One of the the questions I get more than any other from first time cruisers, or people just thinking about taking their first cruise is what about “that virus thing?” That virus thing, known as Norovirus is on the television news as I type this post, in fact, as Cunard’s Queen Mary II has apparently been stricken with a higher than average number of sick passengers. My friend, The Weekly Flyer, over at Points, Miles, and Martini’s sent me this article and I thought it was worth a blog. I also think it’s worth noting that in the case of the Queen Mary II, approximately 200 passengers and crew have contracted Norovirus, but the total number of passengers and crew on board is 3,868 (2,613 passengers, and 1,255 crew) according to the article. In other words, a lot of cruisers are enjoying themselves and hardly experiencing a “Christmas disaster” as described in the article.

Let’s talk about what this really is for a minute. According to the United States Centers for Disease Control (CDC) “Noroviruses are a group of related viruses. Infection with these viruses affects the stomach and intestines and causes an illness called gastroenteritis (GAS-tro-en-ter-I-tis; inflammation of the stomach and intestines).” You can read the rest of CDC’s take on Noroviruses by clicking here. You can contract Norovirus anywhere, not just on cruise ships.

I’ve been on 30 cruises, and have yet to have the “dis” pleasure of Norovirus. In fact, the only person I have ever known to contract Norovirus caught it in his college dorm. That said, it obviously can impact a cruise, so what do I do to ensure that I am doing my best to not contract Norovirus? First, I wash my hands regularly and take advantage of opportunities to use anti-bacterial hand sanitizer when appropriate. Hint: If a member of the ship’s crew is offering you the opportunity to sanitize your hands and you haven’t washed them recently, it’s probably a good idea to take the hand sanitizer.

Cruise ships make a big effort at keeping things clean. One thing you will notice on your cruise is that a member of the crew is always polishing the hand rails. That’s not just to keep them shiny, it’s to kill germs that your fellow cruisers might be spreading. Sometimes, the illness breaks through and grows to a certain number and then the cruise lines are required to report it. That is why you don’t often hear about Norovirus outside of the cruise industry even though it may be running rampant at a local hotel right now. The reporting requirements are different for ships than they are for hotels, or college dorms. Further, for an eager reporter, the thought of 200 people having a bad stomach bug while on vacation just sounds like a better story than 200 college kids getting sick in their dorm. (Obviously, that is just my opinion, but I stand by it.) You can read about Norovirus reporting for the cruise industry hereย (the Vessel Sanitation Program (VSP)), and everyone else here.

The bottom line is that Norovirus could impact your cruise, but cruise lines do take steps to make sure it doesn’t happen. You can do things to make sure it doesn’t happen to you as well. Primarily, wash your hands with warm soapy water at every opportunity. And oh yeah…please don’t stick your nasty used water bottle on the water dispenser to refill it in the buffet line. (Sorry, had to get that in there.)