Attack of the Norovirus!

The cruise industry this Christmas season has been ravaged by the nasty Norovirus bug. Reports have come in regarding outbreaks on Cunard’s Queen Mary 2, P&O’s Oriana and Princess Cruise’s Emerald Princess just to name a few.

According to Health Protection Agency (HPA), Norovirus cases this year are up by 72% compared to this time last year. With numbers like those, it’s estimated that Britain has already seen 1 million or more of the population affected by the virus this winter alone. For a more detailed explanation on the science behind Norovirus and how quickly it can spread, we like this article from science writer Carl Zimmer writing for National Geographic.

I’ve already fought the bug myself once in November. I was out for a whole week with what can only be described as “death on two legs”. I was spending so much time in the bathroom, I was considering sleeping in the tub to save time on the continual dashes to the toilet. It’s horrible and second only to the common cold in most frequently caught bugs.

Bar none, Norovirus is a large inconvenience at the best of times. To have the worst of the virus’ symptoms (vomiting and diarrhoea, for the uninitiated) run their course in 2-3 days is seen as a blessing. If you can escape a Norovirus outbreak unscathed, you’ve been anointed with beautiful genes and I’d like to talk to you about donating your DNA for research.

Regardless, the fact is this: Norovirus is so unbelievably contagious, vacation destinations, especially cruise ships, are under a microscope for cleanliness, and rightly so!

Cruise ships are under increased scrutiny because the ones participating in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Vessel Sanitation Program are required to report any outbreaks affecting over 2% of the crew and passenger head count. Any reputable cruise line takes part in the program, so you can rest easy if you’ve booked a trip with one.

In any place where you have a lot of people in tight spaces sharing food (buffets, anyone?) and touching public surfaces with hands they may or may have not washed after that last trip to the restroom (ew!), you have a recipe for a viral outbreak of any kind, really. You just hear about cruise ships more because they are obligated to report sicknesses, whilst resorts and amusement parks are not.

With that said, I certainly don’t mean to stir up any anti-cruise sentiment. I once have travelled on a cruise when a Norovirus outbreak was present. The cruise line alerted passengers of the potential for another outbreak as the ship had carried infected passengers and crew on the trip prior. Before embarking, passengers were given the option of getting a full refund and returning home if they wished.

My family and I pressed on and none of us caught anything but some sun on the pool deck. We heard of people being confined to their rooms if they thought they came down with something and you weren’t allowed to serve yourself at the buffet. Other than that, we weren’t bothered one bit. The pools were open, the sun shining, the alcohol flowing.

Ultimately, when you look at the percentages - 204 of 2,613 (7.81%) passengers on the current Queen Mary cruise – your risk of catching something is low. Cruise lines and the CDC are meticulous in nipping the spread of any type of infection, but there is always a small risk of someone getting something.

If you have a cruise coming up in the near future, how can you protect yourself from catching it?

First, personal hygiene is paramount. Washing your hands thoroughly and often can help. Packing a bottle of disinfectant spray such as Dettol can also assist in killing off the virus on common surfaces in your room (bathroom, doorknobs) or on the ship. Although, at the risk of looking slightly mental, Dettol wipes might be more discreet for use in public.

Most importantly, avoid sharing food, drink, eating utensils or even glasses with ANY of your travel companions. Exercising extreme caution can make or break your success in beating Norovirus.

If you do catch Norovirus on your cruise, are you entitled to compensation?

Usually, cruise lines will only offer some sort of partial reimbursement or refund if the ship’s trip has been altered in any way due to an outbreak. Of course, to be 100% sure you’re entitled to one penny, you should always check the fine print on your tickets or contract to ensure this is the case. You might be entitled to nil.

Lastly, almost all travel insurance does NOT cover you in the event of sickness whilst your cruise is taking place. If there is an insurance company that offers this type of coverage, we’d love to hear about it.

If you do get sick prior to embarking and you have to cancel your plans because of it, you may be entitled to compensation. Again, and we can’t stress this enough: ALWAYS read the fine print before you purchase any travel insurance to be absolutely certain as to what rights you have.

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