Planes, Cruise Ships, and Germs

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Flying to great-aunt Erma’s house for Thanksgiving? Or taking a leisurely wintertime cruise along the shores of the Mexican Riviera? Boost your chances of healthy travel by taking a few preventive steps. That way, you’ll cut your risk of catching cold and flu from other plane passengers. And you won’t be confined to your cabin on the cruise ship, battling a nasty case of flu if someone near you flu shot before you travel. Some experts like Schaffner worry that this year’s hand washing is greater than ever on a cruise ship,” Schaffner says. “You may think you’re in an idyllic, somewhat protected environment — you don’t have to be as careful. Au contraire. We’d like you to be even more careful than you are at home.”

Passengers can fall ill if they touch objects or surfaces contaminated with norovirus — among them, doorknobs, railings, elevator buttons, or counters — and then place their hand in their mouth. People can also be infected if they have direct contact with a sick person or consume food or drink that is contaminated with norovirus. If an ill person vomits or has diarrhea in a whirlpool bath or swimming pool, others who come in contact with the water can be infected, too.

Some tips to reduce the risk of gastrointestinal illness on a cruise ship:

  • Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds before eating or smoking. Also wash hands after using the restroom, returning to your cabin, changing a diaper, helping a sick person, or touching surfaces that a lot of other passengers have touched, such as doorknobs and railings.
  • After you’ve washed your hands in a restroom, dry your hands with a paper towel and use the towel to turn off the faucet and open the door.
  • Washing with warm water and soap is best, but if you can’t do so during an excursion, use an alcohol-based gel hand sanitizer that contains 62% ethanol.
  • Notify cruise staff about sick passengers.