- Norovirus is a highly contagious virus that has symptoms resembling those of food poisoning or the flu.
- That makes a dense, enclosed space like a cruise ship the perfect environment for the illness to spread.
- Even if a cruise ship enforces perfect hygiene, the illness can still spread from an infected person’s respiratory system.
Norovirus might be a cruise line’s worst nightmare.
The illness, whose symptoms resemble those of food poisoning or the flu, is highly contagious, which makes a dense, enclosed space like a cruise ship the perfect environment for the illness to spread. Norovirus is the most common cause of mass illness on cruise ships, and when it hits, it can hit hard, sometimes affecting hundreds of passengers on a single cruise.
Cruise lines can’t do much to prevent norovirus
In an interview with Business Insider, Royal Caribbean CEO Michael Bayley said there isn’t much a cruise line can do to prevent a norovirus outbreak. Even if employees maintain a high level of hygiene on the ship, one infected passenger can negate hours of careful cleaning. The illness is commonly spread through contact with infected vomit or fecal matter, which means that if an infected person doesn’t wash his hands, he can put everyone around him at risk.
According to Bayley, the simplest and most effective way to prevent a norovirus outbreak is for passengers to regularly wash their hands. That’s Royal Caribbean reminds passengers to wash their hands through animated videos that play on screens throughout their ships.
“The simple fact is that if people washed their hands, there would be no norovirus,” Bayley said.
But personal hygiene isn’t always enough, according to Michael Osterholm, director of the University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy. In addition to physical contact, the illness can also spread from an infected person’s respiratory system, which means that simply breathing the same air as an infected person can leave you vulnerable.
Some people are immune to it, some aren’t
And a person can become contagious twelve hours before he shows any symptoms, so it can be difficult to tell if a given passenger may be a risk in some cases. Often, a cruise ship is at the mercy of its passengers.
“They can do everything perfect in terms of food and safety and overall ship hygiene, but the problem is, if someone comes on board with norovirus at the beginning of the trip, it’s very possible in that closed environment that there’ll be transmission to other passengers as well as staff,” Osterholm told Business Insider.
The good news, for some people, is that you can be biologically immune to norovirus, so you won’t get sick even if you come in contact with someone who’s infected. But if you aren’t immune, there’s nothing to prevent you from contracting norovirus “over and over again,” according to Osterholm.
“It just makes cruise ships or airplanes and things like that challenging environments.”