Have you ever had the urge to go on a cruise? It’s definitely getting to be that time of year – the chill in the air, short days, crowded shopping centres, and suddenly the lure of sun, sea and gourmet meals proves an irresistible pull.

If you have booked a cruise to warmer climes, or know a friend or relative perhaps who has, following are a few pointers to keep in mind healthwise so you can make the most of your jaunt on the high seas.

Many cruise lines these days are offering standout gourmet meals from multiple onboard restaurants, each featuring a different theme or nationality. Sushi, Italian, fine Continental food – it’s all available whenever you are in the mood, along with excellent nightly entertainment and relaxed dress codes for dinner. Some even offer cooking demonstrations or feature ‘guest chefs’ who are onboard for the duration of the cruise. The food is delicious and top quality.

So, when you see those news reports on television featuring ‘Mystery Cruise Illnesses’, you can comfortably count the food out as a source of contamination. So are those mystery illnesses spread from stops along the way, or is it a particular destination? The answer is no; it doesn’t really matter what the destination is; the Mediterranean, The Nile River or the Caribbean all usually share the same amount of complaints (or bugs, if you will).

The real source of these ‘stomach flus’ is usually a passenger who boards the ship already infected, usually with good old Norovirus (yes, you can travel, but you really can’t get far enough away, it seems). What makes an outbreak seem so intense on a cruise ship is that with confined spaces and people in close contact with each other, Norovirus – typically spread through contaminated food and water – now takes advantage of the ‘hothouse’ environment to be spread by physical contact with ill people or surfaces and things they may have touched. This includes shaking hands, sharing food or eating from the same utensils, etc.

Limiting your exposure to infection on a cruise is difficult. Don’t share drinking glasses or utensils

Limiting your exposure to infection on a cruise is difficult. However diligent hand washing with hot water and soap before and after eating and smoking, after touching your face, using the restroom and whenever else you feel your hands are dirty. Don’t share drinking glasses or utensils.

Other essentials would be antibacterial hand gel if it’s not practical to wash, and a surface cleanser for wiping down your lounge chair by the swimming pool.

Ships’ crew employ various different methods of trying to limit the severity of outbreaks, from requesting guests confine themselves to their quarters until the virus passes to closing certain common areas such as the pool, to ‘enhanced cleaning efforts’. All of these will make a difference, but it’s always a good idea to have spoken to a travel health nurse beforehand, such as can be found at your local Nomad clinic. They can advise on anti-sickness/diarrhea treatments you can take with you in case you do come down with a stomach bug, and other items you might want to consider in your personal medical kit.

So, keep on thinking about that sunshine and leisurely lifestyle, but also remember that old adage about an ounce of prevention…

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