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Cruise Ship Sickness: 3 Ways To Keep Your Family Safe

woman standing on a ship, holding the railing, looking out into the water

When you’re on a cruise, the last thing you want to do is get sick. Unfortunately, with so many people close together for so long, germs can spread like wildfire. Fortunately, you can take steps to stay healthy and have a blast on your vacation.

How to Stay Healthy on a Cruise

Here are three ways to keep your family safe from cruise ship sickness.

Look up your ship’s sanitation history

What’s one of the most common illnesses on cruise ships? Infectious gastroenteritis, an inflammation of the stomach and small and large intestines. It can be spread when cruise ship passengers touch rails, elevator buttons, and shared utensils.

Infectious gastroenteritis can be caused by bacteria, viruses and parasites. Common symptoms include:

  • Vomiting
  • Loose, watery stools or diarrhea
  • Fever
  • Stomach pain
  • Nausea

On cruise ships, norovirus is among the common causes of gastroenteritis. This illness is extremely contagious.

Make sure the ship you’ll be boarding has a clean sanitation and hygiene record...It’s a good first line of defense against norovirus and other on-board illnesses.

“The Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta contains a website where you can get the sanitation history of the vessel you’re traveling on. You get such information as associated outbreaks and health violations,” explains Stephen J. Gluckman, MD, a Penn Travel Medicine physician.

“However, be a little cautious, because this is very detailed and no ship escapes the scrutiny of the Centers for Disease Control,” Dr. Gluckman warns.

Wash your hands often to prevent cruise ship sickness

“In order to prevent any viral transmission while you’re enjoying your cruise, we suggest that you use an alcohol gel hand wash for frequent hand washing,” says John J. Stern, MD, another physician with Penn Travel Medicine. “It can keep your trip safe, healthy, and enjoyable.”

While warm water and soap are ideal for hand washing, alcohol-based gel sanitizers that are at least 60% ethanol can help prevent the spread of cruise ship sickness as well, says the CDC.

According to the CDC, you should wash your hands before:

  • Eating and/or drinking
  • Brushing your teeth
  • Helping someone who is sick

You should also wash your hands after:

  • Going to the bathroom
  • Changing diapers
  • Touching surfaces like doorknobs, elevator buttons, and railings
  • Returning to your cabin on the ship
  • Helping someone who is sick
  • Blowing your nose
infographic about cruise ships that says that approximately 22 million people go on cruises each year and over 1700 passengers and crew members had gastrointestinal illnesses in 2014

Prepare to prevent seasickness before you leave port

Seasickness is another problem you won’t want on a cruise. If you know it’s an issue you struggle with, go into your trip with a plan in place and helpful tools in your luggage—including medications, if necessary.

“If you’re prone to seasickness, there’s a drug called scopolamine,” explains Dr. Stern. “It’s placed behind the ear and very effective in preventing seasickness.”

You’ll need to see a doctor to obtain scopolamine, a prescription medication. Each patch should work for about three days.

Learn More About Cruise Ship Safety

Watch this short video featuring Dr. Gluckman to learn more about cruise ship safety.

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