Often it is an open goal for mainstream media to exploit and sensationalise when it happens on a cruise ship, but norovirus is certainly no trivial matter for those unlucky enough to catch it – even though it clears up with a day or two of bed rest and plenty of hydration.

Cruise lines are well versed in dealing with norovirus, which behind the common cold is the second most prevalent bug in the world today. So while labels such as “spew cruise” and “holiday from hell” are recycled by media outlets in an effort to lure viewers, listeners or readers, the minor tummy bug should also hammer home the importance for travellers to ensure they are prepared for the possibility it could happen on your next ocean voyage.

A little known fact is that as soon as you step off sovereign land onto a cruise ship registered in some far away land such as Panama or the Bahamas, you are no longer covered by public health systems such as Medicare. Once you step onboard, your travel insurance coverage takes effect, so you’ll need to make sure you have a policy. As Smartraveller quite rightly says, “If you can’t afford travel insurance, you can’t afford to travel”.

Take hand sanitiser often when on a cruise ship
Situated throughout cruise ships, hand sanitisers are essential in minimising the chance of potentially catching norovirus.

With proper preparation, any traveller can be ready to quickly tackle the norovirus bug if it finds them. Craig Morrison, the CEO of Southern Cross Travel Insurance has provided a few tips worth noting, especially as insurance firms will ask similar questions if you need to make a claim at the end of your holiday.

  • Carry a basic medical kit onboard with you. Include in this kit a clearly written list of any prescription medications and conditions to ensure cruise ship crew and onboard medical officers are aware when issuing any treatments. The last thing anybody wants is for a guest to be allergic to a medication, potentially making them feel much worse.
  • When booking your travel insurance, it is important to ensure that general medical expenses, hospitalisation and evacuation are included in the policy wording. Even though for something minor like norovirus, the latter two won’t be needed, medical costs onboard cruise ships are often charged at private rates, which can make them expensive. Basic seasickness tablets are often free in reasonable quantities and are dispensed by crew.
  • If you need to purchase extra medical supplies either onboard or onshore, keep all your receipts and if you need to see a doctor, ask for a copy of his or her consultation notes. Your travel insurer will request these to assist in processing your claim.

Southern Cross Travel Insurance said gastro bugs are one of the most common illnesses for which the company sees claims made by customers. So while you may feel like death warmed up, you’re by no means in any real danger as long as you treat your symptoms.

A spokesperson for Cruise Lines International Association, a global body which represents cruise operators in the countries around the world in which they operate, said it was important to keep outbreaks of norovirus on cruise ships in perspective compared to on land.

“Norovirus is a very common illness on land and the cruise industry takes every precaution to prevent people bringing it onboard its ships. While outbreaks make for an easy headline, data shows that incidents of norovirus and other viruses are extremely rare on cruise ships. If a case arises on a ship, our member lines are vigilant in containing it by well-established and approved procedures.”

For more information on the health and cleanliness measures employed by cruise lines, check out this four-minute video.