Every year the press scares the public with stories about virus and disease onboard cruise ships. So what are the facts?
To many the perfect cruise is basking by the pool with a piña colada in hand while the turquoise sea slips by. Though many images associated with cruising are outdoors, cruise ships are really indoor environments; self-contained, floating hotels in which surfaces are touched by thousands of people and air is re-circulated greatly increasing the potential for germs. The combination of climate change, long flights, fatigue and the excitement (anxiety) of the trip may lower resistance to any bug lingering onboard. The result could be sniffles, sneezing and tummy upsets. So, what do you do? Here are some tips from someone who has worked onboard cruise ships for the past nineteen years and has manage to stay (knock on wood) healthy – me!
Tip #1 - Bring a sweater, jacket or wrap.
Though every effort is made to keep the ship as comfortable as possible, temperature in public rooms is notoriously inconsistent. Though it is balmy and beautiful outside, the air conditioning in a restaurant or lounge may be relentless. Here’s where that sweater or wrap can save your cruise from becoming a disaster. Be prepared. Also a word of caution about the whole inside outside thing; remember if you are on the beach in St. Barth’s or a glacier in Juneau, the change of temperature from outdoors to indoors can be dramatic. Prepare accordingly by wearing layered clothing that can be adjusted depending on temperature.
Tip #2 - Wash your hands
The greatest culprit in the spread of germs is public surfaces. Hand rails, door knobs, counter tops, etc. are whipped-down everyday by crew; however it only takes one person with a virus to deposit new germs. So, wash your hands frequently and use the hand sanitizers provided before and after entering public places like gangways, gym equipment, computer rooms, buffets, etc.
Tip #3 – Watch what you eat
What? Part of the fun of being on a ship is the food! But fact is, too much of a good thing can make you sick. Excessive eating and drinking can lead to GI problems especially if you are not used to a particular kind of food. We want you to enjoy everything in moderation. Same thing is true of eating onshore; many problems treated on ship were actually caused on shore. Rule of thumb for shore side meals - when in doubt stay away from local water, ice in drinks, and raw foods that were not prepared or peeled by you.
Tip #4 – Keep up your routine
Remember to bring your medication, any vitamins you normally take and continue with your exercise routine. Many of us onboard – myself included – swear by 2,000 mg of Vitamin C everyday to help keep up resistance. Some people use preventive products like AirBourne. Personally, I also pack Grapefruit Seed Extract and Chinese Curing Pills. I take the grapefruit seed extract at the first sign of a cold and the Chinese curing pills for any weird stomach things. Both are natural and work!
Hot tubs, swimming pools, saunas and steam rooms can also harbor germs. Ironically, according to the CDC the chlorine used to clean tubs and pools loses its disinfecting properties at temperatures over 84°F. Therefore it is mandatory that the water and filters be regularly checked. Onboard this is done twice a day in compliance with the CDC Vessel Sanitation Program guidelines. Best advice is to shower before and after use of hot tubs, swimming pools, steam rooms and saunas.
Finally, in addition to the CDC’s Vessel Sanitation Program, as a cruise passenger you should know each ship sailing in US waters is required to pass regular inspection by United States Public Health. These inspections are unannounced and are meant to keep everyone on their toes. For results on your favorite ship’s ratings you can go to http://wwwn.cdc.gov/vsp/InspectionQueryTool/Forms/InspectionSearch.aspx