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Issue #003, March 25, 2014- What’s the Truth About Cruise Ship GI Outbreaks?
March 28, 2014
Dear VIP (Very Important Adventuress)

What’s the Truth About Cruise Ship GI Outbreaks?

My ex-husband, Cork Proctor, who entertained on cruise ships for 9 years, has a habit, when he unscrews the top of a beer bottle, of then wiping the top with a napkin.

He also carefully inspects knives and forks in restaurants, which he also often wipes with a wet napkin.

I always thought he was nuts—he is a comedian, after all—but now I think he might be on to something.

According the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), “cruise ships participating in the Vessel Sanitation Program (VSP) are required to report the total number of gastrointestinal (GI) illness cases evaluated by the medical staff before the ship arrives at a U.S. port, when sailing from a foreign port.”

So far this year (2014) four cruise ships have reported outbreaks of either Norovirus or “unknown origin.”

So what’s the real truth?

Cork’s theory is that there’s no virus responsible for all that vomiting and diarrhea.

He declares that it’s simply bad food handling.

Anyone who has ever worked in the food industry knows the dangers that lurk in public kitchens. It may be an employee rule, but how do you know that waiter washed his hands after he went to the bathroom?

And Dr. Philip C. Carling, a clinical professor of medicine at Boston University, says a lot of restrooms on cruise ships aren’t properly cleaned, with baby-changing tables the most often ignored.

In all fairness to the cruise industry, most likely these viral outbreaks are a combination of bad food-handling, irregular cleaning of public surfaces, and a virus brought on board by a sick passenger who—by golly—wasn’t about to cancel his vacation just because he was ill.

Here are some tips on how to keep yourself healthy on your next cruise:

- Avoid the buffet. Food that has been sitting out for a period of time is always suspect, especially if it’s a hot dish that is now lukewarm.

- Consider what dishes are being served that required a lot of handling to prepare. For instance, sauces, soups and salsas. If they are supposed to be hot, be sure they’re hot; if they’re supposed to be cold, be sure they’re well-chilled.

- Drink lots of water, but look carefully at your water glass. How clean does it look? Is there a faint lipstick mark from the previous drinker?

- Use a handiwipe to wipe off the television clicker in your cabin. These are almost never wiped down, and can carry germs from the previous passenger in your cabin or even the crew.

- Stay rested and hydrated. Your body’s natural immune system simply works better when you are well-rested. By drinking a lot of water, you can flush potential pathogens, and prevent worse symptoms from dehydration.

- Lastly and most important, wash your hands—a lot. Any time you have a large number of people in a contained area, touching railings and doors in public places, the chance that you can pick up a germ is greatly increased.

Cork does admit that in nine years of cruising several weeks out of each year, he’s never been sick. (You can read the rest of his crazy life story at My Mind Is An Open Mouth.)

Maybe those tropical island rum drinks have happy preventative benefits….

Happy cruising,


Special Note: Next Tuesday is April 1, the first day of the April A to Z Blog Challenge, which I have entered. The challenge is to take a letter of the alphabet and write about a word that begins with that letter. We begin with the letter A. Then, just for the month of April, you’ll get a short blog post from me every day with a travel theme.

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