Mainstream media are often quick to jump on reports about an outbreak of gastro, otherwise known as Norovirus, otherwise known simply as a tummy bug. Descriptions such as “horror cruise” or “cruise from hell” are sometimes used, however these reports are usually one-sided and neglect the far less exciting, but truthful facts about the common, minor, ailment.

Often, reports claiming hundreds are struck down with the virus dominate the story, and while this may be true, the fact remains neglected that on most ships, thousands more passengers and hundreds, maybe thousands of crew crew were completely unaffected.

These reports certainly do not paint cruising in a positive light, and for the susceptible out there thinking of taking their first cruise, reacting to the highly imbalanced and misleading reports may well force a rethink. However, it is important to know the facts, as told by global cruise industry body Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), which acts as an advocacy body representing over 90% of the world’s cruise companies.

According to CLIA, a common myth is that a cruise ship is an incubator for norovirus, but what is not reported is that only cruise ships are required by law to report such outbreaks. Hotels, restaurants and other businesses where people gather in large numbers, such as schools, experience outbreaks far more frequently but do not need to report as such.

Based on statistics from the United States, by far the world’s biggest cruise market in terms of overall passenger numbers:

  • In a very recent calendar year, 10.1 million people sailed out of a United States cruise port on a cruise holiday. In the whole year, only four outbreaks were reported, affecting a total of 834 people. Out of 10.1 million. That’s 0.008%, or approximately 1 in 12,000 compared to the 1 in 15 chance of catching it on land.
  • More than 20 million cases of norovirus were reported in the US in that same year.

Cartoon character sneezing

While the statistics say it is not likely you will catch norovirus at sea, the fact remains it is an airborne infection, transmitted further by hand-to-mouth contact after touching an infected surface. Most of the time, norovirus is brought onboard by passengers themselves and can happy anywhere at anytime. However there are steps that passengers can take to improve their own health onboard.

  • Wash hands with soap regularly, especially after using bathroom facilities.
  • Hand sanitiser dispensers can be found throughout cruise ships, on every deck and in places such as the entrance to theatres, restaurants and bars. Crew located nearby are active in encouraging passengers to take a squirt of sanitiser and run it over your hands.
Princess Cruises health advisory notice onboard
Signs advising passengers to take care of their own health onboard, like this on a Princess Cruises ship, are common.

Cleaning on cruise ships is a non-stop exercise. Everything from door handles to the poker chips used in the casino are regularly cleaned and sanitised. Crew members can be found at all hours of the day and night cleaning and wiping hand railings. mopping floors, vacuuming carpets, cleaning tables & removing leftover food from tables, among many other chores.

Also, trained and certified medical staff are onboard every cruise and available 24/7. Physicians are able to treat most ailments, of which norovirus is one. Basic over-the-counter medications are often available including seasickness tablets or remedies for upset tummies. After a day or two of rest, symptoms often clear up by themselves and you’re good as new.

The facts stand for themselves. From time to time, reports will emerge about a certain number, most often a small minority, of people catching a stomach bug. Take the time to learn the facts before deciding to cancel or reconsider cruising for your next holiday.

Hand sanitiser dispensers onboard
Passengers should always take some hand sanitiser when entering a dining venue onboard