A few days ago a relative of mine asked me the name of “that cruise ship disease.” I knew exactly what she was talking about: norovirus. And while outbreaks of norovirus on cruise ships make the six o’clock news, there’s nothing inherent about cruise ships that make people on them susceptible to the virus.
Norovirus, formerly called “Norwalk virus” after the town in Ohio where it was first identified, is a virus transmitted, in the Center for Disease Control’s matter-of-fact bureaucraspeak, via the “oral-fecal route.” That’s right, it’s transmitted because people don’t wash their hands after going potty. About 24 to 48 hours after contact, you start coming down with symptoms: nausea, vomiting, stomach cramps, and diarrhea, often all at once. I’ve personally been through this twice and can tell you the symptoms come on fast and are at their worst for 12 -24 hours. Recovery can be slow, often taking another 2 or 3 days.
Cruise ships are perfect for outbreaks of norovirus because a large number of people are confined to a relatively small space for a week at a time. You’re just as likely to catch it on a plane or at a restaurant (especially an all-you-can-eat buffet), but by the time the symptoms manifest themselves, you’ve long since moved on. Cruise ship passengers are all still together – probably with the fellow traveler who just couldn’t be bothered to wash his hands before rushing the seafood buffet.