Cruise Ship Illness: How to Protect Yourself

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Wherever there are large groups of people, there is the potential for any contagious disease to spread. This is true on cruise ships, and different outbreaks of norovirus, influenza, coronaviruses, salmonella, rhinoviruses, and other quick-spreading diseases do occasionally happen among cruise ships passengers and crew.

This does not mean that cruise ships are any more dangerous than land-based gatherings, however, and there are many easy steps you can take to protect yourself from illness while on a cruise.

Diseases on Cruise Ships – Why We Hear About Them More

Because a cruise ship keeps a group of people – the passengers and crew members – in a confined space for several days, conditions are easy for a contagious disease to spread.

During the length of a cruise vacation, a disease has the opportunity to incubate and symptoms can appear in newly affected individuals. This makes diseases on cruise ships more easily noticeable and traceable than in other areas.

For example, if several hundred people on an aircraft were exposed to a virus or bacteria, they may indeed become infected with the illness during the several hours of their shared flight.

After that flight ends, however, the passengers quickly disperse, perhaps taking other flights, continuing to travel via other means, or simply going home or to different vacation spots.

If, several days later, many of those passengers have become ill, it is nearly impossible to tell where each person may have contracted the illness. Therefore, it’s impossible to report whether or not all of those travelers were part of an outbreak on the aircraft.

Disease outbreaks occur in many different places where groups can be exposed to potential pathogens, including churches, schools, theme parks, movie theaters, shopping centers, sporting events, workplaces, and more. But like an aircraft infection, the infected individuals disperse quickly and tracking contagion is much more challenging.

Related: 10 Reasons Why Cruise Ships Are Not Floating Petri Dishes

On a cruise ship, however, outbreaks are much more visible and tend to make headlines. This gives the impression that cruise ships are more susceptible to disease outbreaks, but this is not true.

Protecting Yourself From Illnesses on a Cruise

No one wants to get sick on vacation, and there are plenty of easy steps to protect yourself on a cruise and reduce the risk of contracting an infection.

First, long before the cruise sets sail, take steps to stay healthy. This includes eating a healthy diet, getting enough sleep, and exercising appropriately before the cruise.

World Dream Under Quarantine

Take any necessary vitamins and medications as prescribed, and stay hydrated to improve body function. These simple steps will keep your body healthier as your cruise approaches, and a healthy body is better able to resist disease infection even if exposed to the illness.

Once the cruise begins, it is easy to minimize your risk of contagion. Consider bringing along a travel-size packet of sanitizing wipes, and use them in your cabin to quickly disinfect handles, surfaces, remotes, switches, and other high-touch surfaces. Don’t forget surfaces like the telephone, hair dryer, and balcony railing as well.

Also Read: How to Social Distance Effectively on a Cruise?

When you’re out and about on the ship, minimize the surfaces you touch to minimize your contact with potential germs. Instead of fingertips, for example, use a knuckle to press elevator buttons (your fingertip is far more likely to transfer germs when you itch your eyes or touch your face).

Instead of running your hand along stair railings, hover your hand above the railing in case you need to grab ahold of it for balance, or use the back of your hand for balance instead.

If possible, avoid using public restrooms on a cruise ship, and instead return to your cabin to use the restroom. If you must use public restrooms, use a tissue on the door handle, and of course, always wash your hands thoroughly, with warm water and soap, scrubbing for at least 20 seconds.

Cruise ship buffet lines are high touch spaces and are often crowded, making them ideal situations for spreading illness. If you do enjoy the buffet, consider eating when crowds are lower and there is more space available. Use a napkin or tissue to touch serving tool handles rather than your bare hands, and use hand sanitizer liberally before eating.

Carnival Cruise Line Passengers
Photo By: Russell Otway

Different onboard events can draw huge crowds, including dance parties, revue shows, karaoke contests, comedy presentations, and other activities. You don’t need to avoid these events to protect yourself from illness, but it can be a good idea to stay on the fringes of crowds.

This will minimize your contact with greater numbers of people to reduce the risk of disease transmission.

Practicing healthy habits onboard is also critical to staying healthy during your cruise vacation. Avoid dramatic overindulgence, which can lower your inhibitions and lead to riskier behavior, as well as make your body more susceptible to pathogens.

Get enough sleep and enjoy fresh air whenever possible, and wash your hands frequently throughout the day.

Cruise Ship Illness Happens

Even with all possible precautions, you may still feel sick during your cruise vacation. Pack along appropriate medications to deal with minor ailments – nausea, diarrhea, fever, cough – so you can treat yourself as needed.

If you do get sick, seek medical attention, particularly for severe symptoms that may indicate a more serious ailment. Furthermore, it is best to stay isolated in your cabin if you’re feeling ill, not only to give yourself time to recuperate, but also to avoid contaminating others.

This will help the crew take appropriate precautions to keep any illness from spreading throughout the ship, and will ensure you get proper care to get well as quickly as possible.

Worth Reading: Ways to Enjoy Cruising When You Can’t Take a Cruise

Illnesses are a natural part of any group population, even on a cruise ship. If you do get sick, it isn’t the fault of the cruise ship or crew, as there are many health and sanitation protocols in place to keep cruise ships as clean and healthy as possible.

By taking steps to protect yourself from illness, you minimize your risk of getting sick on a cruise vacation and you can enjoy every moment of your oceangoing getaway.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Melissa Mayntz
Melissa Mayntz
Avid, enthusiastic cruiser (35+ cruises and counting!), having sailed on multiple cruise lines, 25+ different ships in a variety of classes, and visited ports of call in more than 6 countries, including Caribbean, Mexican, Alaskan, and Hawaiian ports. Widely traveled on multiple continents and homeported from Port Canaveral, as well as a professional freelance writer and editor with more than 20 years' experience and thousands of articles published. Find out more about us here.


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