Norovirus, the infamous “cruise bug,” appears to have struck again. This time, it has taken quite a number of victims. According to news reports, more than 180 people aboard Royal Caribbean’s Explorer of the Seas ship showed signs of the gastrointestinal disease. Victims include both passengers and crew members.
By the time Explorer of the Seas docked in Sydney, Australia on Wednesday morning,182 people were suffering from Norovirus symptoms. Royal notified the South Eastern Sydney Local Health District of the outbreak before docking, so paramedics were already waiting with ambulances and paramedics at the terminal to help victims. Luckily, no cruise passengers had to be hospitalized.
However, more passengers are expected to board the ship before it departs from Sydney. This could mean that an additional number of people will come down with the stomach virus.
According to a spokesperson from the Health Department, Explorer of the Seas will be thoroughly cleaned to minimize the chances that anyone else will get infected. But is this enough?
As our maritime lawyers can tell you, Norovirus is notorious for spreading quickly and easily in confined spaces. And what’s more confined than a cruise ship?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) explains that Norovirus is highly contagious and is spread in several ways, such as by eating or drinking contaminated foods or liquids, touching surfaces that have been infected and then touching your mouth or nose, as well as sharing eating utensils. Furthermore, according to a CDC study back in August, Norovirus can be airborne in certain circumstances. If a person who is infected vomits, virus particles can be released into the air and those who come in contact with these particles may contract the virus.
The tricky part about Norovirus is that many people who are infected may not even realize it because they don’t yet show symptoms. So, despite the cruise ship being cleaned, there’s no way to completely sanitize the vessel until everyone has disembarked. There are undoubtedly going to be a number of people who are still harboring the virus and able to transmit it.
It would have been wise for Royal Caribbean to cancel further boarding of the ship until all whom were previously on board had disembarked and the CDC had thoroughly inspected and sanitized the vessel. We wouldn’t be too surprised if additional passengers or crew became sick with Norovirus by the time Explorer of the Seas finished its itinerary.
To minimize the risk of getting sick, passengers should do their best to stay away from the buffet area, where infected persons may come in contact with the open food. It is also wise to request disposable plastic utensils instead of using the silverware offered by the cruise line. In addition, passengers should wash their hands frequently, avoid touching railings, knobs, and handles, and use hand sanitizer throughout the day. Clothing can also get contaminated with Norovirus particles, so it’s a good idea to wash your clothing if the ship provides laundromats or at the very least, refrain from using the same clothing twice.