Last year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Vessel Sanitation Program registered nine gastroenteritis outbreaks aboard ships, seven of which had a confirmed cause of norovirus. About 1,200 cruise passengers were affected by those norovirus cases, CNN reports.
Additionally, the industry’s Cruise Lines International Association says more than 10 million passengers embarked on CLIA member cruise ships from a U.S. port in 2012, and norovirus sickens an estimated 21 million people in the United States every year, according to the CDC.
Surely, more outbreaks of gastroenteritis have been reported aboard cruise ships since 2001, according to CDC statistics. The federal agency tells CNN that the jump is linked to a spike in both passengers and ships sailing the seas as well as an overall increase in norovirus outbreaks.
On Wednesday, a Royal Caribbean cruise ship arrived at a port in Bayonne, N.J., after nearly 650 crew and passengers became ill aboard the Explorer of the Seas. It was the highest number of sick people reported on any cruise ship in nearly 20 years, according to the CDC, which is investigating the incident. There were reports of vomiting and diarrhea and the cause has not been determined.
In the case of Explorer of the Seas, the Tampa Bay Times reports, Royal Caribbean said all passengers would get a 50 percent refund of their fare and a 50 percent credit on a future cruise. Unless there’s a mechanical failure, full refunds are rare.
The problem is that scores of travelers are confined in tight communal areas, according to the Times reports, and they touch the same surfaces such as stair railings and bathroom door handles. If someone is sick and they are not careful about hand washing, germs spread quickly. Sometimes people don’t know they are sick until a few days later.
The CDC offers some tips on staying healthy while on a cruise:
Get vaccinated before climbing aboard. You should be up-to-date on routine vaccines, such as measles, mumps, rubella, varicella, and seasonal flu.
Wash your hands with hot water and soap regularly, and take advantage of the antibacterial wipes and sprays available around the ship.
Avoid cruising between January to March, the height of the virus season. There are fewer outbreaks during the summer.
Checktravel health and evacuation insurance. See if your regular health insurance policy will cover any medical care you might need in another country o on board the ship. If not, you can purchase travel health insurance to cover you during your trip.
For more information on healthy travel, visit the CDC.