Travel nightmare

Last weekend, the Star Princess limped into Vancouver port after a 14 day cruise from Hawaii with a truly unwelcome guest aboard: norovirus. A highly contagious, and easily transmitted, gastrointestinal illness, the virus is notorious for its ability to quickly end your enjoyment of a hard-earned vacation.  

There is a misconception that norovirus is a cruise ship problem, when in reality the virus is second only to the common cold. It occurs on both land and sea, most often in areas where there are large concentrations of people, such as resorts, cruise ships, hospitals or camps. We don’t hear about it as often on land because hotels, airlines and malls are not required to report the number of consumers impacted by its effects. Cruise lines are mandated by a Vessel Sanitation Program to report all incidents where more than 2% of their passengers or crew are effected by any sort of outbreak.

Symptoms primarily include vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal pain. Luckily, you only suffer for 24 - 48 hours, and there are no lasting effects. The biggest dangers are for the very young or elderly with underlying medical conditions. 

The notoriety of norovirus is the ease with which it is spread. You can catch it by ingesting food or drink that’s been contaminated, or by touching any contaminated surface, then touching your nose, mouth or eyes. The virus is also aerosolized, which means you can inhale it if tending to an infected person. Unlike many germs, this virus is not easily destroyed by simple soap and water. As a result, it can survive on surfaces for up to a week at a time.

Only bleach-based solvents can kill the virus, and when a cruise ship or resort is dealing with an outbreak, staff start a deep cleaning systematic approach. All surfaces in large congregation areas such as casinos, restaurants and lounges get treated with strong solvents. You may notice that buffets go from ‘serve yourself’ to manned stations. Salt and pepper shakers as well as any shared utensils disappear from the tables. In cases where outbreaks are not able to be contained, resorts are closed and ships are pulled from service to undergo a more thorough cleaning. These enhanced sanitations are generally done within CDC guidelines.

Now what can you, as an individual, do to prevent infection? 

Wash your hands often with hot water and soap. 

Avoid shared eating utensils, raw shellfish and seafood and stick to bottled water.  

Use common sense with person-to-person contact: You don’t need to shake everyone’s hand.

If, sadly, you do come down with symptoms, do yourself and everyone else a favour by staying in your room. Drink lots of fluids, and rest. The worst of it is over quickly, but you can remain contagious for two to three days afterward. Don’t prepare food for others, and be sure to sanitize all bathroom and food prep areas.  

Should you expect compensation from the cruise line if you become ill while aboard? That’s a tricky question. Depending on the severity of the outbreak, cruise lines have, at times, offered reimbursement for missed days and/or future credits towards another cruise. Each situation is different and your travel consultant can usually act on your behalf to negotiate.  

Always be sure to have out-of-country medical insurance coverage whenever and wherever you travel.

More The Joy of Travel articles

About the Author

Joy has long been a believer in the art of travel: the belief that a vacation is something to be anticipated savored and then long remembered as one of life’s great adventures. 
Website: thejoyoftravel.ca

You can contact Joy at [email protected]

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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