In recent years, outbreaks of viruses on board cruise ships have received a virtual tsunami of publicity and led to unjustified myths about cruises and illnesses.
Each year, millions of Americans enjoy cruises. In 2005, approximately 9.8 million passengers embarked from North American ports for their cruise vacation. But taking cruises can expose travelers to new environments and high volumes of people, including other travelers. Here are the top 5 myths:
1. It is not safe to take cruises anymore.
This is not true, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC’s Vessel Sanitation Program says it holds cruise ships to high sanitation standards and regularly inspects ships for sanitation and cleanliness.
2. Cruise ships that have experienced outbreaks of illnesses are “sick” ships.
Not true again, according to the CDC. In fact, many of the well-publicized outbreaks have taken place on ships that have scored very high on the CDC’s strenuous vessel inspections. In most of those cases, passengers were responsible for the outbreak of such viruses as the Norovirus, the most frequent culprit. Norovirus is one of the most contagious gastrointestinal illnesses in the world and is most often passed from one passenger to another and “carried” onto a ship by a passenger.
3. Norovirus is a cruise ship “phenomenon.”
Although the outbreaks of Norovirus on cruise ships have gained media attention, 60 to 80 percent of all outbreaks actually occur on land. Some 23 million cases break out in the U.S. each year and these cases are usually traced to areas or events where people congregate together for days at a time – schools, hotels, nursing homes, hospitals. The reason we hear about cruise ship outbreaks is because cases of Norovirus must be reported by cruise lines, while outbreaks on land are not reportable.
4. Norovirus is caused by bad food.
This is true in some cases, but most outbreaks of Norovirus on cruise ships were by a passenger who boarded with the virus and its inevitable spread to others, according to the CDC.
5. Cruise ships don’t report all outbreak incidents.
The CDC says this is a misconception. Ships have to file a report with the CDC Vessel Sanitation Program 24 hours before they arrive in a U.S. port from a foreign port, even when they have zero cases of illness. Cruise lines, says the CDC, have consistently followed those requirements for the past 30 years and will lose significant points in an inspection if it doesn’t file the reports. Whenever 2 percent of the passengers and crew have a gastrointestinal illness, the ship is required to send a special report.
In short, don’t avoid cruises just because you’ve heard the myths. At the same time, while on board a cruise, remember to wash your hands more frequently, get plenty of rest, and drink lots of water. Chances are you will have a memorable cruise vacation.