As the world emerges from the pandemic, the cruise industry is experiencing a resurgence in demand. While last summer’s departures offered generous elbow room for passengers, this year tells a different story. Cruise lines reported occupancy levels surpassing 100% in the first quarter of 2023, indicating a significant rebound.
However, as vacationers try to get in some rest and relaxation, there’s been an unforeseen consequence: an alarming increase in norovirus outbreaks on board. Year-to-date, there have been 13 outbreaks of norovirus on cruise ships, according to the CDC, the highest number since 2012. The outbreaks have occurred across six different cruise lines.
The latest instance was on a Viking Cruise — which sailed from June 6 to June 20 — where 110 passengers and nine crew members contracted the illness, according to the agency. Shockingly, those affected by the virus accounted for nearly 15% of the entire onboard population, making it the largest percentage of individuals affected by norovirus this year.
In 2022, just two outbreaks of norovirus were reported to the CDC. Even when compared to pre-pandemic levels, the number of outbreaks in 2019 was eight for the entire year — a figure that 2023 has already surpassed with five months still remaining.
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Dr. William Schaffner, a professor of infectious diseases at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center, explained to The Wall Street Journal that norovirus is highly contagious and thrives in the enclosed environment of a cruise ship.
“The opportunities for close person-to-person spread are so intense on a cruise ship that once this virus is introduced into that population, it has many, many opportunities to spread,” Schaffner warned.
To prevent norovirus transmission, the CDC recommends that individuals prioritize thorough hand washing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after using the bathroom, changing diapers, and before eating or handling food. The agency also cautions that hand sanitizer “does not work well against norovirus.”
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