Attention Cruise Ship Travellers

November 9, 2009


I travel a fair bit on cruise ships as a speaker, and I know a number of my readers enjoy this form of holiday – after all many of us met when you came to one of my talks onboard! The fear of any traveller is being ill while away and the Norovirus has been a real challenge over the past couple of years with many ships, and passengers succumbing to outbreaks.
Now a new report in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases last week on a combined research project from Boston University School of Medicine, Carney Hospital, Cambridge Health Alliance and Tufts University School of Medicine, has worrying news for us.
They have found that widespread poor compliance with regular cleaning of public bathrooms on cruise ships may predict subsequent norovirus infection outbreaks. This is the first study of environmental hygiene on cruise ships where outbreaks of acute gastroenteritis often occur because of the close proximity of such a large group of people. Recent studies into outbreaks of gastroenteritis have confirmed that 95 percent of cruise ship outbreaks are caused by norovirus. It should be said that all this research was done on 66 ships monitored by the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention so is US based, but I think we can learn a lesson from it .

The problem seems to be mainly around how thoroughly everything in a public bathroom is cleaned and disinfected as only 37 percent of the 273 randomly selected onboard bathrooms were thoroughly cleaned daily.
The most neglected area for cleaning was any handles on stall doors, or entrance and the researchers found that the stand of cleaning did not vary by cruise line and did not meet the Center for Disease Control and Prevention Vessel Sanitation Program inspection scores.
Washing your hands is of course essential, but this is no help if the bathroom doors are not clean. The solution as ever is preventive action so carry antibacterial gel and handwipes and do not touch the doors with your bare hands – use a barrier such as a handwipe of tissue to cut down the possibility of infection.
It’s not generally realised that one of the biggest sources of infection in public areas are the handrails – whether on a ship, or anywhere else. Avoid using them if you can, and if you have to put your bare hand on them then always use an antibacterial wipe of gel before touching food or drink, or your own face.
The good news is that although the thoroughness of disinfection cleaning was 30 percent on more than half of the ships, near-perfect cleaning was documented on several vessels, so it can be done and is being done on ships that maintain high standards of cleaning and monitoring.


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