The Norwalk Virus & Cruise Ship Illness
What is the Norwalk Virus?
The Norwalk virus (also known as the
norovirus) was named for Norwalk, Ohio, where it was first diagnosed in
1972. The Norwalk virus causes gastrointestinal distress, with
vomiting and/or diarrhea.
How can I become infected?
The Norwalk virus can be transmitted from person to person in a number of
* eating food or drinking liquids that are contaminated with
* touching surfaces or objects that are contaminated with
norovirus, and then placing a finger or hand
in your mouth
* direct contact with a person who is already infected with
How long does it take for
symptoms to occur? How long will it last?
This is a fairly aggressive virus that shows up from 12 to 48 hours
after exposure. Most people feel better in 3 to 4 days. However,
they may still be contagious for as long as 2 weeks.
How big is the Norwalk virus problem on cruise
Over 10 million North American
passengers cruised in 2006, and approximately 4,500 of them became ill with
the Norwalk virus. You actually have a better chance of becoming
infected with this virus in a restaurant in your home town, or in an airport
or other public place. In fact, the Norwalk virus is very active
throughout the U.S. However, unlike cruise ships, it usually doesn't
How can I avoid getting sick?
What you do about your own personal hygiene will make a major difference
in your chances of getting through your cruise without becoming ill.
Just keep in mind that the primary method of becoming infected is by putting
something in your mouth that has the Norwalk virus on it - like your
fingers. And the virus can be anywhere on the ship -- on an elevator
button, a hand rail, even a door handle. As a minimum, you should take
the following precautions:
* Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds prior to
eating or drinking
* Use alcohol gel (such as Purell) prior to eating. Many ships now
have alcohol gel dispensers at the
entrances to their dining rooms. Use them!
* Never pass half-eaten dishes from one diner to another ("Here - try
some of this").
* Don't touch any part of your head (eyes, nose, mouth) unless you are
certain that your hands are
Travel Tip: Purell now makes
miniature bottles of its alchohol gel. With only 1/2
fluid ounce of gel, the bottles are so small they will easily fit into a
pocket. These are usually not found in stores, but you can order them
You can check the CDC's database of Norwalk virus outbreaks on cruise ships