Cruise Health: Avoiding Norovirus – The Travel Pharmacist

Thinking of going on a cruise? I’m sure you’ve heard all of the horror stories. The dreaded Norovirus Illness – scourge of cruise ship passengers all around the world! Travelers are afraid – and with good reason. Who wants to waste precious (and costly) vacation time feeling as though you’d rather die than face the buffet line? Cruise ship cabins come with many amenities, but spending time getting intimately acquainted with the bathroom isn’t anyone’s idea of a good vacation.

Where do you find norovirus?

So how can you avoid the norovirus illness and concentrate on enjoying your fabulous cruise? First, let’s understand more about what CAUSES norovirus illness. Norovirus is not just one, but a group of viruses, any one of which can cause symptoms. You’ll also hear norovirus illness referred to as stomach flu, gastroenteritis, or food poisoning. Whatever it’s called, this highly contagious bug is NOT a pleasant souvenir of your travels.

Here’s the yucky part. This virus is found in feces and vomit of an infected individual. It’s very contagious and spreads from person to person through contact with food or liquids that have in some way touched the virus. Unclean surfaces and unwashed foods are the first things to avoid. Direct contact with an infected person is another sure way to guarantee quality time in the toilet.

Symptoms typically appear within 1-2 days after ingestion of the virus and can include all sorts of unpleasantness like nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, stomach cramps, low grade fever, chills, headache and general tiredness. Though the worst possible effect of this illness is dehydration, especially for young children and the elderly. The good news (if there is any) is that it will usually run its course completely in about 3 days. Something important to remember – people who have norovirus illness are contagious from the moment they begin to show symptoms.

TREATMENT for norovirus illness consists of taking care of the symptoms, as there is NO vaccine to prevent it from happening in the first place or no treatment to make it go faster. As with any illness with nausea and vomiting, the important thing is to keep hydrated. Pounding Gatorade, Pedialyte and other electrolyte replacement drinks are the most important thing you can do. Be sure to drink enough fluids to keep the urine clear or pale yellow – this will ensure you’re getting enough for the body to function properly. Stay away from sugar-free drinks and alcohol until you’re feeling better.

Avoiding norovirus

So now you know all about how the norovirus illness is spread and what to do if you come in contact with it – but let’s go into more detail of how to AVOID IT in the first place. The best way to keep this virus far away from your travels is to make your body a super virus-fighter. Staying healthy on the road requires a lot of work, but if your body has good defenses to fight the norovirus illness before you’re exposed, you stand a much better chance of making this as unpleasant as possible. Eat clean and arm your body well before the cruise. Your cruise health is in your hands – so wash them carefully.

* Frequent washing of the hands, especially after using the toilet or changing diapers is a must. Keeping antibacterial gels handy is good for general germ fighting, but unfortunately won’t have any effect on the norovirus.

* When washing your hands, be sure to take off your ring(s). Bacteria and viruses can hide under rings and make an appearance just when you’ve sure your hands are clean.

* Carefully wash all fruits and vegetables, as this is one way the virus enters the body. Cruise ships are typically using a mild bleach mixture to wash all produce before it’s served, but if you’re buying in port, be sure to wash thoroughly.

* Avoid raw shellfish, as the virus can also be spread this way as well. Cook the oysters and stay healthy.

* Don’t prepare food for others while infected or for at least 3 days after. Let them take care of you!

* Keep the hands away from the mouth and nose if at all possible, especially when eating. Easier said than done with the younger set, but if you keep in mind the benefits of not being sick, it makes this task much easier.

Here’s to a wonderful cruise and may all you bring back are wonderful memories and tons of pictures!

Happy, Healthy Travels!

Lisa Chavis, RPh ~ The Travel Pharmacist

As with all medical conditions discussed on the Internet, check first with your doctor before using any alternative treatments.

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