The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is reporting the largest number of norovirus outbreaks in more than a decade, and it’s affecting hundreds of passengers and crew aboard some of the most famous cruise lines.
In the first six months ending in June, cruise ships reported 13 separate outbreaks to the CDC. This is the highest number of reported norovirus outbreaks on cruise ships since 2012.
Overall, about 1,700 people reported contracting norovirus on board a cruise ship between January and June of this year.
And this year’s outbreaks represent the largest number since cruises began sailing again in the summer of 2021 after they were suspended due to COVID-19.
One local expert says this is partly because more people are traveling.
“Hundreds of thousands if not millions of people have already taken cruises without incident. This is a very small number and nothing to worry about,” said Steward Hiron, a cruise expert. “I wouldn’t think twice about going on a cruise. I wouldn’t think twice about going on a cruise or going anywhere.”
Celebrity, Royal Caribbean International, Holland America, Princess and P&O were among the Royal Caribbean and Carnival lines affected.
So, if you’re planning to go sailing this summer, here’s everything you need to know about norovirus.
What is norovirus?
According to the CDC, norovirus is the leading cause of vomiting, diarrhea, and foodborne illness in the United States.
It is also not a one-time virus. You can get norovirus many times in your life because there are many different types of norovirus and one type may not protect you from others.
However, it is possible to develop protection against certain types, but it is not known exactly how long the protection lasts.
This may explain why so many people of all ages become infected during norovirus outbreaks.
Your likelihood of contracting a norovirus infection is also partly determined by your genes, according to the CDC.
How is norovirus spread?
Because people of all ages can get sick with norovirus, it can spread easily and quickly.
CDC says norovirus can spread:
- Have direct contact with someone with norovirus, such as by caring for them, sharing food or eating utensils with them, or eating food that they held in their hands.
- Eating or drinking liquids contaminated with norovirus.
- Touch surfaces or objects contaminated with norovirus and then put unwashed fingers in your mouth.
You are most contagious when you have symptoms of norovirus disease, especially vomiting, or during the first few days after you feel better.
But studies have shown that you can still spread norovirus for two or more weeks after you feel better.
According to the Mayo Clinic, norovirus most commonly spreads in closed and crowded places, such as hospitals, nursing homes, day care centers, schools, and cruise ships.
But it can also be spread through contaminated food, water, or sick people and contaminated surfaces.
What are the symptoms of norovirus?
According to the CDC, the most common symptoms of norovirus are diarrhea, vomiting, nausea, and abdominal pain.
However, you may experience fever, headaches, and body aches.
Symptoms typically last one to three days, according to the Mayo Clinic, and most people recover.
How do you treat norovirus?
There is no specific medicine for treating people with norovirus infection.
If you have a norovirus infection, the CDC recommends drinking plenty of fluids to replace fluid lost from vomiting and diarrhea and prevent dehydration.
Sports drinks and other drinks without caffeine or alcohol can help with mild dehydration, but these drinks may not replace important nutrients and minerals.
It is important to note that antibiotics do not help treat norovirus infections because they fight bacteria, not viruses.
When was the most recent norovirus outbreak on a cruise ship?
The CDC’s latest report of a norovirus outbreak occurred on Viking Neptune, a cruise ship owned by the Swiss company Viking Cruises, during a voyage from June 6 to 20.
According to the CDC, 110 of the 838 passengers and nine of the 455 crew reported feeling unwell during the trip.
In 2023, outbreaks occurred on the following ships: Celebrity Summit, Nieuw Amsterdam, Grand Princess, Emerald Princess, Enchantment of the Seas, Celebrity Equinox, Celebrity Constellation, Ruby Princess, Viking Neptune, Jewel of the Seas, Brilliance of the Seas, Arcadia. .
What can I do to prevent norovirus infection?
The key to preventing norovirus and most other diseases is simply to wash your hands well.
Norovirus is highly contagious, but there are steps you can take to stop it from spreading.
Wash your hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially:
- After going to the toilet or changing diapers.
- Before eating, preparing or handling food.
- Before giving yourself or someone else medicine.
It is important to continue washing your hands often even after you feel better.
Hiron says cruise lines are trying to keep their ships clean and are limiting some interactions.
“What they do is reduce the interaction between people. So when you go to the buffet, for example for breakfast or lunch. Instead of serving you, a gloved crew member will do it for you,” Chiron said.
While on board, if you see anyone with symptoms of norovirus, you are strongly advised to leave the area and alert a crew member.
Norovirus can be found in vomit or feces (faeces) even before you feel sick. The virus can also remain in the stool for two or more weeks after you feel better, during which time you can still spread norovirus.
Hand sanitizer doesn’t work well against norovirus. You can use hand sanitizers in addition to handwashing, but hand sanitizer does not replace handwashing.