A cruise can be adventurous and romantic, but one small virus can make that experience rather miserable. One problem with a small ecosystem like a cruise ship is that a fast growing virus like the norovirus can spread quickly from person to person.
That is exactly what happened recently on the Queen Mary 2. 194 passengers and 11 crew members were sick for a few days with vomiting and diarrhea. The same thing happened earlier in the week on the Emerald Princess, where 189 passengers and 31 crew members were stricken with the same illness.
Even though the virus responsible for all this illness on cruise ships has not been identified, the norovirus is the most likely suspect. The United Kingdom has had problems with this virus this winter in schools, hospitals, nursing homes and day care centers.
What is the norovirus and its symptoms?
According to the CDC, the norovirus is actually a group of related viruses. These viruses affects the stomach and intestines. The illness that they cause is called gastroenteritis, which is an inflammation of the stomach and intestines.
The virus was originally called the Norwalk agent. The name came from a 1968 outbreak of gastroenteritis at the Bronson Elementary School located in Norwalk, Ohio.
Symptoms include diarrhea, vomiting, nausea and stomach cramping. You can also have low grade fever, chills, headache, muscle aches and fatigue.
These viruses are found in the stool and vomit of infected people. You can get these viruses in your body by eating contaminated foods or drinks, touching contaminated surfaces or objects, or coming in direct contact with a contaminated person.
The viruses usually are not serious, and most people will feel better in a few days. However, you can still be contagious even 3 days after you recover from the illness.
What is the treatment for a norovirus infection?
There is no treatment or vaccine for the norovirus. You must make sure that you don’t become dehydrated. Drink plenty of fluids. You may need hospitalization if you become severely dehydrated. Symptoms of dehydration include a decrease in urination, dry mouth and throat, and feeling dizzy when you stand.
How can you prevent an infection?
Its not easy, since it only takes about 20 viruses to infect you. Not only that, but the norovirus can survive for up to 12 hours on a contaminated surface.
However, you can help prevent the spread of the viruses with good hand hygiene. Wash your hands frequently, especially after using the bathroom and before handling food or drinks. If soap and water are not available, use alcohol hand sanitizers. Also, it is best to eat hot foods, and drinks that are bottled.
When you wash your hands, make sure that you are washing them long enough. You should hold your hands under a stream of warm water for at least a count of 15 to insure that your hands are completely washed. After washing, make sure that you completely dry your hands.
So, if you find yourself with a lot of people in a small confined space like a cruise ship, practice caution. Wash your hands frequently, especially after touching frequently touched objects, using the bathroom or hand shaking. Try not to rub your face, eyes, mouth or nose with your hands. And try to stick with hot, individually served foods and bottled drinks. Hopefully, you can wash away those nasty noroviruses before they infect you.
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