Throw Norovirus Overboard!

small norovirus floating in a black void.

It’s summertime and the perfect time for a family cruise while the kids are out of school. You’re packed and ready to go, with swimsuit, flip flops, and sunscreen in hand. Time for some fun in the sun!

But wait. You’ve heard horror stories about some nasty bug they call the norovirus that proliferates on cruise ships. It sounds terrible. What should you do to make sure you don’t get it?

First, let’s talk a little about this bug. Norovirus is the name of a common virus that causes gastrointestinal illnesses at sea (much less common) and on land (much more common) every year. You’ve probably heard it called “the stomach flu” or “a twenty-four hour stomach bug.” Even though these illnesses go away on their own with a little time and rest, the symptoms are miserable: some combination of nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, stomachache, and a general feeling of yuck. The way it’s spread is even more yuck: contact with vomit or stool of an infected person. The virus is hardy and can persist on a surface that wasn’t properly cleaned after contamination. If you touch that surface, then put your fingers in your mouth, you could still get the virus.

No matter how you slice it, those symptoms aren’t any fun. And the idea that it will go away on its own isn’t consoling if you’re on vacation. You want to enjoy every minute of your time away. The best thing to do is prevent it.

Here’s how to give yourself the best shot:

1.     Wash your hands with soap and water often.

Of course, you should wash your hands at the times your mother always told you: after going to the restroom, after changing diapers, before eating, and after coughing or sneezing. But on the cruise ship, wash your hands more often. Many cruise lines have waterless hand sanitizers sitting in public places for your use. Every time you see one, use it. Many cruise lines also have these sitting outside the doors to the dining room. Again, if you see it, use it. A reminder: the waterless hand sanitizers are an adjunct to proper handwashing with soap and water, not a substitute.

2.     Be especially careful at the buffet.

Yes, part of a cruise is eating plenty of yummy food. But remember, buffets are self-serve and think of how many people have touched that serving spoon before you and how many of them coughed or sneezed on that hand before they touched the serving utensil…Also, food on a buffet sits out waiting to be eaten. While measures are in place to prevent spoilage, it can still happen. It’s better to eat at one of the sit down restaurants.

3.     Stay away from sick people.

If you see someone who is ill (for instance, someone vomiting) avoid the area and let a crew member know so it can be cleaned and the person can be treated. Remember the virus spreads by coming into contact with a sick person’s feces or vomit.

4.     Avoid public restrooms if possible.

If you can, try to use only the restroom in your cabin. This minimizes your exposure to others’ secretions. If you have to use the public restroom, wash your hands thoroughly after each use.

5.     If you’re feeling ill, stay in your cabin.

If you think you are sick, think of your fellow passengers and quarantine yourself in your cabin. The rest will help your body kick the sickness and it will also help avoid spreading your illness to others.


Happy healthy summer cruising, everyone!