There is an increase in norovirus incidents across the country in hospitals, day care centers, nursing homes and schools, according to Dave Forney, chief of the Vessel Sanitation Program of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
With the reported increased number of norovirus cases on land, reported from Virginia to Colorado, Canada and Japan, the International Council of Cruise Lines (ICCL) has observed a corresponding increase in norovirus incidents on board cruise ships.
The CDC estimates that 23 million people in the United States every year contract norovirus, or 8 percent of the U.S. population. Annually, less than 1 percent of all cruise ship passengers have been affected by norovirus, however, the cruise lines encourage all people -- cruise passengers or not -- to practice good hygiene by washing one's hands frequently and thoroughly with soap and warm water.
According to Forney, cruise lines have taken a leadership role in addressing norovirus, the second most prevalent illness in the United States behind the common cold. "Cruise ships have rigorous protocols and procedures in place to manage and eradicate transmission of norovirus," Forney said. "In addition to being held to the highest sanitation standards in the world, cruise lines have worked meticulously and effectively to actually break the cycle of transmission during most cruises, which requires a lot of effort and expertise."
Rigorous procedures are in place to disinfect and sanitize public areas including door handles, railings and elevator buttons. Passengers are encouraged to wash their hands frequently and hand-sanitizers are offered on some ships. Passengers are encouraged to minimize their contact with others during the period when the illness is likely to be passed on.
"We want to educate passengers as to measures they can take to effectively prevent this temporary but uncomfortable condition," said Michael Crye, president of the ICCL. "The most preventative measure people can take is washing their hands frequently. If they are experiencing symptoms, they should follow the medical staff's recommendations to prevent the spread of illness."
Symptoms of the illness include diarrhea, vomiting and stomach cramps and may last from one to two days. The most common way of transmission is through person-to-person contact.
"ICCL member cruise lines identify the safety and well-being of their passengers and crew as their highest priority," said Crye. All ICCL member lines are part of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) Vessel Sanitation Program (VSP) and are required to report each incidence of gastrointestinal illness.
"The reason you hear about norovirus on cruise ships is because they are required to report every incidence of gastrointestinal illness," Forney said. "Nowhere else in the public health system of the United States is norovirus a reportable illness."
"Norovirus is not a cruise-ship illness, but an illness commonly seen in many settings throughout the United States," Forney noted.
For tips on how to stay healthy on your cruise vacation, more information on norovirus and proper hand washing techniques, please visit the CDC Web site at http://www.cdc.gov/ or the Vessel Sanitation Program's Web site at http://www.cdc.gov/nceh/vsp. If you are experiencing norovirus symptoms prior to your cruise, contact the cruise line prior to sailing to see if there are alternative cruising options.
The International Council of Cruise Lines (ICCL) represents the interests of 16 passenger cruise lines that call on major ports in the United States and abroad. ICCL member lines include: Carnival Cruise Lines; Celebrity Cruises; Costa Cruise Line N.V.; Crystal Cruises; Cunard Line; Disney Cruise Line; Holland America Line; NCL America; Norwegian Cruise Line; Orient Lines; Princess Cruises; Radisson Seven Seas Cruises; Royal Caribbean International; Seabourn Cruise Line, Silversea Cruises; and Windstar Cruises. These vessels account for approximately 90% of the North American passenger cruise line industry.