carstens, et al, 2011).
It is very rare to become severely ill from norovirus, as the disease is self-limiting and will go away on its own. Still, people who already have medical conditions could end up getting very sick from norovirus, and it is possible to get dehydrated from the inability to keep liquids in the body. Over 200,000 people die every year from norovirus (Carstens, et al, 2011). Most of these deaths occur in undeveloped countries and happen to people who are elderly, very young, or have weak immune systems (Lindesmith, et al, 2003). Once people have been exposed to norovirus they have a little bit of immunity to it, but that is incomplete and they can get sick again. The immunity is also of a temporary nature, with most people losing their immunity in six months to two years (Lindesmith, et al, 2003). Chlorine based disinfectants and heat are the two best ways to kill norovirus, as detergents and alcohol based cleaners are generally ineffective (Lindesmith, et al, 2003).
Norovirus has been in the news recently, because January of 2014 saw two cruise ships returning to port early because of numerous passengers getting sick. The Explorer of the Seas, owned and operated by Royal Caribbean, returned to New Jersey two days before it was expected to because more than 700 passengers and crew members were sick (Sloan, 2014). That was over 20% of the 3,071 passengers on board, as well as a significant percentage of the crew members (Sloan, 2014). Then the Caribbean Princess, owned and operated by Princess Cruises, returned to Houston a day early because there were more than 160 passengers sick with norovirus (Sloan, 2014). The illness usually lasts between one and three days, but those days can be very miserable. Most people get through it without any serious effects, but being on a cruise ship can make for an uncomfortable time when a person is ill.
On the recent cruises where large numbers of people were sickened, the ships returned to port, were cleaned, and went back out again with another group of passengers (Sloan, 2014). Despite the sickness, most people who were scheduled on the next cruise for those ships still boarded the ship as planned. For many people, the chance of getting sick on a cruise is not serious enough to stop them from enjoying what could be a great vacation. Since a large number of people cruise every year and very few cruises have outbreaks of illness, the odds are against getting sick during a person's time on a cruise ship. The reason the recent cruises made the news for their outbreaks of illness is because they were unusual in that regard. Chances are high it will be some time before another cruise is in the news because of illness. That is especially true of the two ships that were recently problematic, since they have been thoroughly cleaned.
A8 Preventing Illnesses on Cruise Ships
One of the most important issues to consider where illnesses and cruise ships are concerned is how to prevent the illnesses from happening in the first place. Once a person gets sick, the illness spreads quickly to a number of other people. That can be a serious problem for people just trying to enjoy a vacation at sea. While there is no way to completely prevent the chance of illness on a cruise ship, there are many ways to reduce the risk that illness will occur. One of these is through proper cleaning techniques (Sloan, 2014). Cruise ships are on very tight schedules, and if they do not get cleaned properly between trips they may end up unknowingly incubating sicknesses like norovirus. The cleaning of the ships is a big part of keeping illnesses at bay and ensuring that people who want to enjoy a great vacation do not end up getting sick and having to return to port early (Sloan, 2014). Of course, there are other things that can be done to lower the chance of illness, and they start with the crew and passengers.
People spread the norovirus and related illnesses to one another very quickly, but only if they come into contact with each other or the surfaces an ill person has touched. People who are sick should not go on cruises. If they stay home instead of heading out on vacation – or even going to work – it can help reduce the number of people who are sickened by germs on cruises. Passengers can help to reduce the spread of infection once on the cruise by staying in their cabins if they do get sick, and by washing their hands frequently (Sloan, 2014). The same is true for members of the crew, and especially for those who prepare food. Contaminated food is how many instances of norovirus get started, and it is important to make sure they are reduced as much as possible (Sloan, 2014). Those who take a cruise will be taking a slight risk for contracting norovirus, but the more careful they are the less likely they will be to get sick. A clean ship and a healthy crew and group of passengers is a great start.
Taking a cruise can be an excellent way to enjoy a vacation. There are exotic ports of call to explore, and plenty to do on the ship. Many offer great buffets, shows, swimming pools, and fun activities for people of all ages. With that in mind, it is important that cruise lines make a strong effort to keep norovirus and related problems to a minimum. While the majority of cruises are successful and no one gets sick, many people do think twice about traveling on a cruise ship when the ships make the news because hundreds of people took ill. If norovirus and related problems begin to happen too often, it is quite possible that cruise lines will start to lose money and not be able to operate as they do currently. That can really hurt the companies that run these cruise ships, and can also hurt the travel plans of people who want to take a cruise vacation despite the illness risk. When people carefully consider the current statistics they will see that very few people actually get sick from cruises. It only sounds like a large number because it is often hundreds at one time.
When measured against the millions of people who take a cruise every year, though, the risk of contracting norovirus or a related disease on a cruise ship is very small. That can be reassuring for anyone thinking of taking a cruise, but it will not be enough for everyone to feel safe and comfortable traveling that way for a vacation. Each person must make an individual choice as to whether he or she wants to take a cruise, or whether it would be a better choice to pick some other type of vacation. No matter which choice is made, it really should not be based on the possibility of getting sick on a cruise ship. The odds of that happening are really much smaller than many people assume when they see the headlines in the news. Taking the time to look at the statistics and make the right choice is important, and the best option for anyone planning a vacation.
Carstens, E.B., King, A., Lefkowitz, E., & Adams, M.I. (2011). Virus taxonomy: Ninth report of the international committee on taxonomy of viruses. Amsterdam: Elsevier. pp. 981–982.
Hunter, M. (2014). Are cruise ships floating petri dishes? CNN. Retrieved from http://www.cnn.com/2014/01/29/travel/cruises-sanitation/
Lindesmith, L., Moe, C., & Marionneau, S., et al. (2003). Human susceptibility and resistance to Norwalk virus infection. National Medicine, 9(5): 548–53.
Sloan, G. (2014). Second cruise ship in a week hit by illness. USAToday. Retrieved from http://www.usatoday.com/story/travel/news/2014/01/31/cruise-ship-illness-outbreak/5076889/