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 ways:
  *  eating food or drinking liquids that are contaminated with norovirus
  *  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 norovirus

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 ships?
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 get reported. 

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 online by clicking here.  

Travel Tip:  You can check the CDC's database of Norwalk virus outbreaks on cruise ships at




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