People Are Back to Puking on Cruise Ships as Norovirus Outbreaks Reach 10-Year High

People Are Back to Puking on Cruise Ships as Norovirus Outbreaks Reach 10-Year High

America is back and puking on cruise ships again! According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of cruise ship outbreaks reported this year is already higher than it has been in about a decade. So far, all of these outbreaks have been caused by norovirus, a very unpleasant, though usually self-limiting, stomach bug.

The CDC’s Vessel Sanitation Program says there have been 13 recorded outbreaks of gastrointestinal illness aboard cruise ships under U.S. jurisdiction so far in 2023. The latest one occurred in June on a Viking Cruises ship, which left over 100 passengers and nine crew members sick. The outbreaks are the most in a single year since 2012, which saw 16.

Fun as these trips can be, the confined conditions of a cruise ship—coupled with widely shared food and drink—can spark outbreaks of communicable disease. In early 2020, the start of the covid-19 pandemic led to the grounding of cruise ships worldwide (though not before several major covid-19 outbreaks occurred). The CDC continued to warn against travel on cruise ships for the next several years, during which time there were little to no outbreaks of gastrointestinal illness reported. Finally, in March 2022, the agency lifted its formal travel health notice concerning cruise ships, though outbreaks remained much lower than usual that year.

Much like other recent spikes in common diseases, the return to social norms, like seafaring vacations, seems to be the major factor behind these outbreaks. Prior to the pandemic, though, there did appear to be some progress made against cruise ship illness. From 2006 to 2019, the rate of gastrointestinal illness on cruises steadily declined, according to the CDC.

While norovirus has become synonymous with cruise ships, it’s a prolific source of gastrointestinal misery everywhere. Symptoms include diarrhea, vomiting, and flu-like symptoms that typically last for up to three days. It’s seldom life-threatening, but it does cause upwards of 100,000 hospitalizations and nearly a half million visits to the emergency room in the U.S. alone.

Norovirus is incredibly contagious, even after it stops making people sick, but you can take steps to prevent spreading it to others. These steps include: washing your hands with soap and water (hand sanitizer alone isn’t very effective), not preparing or sharing food when you’re sick, and washing your laundry well.

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