One hot topic constantly hitting the news is all about cruise ship passengers becoming infected with the norovirus bug
Royal Caribbean is the latest cruise line to be affected with over 300 passengers on their ship Explorer of the Seas going down with this illness. One of the reasons this virus is so easily transmitted is due to its resistance to disinfectants.
There is a task force created by the Centres for Disease Control (CDC) known as the ‘Vessel Sanitation Program.’ This program is mandatory and all ships carrying in excess of 13 passengers must have two random sanitation inspections per year.
When an outbreak occurs as in the case of the Explorer, the CDC takes immediate action. Their epidemiologists board the ship to take samples for testing and to monitor sanitation procedures.
Understanding the risk and preventive measures associated with norovirus can help decrease your chances of contracting it.
Location of Outbreaks
What you may or may not be aware of is that outbreaks of norovirus illnesses are not only restricted to cruise ships. It can occur anywhere where food is handled or prepared by others. Cases that have been reported include restaurants, schools, banquet halls and even family dinners.
You can get the norovirus illness at any time during the year. But, it is most widespread during the winter and especially in extreme cold temperatures. RCCL noted the recent cold temperatures in the northeast may have played a part in this latest outbreak. The Explorer of the Seas cruise originated from Bayonne, New Jersey during an extensive polar vortex.
The ship returned to port on the 29th of January. According to RCCL, the ship is being sanitized to remove and make certain that “remaining traces of the illness are eliminated”.
The NHS states that noroviruses are a blend of several related viruses. Infection with these viruses causes an inflammation in the abdomen and intestines known as ‘gastroenteritis’. Most people will attribute it as “food poisoning” or a “stomach bug” which can be caused by a strain of norovirus.
The illness often begins suddenly and starts off with milder symptoms of nausea and stomach cramping. It then progresses with vomiting and diarrhoea.
Norovirus is usually not serious and short lived from one to three days. It can be serious if not addressed, especially with the elderly, young children and those with low resistance because of prior health conditions and/or weak immune system. Severe dehydration is the culprit to extreme cases. The best way to prevent dehydration is to drink plenty of liquids and keep doing so during the entire duration of norovirus.
Norovirus can spread quickly especially in closed places with large amounts of people. In many cases, it is caused by :
- Airborne particles which can contaminate food or drink. If either are ingested, the result will be an infection.
- Nearly any item can be contaminated with norovirus such as utensils or stairwell banisters. Touching them will cause the infection to spread.
- People who contract the virus tend to be contagious in the 24 to 48 hours before even showing any symptoms. Having direct contact with a person who is infected with norovirus increases the chances of obtaining it also.
Although there is no direct cure, treatment or vaccine available for those infected with the norovirus infection; the best way to reduce the chance of being infected is practising good hygiene habits.
- Become more diligent about things such as washing hands thoroughly with soap and water more often. Whilst on a cruise holiday, always use the alcohol-based hand sanitizer when entering on-board the ship and when entering any public areas. This quickly reduces any germs picked up by touching any contaminated areas.
- Clean surfaces by using pre-packaged alcohol disinfectant wipes and carry them with you at all times. Although it may sound silly, it is a good deterrent to eliminate these germs upon contact.
The causes, risks and preventive factors associated with norovirus are important to be aware of. This is an infection that you can be inflicted with on cruise holiday or even at your local pub!
Written by Veronica Shine