The number of gastrointestinal illness (GI) outbreaks, including norovirus and Enterotoxigenic E. coli, on cruise ships fell to the lowest level in 14 years in 2014.
The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) website contains detailed reports about the outbreaks on cruise ships from 1994 to 2015. The CDC considers it an outbreak anytime 3% or more of the passengers and crew members report diarrheal symptoms onboard a vessel of at least 100 passengers on sailings that are 3 days or longer.
There were nine reported outbreaks of GI on 7 different cruise ships in 2014, tying 2013 with the lowest number of outbreaks since 2001. When you take into consideration that the number of cruise ships is at a record high, this past year saw the lowest percentage of outbreaks on cruise ships since 2001.
Cruise lines are required to report to the CDC anytime the GI illness count of the passengers and crew members exceed 2%, although it is not considered an outbreak unless the number crosses the 3% threshold.
The number of reported norovirus/gastrointestinal illness outbreaks on cruise ships are as follows from 2001-2014. For a complete list of the cruise ships that had outbreaks, visit the CDC Vessel Sanitation Program.
2014 – 9
2013 – 9
2012 – 16
2011 – 14
2010 – 14
2009 – 15
2008 – 15
2007 – 21
2006 – 33
2005 – 16
2004 – 32
2003 – 24
2002 – 21
2001 – 4
Illnesses like the norovirus are easily spread in areas where there are a large amount of people confined to a small area. While many members of the media like to refer to the norovirus as a “cruise ship illness”, it is just as easily spread in schools, dormitories, daycare centers, prisons, hospitals, and long term care facilities.
The CDC estimates that 19-21 million people in the U.S. each year get infected with the norovirus.
The best way for cruisers to protect themselves from illnesses like the norovirus is to practice proper hand hygiene. While using an alcohol based santizer does reduced the number of germs, it is not a substitute for thoroughly washing your hands with water and soap. Hands should be washed with water and soap after using the bathroom, changing diapers, and before eating and preparing food.
If a cruise passenger begins to show symptoms of the norovirus, they will be confined to their stateroom until the symptoms go away. This is to keep the sickness from spreading to other passengers. The norovirus typically lasts between 48-72 hours.