Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Dreaded Cruise Ship Disease Redux

Nervous About Noro asks about my post last May, The Dreaded Cruise Ship Disease : "What other diseases should I watch out for on my upcoming cruise, and what really are my chances of getting sick on a cruise?"

Dealing with the second part of Nervous's question first, the answer is "not very high." The Centers for Disease Control, whose Vessel Sanitation Program tracks these things, reported 1,737 cases of gastrointestinal illness among cruise ship passengers (on vessels calling at US ports) in 2008. That may seem like a lot, but when you consider more than 9 million passengers travelled on ships within the CDC's jurisdiction during the same period, you get about a 1 in 5200 chance of being one of the sick ones.

The cases mentioned above were all contained within 15 separate outbreaks, and all but two of those were norovirus. Those other two were so-called "Traveler's Diarrhea," caused by the E coli bacterium. The other disease most commonly associated with cruise ships is Legionella, or Legionnaire's Disease. It is not nearly as prevalent as norovirus; yearly cases reported tend to be in the single digits, which make your odds of catching it literally one in a million.

Concern over the H1N1 "Swine Flu" virus has led to increased vigilance by both the CDC and the cruise lines, several of which cancelled stops in Mexico -- where the disease first appeared -- this year. As the Caribbean cruising season gets into full swing, it's worth noting there has been no major outbreak in the region, only a few dozen cases spread among the major islands. That and the slowdown of cases in the US has officials in the Caribbean hopeful that cruise ship outbreaks like those seen in Europe last summer can be avoided.

If you're traveling on a cruise ship, the CDC has some advice:
  1. Wash your hands!
    • Before and after
      • eating,
      • smoking,
    • After
      • touching your face,
      • going to the bathroom
    • When your hands are dirty.
  2. Leave the area if you see someone get sick (vomiting or diarrhea).

    Report to cruise staff, if not already notified.
    You could become sick if you ingest contaminated particles that travel through the air.
  3. Take care of yourself.

    Get plenty of rest, drink lots of water. Resting helps rebuild your immune system. Drinking water helps prevents dehydration.
  4. Be considerate of other people’s health.
  5. If you’re ill before taking a cruise, call the cruise line to determine if there are alternative cruising options.

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