Confining thousands of people to a relatively small space for days or even weeks at a time is seldom conducive to a sanitary environment. Despite this fact, more than 9 million Americans, many of them hailing from Florida, Texas, and California, boarded cruise ships for vacations in 2009, according to the Cruise Lines International Associations 2010 Market Overview. Most of the voyages were completed without incident; however, an alarmingly high number were beset with outbreaks of infectious diseases, explains an attorney. While some only suffered flu-like symptoms, the consequences were far more personally injurious for others, including hospitalization and even death.
A little over a year ago, 350 people on the Celebrity Cruise ship the Mercury fell ill, the majority of them complaining of upset stomachs, vomiting, and diarrhea. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, CDC, later confirmed what crewmembers had suspected: a Norovirus outbreak. An infectious disease commonly spread in small areas, such as nursing homes, restaurants, and cruise ships, Noroviruses are a group of related viruses that cause acute gastroenteritis in humans. People infected with the virus can spread it through direct physical contact like shaking hands or indirect, such as by touching surfaces. The virus can also be spread through food or drinks.
What is more disturbing is the fact that this was not the only outbreak to occur on the Mercury that year. The CDC collects information on the incidence of gastrointestinal (GI) illnesses on cruise ships for its Vessel Sanitation Program. In 2010, the CDC recorded a total of 14 outbreaks. Celebrity Cruise ships accounted for 4 of the incidents, 3 of which occurred on the Mercury.
In 2011, the CDC has recorded 5 outbreaks, though not all have been confirmed as Norovirus. Once again, Celebrity Cruises accounted for one of the incidents, only this time it occurred on its ship the Solstice. 118 of the 2,839 passengers became ill, and, according to one family, one of the passengers died. Recently, the children of Joseph Thomas Gavigan Jr. filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Celebrity Cruises, alleging that he died from the infection.
Prior to selecting a cruise line for your next vacation, you may want to check the results of its past sanitation inspections to prevent the injurious consequences of catching an infectious disease. The CDC publishes the reports of all cruise ships it inspects at , according to an attorney in California. However, even if a ship has scored well for cleanliness, it is still a confined public space susceptible to the spread of viruses and bacteria. One of the simplest preventative measures you can take is to wash your hands often and well.