As Cruise Trips Rebound, So Do Stomach Viruses

With 11 outbreaks so far, this is the sickest year for cruise ships since 2018
By Steve Huff,  Newser Staff
Posted May 21, 2023 2:40 PM CDT
As Cruise Trips Rebound, So Do Stomach Viruses
A man eats an ice cream cone while walking on the seawall as the Holland America cruise ship Koningsdam is seen docked in Vancouver.   (The Canadian Press via AP)

While most noroviruses don't last long, contracting one can still a rough experience—especially when you're at sea, thousands of miles from home. Unfortunately for many people on cruise ships in 2023, getting sick is part of the experience, per Quartz. Citing stats from the CDC, the outlet reports 11 outbreaks of illness (think vomiting and diarrhea) on cruise ships so far this year, the most since 2018. The spike reflects the increasing number of people taking cruises again since the worst of the pandemic, notes the Washington Post.

At least 1,503 passengers and crew combined have come down with some kind of stomach trouble while on cruise ships that dock in US ports. According to Quartz, three of the outbreaks were definitely norovirus, but all were gastrointestinal. Cruises are closed environments and norovirus spreads easily, especially because it can live on surfaces for months, per the Mayo Clinic. With thousands of people sharing tight quarters and buffets in open dining areas, hardy viruses can thrive.

If there's an upside, it's that stomach virus outbreaks on cruises have actually diminished since the CDC began keeping records in 1994. The most recent one provides a typical example: About 160 passengers and 26 crew aboard Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam, or about 8% of passengers and 3% of crew, got sick. The ship was returning to Vancouver Sunday after a two-week cruise to Alaska. If you want to avoid catching a bug that ruins your vacation, Condé Nast Traveler recommends 12 steps, including:

  • Visiting a "travel medicine specialist" before you leave.
  • Avoiding self-serve dining if possible.
  • Regular hand-washing.
  • Avoiding public area restrooms.
  • Immediately reporting other travelers who are sick.
(More cruise ships stories.)

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