Cruises are a popular way to travel because they’re relatively stress-free. You can just sit back, sip on a daiquiri, and enjoy watching the endless hypnotic movement of the ocean’s tide from the ship’s deck.
Thirty million passengers are expected to travel by cruise in 2019, according to the Cruise Lines International Association, Inc. However, despite all of the fun that a cruise ship promises, there are some drawbacks.
Hundreds of passengers contracted the norovirus stomach flu while traveling on the Royal Caribbean International’s ship, Oasis of the Seas, in January 2019. And it’s not hard to imagine why so many people got sick.
Thousands of people are touching the same handrails, buffet utensils, bathroom door handles and elevator buttons. Once someone is infected with this hyper-contagious stomach flu, it’s easy to pass it on. People with the virus can shed billions of norovirus particles, and it only takes a few of those particles to infect another person.
The Oasis of the Seas’ contained quarters was the perfect recipe for the norovirus to spread rapidly, infecting 561 of 6,285 passengers and 31 of 2,169 crewmembers.
Known as the “cruise ship virus,” norovirus accounts for 90 percent of diarrheal outbreaks on cruise ships. It’s not only the close living quarters that breed this fast-spreading illness, but it’s also coming and going of passengers on and off the ship.
When passengers go ashore, they can become infected with the illness and bring it back to the cruise ship. In addition, the norovirus doesn’t leave the ship with the passengers. The norovirus can contaminate surfaces on the cruise ship and infect a new round of passengers.
The norovirus can persist on surfaces and is resistant to common disinfectants. So even after passengers leave, and crewmembers disinfect the ship, the virus can remain and infect the new oncoming passengers.
The Oasis of the Seas was set to embark on a journey to Mexico and then through the Caribbean Sea to Haiti and Jamaica. However, because of the rapid spread of the norovirus, passengers were not allowed off of the ship in Jamaica for fear of future infection.
The Oasis of the Seas returned to Port Canaveral, Florida a day earlier than scheduled because the norovirus was spreading so rapidly on the ship. Hundreds of vacations were ruined for those who contracted the norovirus and the remaining were cut short for those who didn’t contract the virus.
This was a real blow, especially financially, for those passengers who had planned and saved for months in advance for a tropical getaway.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) runs the Vessel Sanitation Program (VSP) to help curb the spread of the norovirus and other gastrointestinal illnesses. The VSP also performs unannounced operation sanitation inspections to make sure the ship is in tiptop shape.
The VSP inspects ships with more than 13 people and a foreign itinerary including ports in the United States in and provides a service for passengers to look at a cruise’s inspection score before booking a trip. The top score is 100, which is excellent. Any score below 85 is considered unsatisfactory.
Passengers can also investigate a cruise ship before booking travel to check for any recent outbreaks. The VSP requires cruise lines that are sailing from a foreign port to an American port to document if any outbreaks occurred on the ship within 24 hours before the ship docks at its port.
But remember, just because a ship has a good score doesn’t mean you won’t be infected with the norovirus illness. There have been reports of the norovirus on ships that had near-perfect scores.
Passengers should always take appropriate measures to keep from getting sick. First, passengers should wash their hands frequently, especially before and after eating. Passengers should try to keep their hands away from their mouths and should stay away from any food or water that could be contaminated.
If you notice someone is ill, you should leave the area and alert a crewmember. Passengers should stay in their room if an illness is reported and wait for the area to be sanitized. Yes, it takes away some of the fun of the cruise ship, but if you’re already on board, it’s better to be safe than sorry.
Also, before you board a cruise ship, take the time to look at the cruise line’s medical accommodations. Cruise ships are required to have at least one medical professional available at all times. All ships that hold 250 or more passengers have overnight accommodations.
If the ship comes to an American port, then an examination room, an intensive care room, and lab processing equipment are also required. But there are some major drawbacks to being out at sea without an actual hospital nearby.
First, the cruise ship doctors are not usually specialists. So, if you should need special care, there’s a good likelihood that you won’t be able to receive it. Before you book a cruise, you should call your healthcare insurer to find out if you are covered for offshore medical issues.
Also, it might be smart to purchase travel insurance. If you become seriously ill, you may need an emergency medical evacuation, which can be very costly. Remember that you can purchase insurance from an independent company instead of the cruise line itself and possibly save some money.
Contact Louis A. Vucci P.A. For Help If You’ve Experienced A Cruise Ship Accident
At Louis A. Vucci P.A., we were disappointed to find out about the hundreds of norovirus cases on the Oasis of the Seas. We believe that cruise lines should take all of the precautions necessary to prevent all types of illness while they are at sea.
Contact us today if you or someone you know contracted an illness while at sea on a cruise ship. You may be entitled to compensation for the physical, emotional, or financial losses you experienced while being on a cruise ship. Please contact us at (786) 375-0344 today for a free and confidential consultation. You also can reach out to us online.