Understanding Norovirus: Why It’s a Cruiser’s Nightmare

Norovirus is a very contagious virus. You can get norovirus from an infected person, contaminated food or water, or by touching contaminated surfaces. The virus causes your stomach, or intestines (or both) to get inflamed. This leads to stomach pain, nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting for up to 48 hours. It’s not pretty, trust me – I’ve had it.

Not Just a Cruise Ship Virus

The Center for Disease Control says, “Norovirus is the most common cause of acute gastroenteritis in the United States. Each year, it causes 19-21 million illnesses.” According to Cruise Line International Association, “Americans have a 1 in 15 chance of getting norovirus on land each year, compared to a 1 in 12,000 chance on a cruise.”

The reason norovirus has the stigma as a “cruise ship virus” is because when there is a case of it on a cruise ship, it’s required to be reported to the CDC. However, when someone gets the virus on land, reporting is not required. Cruise ships also have close quarters compared to most land-based establishments.

A couple of years ago, there was a band scheduled to play in my hometown of Jacksonville, FL. But then, the whole band came down with norovirus at a resort in Ohio the week before, causing them to cancel the show

There is also the story from 2014, where dozens at an upscale San Fransisco hotel came down with the virus.

5 Reasons Norovirus Sucks 

1. It’s contagious. Once someone is infected with norovirus, it can spread like wildfire. There is no stopping it until that person is isolated. Anything that person touches leaves others vulnerable.

2. You feel helpless. You’re in bed for at least 48 hours, and it hurts to move. Your joints lock up and you’ll sometimes find yourself crawling to the bathroom. It reminded me a lot of the flu but without a sore throat or a cough.

3. You miss your port. If you were planning on snorkeling in Grand Turk or spending a beach day in St. Thomas – you can forget it – it won’t happen. Not only will you be isolated to your room, you can’t get far without having an accident.

4. Strict diet. So much for eating prime rib, lobster and baked Alaska. If you have norovirus you’re on a strict diet of water, broth, and crackers.

5. It can be avoided. If everyone would wash their hands and practice good hygiene, there wouldn’t be outbreaks. It’s disturbing how many people use the restroom and don’t wash their hands.

How to Prevent? (mostly common sense)

  • Wash your hands for 20 seconds or longer with warm soapy water
  • Leave the area if you see someone getting sick
  • Don’t wear yourself down. Get rest and stay hydrated to keep your immune system strong
  • At the first sign of illness, go to the ship’s infirmary, they won’t charge you because they don’t want the ship to be infected
  • Avoid touching the railings on stairs, or elevator buttons. Try to take the stairs
  • Pack antibacterial soap like Dial and antibacterial wipes to wipe down the cabin
  • Use the antibacterial stations on the ship
  • Don’t lie on the cruise line health questionnaire when you’re boarding the ship

With norovirus, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

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