Cruise Ship Disease Outbreaks That Can Totally Ruin Your Vacation

Going on a cruise is the ultimate getaway. Honeymooners and families alike will escape their average lives and set sail for seemingly unlimited paradise. That is, until you suddenly notice your stomach doesn’t feel quite right or your nose is starting to run. Fantasy trip, over.

Picking up a disease on a cruise ship is unfortunately common, so taking preventative measures is a serious requirement. The next time you’re thinking of a cruise, consider these seven terrifying diseases.

1. Rubella (German measles)

Sick man with thermometer in mouth

Yes, you can pick up measles from a cruise ship. | iStock.com/IPGGutenbergUKLtd

Cruise ships see a lot of different parts of the world. That includes the crew members and travelers. Outbreaks of rubella, or German measles, have become more common on cruise ships, as other countries may not require routine vaccinations for the disease.

In adults, symptoms include “mild illness, with low-grade fever, sore throat, and a rash that starts on the face and spreads to the rest of the body,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Other symptoms could include “a headache, pink eye, and general discomfort before the rash appears.”

Ensure your party is up-to-date on all vaccines to prevent measles, mumps, and rubella.

2. Norovirus

Side view of sick woman having coffee

The perfect way to ruin your vacation. | iStock.com/IPGGutenbergUKLtd

If you’re trying to relax on vacation, norovirus is probably the last disease you want to pick up. Though the symptoms tend to only last for 24 hours, those 24 hours will probably be spent in the bathroom. Norovirus causes a bad case of vomiting and diarrhea, so make sure you take precautions when touching pretty much anything. That includes when using the bathroom, changing a diaper, or even touching your own face. Avoid using your hands when you can, but for the moments you can’t avoid, wash your hands with soap and water afterward.

3. E. coli

Woman blowing her nose.

Watch out for the swimming pool. | Sam Edwards/OJO Images/Getty Images

Chances are your cruise ship will have a swimming pool. We’d recommend dipping your toes in at most, as you’re pretty much asking to pick up something in that type of environment. E. coli can be contracted from either swimming pools or contaminated drinking water, so be wary of both. If crew members don’t regularly add the necessary chemicals to the pool to keep it free from contamination, a problem may arise. E. coli could start out with a colonic eruption and cause pathogens to affect anyone in its path.

4. Vector-borne diseases

Carnival cruise ship

Your ship is filled with bacteria. | Paul McConnell/U.S. Coast Guard via Getty Images

Depending on where your cruise ship is headed, you may need to take specific action in preventing vector-borne diseases. This may include malaria, dengue, yellow fever, Japanese encephalitis, or Zika, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Avoid mosquito bites by using insect repellent and treating your clothing and other items with permethrin. If you’re inside during your visit to a country where vector-borne diseases are endemic, make sure the area is sufficiently screened and air-conditioned. When outdoors, wear clothing that will cover all parts of your body, including long sleeves and pants.

If you’re heading to sub-Saharan Africa or tropical South America, make it a priority to receive a vaccination for yellow fever prior to your trip.

5. Respiratory diseases

Smiling young woman on cruise

It would be wise to get vaccinated before setting off on your vacation. | michaeljung/iStock/Getty Images

If we haven’t told you enough already, be sure to vaccinate for all possible diseases you could pick up on your cruise. Respiratory diseases are super common, so a flu shot should be on your preparation checklist. While on your cruise, follow the standard procedures (which you should be following anyway), including washing your hands and coughing or sneezing into a tissue or your arm, rather than your hand. You don’t want to be the reason someone else gets sick, either.

6. Legionnaires’ disease

Sick woman cough in bed under blanket

This disease is rare, but it has happened. | iStock.com/samotrebizan

While Legionnaires’ disease is not particularly common on cruise ships, it has occurred in rare cases. It is definitely a disease to be aware of, as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warn that it is a “treatable infection that can result in severe pneumonia leading to death.”

Cruise ship hot tubs contaminated with Legionella organisms are the most common causes of outbreaks. The disease will usually begin with a headache, muscle pain, chills, and fever, but will progressively get worse with a cough, shortness of breath, chest pains, or confusion. If you have any suspicion that you may have picked up Legionnaires’ disease, urine antigen testing is available on most cruise ships.

7. Foodborne diseases

Cuisine Culinary Buffet Dinner Catering Dining Food Celebration

Be wary of the buffet. | jure/Getty Images

Take special precautions with what you consume. Over 250 foodborne diseases exist, so when you’re eating foreign foods that your body isn’t used to, be aware of bacteria, viruses, or parasites that may find their way into your stomach.

As a rule of thumb, only eat hot, cooked food, drink bottled beverages, and always ask for no ice. You’ll be better off in preventing nausea, vomiting, cramps, and diarrhea, which are symptoms you probably want to avoid while enjoying your cruise.

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