Norovirus Outbreak on Your Vacation

Sick and Cruising


No one wants to spend their vacation in the bathroom. So what is with all these outbreaks on cruise ships…

norovirus_nausea_migraine_comIn 2013, there were seven norovirus outbreaks on Cruise Line International Association ( CLIA )  cruise ships reported to the CDC, involving a total of 1,238 passengers. Approximately 10.1 million passengers embarked on a CLIA) cruise ships from a U.S. port in 2012 (2013 data is not yet available). So the number of passengers suffering from a gastrointestinal illness is approximately 0.102 percent.

Don’t think you can trust or believe CLIA? The United State’s CDC’s Vessel Sanitation Program (VSP) tracks such outbreaks. Cruise ship medical staff are required to send gastrointestinal illness reports to VSP 24 to 36 hours before arriving at a U.S. port from a foreign port — even when there are no cases to report.  This is not the case for resorts or hotels anywhere inside out outside of the USA, another reason you don’t hear about them.

Separate notification must be made when 2 percent or more of the passengers or crew are ill with gastrointestinal illness. The VSP staff conducts an investigation and makes a report public when the number reaches 3 percent or more.

So, for 2013, research shows nine CDC gastrointestinal illness outbreak reports from cruise ships, affecting 1,505 passengers. Seven of those outbreaks were judged to have been by norovirus, which affected 1,321 passengers.  Yes Norovirus is the most common cruise ship outbreak offender. It spreads quickly from person to person but can also be transmitted through contaminated food or water or from contaminated surfaces.

The CDC's Vessel Sanitation Program conducts regular unannounced inspections of cruise ships. The Explorer of the Seas, the Royal Caribbean ship the had the most recent outbreak, scored a 98 out of 100 on its last surprise inspection in July 2013.  Something like this recent outbreak is not representative of an unclean ship,  said Colleen McDaniel, managing editor of It doesn't mean this particular vessel was unclean. It just means there was an outbreak on board. They ended the cruise two days early and doing a really deep cleaning of the ship. It's not likely to happen on the same ship again.

Norovirus Perspective

Let’s put Norovirus related illnesses into perspective.  The CDC says norovirus, the most common cause of acute gastroenteritis in the U.S., causes 19 million to 21 million illnesses each year. An infinitesimal percentage catches it on cruise ships, so in no way is it only a “cruise ship illness.” You can look up these statistics up yourself on the CDC’s web-site ( )


The Norovirus spreads when people are in close contact, so sure, it moves quickly on a cruise ship. But it also is easily contagious in schools, hospitals and other places where large numbers of people gather in close confines. You can get norovirus from an infected person, contaminated food or water, or by touching contaminated surfaces.   You’ve heard it before: The CDC says the best way to prevent norovirus is to wash your hands often and properly.

Doug Parker, a Travel professional who hosts Cruise Radio and Weekend Travel Show from his home base in Jacksonville, Fla., recently suffered a bout of norovirus on a cruise ship. He informed the ship’s medical team, was put in isolation in his stateroom and given a special room service menu offering white rice, broth, Jell-O, toast, bottled water and the like.  Not the vacation he panned but he did the right thing.

He started to feel human again after 48 hours of vomiting and diarrhea, but even he would not blame the cruise ship. In fact, he met a country musician shortly thereafter who cancelled a week of his tour after suffering from norovirus at a resort in Ohio.


“That just goes to show you, it’s unfair to say you can only get it on a cruise ship,” Parker said. “If you think about it, when you’re eating or staying at a hotel, you don’t know who was in the room before you. I think it’s easier to blame the cruise lines, especially after all they’ve gone through past couple of years. But it’s not fun; I don’t wish it on anybody.”

Another important thing to remember is if you are not feeling well whether it is at home, in public place, or going on a all-inclusive vacation or cruise, to isolate yourself, or don’t go.  Travel Insurance can protect your investment if you remembered to purchase it and it can save hundreds of others from getting sick because you decided to that attitude of “ I paid for this vacation, I’m going to tough it out and go anyways”

People have to understand this is the stomach flu. It sound mean and dismissive but they have to understand…  I have to wash my hands and not stick my tongue on a railing, and I should be OK?’  Yes It sounds funny but it’s that’s all there really is. The most important thing to do is to better educated on what norovirus is, how to prevent it, and that this is not a cruise-borne illness, It’s an everywhere illness.

Combating The Norovirus

Hygiene is extremely important when outbreaks occur anywhere. Proper hand-washing, avoiding contact with ill person and direct contact with public surfaces such as restroom door handles can help stem the spread of highly contagious illness.  Get the CDC  health tips for cruisers from there website, and remember much can apply to resorts & hotel stays as well as air travel... and places in your own community..

Wise word from avid cruiser Marcy Webster and her husband won't be changing their plans for an upcoming sailing on Royal Caribbean's Allure of the Seas.  "It is not the cruise line's fault. It is a passenger who came onboard sick and spread the virus everywhere. On every cruise I have been on, the crew is diligent in keeping things clean and making passengers use hand sanitizer," Webster, of Keller, Texas, wrote in an e-mail.  "Bad things happen. If you stop your life for fear of what could be, you never experience anything."

So yes, the threat of illness is real. Yet the number of reported outbreaks among thousands of annual sailings has ranged in recent years from less than a dozen affected sailings to about three dozen.  So No Cruise ships are not floating Petri dishes of disease.

The Bottom line: More people are getting sick on land, Sea, in the Air, Far Away and at home.
(Granted, that's little comfort if you're vomiting violently on your vacation... Hope you feel better soon)


The Staff at Latitudes Travel hope this helps you all to understand this issue better and travel more safely.

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Sources for this story Include: CNN, Travel Pulse, Travel Weekly, The CDC, and Travel Professionals

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