Gastrointestinal illness outbreaks on cruise ships are at a 18 year low so far in 2019 with five outbreak cases reported in the first seven months of the year according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
Out of those five outbreaks, four have been confirmed as a norovirus outbreak and one is unknown. Even though norovirus has been unfairly given the description of the “cruise ship illness”, the number of outbreaks is at the lowest point since 2001. One important fact to keep in mind is that cruise capacity has more than tripled since the turn of the century. Nearly 30 million people will take a cruise in 2019 while just under 10 million took a cruise in 2001. This means that the percentage of outbreaks on cruises is at the lowest point since the CDC began publishing outbreaks in 1994.
Number of G.I. Outbreaks on cruise ships through the first seven months of the year since 2000:
- 2019 – 5
- 2018 – 7
- 2017 – 7
- 2016 – 11
- 2015 – 9
- 2014 – 8
- 2013 – 7
- 2012 – 8
- 2011 – 9
- 2010 – 10
- 2009 – 11
- 2008 – 9
- 2007 – 16
- 2006 – 19
- 2005 – 16
- 2004 – 25
- 2003 – 16
- 2002 – 8
- 2001 – 2
- 2000 – 6
Why does it seem to always make the news when a cruise does have an outbreak? The cruise industry is required to report to the CDC anytime the illness count exceeds 2% of the total number of passengers/crew members on board.
However if the number exceeds 3%, it is labeled as an outbreak if it meets the following criteria:
- Fall within the purview of the VSP (Vessel Sanitation Program)
- Voyages from 3-21 days in length
- 100 or more passengers
- Cruise ships in which 3% or more of passengers or crew reported symptoms of diarrheal disease to the ships medical staff during the voyage.
A list of outbreaks on cruise ships since 1994 can be found on the CDC’s website.
Illnesses like norovirus can spread quickly in any place where there are a lot of people confined to a small space. This includes dorm rooms, day cares, hospitals, and schools.
The best way to protect yourself is to practice proper hand hygiene. While alcohol based hand sanitizers can used in addition to hand washing, they should never be a substitute.
Cruise lines have begun to take more preventative measure to prevent illness outbreaks on cruise ships. Most new cruise ships have hand washing stations at the entrances to the buffet. Royal Caribbean even sets up a queue on new ships directing everyone who enters their Windjammer Buffet to the hand washing stations.
Holland America Line now offers service at the buffet on some of their newer cruise ships and they are no longer “self serve”.
Even though Carnival Cruise Line carries more guests each year than any other cruise line, they have had only one norovirus outbreak since 2012.
As they sing on Norwegian cruise ships, the best way to keep yourself healthy is “Washy Washy”.