Here’s Why You’ve Probably Heard of People Getting Sick on Cruise Ships

Cruise Port in St. Maarten

Cruises are packed with people. | fallbrook/iStock/Getty Images

What is up with people getting sick on cruises? So many have gotten ill lately with highly contagious gastrointestinal illnesses — such as norovirus — that it’s scary. For example, in December 2017 alone, there were two incidents aboard Royal Caribbean cruises that involved hundreds of passengers getting sick. What a terrible way to spend a vacation.

Read on to find out why you hear about so many people getting sick on cruise ships. While you’re at it, learn how to avoid getting sick on the high sea yourself if you take a cruise.

1. More people are cruising

One reason you’ve likely heard about people getting sick on cruises, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is because in the past nearly two decades, more people are taking cruises. And noroviruses, which spread easily from person to person, have hit cruise ships hard because they put so many people in such close quarters.

Next: Breaking news

2. The media

The world's largest ocean liner, the 'Liberty of the Seas' arrives at the Port of Southampton

The media sometimes overstates disease outbreaks on cruises. | Bruno Vincent/Getty Images

Another reason you’ve heard so much about cruise ship disease outbreaks is because the ship must divulge it if at least 3% of the people onboard report symptoms to medical staff. The CDC’s vessel sanitation program includes a website through which it can track all reported cruise ship outbreaks, according to The Daily Beast. Once the media gets ahold of that kind of information it spreads like wildfire, much like the disease itself.

Next: Noroviruses are nasty.

3. Noroviruses spread fast

MS Europa 2, a cruise ship operated by Hapag-Lloyd Cruises

It’s a serious concern for passengers. | Birute Vijeikiene/iStock/Getty Images

Noroviruses are highly contagious — and very unpleasant. A gastrointestinal illness includes symptoms such as fever, nausea, stomach cramps, vomiting, muscle aches, and watery diarrhea, according to the CDC. And the causes can be bacterial, viral, or parasitic. Aboard a ship the virus can spread like nobody’s business.

Next: Stay away from the buffet.

4. The buffets can be culprits

Cuisine Culinary Buffet Dinner Catering Dining Food Celebration

Who knows where those utensils have been? | Jure/iStock/Getty Images

Because a cruise ship’s kitchen must feed hundreds of passengers, ships often serve buffet-style meals. If the virus enters food it will spread really rapidly. Buffet-style meals can often sit out for hours, which makes them a natural target for the virus. Stay away from the buffet, and make a reservation instead.

Next: Keep your hands to yourself.

5. Don’t touch anything

Friends enjoying sunset on cruise

You might want to keep your hands off the railings, too. | Michaeljung/iStock/Getty Images

One way to avoid getting a norovirus onboard is to try not to touch things that other people have been manhandling. Think bathroom doors, railings, that type of thing. If you have to touch them, use a towel — seriously.

Next: Keep it clean.

6. Wash your hands

Person washing their hands

Keep germs at bay by washing up often. |

Another way to avoid getting sick on a cruise ship is to wash your hands — often and thoroughly, according to the CDC. Particularly when you’re eating, drinking, smoking, or using the bathroom, it’s essential you wash your hands. Just make sure to take some hand cream for when they get chapped.

Next: Get it while it’s hot.

7. Eat your food at the proper temperature

Orange Glow Sunset from the Cruise Ship Dining Deck

Don’t let the view distract you from lukewarm food. | Simplyphotos/iStock/Getty Images

Don’t ever eat cruise ship food that’s tepid. If it’s a hot dish, make sure you eat it when it’s hot — and if it’s a cold dish, don’t let it sit. Tepid food has typically been sitting out for some time, which leaves it wide open for contamination.

Next: Plastic, not glass

8. Replace your glass with a plastic cup

Boy Drinking From a Paper Cup

It’s not the most eco-friendly, but it’ll keep you safe. |

Although this tip isn’t exactly “green,” it might help you enjoy your cruise — and not get sick on it. Instead of using real drinking glasses, try plastic cups. You can throw them away when you’re finished and not worry about them picking up those nasty noroviruses.

Next: This will make you feel better.

9. Request a refund

Workers and crew members gather during the delivery ceremony of the MSC Meraviglia cruise ship

Don’t be afraid to speak up to the crew. | Jean-Sebastien Evrard/AFP/Getty Images

If you do get wicked sick on a cruise, speak up. Report it to the crew. When you get back home, call the cruise line and ask for a refund. Although cruise lines aren’t required to give sick passengers refunds, according to Cruise Critic, you have a good chance of getting one if there is an outbreak on the ship.

Read more: The Absolute Worst Cruises You Shouldn’t Waste Your Money On

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