Why Viruses Spread on Cruise Ships

A passenger coughs and then touches a pair of tongs to grab salad at the restaurant. The cough has contaminated the tongs with a virus. Then another passenger takes the same pair of tongs for salad, touches the mouth, and there is an instant spread of a virus from one person to another. Multiply these actions many times by many passengers and it is easy to have hundreds infected with norovirus on a cruise ship. Why does the virus spread disease so quickly? Why doesn’t this happen on navy ships, for example? Sanitizing is the key and cruise ships generally do a fabulous job of sanitizing on a regular basis. However, staff are up against something difficult to control: the passengers!

On other ships such as those in the navy, there are procedures in place to prevent a huge outbreak. Sailors notify the ship’s doctor if they feel unwell. If a sailor does become ill with a contagious disease, he or she is isolated so the disease doesn’t spread. Each department on the navy ship does a thorough job of cleaning each day and follow-up is carried out as well. Cross-contamination is a big factor in causing illnesses. The difference is that navy ships do not have large gathering places for dancing, dining, entertainment, outside decks and swimming pools that cruise ships do. This one factor helps navy ships prevent large disease outbreaks caused by viruses. In the case of a cruise ship where passengers are infected, the entire ship will be disinfected following guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control.

By isolating passengers who are ill, encouraging handwashing regularly, using a sanitizer before dining after handwashing first and recommending using the cabin bathroom as opposed to public washrooms, the disease spread can be stopped. Also, staff do not dine in the same areas as passengers which minimizes spread from workers to passengers in common areas. Cruise ship passengers look forward to a wonderful holiday and not one where they are ill and unable to leave their cabins. By following standard health procedures, the disease spread can be prevented so that the cruise is an enjoyable experience.

The coronavirus which is currently spreading in different countries around the world is not a food-borne virus but spread through direct contact, droplet spread or air-borne spread. As mentioned above, viruses can easily spread on cruise ships but require a host (humans) to grow in. Besides the handwashing, coughing into the sleeve, it is important to have a strong immune system. Many of us can be exposed to viruses but it does not mean that an illness will result when our immune system is strong.

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ENVIRO-FOOD CONSULTING is a foodservice consulting business run by Sally de la Rue Browne, Certified Public Health Inspector and Food Safety Specialist.

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